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

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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.

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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

Previous Chapter : Two Tickets to Dublin

Next Chapter : ?

Pilgrimage :  Introductions and a Tale

Detail from Desmond Kinney’s 1974 mosaic mural of the Táin Bó Cúailnge in Dublin

It’s taken me days to make the transition from being in Ireland to being in California.  Jet lag was a factor, but it is much more than jet lag that has thrown my system into disarray.  What has shifted in me is deeper than a physiological response to travel, or the simple shock of moving between contrasting cultures.  In a very profound way, my spiritual landscape has been altered, reworked, grounded in place in a way that I was unaware that it was even lacking, but now can’t imagine being without.

I wasn’t sure that I should even attempt to write about my experiences on this journey.  Some of them seem too involved and detailed, with tangents twisting off of tangents.  Too much backstory would needed to relate the significance of some of these events to readers, and the format of a blog is ill suited for this type of storytelling, usually requiring strong drink and smokey firelight, quite possibly the smell of wet wool.  Many of the stories are painfully personal and would force me to tell my own histories and stories, an art that I am not skilled at nor comfortable doing in most cases.  But my habits of seclusion and remaining guarded have been put on the chopping block by the Queen that I serve, and stories have a habit of wanting to be told.  So here we are.

Instead of trying to relate the journey to you all at once, or simply relating a chronological telling of the tale,  I’ve decided that I will be publishing my account in a series of stories.   Some will be about certain portions of the trip and some will be explorations of themes and concepts that came up during the experience.  The time we were there was so densely packed with places, spirits, experiences, and revelations that I’m not exactly sure how these stories will form and want to be told.  This process I am going through is more for me than anyone else.  It is not unlike the process of unpacking your bags after a long trip.  You slowly take each item that you have acquired during your expedition out of your bag and hold it in your hands, remembering where you found it, its significance to you, how it fits into the life that you have returned to.

So I welcome you to join me while I unpack my experiences and tell some tales of my odyssey if that type of thing will be of interest to you.  I humbly hope that my words can do justice to the wealth and richness of the land we walked in and brilliance and kindness of the people that we encountered, but stories must start somewhere and in the case of this account, it should probably start with a tale.

Boyhood Deeds

The boy had his first training among the women of his mother’s clan, and this is fitting for it’s a pups mother that trains it to fight, for women know that fighting is more than glory and tales, but often a matter of survival.

He lived in a village in the shadow of a great city with his Grandmother, Corcairghorm and her sisters, powerful Druidess’ of a fierce clan, who knew the arts of healing, craft, and persuasion.  The boy lived a happy but lonely life with his mothers people, and it was likely that the women loved him greatly, for there were few children in the clan, and the boy was kind, and good natured, and tried to be helpful even when his size and skills made him very unhelpful in some tasks.

The boy, then called Tómas, spent the dark half of his year with the clan of his mother in boyish pursuits, exploring deep forests, pushing the boundaries of his existence, and asking too many questions, and he spent the light half of the year with his fathers people, a wild and untamed clan that lived deep in the mountains. From his fathers people he learned the art of the hunt, and how to move like a staking beast through the forest. He learned to plow rocky fields and when the right time to cut hay for the animals.

There was another thing about the boy that set him apart from his people, a fact that he kept to himself as much as he was able to, but something that made him feel alone and distant from the other people in his life, the boy was often approached by and spoken to by spirits of the dead and creatures of the Otherworld. At first there seemed nothing out of the ordinary to have exchange with these spirits, but Tómas quickly realized that he was the only one that saw them, and that by talking about the beings that he encountered with the other members of his clan, made the people that loved him look at him out of the sides of their eyes suspiciously, and regard him with fear and concern when they thought he wasn’t looking.

Once, the boy awoke in the middle of the night, eyes open but unable to move his body. It was then that he saw the woman, tall and beautiful, who had the bearing of a mighty queen from the stories that his grandmother told him. He feared and loved this stormy, stately Queen and struggled to make his mouth and throat make sounds to speak to Her but could only make a strangled moan that broke the spell that held his body still, when the spell was broken the Queen was gone, all that remained was the sound of calling crows and the image of a fair green land.

Years later the boy awoke during a violent storm. Storms didn’t frighten him at this point, the terrors and fears of the night had become his friends and companions. He had learned to run through the forests at night alongside wolves and to sit silently in the trees as an owl mapping the sounds and movements of the creatures of the wood. He spoke with his ancestors and with spirits and shades of the dead and they became his confidants and protectors. He did not fear storms but ran into them at night, reveling in the power and beauty of the whipping rain and bright flashes of lightening, and ground shaking thunder, but this storm was different. It was not a storm to challenge. As the boy sat quietly in the dark listening to the raindrops crash against his window, he saw the face of a crone peering in at him. Once again the boy felt that combination of fear and attraction that he felt with the Might Queen that visited him years before and he knew that although Her appearance was different, this was the same Queen. He rapidly sat up in bed and the crone was now in the corner of his room, peering out of one eye with a piercing stare, cloak and feather wrapped, growing and filling the space, and with a voice that sounded equal parts music and screams, the crone who was a Queen who was a black bird, called him a name that he had never heard before and yet knew it was his and said to him
“You Child, are one of my creatures, and I will have need of you in the future, and as I have visited you in your home, someday you will come and visit me in mine”
And with those words She was gone and he was left with dreams of a green and magical island that he knew was his home as well as that Queen’s”

  

Next:  Two Tickets to Dublin

Hospitality, Ally Support, and Pantheacon Looming

Ally

In two days we head down to San Jose for Pantheacon.  For the Coru, this is one of the biggest and most involved events that we participate in and has been pivotal in the founding of our Priesthood.  Because of its imminence, this weeks post will be brief and focus on what we are going to be offering at the event and some thoughts around it.

First of all, the Coru just released our Hospitality and Safety Statement that applies not only to this convention, but to all events the Coru are part of.  At Patheacon, we will be having a hospitality suite for people to be able to come and meet us and ask us any questions that they might have, and we will also be maintaining a Temple space for the Morrigan and related deities for the public to have access to.  We feel that our Hospitality and Safety statement is necessary to ensure that both the hospitality suite and the Temple remain a safe and welcoming space for all.  As regrettable as the necessity of a statement like this is, after reading the final draft, I am filled with an overwhelming feeling of pride for the members of my priesthood for creating a document such as this and for always taking a stand for justice.

“Everyone should feel and be safe. Creating a welcoming, safe, supportive, inclusive, consent-based space for all peoples is just one of the necessary ways hospitality must manifest in today’s society so that all people everywhere may thrive in safety. It’s our responsibility to leave this world better than we inherited it through mindful, thoughtful, and heart-filled care and stewardship. This is one more way we honor our ancestors while amending and healing the consequences of mistakes in the shared history of our collective pasts. These are the gifts we seek to leave to our descendants – so that they may thrive in love and safety.

The Coru Cathubodua Priesthood respects and welcomes all persons regardless of color, ethnicity, age, ability, religion, size, class, perceived or actual sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.

We have an individual and shared responsibility to guard against behaviors that demean or otherwise harm individuals. Because these actions not only harm individuals, they impact and harm our community as a whole. We will not tolerate prejudice and discrimination’s legacy of hate. Unsafe behaviors and words, including but not limited to racism, sexism, ageism, classism, transphobia, homophobia, xenophobia, ethnicism, sizeism, ableism and other prejudicial and discriminatory behaviors will not be tolerated. We insist on consent before touching anyone’s person or property in order that our suite and Temple remain safe spaces for all attendees. Violations of this policy will be considered an infringement against our hospitality, and offenders may be asked to leave.

In solidarity.

Coru Cathubodua Priesthood”

Our two biggest undertakings at the Con are going to be the Temple of the Morrigan, which will have open hours every day from Friday night to Sunday night for the public to visit, and our main ritual,  The Morrigan Speaks: Arise to the Battle, is slated for Saturday night at 7 pm in the Oak ballroom.

Last year was the first year that we had the temple at the event and it turned out to be an amazing facet to the whole experience of Pantheacon.  To have a dedicated sacred space in the midst of the chaos of the convention was like finding shelter during a raging storm.  It provided a quiet, contemplative refuge in the energetic whirlwinds that make up the rest of the hotel that weekend.  Others have written about their experiences last year and I’d like to provide links to their impressions of the temple.  First from Morpheus on her blog “The Foundations of the Temple” and next from the Illustrious John Beckett  “Temple of the Morrigan

We will also be having a Coru Meet and Greet party in our hospitality suite on Sunday night at 7 pm with a premiere of the Poems of the Morrigan recording project in the Temple room at 9 pm.  The recording project came about during the funding campaign for Morpheus’s upcoming book on the Morrigan, The Book of the Great Queen.  It consists of the Morrigan’s poetry, in the original Irish and in English, as well as a few chants and a song.  I’ve had the pleasure of hearing these recordings and they are moving and powerful.

Other events that are being put on by Coru members are Poetess and Prophetess: The Morrigan and Poetry, put on by Morpheus and Rynn Fox, and a Woman’s Self Defense class, taught by Scott Rowe and Amelia Hogan Sunday at 9 am in Pine room.  As well as the third year of the Blood Drive that we helped to create.

So it’s gearing up to be a great year at Pantheacon, I hope to get the chance to meet some of you there.

Not THAT Kind of Priest: or why I don’t proselytize for the Morrigan

Putrification - Valerie Herron http://www.valerieherron.com/

Putrification – Valerie Herron
http://www.valerieherron.com/

What causes a particular god or goddess to surge in popularity and how does that affect the community that is already in relationship with that deity?   In many cases of this phenomena the media has a role to play in popularizing the deity, and the public interest in said deity spikes after a particular movie, television show, or book appears on the market. In some cases the particular deity has an aspect that resonates with people because of the political or physical atmosphere that the individual exists in. Sometimes, there is a rare occurrence where it appears that the deity themselves are actively recruiting devotees into their worship. In the case of the Morrigan all of these factors seem to be in play to one degree or another. There have been a number of appearances of the Morrigan in popular media, all of them rather horrible, portraying her in a juvenile light, petty and vengeful and of course sexy. A Google search for images of the Morrigan leads one to a wasteland of video game characters and gothy waifs with ravens, with a few stunning images thrown in. The Morrigan does indeed have aspects of who she is that resonate with people because of the social and political climate that we live in. The concepts of personal sovereignty and fighting for what you believe in speak to people in a world where our sovereignty and integrity are challenged every day. People look to the Morrigan for the strength they need to stand up to a system that marginalizes all but the wealthiest and whitest male members. It is these aspects of the Morrigan that call some people to her. Sometimes though, she calls to people herself.

Being a public priest of the Morrigan has been an interesting journey. One of the benefits of it has been that I have been able to connect with a surprisingly large number of people with very similar experiences. The most common pattern goes along the lines of “I keep having dreams, nightmares or visions of the Morrigan and I don’t know what to do” or “The Morrigan has shown up in my life and my life is chaos now”. The sheer number of and commonalities in these experiences are significant and point to a metaphysical reality that is hard to deny. The Morrigan is active and is calling her people. It leads to the question: as her priests, how can we best serve not only her, but those that she calls as well?

The nature of this dynamic creates a situation where the practice of proselytizing, the active and sometimes aggressive recruitment to one’s religion commonly practiced by some, is unnecessary, presumptive, and potentially harmful to some.  Proselytizing is spiritual arrogance, the self aggrandized mentality that you have found the “true” path that is not only right for you but the proper path for all.   Let be honest, save the tragically lonely, nobody likes having Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormon’s show up at your door to try to convert you to their particular brand of religion.  As well-mannered and polite as they almost always are, having someone show up at your door to sell you something, be it a product, insurance, or a belief system, is an imposition, often annoying and patently insulting.  The other side of proselytizing, the practice of traveling to other cultures and pushing your religion on tribal communities and the very poor,  is even more harmful and criminally self-serving.  As Pagans, we should strive to avoid this type of imposition on others.  Spirituality is not a one size fits all concept.  Paganism is not for everyone and we shouldn’t act as if it is.  If we want to show the world that our path is a viable one we must do that with our actions, not our arguments.  We must be the type of individuals that people look at and want to emulate, not salespeople and charlatans.

In the case of those of us called by a goddess such as the Morrigan, proselytizing is even less appropriate and potentially harmful to people.  The Morrigan is not the right fit for everyone.  She is a goddess that demands valor and sacrifice from her children.  Working with her can be demanding and disturbing.  She is a goddess that challenges you, mentally, physically, and spiritually. She will almost always drag you kicking and screaming from your comfort zone and destroy the constructs in your life that compromise your personal sovereignty. If you accept her call, the path she sets you on is a path of shadows and terror, and also a path of service and accountability. She asks us to face aspects of existence that are uncomfortable and frightening to most.  She is not for the faint of heart or the weak, for the process of coming to terms with these concepts, death, battle, violence, can be damaging to some, and disastrous to fragile personalities.  And yet, we are often asked by people why we don’t “talk about the more positive aspects of the Morrigan” or “encourage people to follow her”.

The short answer is that we do talk about the positive aspects of having a devotional relationship with the Morrigan, when its appropriate. We also talk about the dangerous aspects of that same relationship, because in our experience the gods are real individuals. To us the gods are not interchangeable and of no consequence. All goddesses are not just aspects of “the Goddess’ and all gods are not just aspects of “the God” but real individual entities that have agency, agendas and the power to affect the world and our lives.

As a priest of the Morrigan, it is not my job to my goddess by emphasizing her gentler aspects and glossing over her fiercer and scarier aspects. As her priest I have an obligation to face and to attempt to understand some of the darker sides of human nature and our existence. War, death, rage, blood, and decay are not only foundational parts of the Morrigan, they are foundational parts of the world. They are not aberrations that we can or should strive to overcome through some sort of “spiritual enlightenment”, but in fact true spiritual enlightenment comes when one starts to be a peace with these aspects of the process of life and to attempt to understand their roles in the natural world. “World Peace” is not a thing. There has never been a time in our history where there was global peace and there isn’t going to be an era of world peace in the future. Nature is not peaceful, therefore we are not peaceful. This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t make efforts in our lives to make our world safe and just, but it means that by turning away from these more undesirable or frightening aspects of the natural world we cripple ourselves. We futilely attempt to distance ourselves from things that will not be denied, and when those undeniable things creep up on us, sidle up to us, or kick down our door, we end up being woefully unprepared to face them. As devotees of a goddess that is intimately tied to battle, terror, and violence, it would be foolish for us to try to avoid facing and understanding these things, and as a public priest of the Morrigan, it would be irresponsible for me to gloss over the more terrifying faces of my goddess’s nature in order to avoid scaring people away from making binding oaths to her before they had a nuanced understanding of her.

This is why I do not proselytize for the Morrigan. My duty as her priest is not to tell people of the “good news” of the Morrigan, it’s not to convert people into starting a devotional relationship with her, and it’s not to make the Morrigan more palatable to the general public by emphasizing her safer aspects and downplaying the more dangerous ones. The Morrigan calls you if she wants you and if and when that call comes, you have the choice of what type of relationship, if any at all, that you would like to pursue with her. As her priest it is my duty to assist people in navigating the chaos and challenges that almost always come with contact with her.  She demands strength and truth from her own along with determination and valor. It is a path I chose for myself and in choosing it, altered the direction of my life drastically. It was absolutely the correct choice for me and the rewards that I have received far outweigh that challenges that I face on it, but I also recognize that it is not the right path for everyone. The charge from my goddess is to walk this path in integrity and provide honest council for others that have also been called by her, to provide a realistic road map to a devotional practice with the Morrigan that honestly marks the dangers, pitfalls, and rewards of this journey so that others can make informed decisions about the steps along their own paths to her.

The Benefits of Regular Beatings: Combative Arts and Devotional Practice

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When I was a child, I was quiet and shy.  I was one of those kids that didn’t like getting into fights and could have done without getting dirty.  Don’t get me wrong, I would roughhouse and play outside, but real aggression and real anger was something that I tried to avoid.  There were a combination of reasons for this, I was raised by kind and loving women, I was lanky and a bit of a geek and my body was growing so rapidly that I was awkward, always trying to adjust to my new height or length of my arms.  When I finished elementary school and went to junior high, I got in a couple of fights and was punished for them by being sent to an all boys boarding school for kids from broken homes.  My new school was one that had an long established tradition of hazing younger students.  I found myself in a world where I was fighting and taking beatings regularly and these beatings were completely ignored by the administration and teachers of the school.  So I learned to fight, poorly at first, but I soon got a little more comfortable with the pain and adrenaline that accompanies it.  I started playing hockey at that point in my life and soon the hazing and beatings tapered off.  Not only was I getting older and no longer one of the young students, but it seems that people are less likely to pick a fight with you after you have hit them with a hockey stick.

I first heard of the Society for Creative Anachronism during a period of my life when I was hitchhiking around the country and volunteering and doing direct actions with a variety of environmental organizations.  At that point in my life my relationship with fighting had completely shifted.  I was seeking out conflict, putting myself at risk for causes that I believed in. When I heard of the SCA it was described as “there are these people who get together and camp, put on armor and beat the shit out of each other with sticks and then all hang out and drink homebrew”.    I was immediately interested although it took another 4 years to be in a place in my life where I was settled and could be a part of it, but I did find a local Barony and started gathering armor and learning to fight.  That was about twenty years ago.

Over the last twenty years my relationship with the Morrigan has gone from knowing generally who She is, to formally dedicating myself to Her, to being Her priest, a very public role that I am still a little uncomfortable with.  The closer that I grew to Her the more, my fighting practice, something that I did out of joy initially, became part of my devotional relationship with Her.  I have found that for a goddess that is associated with battle, armored combat becomes more than a hobby or sport, but becomes a meditation and space of communion, and the benefits of martial practice are vast.

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For Your Health-  The most obvious benefit of having a combative martial practice is for your health.  Fighting encourages good health better than many forms of exercise for a variety of reasons.  In my case of armored combat, the act of spending a day physically exerting yourself with 60 to 80 pounds of metal and leather strapped to you not only builds strength and endurance, it also teaches you the art of energy conservation.  You simply cannot fully exert yourself for long periods of time in those conditions so you quickly learn to conserve energy when you can so that you have it when you need it.  It is an ongoing lesson on conservation of effort, teaching you to make your moves effective and not wasteful.  Fighting also changes your relationship with pain.  This relationship with pain is one of the reasons that I feel that for a martial art to be effective you need to be in a martial art that has regular sparring are part of the practice.  The human body thrives in an environment of conflict and struggle.  Pushing our bodies past our limits is how we improve ourselves and enduring pain and hardship is how we grow stronger physically and mentally.  Most of us spend our lives avoiding pain and therefore fearing it,  but fear of pain will act as an inhibitor on our actions.  One’s first year learning in a combative art is usually spent learning to fight the fear of being hurt more than learning to fight well.  I call it the flinch reflex, that reflex to close your eyes and flinch when a blow is being thrown at you.  The flinch reflex is only cured by being hit, often.  When you get hit often enough, when you go through the cycle of pain and adrenaline enough times, your body changes and instead of acting out of panic and reflex, you start to be able to THINK during times of physical stress.  This ability to be able to remain calm and think when you are in danger can save you and your loved ones lives some day and it starts as a physical change.  It starts with becoming comfortable with the adrenaline and endorphin cycles in our bodies.

For Your Mind- The art of Warriorship is partially the discipline of reconditioning our fight or flight reflex to favor the fight over flight.  Warriorship is an obligation to face danger on behalf of ones community and when that is your role, the flight reflex doesn’t serve you very well.  There are a variety of ways that warrior societies have encouraged this culturally, but just the act of engaging in regular combat is a very effective method of making that shift in yourself.  The only way to train yourself to be calm in the face of danger is to spend time facing danger.  This is the other side of training your body to be comfortable during the adrenaline and endorphin cycles. Just like your body learns to deal with the chemicals and stress, your mind does as well.  Panic and fear get replaced with calm and focus.  Your consciousness becomes a bright flame in the dark and the world of chaos around you seems to move more slowly.  This is the moment of clarity that people who engage in these activities are seeking.  This is the mental space that you start to shift to whenever you are in danger, focused, clear, and present.  This state is an aspect of the Hero’s Light or Bird of Valor, a moment when you step beyond your abilities and become more that your physical limitations and skills.  For me, this is a moment of communion with my goddess.

As Devotion-   This has become the most rewarding aspect of my martial practice.  As a priest dedicated to a goddess that is strongly associated with battle and valor, its only natural that my martial practice would be an important aspect of my devotional commitment to the Morrigan.  This works in a few different ways for me.  The initial aspect of this takes the form of formally devoting my war fighting, tourney fights, practice and training to my goddess.  Before any of these acts, I take a moment to quietly speak to and dedicate my actions to Her.  This act is not only a devotional moment, but it allows me to shift my mind into the predatory and focused state that it needs to be in when entering into a combative space.  As the fighting starts and energy and intensity rises.  I am able to slip into that space between worlds, that place of movement and action, where your thinking rational mind is working faster than your body’s activity.   In this place your mind is able to think a number of actions ahead of yourself, similar to a chess player thinking many moves ahead of his present move.  Here, your training and practice creates a situation where your body doesn’t have to think about the basics, such as blocking and moving, it does these things instinctively, allowing your mind the space to step back from that moment of violence and see the steps to your victory.  It is in these spaces that I feel closest to my goddess. Here is where I feel Her wings around me and here is where I hear Her call, a terrifying scream of glory and joy.  These moments are sustaining and empowering for me, moments of communion with the divine, moments of intimacy with my Queen.   This is one of the cores of my spirituality.

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Offerings: A helpful guide for getting that special spirit in your life the perfect gift

photo by Viktor Dracheu

photo by Viktor Dracheu

Anyone that works with gods or spirits knows that making offerings ends up becoming a large part of regular practice.  Offerings are one of the main methods for the living to make contact with and maintain relationship to the inhabitants of the otherworld.  Making regular offerings creates a bond of reciprocity between you and the spirits you work with or the gods you are devoted to.  Because these connections that we make with the unseen are relationships, ongoing two-way connections that are not unlike friendships, they must be maintained and nourished for them to be lasting and effective.  Giving offerings to your otherworld allies is one of the primary methods that you, as a spirit worker, can directly interact with them   Offerings are a very basic form of hospitality.  Sometimes they are a simple courtesy to a guest in your home, sometimes a gift given for a gift received.   They can be used to entice a spirit to give you aid or appease an entity that you might have offended.  Offerings can sometimes be seen as the currency in the economy of otherworld relationship.

So what makes a proper and effective offering, and how can you be sure that the offering that you are giving will be appreciated and accepted by the entities that you have made the offering to?  I think that the answer to these questions are determined by a variety of factors such as who you are making an offering to and for what reason is it made.  In my practice I approach this question on an individual basis, each offering thought out and chosen for each specific instance.  For me, this is never an easy “one size fits all” type of endeavor.  You can find if you seek them out, a variety of books that will tell you the types of items best used for making offerings to a variety of gods and spirits.  While these books can be helpful as general guidelines, they lack the most vital ingredient in this practice, your personal relationships with the various beings.  What I’d like to offer you here is a different way of looking at the question of what offerings are proper to make in your own practice, a guide to evaluate and choose appropriate gifts for the non corporeal beings in your life.

In order to choose a fitting offering for a deity, your first step is to spend some time getting to know them.  Each one has a distinct and unique personality and most have varying degrees of lore connected with them.  If you are taking the steps to foster a relationship with a deity, the first thing you must do is get to know that deity.  Dig into the stories and learn about the cultures that are associated  with them.  Try not to over romanticize the mythologies and societies that are attached to the deity.  What you are searching for are the more mundane details in what we have learned about ancient cultures.  What people ate and drank.  What the aesthetic of their artistic style looked and felt like.  The society’s values and ethical code and how that relates to their religious practice.  As you delve into this cultural tapestry, you will start to get a better understanding of the nature of the deity, what they like and what they don’t like, their associations and taboos, their fundamental essence.  As you are learning about this deity, start spending some time in daily meditation with them.  Introduce yourself, be respectful, and state your intentions.  One of the best ways to learn what a god or goddess would like as an offering is to ask them.  Don’t expect an answer your first time and learn to deeply listen for their voice.  Daily meditative practice is a cornerstone of any type of relationship with the divine,

Food and drink are always a good place to start for offerings.  Find gifts for your spiritual allies that are familiar to them or that resonate with their being.  For example they are associated with northern Europe, oat and oat cakes, dark beer or ale, cream, butter, whiskey or mead are often good choices.  If they are associated with Mediterranean regions wine is almost always a staple.  When you are working with ancestor spirits you must once again think about what might be familiar and liked by them.  If the ancestor spirit is someone who you were close to or knew personally, the choices become easier.  As an example, one of the main ancestor spirits that I work with is my grandmother.  She was the person who raised me and I have always had a strong connection with her.  If I am leaving offerings for her I just have to look to what II know about her likes and dislikes.  My grandmother had a glass of scotch every night, so scotch is a perfect offering to leave for her.  It is something that was enjoyed by her in life and appreciated by her now.  If I am making a recipe that I learned from her I will always take a small plate and leave it on my ancestors altar for her.  Favorite foods, drinks and other pleasures such as tobacco or desserts are perfect for providing hospitality to our beloved dead.

An alternate idea for choosing an offering is to make active offerings, offerings that require an action or effort.  As a priest of the Morrigan I have a martial practice that I have been doing for twenty years.  For years, my fighting practice has been given as an offering to her.  The way this manifests itself for me is that before every fight in a tourney or every battle during a war, I take a moment to speak to her, to thank her and to offer my efforts to her.  I have found that she strongly responds to this type of offering .  My connection to the Morrigan has shown me that one of the things that honors her and gets her attention is to push yourself past your limits, to strive for valor.  As an active offering to a god or goddess that is associated with hospitality, one thing you can do is to feed or aid someone in need.  I was recently asked by a friend visiting Dublin, what a good offering would be for the Dagda.  After some thought I told them that they should go buy a homeless man a meal and a drink.  Let their “knife be greased and their breath smell of ale”.  The Dagda responds to his children being shown proper hospitality and kindness.  For a god of poetry write a poem, for a god of the wild spend an afternoon cleaning up a wild area,  for a goddess associated with horses volunteer at a horse rescue organization, for a god or goddess of justice, take a stand for equality and social justice in the world around you.  Be creative and take an action that is a suitable offering to the gods or spirits that you are working with.  These types of active offering are also suitable as offerings to ancestors and descendants.   We do our ancestors honor by doing great deeds with the lives that they worked to give us, and there is nothing more suitable as an offering for those that come after us as making an effort to make the world that we leave them a better place.

Make a variety of offerings to the non corporal beings in your lives.  Sing to the land spirits, offer the dead food and drink at your table, make your life be an offering to the gods.  Take time to recognize and acknowledge our unseen allies and show them the same respect that we show to the lives and the natural world around us.  Share a drink with your grandfather, tell a story to a crow, give a homeless person a blanket.  Let your offerings honor and reflect those that you are making the offerings to.  Let your practice be sincere and thoughtful, an act of true hospitality.

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