Morrigan Hymn #6

Sacred lover,

Your menstrual blood the wine of warriors,

Your breath that which shudders the earth into flower–

Come to me, proud queen,

And, quaking, I will accept your gifts.

Shrieking one, whispering one,

Bathe me in the bliss of knowing you.

Let me embrace you in the dew of dawn

So that I may smile at your perfect love.

Morrigan Hymn #5

Dark lady, you whisper in my ear.

Witch queen, you whisper:

Weave magic into the wind

And carry it to the far places.

Feel the lamia writhing in your blood.

At night she becomes your power.

Warrior queen, you whisper:

Bare your teeth and howl to the sky.

Let the land mold you

Into a glinting knife,

Ready to slice through greed

And banish the invaders.

Prophetess, you whisper:

Be shrewd and thoughtful.

Look to the far future.

Let the battle-frenzy take you

And let it fade like incense.

 

Lady, you speak for the rivers and meadows.

You speak for the spirits whose voices are soft.

You call to the thousand goddesses and say,

See, sisters, the world swells to reclaim itself.

This is my age, stripped bare by my anger,

Molded by my wisdom.

 

Lady, the world shivers around me,

Watchful and awake.

I will listen, O shadow.

Stillness within, Power Without

I have depression, and I’m under treatment. Luckily, my current (and hopefully permanent) treatment is very good: Wellbutrin, mindfulness meditation, and a kickass therapist. Nowadays, when I enter a low period, I can recognize it for what it is instead of being destroyed by it. I can recognize that it’s biochemical and that it’ll pass.

But it still hovers around me like a fog. I fight thoughts that I’m a bad Witch and a bad Pagan because of it. Because if I really were such a magical and intuitive and connected being, if I really did have a couple of deities that cared about me, then I would feel fantastic all the time, right?

Right? the depression says. Right? If anyone loved you, you would feel perfect all the time.

* * *

I had a power candle and Hermes took it away.

The long version of the story would give me carpal tunnel, so the short version: I was called, possibly by the Morrigan, to burn a candle to foster personal power. I turned the specific types of power I needed into a sigil and dressed the candle with mugwort and juniper and cinnamon. It was a big purple pillar candle. I was going to burn it for a few minutes each night and re-dress it each Monday. I knew a candle isn’t how you get power, but I liked the ritual of it, the way the sigil looked underneath the herbs. I was doing it because it was beautiful. And for a week, while I burned it, it worked.

Then I asked Hermes for a favor. I burned him some incense in thanks, but he decided to take the candle, too. Or, to put it mundanely: that night I lit it and forgot about it, and the whole thing burned down to a puddle of wax.

What’s interesting is that technically, the spell is complete. It wasn’t interrupted–it was expedited by the god of speed. I know enough about magic not to expect instant results. I’m not incredibly upset that the spell ended this way. But I do miss my pretty candle.

* * *

I had an insight a few days ago:

Power within, stillness without.

Stillness within, power without.

I know I’m not the first person to ever have this insight, but I liked the way it was phrased. Power and stillness go together. Power and turmoil do not. If someone is screaming and yelling and hissing and spitting, they are revealing how little power they have. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s just an opportunity to look at oneself honestly.

* * *

A few weeks ago I was attacked by a tiny handful of very loud people for offering an interpretation of the Morrigan’s pre-battle shriek as an act of nonviolence. I felt like I loaded the interpretation with as many disclaimers as I could, and I thought it would be obvious that I wasn’t denying the Morrigan’s more bloodthirsty aspects. I really thought I was just offering an interesting reinterpretation of one aspect of a complex goddess.

If my crime was not being clear enough in my writing, then I take full responsibility for that crime. I come from the Jewish tradition, in which unconventional interpretations are tossed around all the time because experimentation is how you come to understand a text, but of course I’m not writing for a Jewish audience.

Here’s the thing, though–

The level of vitriol leveled at me seemed to suggest that people found the idea of a nonviolence-practicing Morrigan offensive. I found myself put in the ludicrous position of feeling like I had to praise violence. “Don’t get me wrong,” I was supposed to say. “Violence is awesome! I’m no fuzzy-wuzzy gaia-worshiper! Gimme blood and death any day of the week! Yeah, baby!”

I don’t know exactly what Peter Grey means when he refers to “dark fluff,” but that term feels apt here. Here’s some truth: despite its lovey-dovey reputation, nonviolence is infinitely scarier and more difficult than violence. It is so easy to punch someone in the face or lash out at them on a blog. It is so easy to shout someone down, call them names, shoot them in the chest, drop a bomb on their city. It is not easy to defend yourself and your community without perpetuating a cycle of bloodshed and misery. It is not easy to calm your impulses and dig to the root of a problem.

Does that mean the Morrigan isn’t violent? No. The Morrigan embodies both our highest acts of bravery and our darkest acts of horror. Because she is war and that’s what war does; she is battle-frenzy and that’s what battle-frenzy is. If a human warrior can nonviolently resolve a conflict one day and lose control and slaughter another person the next day and go wild with grief and guilt the day after that, why wouldn’t a goddess be capable of the same multitudes? A deity embodies their sphere of influence, and any sphere that’s reducible to three or four simple attributes is a sphere that isn’t really worth its own deity. Yes, deities are usually summed up with a short list of keywords, but each of those words is a map of a vast landscape.

Or, to look at it from a different angle: if, let’s say, the body of a deity is made up of their followers, then those followers must necessarily be diverse. If everyone engages with a deity in exactly the same way, then that is a deity with a thousand left feet and nothing else. What the hell is the use of such a deity?

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the most vicious commenter shrugged off issues like Gaza and Ferguson as irrelevant to spiritual work and too big to take on. That, to me, is the pinnacle of dark fluff. I suspect that the people who are the most excited about the Morrigan’s bloodiest aspects are the very people who would turn and run from any real fight.

I am a devotee of the Morrigan, and the language she speaks to me is the language of nonviolence and eco-justice. That doesn’t mean I feel worthy of the title warrior every day, or even most days. But she has her reasons for reaching out to a Reclaiming Witch, and denying the messages she’s giving me is a disservice and an insult to her. If you can’t handle my practice, if you think a deity has to speak the same language to every devotee, then you are a child with too much time on your hands. If you call yourself a warrior but are uninterested in fighting any battle of consequence, then shame on you.

* * *

That’s all been festering for weeks, but I’ve finally released it. I’m done.

Power within, stillness without. Stillness within, power without. I know I snapped at at least one person during the fiasco because I felt like a cornered animal. I wrote the above partly so that I wouldn’t have to silently carry it anymore, but I know parts of it are harsh and I don’t claim to feel very powerful. It’s liberating to know that you don’t have to be perfect, no matter what the demons in your head and the voices on the Internet tell you.

* * *

I did save the wax from the power candle. The sigil and the dressing are still in there somewhere. I have votive molds and wicks. Maybe the spell isn’t over yet; maybe it won’t be complete until I burn all of the wax. In the end, it doesn’t matter all that much. I’m really doing this spell because I love doing spells.

Here in Los Angeles, the campaign for a $15 minimum wage has moved to the petition stage. I plan on volunteering and I’m gearing myself up for a long, hard fight. I don’t relish the thought of getting yelled at on the street. I’m not sure how I’m going to fit this into my already-bursting schedule. I’m dealing with the inner conflict of knowing that, in the face of global Capitalism, a higher minimum wage is a tiny band-aid on a mutilated body. I know the fight for a higher minimum wage is one battle in a vast war. But here, in my city, it’s an important one.

Writing helps lift my depressive episodes. I feel better having written this post. These words are one moment in time, a blip in my lifespan.

Back into the fray. Be well, be loved, be powerful.


 

A quick note: I’m closing comments on this post because I don’t want to revive any of the arguments that took place on and around the original post. If you need to respond, please feel free to do so on your own blog. If you’re bothered by the fact that I’m not allowing you to criticize me or defend yourself in this space, take solace in the fact that I’m not allowing any praise, either.

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!