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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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

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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

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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The Warriors We Need Now

Mural in Oakland,CA

Mural in Oakland,CA

There have been a variety of meanings attached to the idea of a warrior over the years there are many visions  for the shape that this archetype and profession takes. Sometimes these visions are in line with a traditional historical model and sometimes they are a personal vision of what that title means.  But what does warrior mean in a spiritual context?  How does it come to play in our daily lives, often far from actual battle?  What can this model of action, Warriorship , offer to our communities and world today, What kind of warriors do we need now?

Traditionally, a warrior code was put into place in a society to channel the natural primate aggression of humans into a force that serves and protects the community.  This aggression, when rewoven in this way, turns a threat to a society into benefit for society.  A warrior code, at it’s heart, is a pledge to safeguard those less able to protect themselves, to defend the defenseless.  A warrior chooses to face violence,  danger,  and death in order to shield their communities from these forces.  These codes are woven into their communities through the development of personal honor and accountability.  For one who follows a warrior code their personal honor becomes the driving factor in all of their actions.  To lose honor and stain their name is a fate worse than death, and they would rather face death than face the shame of lost honor.

In a modern context the idea of warrior has become muddied.  The warrior societies that were designed to defend our culture have allowed themselves to be used by elements in our society that have placed their own narrow interests over the health and well being of the people and the land itself.  We have allowed people that control these modern warrior societies redefine their position in our community as a position of power over, not service to their communities.  Over time this has led to a dangerous divide in our culture.  The level of mistrust between the police and their communities has never been higher.  The bodies, blood and minds of our soldiers are spent on corporate acquisitions disguised as wars and they are under served and discarded when they return home.   Those individuals that are called into these organizations with high ideals and a strong desire to serve their communities often find themselves trapped in damaged systems and unable to serve to their full potential.

We need those that wish to call themselves warriors to truly be part of their communities, to stand up and defend those in our society that are least able to defend themselves,  to confront bullies not be bullies, to speak for the voiceless.  Because what you do is what makes you a warrior, not what you believe.  Having great prowess makes you a great fighter, not a great warrior.  Being good at obeying your superiors makes you a good soldier, not a good warrior.  Being proficient at firearms makes you a good marksman, not a good warrior, and if how you express your warriorship is arguing with people on the internet, you’re just a troll, not a warrior.  We have plenty of fighter and soldiers in the world.  We have more than enough marksmen, and a plague of trolls.  We need warriors.

We live in a world that is rapidly changing, politically, socially and ecologically.  These types of changes are leading to times of instability, times when immense strains will be put on our communities.  Right now more than ever our society needs true warriors.  People who will stand up and act out of a deep love for humanity and the world we inhabit.    As economic divide increases in our world, we need people to stand for the poor and dispossessed.  As racism reveals itself in our institutions and communities, we need people to speak out against it and take the difficult step of facing it within ourselves and learning to recognize it there.  As sexism and violence towards women seeps into every aspect of our culture and families, we need people to demand equality and challenge those voices who seek to diminish the feminine.  We need defenders of children and defenders of the homeless, defenders of wild places and defenders of human rights.  We need warriors to stand between our diverse and beloved community and the forces that seek to divide, limit, and marginalize us.  We need warriors to stand up and join the fight.

Mural in Oakland, CA

Mural in Oakland, CA

Service above Self

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(originally published on Polytheist.com)

Last night I found myself, once again, in downtown Oakland at a vigil for members of the community that have been killed by the police. This was a rare peaceful moment in the troubles that have been consuming our city lately. People gathered on a cold and rainy December night and encircled Lake Merritt in downtown Oakland for a candlelight vigil to remember these lives that have been cruelly taken from their family and friends, casualties of systemic racism and a police force that is violently opposed to taking responsibility for it’s officers’ misdeeds and crimes. This has been an emotional time for our community here in the Bay Area, a time of anger and a time of mourning. The issue of racism within the law enforcement community doesn’t have an easy fix. It’s not a problem that’s going to go away anytime soon and so the demonstrations continue.

In the last 17 days, there have been 15 nights of demonstrations in the streets. These actions have ranged from peaceful vigils to vandalism and looting. Last night was thankfully a quiet one, a moment of introspection and reflection during a period of unrest and pain. I found myself reflecting on these movements that have been springing up around the world recently. Across the globe, people are standing up to reclaim their sovereignty from systems of rule that seek to compromise it.

A little over two years ago, members of my priesthood, the Coru Cathubodua, and members of our community, stood on the shore of this same lake, holding a beautiful sword that had been charged with our community’s prayers and hopes for the return of sovereignty to our land. The night before was our Samhain feast. The sword was placed on an altar in the center of the room and during the feast people went up to it and held it and whispered their prayers and dreams to it. Prayers of a just land with our community living in rightful relationship with the natural world and with each other. So that morning we stood on the shore of the lake, we raised our voices to the Morrigan and the spirits of the land, and we sacrificed that sword for the sovereignty of the land, throwing it far out into the lake.

Memories of that moment became crystal clear as I was walking along the lake last night in the cold rain. I began reflecting on my path to priesthood that led me there to that lake that morning and led me there again on a windy and wet night. As my mind wandered through these paths I looked down to the sidewalk and in front of me was a section of the path that the city had engraved in flowing letters the phrase “Service above Self”

Service above Self. Three simple words that articulated my views on priesthood better than I have been able to do in pages of writing. For me, priesthood is a path of service. Service to your gods and service to your community. This is not an abstract concept. Service isn’t a theoretical mindset but a ‘get your hands dirty and wear out the soles of your shoes’ kind of endeavor. It’s a path that can consume your life. ‘Priest’ is not a title I hold lightly, as a matter of fact I have trouble seeing it as a title at all. ‘Priest’ is not something that I am, it is something that I do. ‘Priest’ means not going to bed when you are exhausted because the gods are vocal and want offerings and want to be heard. It means spending hours of my day answering emails and questions from individuals that are looking for help decoding their own messages from the gods. It means hours of ritual planning and business meetings. It means daily devotional practice and offerings. Recently for me, priesthood has meant marching alongside and providing first aid and support to people demonstrating in the streets so that they can have their basic human rights returned to them and be treated equally in the eyes of the law. It has meant bandaging cuts, washing pepper spray and tear gas from people’s eyes, and sometimes getting between a demonstrator and police in riot gear to prevent the police from beating that person.

Priesthood and activism are inseparable to me. I was pushed into this most recent act of service to my community after witnessing the officers sworn to protect and serve the public brutalize a peaceful protest and tear gas a large section of my town. That night left many people with broken bones, concussions, and deep outrage at the response of the authorities.

The next night and every night since then I have been walking alongside the demonstrators with a first aid kit trying to help people when I am able to and to provide a witness to the many abuses of the police force that have been sent there to, in their own ironic words, “defend the protester’s first amendment rights”. And they have defended the protesters bloody, with batons, tazers, tear gas, pepper spray, LRAD’s (long range acoustic devices), and “non lethal” projectiles aimed at people’s heads, making them much more lethal. Those charged with defending the people are treating the people as the enemy, abusing them at demonstrations and vilifying them in the media.

So as a priest, I have no choice but to stand alongside my community. I have no choice but to speak out against injustice and abuse. I have no choice but to listen to my goddess and stand for sovereignty. Because priesthood is service; service above self.

A Warrior’s Prayer

Great Queen,

I stand before this gathering storm,

My heart a bright flame.

Weary, but fiercely determined

Saddened and grieving,

Angered and outraged

in this place I stand fast.

My heels dug into this holy soil, not to be moved.

The strength of my arms to fortify our battered people.

The love in my heart to give comfort to the weeping.

The truth of my tongue to bring. The fulfillment of justice and sovereignty to our land.

This I swear by land, sea, and sky.

A Warrior's Prayer by Brennos Coru Cathubodua www.corupriesthood.com

A Warrior’s Prayer
by Brennos
Coru Cathubodua
http://www.corupriesthood.com