An Era of Failed Leadership

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I was reminded the other day that it has been a year since I’ve written a blog post.  When I started writing this blog I had planned on at least writing a post once a month. I saw a great value in engaging with the community and with the larger world around me through this medium, a place to exchange ideas and information with a broad audience, and a modern community meeting hall.  And then 2016 happened.

By 2016 I had seen a trend in the pagan blogging community that I was having a difficult time accepting.  To those of us paying attention to the larger world, there was a shift occurring in the general global rhetoric and politics towards a true ugliness, a type of fear and hate mongering that inevitably leads to violence and bloodshed.  We saw the consolidation of power of far-right  hate groups and watched in horror as their armies of trolls and goons started to rekindle the fear and loathing and aim their barbs at marginalized communities, creating the targets for the scapegoating necessary for  authoritarian and xenophobic regimes to take hold of global politics again.

Any student of history has seen this before.  These people are trying nothing new.  Divide and conquer, fan the flames of fear and prejudice, control the message of the media or try to discredit those you can’t control. This is straight out of the fascist playbook, so clear that if you look hard enough you can see the margin notes of a host of dictators and would be dictators scribbled across their words and deeds.

During this moment of the rise of hate speech and violence in the world, I  watched as our community continued to tear and rend at each other over what amounted to differences of opinions over spiritual practices and how different people viewed the Gods.  I watched the great pagan Internet “wars” between atheists and polytheists, or wiccans and traditional witches, or sneeches that have stars on their bellies and those that don’t, finally ending with the “battle” between Marxists and fascists, the latter finally starting to get closer to the heart of the terrible maelstrom at our gates but unable to remove personal vendettas and attacks from their rhetoric and by failing to do that, divided our community at a time when we desperately needed unity and dialogue.

It was during 2016 that I also stepped into the role of Chief of the Coru Cathubodua and started to reflect of the role of leadership in our communities and more importantly what constitutes failed leadership and what constitutes successful leadership. Because our community needs leaders, but not the type of leaders that are commonly modeled right now.

Leadership is a word with a broad spectrum of meaning attached to it. To some, the word leadership is synonymous with authority, and authority, no matter what the form, is something to fight against.  To others, leadership signifies a person or group that will make all the decisions for you, to them a leader is someone to rule you, a parental figure that they hope has their best interests in mind.  This type of vision of leadership can be dangerous in a political climate where “strong men” and tinpot dictators claw for real world power.

This breed of top down leadership will ultimately fail us, preying on our fears and insecurities while binding us in lies and controversies.  Leaders that sit apart from the people pointing fingers and making demands from them always show their true natures eventually.  Leaders that demand authority and power over others but have no skill or talent for leadership fill our world today, and when the illusion of power fades and the reality and sacrifice of leadership becomes clear, they fail and flee and attempt to destroy the institutions they wanted to control.  But thankfully, there’s something else that happens in times like these, something hopeful.

2016 was an excruciating year for most of us.  We watched as tragedy after tragedy unfolded while our attention was demanded by an election that twisted the level of discourse to mudslinging and vitriol and more importantly emboldened and inspired the worst aspects of humanity and turned hatred into a virtue and a path to power.  By the end of the year our community could clearly see what many of us had been aware of for years, the true danger at our gates.  The specters of fascism and authoritarianism were no longer just philosophical differences that needed to be weeded out from within our small community, but real live monsters, stomping around our streets attacking the most vulnerable among us.  People who tried to lay claim to the pagan blogosphere quickly found that real world terrors were demanding their attention and those in our community that thought it wise to cozy up to the far right to make a public show of how much they disliked the left, discovered that no matter what they did, they would never be far right enough for their new friends and were attacked and abandoned by them.

As 2017 dawned on us we found that things were worse than we could have possibly imagined.  Gone was the pretense of an inclusive and just nation.  Hatred and targeted violence have become commonplace.  The failure of our elected officials and our crippled republic is abundantly clear now and the monsters are running the show.

But as our new reality sunk in, I saw a change in the leadership of our community.  I witnessed the leaders that had always relied on a top down style of leadership fall silent, either too frightened or too stunned to take the actions needed to protect or inspire those that looked to them for direction.  I watched many of the people the community looked at as leaders or elders because of some level of fame or popularity that they were attached to, fall into a state of “I can’t even….” and become paralyzed with their own fears and insecurities.  But most importantly I watched members of our community, some recognized leaders, some not, step up and start to help others in whatever way they were able to.

During times of great crisis one would expect the social order to fall to pieces and devolve into chaos.  But one of the beautiful things about humanity is that in most cases this is not true.  Studies show that during times of extreme societal trauma, wars , economic and natural disasters, that instead of societies falling apart, that communities almost always come together, forgetting previous divisions and prejudices and working together for the safety and benefit for all.   Contrary to what the apocalyptic films tell us, that when circumstances are at their worst, humanity is at its best.

In our community I witnessed an outpouring of action and support from great numbers of people.  Safety networks were created, individuals gave their time and energy to holding close those that needed it, people reached out and built connections and alliances designed to create a stronger and more resilient community and started creating safety nets to catch those of us that might fall through society’s cracks.

This is the type of leadership that is going to carry us through this troubled time.  Leaders that stand alongside the rest of us, shouldering as much work as the person next to them.  Leaders that inspire by their actions alongside their words, pulling people together to address tasks that are too great to handle alone.  Leaders that lead from the frontline not the safety of the back of the crowd.

These leaders are here now, doing the work, taking their share of the burden, and helping those that are struggling with theirs.  These leaders are often young , sometimes unlikely, they come from generations of powerful people, raised on stories of rebellion and resistance, their earliest memories rich with strength of character and the toppling of unjust empires and they have a message for the monsters.

Their message is, We are the children of the Rebel Alliance, the Fellowship of the Ring, and the Browncoats.  We are the inheritors of the Civil Rights Movement, the Indigenous Solidarity Movement, and of Stonewall   Our sense of justice comes from these modern myths and current struggles and encompasses rooting for the underdog, fighting the good fight, and doing the right damn thing.  As things get worse in the world around us we will come together despite our differences to fight to protect our communities.  We will stand side by side and do the work that must be done to create and maintain a safe and just world for everyone.

And in that is where I lay my hope.

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Temple Priests and Hospitality Vikings : The Role of Hospitality and Sacred Space at Pantheacon

 

This year was my fifth year attending Pantheacon, one of the largest Pagan gatherings in the world and one of the Coru’s most involved events of the year.  Pantheacon is an overwhelming and powerful event.  It’s a place to learn from brilliant minds and to attend rituals and ceremonies presented by an abundance of traditions and groups.  It’s a gathering of tribes, covens, traditions, and families.  It’s a bizarre concentration of potent and powerful people, spirits, and Gods set in a semi generic chain hotel in an corporate center next to a major airport.  Pantheacon is overwhelming, an energetic minefield and a maelstrom of energy……and Pantheacon has a hygiene problem.

I don’t mean that Pantheacon is dirty, the hotel and the con staff do an extraordinary job of maintaining the event.  The Doubletree is a decent hotel and the staff are excellent.  The Pantheacon staff itself are absolutely amazing as well and are clearly dedicated to making the environment there a safe and welcoming place to all.  And when I say that the Con has a hygiene problem I’m also not speaking about germs, although the con crud was brutal this year and if you go in the future I highly recommend doing everything you can to bolster your immune system and be conscious of the risk of flu.  The hygiene that I’m referring to is spiritual and psychic hygiene.

My first Pantheacon was a bit of a shock for me.  I had spent the previous seven years of my life living in remote regions in the Sierra Nevada mountains far away from most human contact.  I tend to prefer solitude and wilderness to cities and neighbors and find that I would rather deal with regular visits from bears, foxes and spirits than I would from strangers or solicitors.  My spiritual practice, which was always there with me, was strictly solitary.  I had some close friends, I had some allies, but for the most part my work was done alone.

That all changed about five years ago.  Circumstances were shifted, fates were rewoven, and a fiercely powerful Celtic Goddess grabbed me by the scruff of my neck with corvid talons and shook me back into action, called me into service.  Soon after that call I found myself walking through the doors of the San Jose Doubletree and into the energetic pandemonium that is Pantheacon and it was beyond overwhelming.

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Main Altar : Temple of the Morrigan  photo by Joe Perri

You see, there are far more attendants at Pantheacon than the 2000 – 3000 human guests.  An event like the Con, this gathering of magically potent people and seekers, also has a large population of non corporeal beings that gravitate to it.  People knowingly and unknowingly bring multitudes of spirits, hosts of ancestors, and pantheons of Gods to the event.  As well as that host, the energy of the Con acts as a beacon for every wandering or wayward spirit in the area, and at a place of crossroads like a hotel or airport, those spirits are multitude.

In an environment like this, hospitality is immensely important.  There needs to be hospitality for the humans and hospitality for Gods as well as space for the spirits and the wandering dead.  At this convocation of the worlds, hospitality must flow between the realms as well as between the people.

Hospitality suites are immensely important to the human community at Pantheacon.  They provide spaces for individuals and different groups and traditions to meet and get to know each other.  They provide spaces for smaller workshops and meetings to take place in, and they also provide essential places for people to rest and relax in private and more intimate places than the rest of the hotel.  I have also found that the  hospitality in some of these suites can be somewhat elusive.  I have often had the experience of walking into a group’s hospitality suite and finding it occupied by a small group of people engaged in conversation, ignoring visitors.  While I understand that the nature of the event makes for an environment of busy socializing and over stimulation, this act of being so involved with friends that you ignore guests and visitors is actually poor hospitality.

It can be difficult maintaining that level of hospitality while also being pulled in multiple directions and trying to take care of your own needs.  The nature of the event means that things will be missed and people ignored.  We never seem to have the time to spend time with everyone that we want to, but we should always be striving to improve and make those connections while also keeping an eye open for the stranger crossing our threshold looking for aid or company.

 

 

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Shrine to Nuada and Scathach : photo by Joe Perri

Hospitality means being greeted  by a welcoming face, an offer of food and drink, a warm conversation.  Hospitality demands connection and engagement and in a spirit rich environment like Pantheacon, hospitality should extend to the spirit community, to our ancestors and the dead, and most importantly, to our Gods.  The Coru’s Hospitality suite and the Temple of the Morrigan arose to meet the combined needs of hospitality to the the community as well as hospitality to the community of Gods, spirits, and ancestors with which we share our world.

Each year we have made changes and improvements to the way we run our hospitality suite with the goal of making it a safer and more welcoming space for everyone.  Our first year we had ourselves scheduled so fully that we were unable to provide the type of connection and personal conversations with the community that we were striving for.  To address this problem we found it helpful to have a person on staff during our open hours whose sole job is was to maintain hospitality.  Someone whose job it was to simply welcome everyone walking into the room and offer them a drink and a bite to eat, a Briugu, an ancient Irish term for hospitalier, or in the case of the Coru suite at Pantheacon this year, a Hospitality Viking.

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Hospitality Dream Team:  Hospitality Viking (Grant Guindon) and Dagda Priest (Jon O’Sullivan) in the Coru Suite  : photo by Joe Perri

The other step that we have taken in order to create and maintain a safe space was to create a very clear and enforceable Statement of Hospitality and Safety. This was created in response to members of marginalized communities within the larger Pagan community feeling unsafe and unwelcome in a number of rituals, workshops, and hospitality suites at the Con.  Our community is not free of issues like racism, transphobia, and sexual predators, and by creating and posting a clear statement that these attitudes will not be tolerated in our suite, we can start to maintain a space where people can feel safe without fear of attacks, alienation, and the microaggressions that come with unexamined language.  This type of statement is essential because not only does it make the language of what is and what isn’t acceptable in our space very clear and unambiguous, making it more unlikely for someone to come in an break that code, but it also makes a statement to anyone at the Con that they are welcome and that their safety and comfort will be maintained.

The Temple of the Morrigan was created for a parallel purpose. It was created to provide a sacred space, an area warded and set apart from the rest of the convention where people can spend time in communion with the Gods.  Where the hospitality suite is created and maintained for the human community, the Temple is created and maintained as a nexus between the community of spirits and Gods and the community of the living.  It’s a place for us to offer the Gods our hospitality and in return are treated to the hospitality of the Gods, a quiet place, where one can sit in the presence of the unseen and the divine.  It has also become a place for anyone who is experiencing spiritual trauma to find safety and a trained priest to help them navigate their experiences.  Over the past few years, the Coru Temple priests and those that aid us have had a variety of challenges walk through our door.  The nature of the Temple and its staff creates a safe space for people having intense experiences to find shelter and aid there.  Because we are one of the only types of space like this at Pantheacon and the fact that we have trained priests on duty there, it allows people going through events such as spirit possession, possession by Gods (Celtic and other), psychic assault, emotional breakdowns to have a safe space and allows the wandering and lost spirits and the dead, to all cross the threshold of the Temple and seek aid.  Having trained and skilled priests, people with skills at spirit work as well as pastoral care, is critical to keeping a space like the Temple safe for all.

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Brigid’s Shrine : photo by Joe Perri

This hospitality, this hospitality to the community, to the spirits, to the Gods, requires attending to.  It requires work and it requires devotion.  It requires dedicated staff and trained priests and spirit workers.  It requires time, and energy, and planning.   It requires commitment and it requires financial support.  These spaces add to the richness and depth of the Pantheacon experience.  They are places for us to share with our Gods and for us to share the richness of our Gods with each other.  I would like to see a number of Temples and sacred spaces arise each year at Pantheacon, each group honoring their Gods in their own way.  I would like to see more priests and more devotees there to share the beauty and power of their traditions and cultures with each other.  I would like to see Pantheacon full of Temples, temple priests, and hospitality vikings.  For we are better as a community when we recognize the need for true hospitality for all, living and dead, seen and unseen, mortal and divine.  We are better as a community when we build connections and learn from each other.  We are better as a community when we are of service to each other.

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photo by Joe Perri

Heroes

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“We can be Heroes, just for one day
We can be us, just for one day”

– Heroes

One of my heroes died yesterday.

I didn’t know how I would react to David Bowie’s death because like most of us, I had no idea that he was even ill.  Oddly enough, it had never even occurred to me that he could die.  Bowie seemed ageless, alien, and immortal to me.  He seemed to walk in a liminal place between this world and the Otherworld and my mind never imagined that he wouldn’t just always be there, singing, laughing, and creating beauty in our lives.

But of course David Bowie was all too human.   It seems that all of my heroes are imperfect, wounded, and mortal.  And like all of us, his time here was finite and brief.  I now live in a post-Bowie world, and I think that I feel perfectly fine with that now.  That’s not to say that I won’t miss him, but looking back on his life, his death, and his legacy, I can not help but feel anything but joy.

I found out about his passing early in the morning.  I had woken up too early and made the mistake of checking social media.  As the news hit me and the waves of conflicting emotions that accompany shocking events washed over me, I found that the predominate feeling that I had was a profound sense of gratitude to David Bowie for all he had given me and for all that he had given the world.

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“The boy in the bright blue jeans
Jumped up on the stage
And lady stardust sang his songs
Of darkness and disgrace”

 – Lady Stardust

I’m don’t think that there is an artist that’s had a greater influence on my life than David Bowie.  I discovered his music when I was 12.  I was an awkward and strange kid from a broken home, spirit bothered, picked on, and alone.  Bowie occupied this strange place in the musical pantheon of my youth.  He transcended genres and was respected by almost everyone.  David Bowie was unapologetically himself.  He was multifaceted, magical, and fae.  He lived his life and died his death in his own unique and beautiful way and I feel thankful that I was able to share in even a tiny part of it.

Bowie’s music and presence lifted me from a dark place in my life.  The years following that awkward 12 year old me were harsh and punishing.   My teenage years were marred by violence and abuse and Bowie inspired me to stand up and live the truth of who I was.  He showed me that it was OK to be different and odd, because Bowie was different and odd, and there was no way to deny that Bowie was fucking cool.  From Bowie I learned that there is no virtue in conformity, that beauty and magic come from the freaks and weirdos not the drones, and Gods knows  this world needs more beauty and magic and fewer drones.

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“Oh no love! you’re not alone
You’re watching yourself but you’re too unfair
You got your head all tangled up but if I could only make you care
Oh no love! you’re not alone
No matter what or who you’ve been
No matter when or where you’ve seen
All the knives seem to lacerate your brain
I’ve had my share, I’ll help you with the pain
You’re not alone

Just turn on with me and you’re not alone
Let’s turn on with me and you’re not alone
Let’s turn on and be not alone
Gimme your hands cause you’re wonderful”

 – Rock and Roll Suicide

So although the man himself has moved on, we are still left with his legacy and I am left with the gifts that I learned from him.  Those gifts tell me to create art, and to live life with joy and style.  They tell me to learn from the strange ones, and the misfits, and the monsters,that their truths are as important and often more important than average people’s.   They tell me to find the kids that don’t fit in, the weirdos, the freaks, and the outcasts, and remind them that they are not alone and that what makes them different is what makes them special, that what they might see as their burden can be their superpower, that they are important, and valuable, and beautiful no matter what anyone tells them.

and at the end of the day, we still have him.  When it all starts to overwhelm us we can always curl up and put on a copy of “Hunky Dory” or “Diamond Dogs”.  His body of work is vast and complex and he will always be a star in our sky.  For me, I will always have what he has given me, those things are not lost after a death.  For me, I will always be grateful to have had my life shaped by

Saint Bowie, Patron Saint of Enchanted Misfits

Thank you David, you will be missed.

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“Gentle hearts are counted down
The queue is out of sight and out of sounds
Me, I’m out of breath, but not quite doubting
I’ve found a door which lets me out!

When you rock ‘n’ roll with me
No one else I’d rather be
Nobody here can do it for me
I’m in tears again”

– Rock and Roll With Me

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The Power of Mockery

  
I once listened to the comedian Patton Oswalt talk about the capability of humor to diffuse and disempower frightening or horrible things.  

In the highly connected and recorded world that we live in today, it is easy for a comedian to fuck up, to try to make light of something and have it fall flat , or come off as insensitive, or be taken out of context, but a skilled comedian has the ability to poke fun of truely terrible issues and make us laugh about them. 

 Oswalt uses the example of classic Spider-Man comics to make his point about the power of humor and mockery to diffuse frightening situations.  Anyone who has read a Spider-Man comic knows that one of the defining factors of Peter Parker as Spider-Man is that he is a smart ass.  Spidey is constantly making mocking comments and insults while he is fighting a villain.  In the example Oswalt uses Spider-Man is fighting a bad guy that fits the evil mastermind trope.  During the fight, Parker is constantly mocking the powers, ego, and abilities of his opponent.  The villain, wrapped up in his own sense of importance, starts to be effected by the insults.  He becomes more and more angry, he starts to make mistakes, and Spider-Man triumphs.  What is happening here is more than just Stan Lee’s desire to add witty dialogue in his creation, Spider-Man is engaging in what I consider tactical mockery. 

Humor and mockery has the ability to take someone’s fear and replace it with courage and it can take power away from frightening and terrible things and render them impotent.  

This all leads me to talk about the Bundy clowns, the Brokeback Militia.

When I first heard the misleading news report about hundreds of armed militia members taking over a wildlife preserve in Oregon I was furious.  To be clear I am not pro government in any way.  Throughout my career as an activist I have faced off against a countless number of government agencies over a variety of issues.  I understand the overreach of the federal government and believe that our entire political process needs to be overhauled.  But, and this is a very important but, I do not believe in no government.  The laws that have been put in place to protect natural resources, endangered wildlife, and wilderness are the laws that I have put my life on the line to help create.

So when Aamon Bundy publicly states that he’ll leave Oregon when the government returns ranches to ranchers, forests to loggers, and mines to miners, he shows his true colonist nature.  I’ve seen what happens when the land is left to miners, loggers, and ranchers without any regulation at all.  Strip mining,  clear cutting, overgrazing.

So to be fair, the Oregon yahoos, although morally questionable and dangerously uneducated,  are not truely a threat to anyone but themselves and some protected bird species after their Slim Jims and Coors Light runs out.  They are a sad group of angry children, confused as to why the world isn’t the way it supposed to be in their ignorant and limited world view and religious indoctrination.  To them, they are white American men and the world should be their oyster.  When they are told No! and have their hand slapped they get angry and confused.

 As individuals and as a group they are nothing, the political relevance of a fart in the wind, but the philosophy that they represent, the philosophy of the white settler, of the conquistador, of the colonizer, the philosophy that says that we can do whatever we want and take whatever we want through force of arms is childish and toxic and should be called out and soundly mocked and discredited whenever it shows its face.

So we mock them, because there’s power in it.  We mock them because it takes something that is frightening and makes it ridicioulous.  We mock them because they see themselves as heroes and we want them and anyone else that is thinking about joining them to know that we see them as criminals, and bullies, and idiots.  We compare them to Brokeback Mountain and to terrorists, not because being gay is bad or that we want more people charged under terrorism laws, we do it because being seen as gay and being seen as the equalivant of Islamic terrorists makes them angry and makes them doubt themselves.  We mock them because it’s what they so desperately deserve and we mock them because their brand of willful ignorance, xenophobia, and sense of entitlement is worthy of mockery.

Fear and Loathing in the West: a Call for Radical, Defiant Compassion 

  

The events of the last week have shaken our society.  We struggle once more, to make sense of a world where our safety and security are in question and we bear witness to what seem like daily tragedies.  In times like these our fear if not confronted, quickly turns to anger, our feelings of helplessness and despair start to choke us.  We look at the world around us, violent, uncertain, broken, and are afraid for our friends, our families, and our futures.

My country has been unrecognizable since 9/11.  The fear of terrorist attack has seeped into our culture like the poison of a snakebite, a sharp pain at first, waves of fear, and then the invasive flow of toxin through our system.  Like any poison, there is the initial damage from the bite but the true horror comes when our organs start to shut down and deteriorate.  While this happens the body starts to damage itself.  Pieces of us that played vital roles in keeping us alive and functioning, start to shut down or in some cases attack us, damaging nearby organs and causing a cascade of damage that can lead to death.

In the poisoned body of our society, the part of us that starts to die first is our compassion.   At first that compassion becomes overwhelmed by anger.  We want to lash out at whatever caused that wound, hurt them, make them pay for what they did, but that anger gets rapidly replaced by fear, and fear is brutal, fear is paralyzing.  Where anger is seductive, fear is subtle and invasive.  Fear grips us at 4 am while we lay awake and twists our thinking.  Fear makes us selfish, and insular, and petty.  It turns us against each other and makes us mistrust our neighbors.  It destroys all of the noble impulses of humanity and turns us into shrinking, cowering victims, and it is exactly what Daesh and the other assholes that are trying to drag us into a religious war want.

The reasons behind the attacks in Paris are not a mystery.  They are just one more attempt by ignorant, wretched cowards to remake the world in their own fearful image.  Their strategy is simplistic and tired, cause fear and terror then sit back and let the West tear itself apart.

Daesh is weak.  Let me repeat that so it sinks in.  Daesh is weak.  They are weak militarily, socially, and they are weak philosophically.  Daesh can not hope to defeat the West so their tactics are to create an environment where the West destroys itself.  This is done in a variety of ways.

To Daesh, the flood of refugees flowing into West is not a consequence of the violence in the Middle East, it’s a feature.  They want us to turn on these refugees.  It reinforces their particular portrayal of the West as anti-Islam and more importantly anti-Muslim, and because we, in our state of fear and panic, take up those loathsome roles willingly, more and more young men who could have been dreaming of a better life in the West, show up on Daesh’s doorstep, filled with hate and fear, ready to lash out at those who showed them cruelty during their hardest struggle.

But let’s look at this struggle a different way, because there is a global battle happening right now between two opposing philosophies and it’s foolish to ignore that fact, but it’s not the battle that we are being spoon-fed.  The mythical battle of Armageddon that both Islamic and Christian fundamentalists are trying to start is not the real fight.  That battle is a ideological disagreement between idiots, both side clutching onto their medieval religious bigotry like so many fearful old ladies clutching their pearls.  Their battle will only be the world changing event that they want it to be if we let them hijack our society and poison our compassion.

The battle that we are actually taking part in is much more subtle and deadly then Armageddon and it is also a battle between two opposing philosophies.  The battle we are in now is the battle between religious extremism and tolerance.  Our enemies in this struggle are many.  The extremist elements of both Islam and Christianity are in large part responsible for this destructive environment, each side pushing and cadjoling their followers to mistrust and hate the other, and by other I mean every single individual that does not submit to their theology.  Our media sources, theoretically there to serve their communities, wallow in the fear and suspicion because selling content is more important than service to community and one generally does not go broke peddling fear.   Our natural instincts become our enemies in a environment of toxic fear.  

Understandably, we all want to live in a safe and healthy world.  When our leaders and our news sources are perpetually pumping it full of fear and panic our natural instincts kick in and the desire to protect ourselves and those that we love rises to the surface.  But that instinct, when manipulated by those with agendas, can cause us to actually act in ways that will make us less safe.

Fear is a powerful tool.  When an owl hunts there is a common trick that the hunter uses to fool its prey.  Imagine that you are a rabbit in the woods at night.  To you,  as a prey animal, the call of an owl equates to death, the sound you hear right before you are torn to pieces and devoured.  The owl understands this dynamic, that prey runs on fear and panic, and it uses its call to sow panic in the rabbit.  So Rabbit You hears the call of an owl and recognizes it as potential death.  You cower in the underbrush, hoping that you are hidden, safe from the hunter above.  The owl calls again and your body floods with adrenaline, does it see you?, where is the threat?  The owl calls again and you are sure that it must see you. The adrenaline and the fear in your system take over and you bolt, you run for better cover, someplace safer, and then it’s over.  Because the owl didn’t know exactly where you were, it just knew that you were close.  Your panic induced flight is what actually allowed the predator to spot, track, and eventually kill you.  Your fear and your instincts betrayed you.

Fear makes you act against your best interests, unscrupulous men have been using that fact to control people throughout history.  If we want to survive this growing struggle we must start thinking tactically.  We must learn to act, not react.   When we are being led down the path of destruction by people that we are morally opposed to, the proper action is to stop walking down that path.

We can’t win a battle if we can’t recognize our enemy.  So in order to make us more effective in our fight, and allow the culture of compassion and honor to triumph over the culture of hatred and mistrust, I’d like to end this with my assessment of the forces in play.

Muslims are not our enemies, Christians are not our enemies.  Radical, extremist, Christains and Muslims are our enemies.

Painting any religion as the cause for this is falling into a dangerous false flag scheme that is specifically  designed to drag more people into this war between two small but opposing minorities within the larger groups.  Islam is no more a religion of violence than Christianity is.  People in both religions have the capability to cherry pick texts to be used for ill.    People in all religions have this capability and have used it.

Devolving into islamaphobia and bigotry is the absolutely worst thing that we can do right now as a society.  Daesh is counting on you being afraid of Muslims, they are counting on you to be cruel to the refugees that they created.  This makes them stronger.  They are counting on you to be violent toward the Muslims that are already living alongside you in your communities, this proves their point that the West hates Islam and gives them justification for their atrocities.  They want you to be afraid, to eat drink and breathe fear.  And because they are so weak, so desperate, so cowardly , they need us to destroy ourselves, because without our participation, DAESH DOESNT STAND A CHANCE AGAINST THE WEST.

So this is a call to action for everyone that refuses to live in fear, to everyone that refuses to let a small group of small men dominate our thoughts and hearts, to everyone that wants to create true safety in our communities.

So when we are faced with a choice between fear and understanding , I want us to chose understanding.

When we are faced with a choice between hatred and compassion, I want us to choose compassion.

And when we are faced with a choice between being fight and flight, I want us to choose to fight.  I want us to stand up as a society and proclaim that our values of freedom, and service, compassion, and honor are what defines our society, that they are the heart of Western culture, not just something that we pay lip service to when it suits us.

In a war of philosophies, compassion and tolerance will always trump hatred and bigotry.  We will triumph over extremist philosophies because they are flawed and weak.  Let’s not let these flawed and weak men dominate our consciousness.

Let us all stand up, be strong, be brave.  Our compassion and our humanity are our greatest strengths.

Pilgrimage: The Everflowing Cauldron of Hospitality 

The practice of hospitality is one of the oldest and long-lasting human societal behaviors.  In early tribal cultures, hospitality was a method of ensuring mutual safety in an unsteady world, a code of conduct that guided people to treat strangers with respect and courtesy upon first meeting rather than hostility.  Hospitality is one of the many mechanisms societies use that enable people to live together peacefully.  Sometime a lost art in a world that encourages suspicion and fear of the “other”, hospitality is essential to having a functioning, healthy, and safe community.

One of the defining aspects in my experiences in Ireland was the overwhelming sense of welcome that we received everywhere that we went.  It is clear that hospitality is a cultural reality to the Irish people.  Historically, the Brehon Laws defined strict and clear rules of hospitality for both hosts and guests to follow and these rules were more than just guidelines.  The laws of hospitality were obligations that the rulers were stringently held to.  Failure of hospitality was a grave offense for a king to be accused of, and it could signify the end of their reign.

It would be difficult to find a more fitting symbol of Irish hospitality than the image of a pint of Guinness.  It’s a beer and a brewery that is synonymous with Ireland.  Along with the Irish people,  Guinness has spread around the world and its popularity and reach is a testament to the enduring and endearing quality of Irish hospitality.

So when the rest of the tour arrived in Ireland, one of the first stops that we made was to the Dublin tourist Mecca of the Guinness brewery.  I had expected this to be a simple stop, a trip to the well spring of what I would have to call my favorite beer. What we didn’t expect is a visit from the Dagda during our visit there.

The Dagda is a unique and quintessentially Irish God.  While many of the Irish Gods have continental cognates, Gods that have similar linguistic counterparts in other Celtic cultures, the Dagda stands alone, exclusively Irish, as ancient as the standing stones and passage tombs.

Dagda wall plaque byhttps://tressabelle.wordpress.com/2011/08/21/dagda-and-curnunnos-wall-plaques/

The tales of the Dagda run alongside the major tales of Ireland, influencing the major events but also extending beyond them as well.  The Dagda tracks across Irish history and legend, shaping the land, insuring victory for his tribe, altering time and space, and using law and language to trick others and get his way when he needs to.

Rough, undignified, and often considered vulgar to the sensibilities of the Victorians that were recording the tales of the medieval monks, the Dagda means the “Good God”, not good in the moral sense, but meaning skilled at everything.  As the keeper of the Cauldron of the Dagda, one of the four treasures of the Tuatha from which no company would ever leave from unfulfilled,  He is deeply connected with the concept of hospitality.

As we entered the massive brewery, it was clear that this was somehow the Dagda’s place.  He sidled up to us during the tour with a variety of requests:  “Grab a handful of that barley” “Get a closer look at that harp for me” “That’s a beautiful glass, I would like one”.  He walked with us, beaming with pride at the scope and size of the establishment, a pride that we assumed was just a natural delight in the national beverage of his land.

Guinness Harp photo by Joe Perri

Days later, during our trip to Brú na Bóinne and Newgrange, as we were telling stories of that place and of the Dagda and Boann and Aengus their son, our coach driver and guide, the mighty Druid of the Coach John Byrne (Sean O’Broin) told us a bit of history of the name Guinness.  John told us that the name Guiness is actually an anglicized version of the name Mac Aengus (or Mac Óengus), meaning “Son of Aengus”.
That bit of information hit us all immediately, of course the Dagda was present at the Guinness brewery, it is likely that it is his family’s business.  As we thought about this idea, a number of connections became evident to us.  The giant pint glass shaped structure that the brewery is built around as a reflection of the Cauldron of the Dagda, the symbol of Guinness, the Harp of the Dagda, the role in promoting Irish hospitality that Guinness plays, even the most common way the Dagda trick people and gets his way, through the manipulation of time and legal language evident in the 9000 year lease that Arthur Guinness secured for the location of that compound at St James Gate, Dublin, a lease that is built into the foundation of the brewery itself.

So that first day of the Coru’s tour of Ireland, we stood in the Gravity Bar of the Guinness Brewery looking out over a 360 degree view of that beautiful grey city and we raised a glass to Dublin, to Ireland, and to the Dagda, father of hospitality, master of the harp, and shaper of the land.

Poems for the Dagda
by Scott Rowe, Coru Priest

Good God of the mighty appetites

Your skill and prowess bring us awe

Dagda, play a lay upon your harp

So that the seasons go on for us all

photo by Joe Perri

Your life-giving club

Bringing ecstasy, full of joy

Leave your mark upon the Land

That Her cries of ecstasy bring victory

photo by Joe Perri

Victory without conquest

Conquest overturned

A tune of liberation

Libations poured out

Bellies very full

Cups full of drink

Drinks with comrades

The gifts of the Dagda

photo by Joe Perri

Hard work, labor’s end

Joy in the doing

A sheen of sweat upon his brow

Buttered porridge and beer awaiting

Cock and belly, club and cauldron

None leave them unsatisfied

Inspiration of the harp

Righteous battle is coming

Previous : The Cave and the Mound

Pilgrimage: the Cave and the Mound

  
I sometimes awaken at night in the cave.  It has ceased being startling.  I fall asleep in my bed and soon I can hear the slow persistent drip of water in the pool, feel the dampness, and sense that now familiar awareness of being in the home of the Morrigan, a place that holds part of myself now.
The first time this happened was a moment of panic for me, a desperate climb out of the darkness towards a sliver of light.  Now I sit and quietly breathe, centering myself in that holy place, feeling my Queen breathing close to me.  I take time to appreciate the moment of closeness, of intimacy with my Goddess, before I slowly climb to the surface, feeling like I am being born anew each time.

When I reach the surface I sit at the mouth of the cave, resting under the hawthorn tree on a fallen pillar stone.  This is a new part of my dream landscape, this cave.  It has always been there, a whisper, a story, a tale told by people I met in hushed, conspiring tones,  but it was not a place I was able to visit or enter in my dream realm until I did so in the physical world.  Now that I have, the cave has become part of me.  It has taken up residency in my internal and spiritual landscape, a fissure in the familiar ground of my dreams.

After a day in Dublin, we hopped on a bus and headed west into Connacht, to Cruachan, to the mound of Rathcroghan and to Úaimh na gCat, the Cave of Cats.  This part of the trip was essential for us.  We had personal work we needed to do before the rest of the tour arrived.

As we headed west the land changed, got wilder, rockier.  Hedges gave way to rock walls, fields of crops gave way to cattle and sheep.  There is a beautiful ferocity to the west of Ireland, a sense that it is and has always been, untamed and raw.  To me, a longtime resident of rural California and someone who has lived in some of the harshest and wildest places in my country,  Connacht seemed lush and enchanting.  The hills and landscapes reminded me of rural Pennsylvania where I grew up, low rolling ridges and deciduous forests.   But there was something else here,  something ancient and pervasive.  It was a connection that I felt as soon as I stepped foot in this land, a connection and pull that got deeper and more compelling as I headed west.

We got off the bus in a small town in County Roscommon and were met by our host and guide to the cave Lora O’Brien and her family.  We first encountered Lora online, in and around the loose knit circles of Morrigan devotees that inhabit the backwaters of the Internet.  Lora immediately stood out and was recognizable as the real thing, a well grounded Irish witch with a sharp sense of humor and healthy disdain for some of the more frivolous spiritual philosophies,  a sometimes rare thing in the Pagan world.  She is very clearly someone that walks a path of service, a priestess of the Great Queen and the guardian of the Her Cave.  We had the pleasure of meeting her in person at Pantheacon last year and felt an immediate kinship.  We were able to share some of the sacred and beautiful places of our land with her and she graciously offered to host us and be our guide to Rathcroghan during our visit.

We spent our first day in the west exploring and connecting with the land.  Dublin had been all bricks and traffic, with St. Stephen’s Green showing us a richly beautiful but highly manicured taste of the natural landscape.  Out here, we felt the spirit of the land more acutely, more viscerally.  We walked the narrow roads and did some local exploration.  We visited the Famine Museum (I’m going to have to write a separate  post to unpack my feelings about that), got our first taste of Irish woodlands, and visited a graveyard with the ruins of a church in it that was so old that graves were placed within the footprint of the original church structure.

Graveyard at Kiltrustan Church

The next day we headed to Rathcroghan, the royal seat of Connacht.   Rathcroghan is an area of approximately 4 square miles, west of the tiny town of Tulsk where the Rathcroghan Visitors Centre resides.  It is a vast complex, mostly unexcavated but thoroughly mapped, of over 60 mounds and related sites.   It is probably best known as the Royal seat of Connacht and the home of Queen Medb and her consort Ailill.  It was this place where Medb and Ailill had their fated “pillow talk” that instigated the famed Táin Bó Cúailnge, the cattle raid of Cooley.  Here is Crúachain of the old tales but also the burial mound of Rathbeg, Rathnadarve where the two bulls that were once swine herds had their final battle, the Mucklaghs massive earthworks raised when two giant demon pigs came out of the Cave and ravished the land, and the Cave itself, Úaimh na gCat, the Cave of Cats, the home of the Morrigan and the focus of much magical initiation and activity in early legend, referred to in some of the tales as Ireland’s Hellmouth.

Rathcroghan mound

The Cave was the magnet that pulled us west.  It is possibly the force that pulled us to Ireland.   We were called to this particular gateway for reasons still unclear to us but we were haunted by the Cave and its place in our hearts.  But before we could enter the Cave it was made clear to us that we had to engage with Medb and with the mound of Rathcroghan.

This becomes obvious as you enter Connacht.  The Cave might be the home of the Morrigan, but Rathcroghan is the realm of Medb.  She compellingly looms over the land, Queen of the West, Lady of Initiation and Intoxication.  This is her home.  She is the guardian of the land and the chaperone of the Cave.  Her role is that of initiator of warbands, a guide to engagement with the Battle Goddess.  It was in this role that we had to engage with her.

Queen Maev by Joseph Christian Leyendecker

I have had a shaky relationship with Medb mostly stemming from the fact that my former wife went by that name.  During our lives together I did my share of using the name in anger, and it was easy for me to buy into the common portrayal of Medb that paints her as petty, jealous, and vain.  The more I researched the stories and texts and the deeper that I delved into the volumes of modern research on the Táin and Medb’s role in it,  the more I noticed that all too common pattern of trivializing and vilifying powerful women that our culture so quickly and effortlessly does.  In the case of Medb, this pattern becomes entangled with the Norman conquest and subversion of the predominate Gaelic culture.  These ancient stories of a Lady of Sovereignty bestowing the blessing of the Sovereignty of the Land to a ruling King did not mesh with the Christian/Norman idea of a King chosen by God.  Here we once again have the patriarchy attempting to erase any remnants of feminine power in order to solidify their control over the population, and it is here where we see the perception of Medb being changed from a powerful Queen to a petty whore.

We stood on the mound of Rathcroghan, the place flashing between the royal center of Connacht and a mound in a verdant field surrounded by sheep.  We got glimpses of the Crúachain of old, pieced together with legends, archaeological data, and our view of the mound on that day.  We walked in that place of the dead, the bones of ancestors interred beneath of feet.  We see from the archaeological research that it is highly likely that the mound is a passage tomb, another example of the Irish building sites of ritual and political importance directly on top of the bones of their honored dead.  This is one of the most iconic and beautiful practices in ancient Irish history, this method of connecting the ancestors to royal power.  It not only created a claim of legitimacy to whatever dynasty was ruling at the time, but it created a ritual space that was directly connected to the graves of the mighty and beloved dead, and also set their ritual and ceremonial center directly on a gateway to the Otherworld.

So that windy afternoon we sat on the mound and spoke to and left offerings for the dead of that place, to the beings of the Otherworld that we live alongside,  and I apologized to Medb for misunderstanding who she is.  We sat and listened and felt that gateway shift and open, a deep chthonic passage to other realms, until we received the conformation of acceptance that we were looking for.  Once we heard it, we headed to the Cave.

IMG_2936

Louis le Brocquy’s Illustration from the Táin

The Cave is not only the home of the Morrigan but has a number of tales connected to it about strange and horrible things emerging from it and laying waste to the land.

“…pigs of magic came out of the Cave of Crúachain, and that is Ireland’s gate of Hell.  From out of it issued the monstrous triple headed Ellen that wasted Erin till Amairgene, the father of Conall the Victorious, killed it in single combat before all the men of Ulster.  Out of it, also, came Red birds that withered up everything in Erin that their breaths would touch, till the Ulstermen slew them with their slings.”

We weren’t there to slay demon birds or magical swine.  Nor were we there to fight otherworldly cats or werewolves.  We went to the Cave for a moment of communion with the Goddess that we were dedicated to, a quiet space of contemplation and connection.  We sat at the entrance, said our words, made our offerings, and followed Lora into the Cave.

I won’t speak of the details of my experience in the Cave here.  People’s experiences with it are personal and unique.  There is nothing that I can say about it that will do it justice in any way.  Like any ordeal or spiritual journey, these types of experiences belong to the one having them and significance and meaning tend to hold importance to them.  But that day we entered the Cave, had our moment, and learned the lessons that we needed to learn.  One week later, we stood at the entrance to the Cave again in the pouring rain, this time with 17 members of our tour.  This time, 17 people in the process of bonding during a 9 day pilgrimage crawled into that sacred muddy hole in the ground, blind, wet, and completely trusting in each other, and had their own experiences in the Cave.  This is part of the magic of that place, it is a spot that enables a moment of personal connection to the Otherworld.  These moments, profound and life changing as they are, are for the one experiencing them alone, with significance and meanings connecting the circuits that they need to for each person individually.  The power of that moment in a muddy cow field in the rain was twofold, the trust and bravery of 17 near strangers taking a leap of faith together and helping each other descend into a pitch black hole in the earth, and the myriad of personal experiences and the lessons learned by each individual that day, each one different and each one intensely personal.

Holding the sacrificial sword after crawling out of the Cave.


Morpheus has an account of the trip west here

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