An Era of Failed Leadership

14725610_1614242388875899_2130652458607179087_n

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.

banner_870x215

Advertisements

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

Previous Chapter : Two Tickets to Dublin

Next Chapter : ?

An Open Letter to the Rainbow Family

I write this letter out of love and respect and not to scold and reprimand you.  I have watched with horror the development of the debate about having the national gathering in South Dakota and I feel that, although it seems at this point that most people will not be attending a gathering on that sacred land, some of the ugliness still needs to be addressed.  To be a force for peace in the world, we must first learn to see past our own desires, wants, and privilege.  Peace is not the absence of war, it is the presence of justice.  Because peace without justice is oppression.

I understand your culture and how it works, the pros and cons of your system.  I have attended a number of national gatherings and dozens of regionals. I have been part of scouting groups, seed camps, and many clean up crews.  I have sat through seemingly endless councils struggling to find consensus.   Rainbow was once an important part of my life and it is because of that that I choose to speak now.

I also understand that these words are unnecessary for most of you.  Most of the people that I know that are involved with Rainbow would never want to disrespect the tribes that have had stewardship of this land since mankind stepped foot on this continent.  The ideals of peace and harmony stand in harsh opposition to the type of cultural privilege that I have seen stated in Facebook feeds by people proclaiming themselves as Rainbow.  True peace and harmony is rooted in respect and integrity and healing the wounds of colonialism involves self examination and honesty.

My message is to all of those people that are still planning on gathering in the Black Hills, who feel that it is their “right” to gather wherever they please, who don’t feel that the Lakota have the right to tell you not to gather on their land.  This message is important for everyone though, because it is up to those of us that know that gathering on Native American land against the wishes of the tribe is wrong and by doing it you are furthering the spread of a colonial mindset that is the most detrimental mindset on the planet, an attitude that is responsible for innumerable atrocities throughout history.  Because it is important for those of us that stand with the Native tribes to speak out now.  To speak out because sometimes people in white culture will only listen to those that share the same culture as them, and to speak out so that the Lakota people and all other Native tribes know that they are not alone in their struggle, that we are their allies and will stand with them in defending their land and their sovereignty against the dominant culture, whether they come in suits, hardhats, or with dreadlocks and beads.

This is an important moment for the Rainbow Family, a moment where there is a choice between talking about your ideals and actually living them.  It’s a moment to choose sides in the centuries old war between Native Tribal Cultures and the White capitalist forces that seek domination over nature.  It’s a moment to choose to heal some of the damage that the United States has done to the Native Tribes by making the choice to honor their sovereignty and human rights, rather than siding with the US Government and Forest Service, which are not your allies and would like nothing more than to see both the Rainbow Family and the Lakota buried and gone, or siding with the federal government imposed and supported Tribal Government that does not speak with the voice of the people but works for the interests of the rich.  With all the myriad of new age spiritual philosophies, this is where the rubber meets the road.  Peace and love in action looks like justice and respect.

We are not the saviors of the Indian people, nor are we their reincarnated warriors.  Native peoples have their own destinies, their own ancestors and their own warriors.  What we can be for them is their allies.  We can stand with them against western colonialism and speak out in defense of their rights.  This is where our voices matter.  Being an ally to someone is not to tell them how you are going to help them, its asking THEM how you can help and then doing what they ask, even if that request is to leave them alone.  Right now the Lakota do not want to “learn our ways” nor do they want to “share their ways” with us.  Great damage between the Lakota Nation and the Rainbow Family has already occurred.  What the Lakota want from the Rainbow Family is for the Rainbow Family to leave Lakota land and leave them alone so that they can focus their efforts on the other battles that they are involved in, against the U.S. government, against the Keystone pipeline, against the racist system that keeps them in poverty.

So please, listen to the spiritual stewards of the Black Hills and Do Not Go to South Dakota for the Gathering, Do not even go there to see if it might happen.  Go to Michigan or wherever else alternatives to the South Dakota gathering pop up.  Be a voice of reason in these debates and speak out against disrespecting Native communities and voices.  Show the world that the voices that strive for peace and harmony outweigh the voices mired in privilege and entitlement within the Rainbow Family.

In Love and Service,

Brennos Agrocunos

Coru Cathubodua

http://www.corupriesthood.com