Morrigan Hymn #4

O Angry Earth,

We have relinquished our claim to you.

How patient you were! How lovely your face, young maiden!

How many blessings you gave us!

Now, crone, your storm clouds roil

And your teeth are bared.

You prepare to expel us, your arrogant tenants,

In search of a new people

To be crowned your consort.

 

O Goddess, help us become that people.

Seep into our minds and hearts;

Fertilize the grass with the work of our hands.

Allow our bodies to become sacred things.

Help us love you once again.

Morrigan Hymn #3

Lady of Peace!
Lady of Power!
Lady of Sweetness!
Lady of Honey!
Lady of Bloodlust!
Lady of Entrails!
Lady of Agony!
Lady of Sorrow!

Terrible hag and beautiful maiden!
Carrion crow and life-giving cow!
Why would the Shapeshifter be only one thing?
Eel becomes wolf becomes heifer becomes raven.
Daughter becomes lover becomes warrior becomes god.

Does my body contain you, O goddess?
Can my mind comprehend you, old queen?
I see you in the grass that waves in the wind.
I know you in the quiet of my land and my heart.

Embodying the Wild, Confronting Death

I was just pointed, by way of Rhyd Wildermuth’s post on climate change, to Peter Gray’s “Rewilding Witchcraft.” Here are a couple of the best quotes:

We are living in a mass extinction event. This is not a theory. Over half the species on earth will be extinct by 2050. Let me repeat that fact: over half the species on earth will be extinct by 2050….If your witchcraft, like mine, speaks with animal spirits, is made from plants and flowers and roots and bark and seeds, it cannot continue to pretend that we are not suffering. It has to speak. It has to lament, it has to cry, it has to then be unreasonable. We need to be intimately acquainted with death, as these are the rites over which our witchcraft presides, not some nudist holiday camp capers predicated on a glut of cheap oil.

Some will be afraid of this knowledge; witchcraft should be liberated by it, liberated from petty concerns to pursue lives of beauty, liberated from the sleepwalking into death that our culture has made for us and our children. So I counsel, confront death. For witchcraft to be anything other than the empty escapism of the socially dysfunctional or nostalgia for bygone ages, it needs to feel the shape of its skull, venerate the dead and the sacred art of living and dying with meaning. We are all on the fierce path now.

Please, please read the rest.

Here are my thoughts, in no particular order:

1. Coru Cathubodua, the Morrigan priesthood, talks about the Morrigan’s call taking the form of “an unusual number of corvids (crows and ravens) in your waking life.” When I first read that, I laughed. Los Angeles is filled with crows. Our soundscape is crows cawing over the din of the freeways. Vast swaths of our coastline will disappear with the melting of the Antarctic ice sheets. We currently have enough water to last the next 12-18 months. The crow is LA’s power animal: the image of my city’s impending decay.

2. Tomorrow I’m flying, with my husband and daughter, to New Hampshire for my husband’s family reunion. It’s an utterly ridiculous journey–we leave tomorrow morning, spend the entire day flying and then driving to a resort in the forest, and we’ll stay for two full days before returning on Monday. Yes, we are flying across the country for a weekend trip. I didn’t want to go; I dreaded the stress of traveling with a toddler for a “reunion” that happens every two years, but I never said anything to my husband. I thought that his desire to take part in the reunion trumped my desire to obey common sense and stay home. I traded my sovereignty for what looked like superficial peace. Later it turned out that he felt roped into it, too.

If we didn’t live in an age of gluttony, where even the most outrageous whims must be accommodated and a trip like this looks tame in comparison, there would have been no question of us going.

3. My witchcraft ebbs and flows. Sometimes I get it. I sense the spirits of my plants. I see gods in the sunset. My dreams contain premonitions.

Other times, I do nothing but read Pagan blogs. Skip my devotionals. Look at brooms on Etsy. I feel gross and uninspired. I want to rewild myself, but I need to overcome the obstacles of my job, my urban landscape, and the lethargy they encourage.

4. On the Morrigan again: as I mentioned in an earlier post, the Morrigan presents herself to me primarily as a goddess of the land–particularly the wilderness–and I’ve been having trouble making my perception of her fit into her established domains of sovereignty, battle, and prophecy. But now I think I understand. Sovereignty, as we know from the myths, is bestowed by the spirits of the land. The land chooses its occupants, even if its time scale is so slow that it looks to us like the bad guys won. We’re killing our habitats, killing ourselves, and thus relinquishing our sovereignty as a civilization, and the Morrigan is meeting us in the liminal space we now inhabit. Just as she guided the souls of warriors to the realm of the dead after battle, perhaps she’s guiding our civilization to its next iteration. People say they hear her call because a battle is coming. I agree up to a point: I think the battle began decades ago, and we should be prepared for what comes next.

5. With that said, I don’t think things are hopeless. I go on raising my child and planning for the future. I don’t think humanity is doomed to extinction–but our way of life certainly is. Who knows what the earth and its inhabitants will look like in five hundred years?

Pagan Blog Project: Offerings

A few weeks ago I was invoking East for an esbat when I let the word “worship” slip. “Join us,” I think I said, “as we worship and make magic.”

Since my coven works within the Reclaiming tradition, we make up most of our invocations on the fly. I was just saying what came to mind. I didn’t think anything of it. But later that night, one of my coven-mates brought up a gentle objection to the word. “We don’t worship,” she pointed out. “We work with deities, not for them. They’re our partners, not our bosses.” Everyone nodded, although no one looked at me. It’s possible no one else even remembered the invocation. Still, I felt embarrassed.

I completely understand why Witches and Pagans shy away from words like “worship.” Worship is a Christian thing, right? It’s what you do if you’ve been brainwashed into thinking you’re powerless and flawed. It’s what you do when your god is an authoritarian dictator, easily enraged, thirsty and desperate for praise. Right? That’s what worship is. It’s unhealthy. It’s degrading.

So then why did the word come to me in my invocation? And why don’t I regret saying it, even after my coven-mates took issue?

A few days ago Jason Mankey published a post on Patheos about The Wind in the Willows, and its portrayal of Pan as “the Friend and Helper” with an “August Presence.” He quoted this well-known and beautiful passage:

“Rat!” he found breath to whisper, shaking. “Are you afraid?”

“Afraid?” murmured the Rat, his eyes shining with unutterable love. “Afraid! Of Him? O, never, never! And yet—and yet—O, Mole, I am afraid!”

Then the two animals, crouching to the earth, bowed their heads and did worship.

To me, that sounds like a very different kind of worship: an act performed not out of a sense of obligation, but out of reverence and awe and love for beings much bigger and older than us. When we forget that sense of awe and see deities only as partners–or, as I see far too often, life coaches and personal cheerleaders–we not only cheapen and probably offend them, but we diminish the benefits we get from working with them.

I’m not afraid–and yet, O, I am afraid! is a feeling I know very well. It’s a beautiful kind of fear. It’s a sign that your animal instincts are picking up on the presence of A Very Big Thing. At the risk of sounding presumptuous, I would even go so far as to say that if you’ve never felt even a tiny bit shaken up in the presence of a god, then you have never truly perceived that god.

It’s that reverence that moves us to give offerings to our deities.

When I ask a god for help with magic, obviously I try to give them something in return, if I feel it’s appropriate. (Some deities and ancestors just like to help, and it feels wrong to pay them off.) A glass of wine. Some flowers. A homemade cookie. It depends on the deity and the magic. But I try to give something.

Most of the time, though, I give out of the sheer joy of giving. I try to give milk to the Morrigan semi-regularly by pouring a jar of it into my garden. When I’m out in nature, I sometimes arrange some stones or flower petals into a circle as a hello. (The first time I did this, I soon came upon a bigger circle of stones on a part of the trail I’d already passed. I hadn’t heard any signs of other people around.) Giving gifts feels good. I marvel at the feeling of peace and contentment that comes over me when I tip that jar into the soil or place that cookie on my altar.

And when I think of giving offerings, I think of bigger offerings, too. I think of offerings of service. I think of myself as an offering. I have told my gods that I will do their work. I haven’t gotten an assignment yet, but I wait and try to be patient.

Sometimes I destroy my offerings: I bury the cookie or throw a piece of bread into the fire. Other times–say, if I’m offering something I’ve harvested from my garden–I’ll leave it on the altar for the god to eat and then take it and cook it for dinner. I go by intuition.

Our relationships with our deities are allowed to be complex. We can be supplicants one day and partners the next. Our minds are as flexible as our gods, and they can hold multitudes.

May your offerings bring you closer to the gods you love the most.

Pagan Blog Project – Nature Goddess: My Morrigan

I had a post all planned for the Pagan Blog Project’s M week. I was going to write about the Morrigan. I was going to pour out everything I’ve been ruminating on for the past several months, as I’ve studied her, spoken with her, gotten to know her, dedicated myself to her. I was going to bring in Kali, crows, the significance of the color black. I was going to talk psychology. It was going to be a very long post.

But I got so tangled up in what I was trying to puzzle together that I missed both deadlines and barely looked at my blog for two weeks. I was so afraid I’d say something stupid.

We’ve had a guest staying with us this week, and I haven’t been doing my devotionals. I haven’t been lighting my incense or burning my essential oils. I’m afraid the smell will waft downstairs or the guest will hear me whispering and I’ll have to answer questions. The Morrigan isn’t impressed, but she’s been patient.

I have, though, been tending my garden. In my garden I have tomatoes, zucchinis, sunflowers, strawberries, lemons, nasturtiums, lavender, basil, mint, rosemary, and jasmine. Hey, sometimes a plant even produces a fruit or flower or two! Much of the time the garden is a source of frustration and stress–why are the lemons dropping again? Why is the zucchini dying? Why does the mint taste bad?–but it’s also a place that calls to me. It’s just a few pots on a patio but I’m drawn to it. I’m compelled to examine each flower, touch each leaf, whisper “welcome” to each new seedling. It’s where I commune with Cernunnos. It’s where I blow kisses to the moon. It’s where I drum while my daughter dances her funny toddler dance. And it’s where I give the Morrigan her offerings of milk.

I tried to see her as a battle goddess, as a sovereignty goddess, as a psychopomp. I tried to meditate on war and violence and colonization, thinking she had wisdom to share with me. And I know she does. But despite all that, when I think of her, all I can think about is nature. Wild lands. Hidden spiders. Twisting vines and running water. Green growing things.

I expressed in my hymn that the Morrigan fertilizes the grass with blood. This is true. Life comes out of death, and Morrigan is the one who culls, who splits open the body and disassembles it. The Morrigan doesn’t always fight on the right side, the Indigenous side or the side with nicer people or a better cause. Every body is of equal value to the Morrigan. that’s her mystery.

Cernunnos turns corpses into trees; the Morrigan supplies those corpses.

I always feel like I have to apologize for the fact that, for me, the Morrigan is primarily a goddess of the earth. For me, it’s not just one of her aspects–the fertile ground that becomes the battle field–it’s her fundamental aspect. The aspects of battle and sovereignty and prophecy and magic are offshoots. It’s the face she shows me, again and again and again, even when I try to find the others. She’s no gentle mother goddess, though–she is fierce and possessive and untamable. Her love is the love of a mama cat hissing and clawing to protect her kittens. Her love is the crow dive-bombing the hawk.

For awhile I thought I should take up a martial art as service to her. But I just have no interest in martial arts (except maybe archery). And yet she calls me incessantly. In a dream, she was teaching me to dance. The wild places make me want to dance. Tonight, on my roof, I danced by my garden, twirling in my sandals. I have no interest in warfare.

She’s the thorn on the squash plant that makes you pay for your dinner. She’s the hideous spider who bites you and keeps beetles from wrecking your plants. She’s the tree who falls on the person who didn’t deserve it, the frenzy that allows the fighter to win, the tingling of precognition, the rush of inspiration that turns into a poem, the feeling of hauntedness in the dark that is terrifying and beautiful. She’s the one-eyed hag who smiled at me during trance work, before I ever learned that Cu Chulainn put out her eye. She is my anger and my courage. She is my fierce, unapologetic love.

Nothing I’ve written here captures what she is, because she can’t be expressed in words.

She is the river and the field and the rooftop garden, the Great Queen, the crow, the horse, the eel, the wolf, the cow. She is death, death, death, and life, life, life, life, life.

New Patheos Column: Jewish Witch!

Everyone! Drop what you’re doing. I AM FAMOUS NOW.

I mean, sort of? I have a new biweekly column on Patheos.com called “Jewish Witch,” in which I write about the aspects of Judaism I’ve incorporated in my practice. This week I wrote about my journey to, away from, and back to Witchcraft; in two weeks I’m going to write about sacred garments!

Here’s the link: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/agora/2014/07/jewish-witch-how-a-jewish-witch-is-formed/

It is super awesome!

Lepidolite is my Spirit Animal

I’ll admit, I’m not totally on board with the whole crystal magic thing. Partly I have really bad associations with crystals and polished stones; when I see them I think of the New Age movement, of flaky spirituality, of metaphysical quick fixes and superstition and people who claim a different “spirit animal” every week. (I really hate the term “spirit animal.” If you’d like to know why, kindly follow this link I found in two seconds on Google.) I once saw a documentary that showed New Age practitioners stuffing crystals between the stones of Mayan pyramids. The locals, as you can imagine, weren’t impressed.

Partly it’s the cost and luxury associated with owning even one crystal or polished stone, let alone several, or dozens, or hundreds. As Marian Green points out in A Witch Alone, crystals have to be harvested from the caves and veins in which they grow, and a crystal doesn’t grow back as quickly as a sprig of rosemary. We are tearing ancient caves apart in order to peddle rocks at metaphysical shops. I cringe when I read about people grinding up rubies and drinking them. It’s a matter of scale, of course. It’s not a huge problem when there are a handful of crystal balls here and there…but when every single Witch, Pagan, magician, or New Ager needs to have an entire collection of stones in order to work? That’s not magic. That’s not spirituality. That’s Capitalism urging us to hoard more, more, more.

This isn’t to say that I automatically disbelieve that crystals and stones each have distinct magical properties. I haven’t really investigated it. I haven’t weighed the evidence. I’ve used a couple of stones in charm bags, but of course it’s impossible to say whether the stones themselves had inherent powers or whether the effect came from the spells I worked into them.

I do have one small slab of selenite that I absolutely love. I picked it up in a shop one night and felt a rush of goodness go through me–the endorphin feeling I get when I hold something with a lot of power in it. My understanding is that the gypsum crystals are relatively common and easily formed (after all, they do dissolve in water, which lessens the likelihood that any particular one is a million years old), so I didn’t feel too bad about buying it.

Anyway, lepidolite.

I first came across lepidolite when I was wandering through a health food store. There was a small bowl of tumbled lepidolite stones, each costing 5 bucks, with a sign saying they helped with depression. The depression sign made me look twice–I was between medications at the time, and hurting–but it was the stones themselves that really made me stop.

Oh, lepidolite is beautiful! Look! Look at this stuff!

A hunk of rough lepidolite in various shades of purple.

A polished lepidolite egg in a stand.

 

LOOK!

Have you ever seen a finer lookin’ piece of mica.

I didn’t pay 5 dollars for a tumbled rock–this was in Westwood, where everything is out-of-this-world expensive. Parking for twenty minutes at the meter will cost most people about half a year’s salary, and you need to get an escrow agent to buy lunch. But I did develop a love for this stone.

Might it help with my depression? Well, the good news is that I later found an effective medication, so I’ve gone a few months without a crash. I do now have one small piece of lepidolite, which I’m planning to turn into a necklace. At the very least, it sometimes it serves as a little power object: something I can hold in my hand while I breathe, and calm down, and promise myself that as bad as things get, they always get better.

As for stones in general–I’ve enjoyed collecting rocks since I was a kid, so of course I have a few modest crystals and tumbled stones. Some pyrite, some amethyst, some rose quartz, the selenite. The way I see it, though, is that one appreciates beautiful objects more when they’re at least a little rare. Their beauty is actually a case for buying fewer of them. Do you want to get bored with your crystals, and find yourself buying more and more in order to compensate? Wouldn’t you rather restrain yourself until you find that perfect little stone? Would you rather have a dozen crystal wands that you never use, or one that you cherish?

Knowing where our traditions and technology come from, knowing what’s genuine and what’s manufactured, help us keep them authentic and alive.

The Spiders in My Garden

I used to be terrified of spiders, but now I’m learning to talk to them.

Unsurprisingly, it was gardening that first made me rethink my relationship with spiders. I’ve had container gardens in two separate apartments about 30 miles apart, and each one has quickly become infested with aphids and bean beetles. Ladybugs and lacewings are nowhere to be seen. Instead, I get spiders, and I can only hope that they’re mitigating the infestations. I figure some food source must be drawing them to the garden, right?

Some of the spiders are medium-sized brown garden spiders. Others are teensy, cute little critters that make webs across my tomato plant trellises and ball themselves up in the middle, swaying in the breeze. My daughter has become very interested in spider webs, and the other day I turned a lavender pot around to show her a thick one. The motion scared away a moth, and a spider frantically scurried after it as it got stuck in the web, wrested itself free, and escaped. After a minute, the spider went back to its den. I could almost imagine it sighing in disappointment.

Yesterday I saw that two leaves on my lemon plant were stuck together, and when I peered between them, I saw a spider crouched inside, surrounded by sticky web. After the sun went down, it came out.

Once I saw a set of very big black legs poking out from under a wall. I hope, I hope, I hope they didn’t belong to a black widow. But who am I kidding? I’ve seen plenty of black widows and I recognize their legs.

I am honored and happy that I can provide a home for beneficial creatures. I am honored and happy that my garden, as parched and scruffy as it is, is at least a rudimentary ecosystem. Sometimes I almost feel the presence of the fey; my roof contains juuuuuust barely enough greenery to pique their interest.

But I wish I could attract creatures besides spiders. Butterflies, hummingbirds, ladybugs. A few more bees. Is that narcissistic of me?

* * *

For years and years, I’ve seen faces before going to sleep, in that half-waking period just before you nod off. I used to be terrified of them, but now–well, I can’t say I’m learning to talk to them, because they’re gone so fast that I can’t get a word in, but I’m learning not to shy away.

There are way too many at this point for me to count, but I’ll share the most striking one I’ve ever seen: a medieval king, with gray skin and white-blue eyes, turning around in the front pew of a church to look at me. I seemed to be sitting in the back pew. I’ll never forget the look of ferocious hate he gave me.

It doesn’t really matter, I think, whether these visions are ghosts or spirits or hallucinations or dreams. Whatever they are, there’s a reason they’re appearing, and that reason is worth investigating. It’s possible they’re simply pointless nightmares–or, like spiders, it’s possible that they are ugly, scary, repulsive creatures who are performing some important function.

I’ve heard it said that the Morrigan presents herself to you as nightmares. I’ve also seen insects and spiders hovering over my bed upon waking in the night.

* * *

There are enough spiders in my garden, and I get my hands into the soil often enough, that I know it’s only a matter of time before one of them crawls on me.

A few months ago I hit a milestone: a huge multicolored spider was in my sink, and I was able to get it into a glass and out the backdoor all by myself. I was hyperventilating by the time I was finished, I was so scared, but I did it.

I want to cultivate a nourishing relationship with fear. I want to see the power it’s hiding.

A Hymn to the Morrígan

O Morrígan,
You are an ancient power.
Before blade and bullet,
Before tooth and talon,
You were there, feeding the grass with blood.
O Queen,
Teach me to face my rage and sadness and shame
And mold them into weapons
That slice through delusion
From now until the end of things.
Help me walk in love and peace,
O lamenter of souls.
Let me look upon your face without fear.

So mote it be.