Tag Archives: Goddess

Her Shadow in Wings

The sun, glaring down from a faded sky,
Finds me perched in a high place,
Hammer,
Nails,
Shingles,
Hot asphalt burning my knees,
As I kneel,
An unwitting pilgrim,
At the heel of a solar god.

Relief, unexpected and fleeting,
As shade passes over me,
Accompanied by a cool breeze,
My gaze drawn upward,
To a raven wheeling against the Sun,
The poetic impulse takes me,
And I am awash in a sudden flood of verse,
Until my balance wavers,
Dangerously…,

And the moment passes,
Eyes down and the sun on my back,
I return to the task at hand,
But a single phrase lingers still,
“Her shadow in wings.”

 

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Filed under Nature, Poetry, Spiritual Journey

Homeless

I’d just pulled out of the grocery store parking lot and into some mild traffic, this was early last week, when the passenger side window of the car in front of me opened and ejected what looked like a wadded up fast food bag, which came to rest on the grassy slope beyond the curb.

There was no way I could pull over to pick it up, and no way to properly express my outrage to the uncaring occupants of the vehicle in front of me.

The litter was just there, a little blot of ugliness in my both my rearview mirror and my stomach.

I found myself wondering in what sort of condition those people keep their home.

What, I wondered, was their problem?

Why not just dispose of the thing properly?

I called these folks “uncaring” a moment ago, but I don’t know that I believe that.  There has to have been some thought process, some mental calculation that would compel a person to open her car window and cast her refuse into the street.

I imagined these people as horrible slobs, leaving a trail of filth in their wake wherever they go.

But maybe they just didn’t want that trash in their car, they could, I supposed, be incredibly tidy, within their own four walls.

And there, in the midst of my conjecture, I think I may have hit upon the element that I was missing.

Home, for most people, is what we own, an area bounded by fence or walls that belongs to exclusively to us.  Everything beyond those walls is outside, outside of our control, outside of our responsibility.

I don’t really see things that way.  Walls and fences have their uses, sure, but they are temporary things, in the grand scheme, and land ownership even more so.  The land does not belong to us, we are only its caretakers.

It is, I think, far more realistic to say that we belong to the land.

And so, last Sunday when I saw garbage indiscriminately flung into the street, it felt like a blemish upon my home.

Two days later, nearly half our population flung garbage into the presidency, and for the first time in my life, I felt homeless.

In the days that have passed since that seemingly endless Tuesday night, my emotional state has shifted from anger to despondency and back again more times than I can count.  I’ve listened to the speculation about the why’s and how’s, I’ve looked through the sorry demographics of who did and didn’t, I’ve listened to the explanations from those who voted for him, and I keep coming up with the same calculation that accounts for that wadded up bag on the side of the roadway.

This society is infected with a strange breed of selfishness that prevents us from truly seeing and empathizing with the world beyond that little patch that we imagine we own.

The problems and concerns of others, their very real fears about the future…, well, that’s on them, isn’t it.

And I don’t know what we can do about that attitude.  I don’t know how we can broaden the perceptions of people beyond themselves, except to continue to be who WE are, to continue to live in their world, and to open their hearts, one by one.

I suppose it would be easier, if I could just shut my eyes to it, but I can’t.

I wouldn’t want to.  I remember when I saw the world like they do.  I remember that, although less painful, it was a pretty empty way to live.

The anger is still there, but it’s at low ebb now.

The despondency, I’ve mostly replaced that with determination.

But I worry for my friends, many of whom are likely facing hard times ahead.

I worry for those of us who practice alternative religions, now that the evangelical movement has friends in high places, who have already expressed profound misunderstandings about both the Non-Establishment Clause, and simple human decency.

Mostly though, I worry about the land.

My ancestors believed that we were all a part of the land, and that the land herself was divine.

When they chose a king, he was symbolically married to the goddess of the land.

The success or the failure of that marriage could be seen in both the fruitfulness of the land and the prosperity of the people.  A disrespectful king could bring blight to the land and ruin to the governed.

Although the actual rituals of this marriage have not been practiced in many centuries, and never on this continent (so far as I know), I do believe that some vestige of this relationship, however unknown to our leaders, must still remain.  And the thought of it, of that man in THAT spiritual role…, frankly, it makes me nauseous.

Somehow, I don’t think a man with a reputation for using women and a well documented disdain for environmental protections will be the font of a bountiful union.  And if things go too badly, the goddess of this land may very well blame the society that put him there.  We may find that we are all homeless.

Goddess Statue

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Filed under Culture, Modern Life, Philosophy, Politics, Religion, Traditions

Maybe (a prayer)

Maybe they danced,

Talked,

Caroused,

Flirted.

Maybe they couldn’t stand the crowd and longed for the trip home.

Maybe they felt the pulsing energy around them and couldn’t tear themselves away.

Maybe…,

I don’t know.

I didn’t know them.

But I know they were beautiful.

And I know that they found beauty in each other,

And in the love and freedom that surrounded them.

And they died for it.

They died,

Because some people…,

Maybe just a few,

But too many,

Can see only ugliness in that which they do not understand.

So their lives were cut short, their spirits released.

And I wonder which God will step forward to shelter them?

Which Savior?

Which Prophet or Saint will guide their way?

If none of theirs, then I offer mine.

Freely.

May the fair Goddess on black wings guide them swiftly to better shores then these.

As worthy as any soldiers, these spirits, slain in someone else’s war.

Let her keening rise up until the heavens crack.

Until all the priests,

And the politicians,

And all who trade in fear and hate,

Have fled at last beneath the shadow of their empty pulpits.

And then,

In the quiet that follows,

Those who have eyes to see beauty,

In all of its wonderful diversity,

Will be free to dance,

And to love,

And to live,

Finally without fear.

That, my friends, may be too much to hope for.

But is such a thing too much to pray for?

It may be.

But if enough of us raise our voices,

If we join our cry with her’s,

And all the gods hear us,

Maybe not.

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Filed under Death, Modern Life, Prayer, Religion, The Gods

The Disillusioned Pantheist

Our story begins only a few weeks ago, as a desperate soul posts on a Pagan forum looking for guidance from her fellows.

“I am a Pantheist,” she explains, “and I believe that the Earth is our goddess.  But lately, I’ve noticed so many bad things happening, like storms and droughts and earthquakes that hurt people, and I’m starting to wonder how she can really love and care for us when all these bad things keep happening.”

The answers that followed, for the most part, struck upon a singular theme: Nature lives in perfect harmony, but people have disrupted that delicate balance, and so ‘bad things’ happen.

Some of those answering even went so far as to suggest that monsoons and earthquakes and the like were Gaia’s punishment upon mankind for our collective transgressions against the natural world.

However surprising it may be to see so many self professed Pantheists borrowing lines from Pat Robertson (Hurricanes as God’s wrath against the sinners, really folks?) it’s the whole “nature loves us” thing that I always find so astonishing.

Have any of these people ever been outside?

I mean, have they really, REALLY been outside, to where the wild things are, and not just some quick jog around their perfectly groomed little neighborhood?!

Because, whatever one’s beliefs about the divinity of the natural world, the one thing that should be abundantly clear after even a casual observation of the natural order of things, is that Nature is NOT nice and it does not love you.  Most of that ‘perfect harmony’ stuff that folks keep talking about, involves this critter working overtime to kill and eat some other critter, and on, and on, right down the line from whales to the most microscopic of organisms.  If the Earth is a goddess, she is a hungry one who consumes her own children with a relish that would make even old Kronos blush.

Now, as a Celtic Polytheist, I see a world where the Land, Sea and Sky are inhabited by many spirits of one kind or another.  Our ancestors worked hard to placate the less friendly of these, and to venerate the more cooperative ones.  It should come naturally, to one of a polytheistic mind, to understand the natural world as a multiplicity of sometimes opposed and competing forces.

But leaving aside the mythology for a moment, if you want to really understand our relationship with the natural world, I suggest reading Michael Pollan’s ‘The Botany of Desire’.

Early on in the book, Mr. Pollan urges us to observe history from a plants’ point of view, suggesting that instead of viewing the rise of agriculture as one of the great achievements of Humankind, “It makes just as much sense to think of agriculture as something the grasses did to people as a way to conquer the trees.”

And THAT is the nature I see when I look outside my window, and that’s what I find when I go hiking through the wilderness.  A nature that is so conniving in its manipulation of the human animal, that the vast majority of us live our entire lives under the illusion that WE are the ones in control.

And for all that, I still love it.  And it is an honest love, without all the pretense of a peaceful and harmonious world that loves me back.  Sometimes, it is the unrequited loves that are the best.

Now get out there and breathe some fresh air.

Take a hike through the woods.

Swim in the ocean.

Climb mountains.

There are spirits in the Earth.

And you can be one of them!

Mountain Dawn

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Filed under Celtic Polytheism, Death, Mythology, Nature, Philosophy, Religion

All Beings in Moderation

I woke up a half an hour ago, but I’m pretending to be asleep still.

My eyes are closed, my face pressed into the pillow, my breathing steady, I’m giving every possible indication that I am still unconscious.  If I fake it well enough, maybe I’ll stumble into the real thing, at least until my alarm goes off.

So I burrow deeper into the pillows, and I cast my mind back, trying to find the ragged edges of departing slumber.  And instead I realize that there is sunlight on my face, streaming through a gap between the curtains.

Áine, the goddess of the Summer sun, rules the daytime sky from dawning Imbolc to the last light of Lughnasadh.  She is said to be mistress of both love and fertility, but on mornings like this, I suspect she has a bit of a cruel streak.

“All right, I’m up already.”

—•••—

Okay, maybe I’m not all the way up.

I’m sitting in bed, trying to bring the words on my phone’s screen into focus.

I really do need to get these eyes of mine checked.

Or maybe not.  Most of what I’m reading are news stories detailing violence abroad and discrimination closer to home, most of it perpetrated by people whose motivation is their impassioned belief in one of the more popular middle-eastern gods.

At issue are differences in the specific hows and whys of religious practice, which I must admit, seem minor to this outsiders eyes.  That, and some differences in opinion on who sleeps with who, seem to be the impetus behind some very unpleasant behavior.

One would think that the belief in a single god would bring unity rather than strife.

—•••—

I shuffle the cards five times, cut the deck, and lay down a single card which will be the ‘theme’ of my day.

0 – The Fool.

There he is, about to step blithely off a cliff and into the unknown, his few possessions at his back, and his loyal companion running along at his side.

Today, it seems, will be a day of journeys, of mysteries explored and unexpected detours taken.

—•••—

There is a high whine in the air as I pass the weed-whacker over the tufty grass in my front yard.

Arc left – half step – arc right – half step…, it is a strange little dance, with it’s own beat, and I find myself humming lightly in cadence.  It is a hymn of sorts, though wordless, which I offer to the land spirits as I go about my work in the yard.

My relationship with the land is not one that the ancestors would have recognized.

I grow no crop.

There are no grazing herds.

I simply maintain what society has determined is a tidy appearance to my particular plot of land.

The ancients knew the names of their local spirits, knew their habits, their likes and dislikes.  The relationship with the land and its invisible inhabitants was a matter of life and death.  But today, for most of us, there is no relationship there to speak of.  We live on the surface of the land, with no thought of any deeper connection.

In my travels I have discovered that some places are more “talkative” than others.  The spirits which I feel around my home, when I feel them at all, are quiet and watchful.  Sometimes I think that they are suspicious of my attempts to speak with them.

And so the wordless song, to sooth their feelings, if I may, as I work at lowering the grass.

—SLAP!—

Almost lost the weed-whacker in my efforts to reach the biting insect on my arm.

I may have spoken out of turn.  The mosquito crop is coming along quite nicely.

—•••—

The Morrígan stares back at me from atop my home altar.

Agent of change, of war and challenge and conflict, she who collects the souls of the dead, prophetess and raven goddess, for some reason my gaze is drawn to her this morning.

I smile and glance up at the Tarot card, the wandering Fool, who rests near her.

So, it’s going to be one of THOSE days, huh?

Well, I’m gonna be late for work, if I don’t get a move on.

And as I lock up the house and head to my car, I hear the caw of ravens in the distance.

—•••—

I slog through the first half of the day until it’s time for lunch.  A few of my co-workers called out today and most of my customers seem to be on the grumpy side, so things have been pretty hectic up to this point.

But now I’ve got an hour to just sit in my car, under the trees and polish off that sandwich I’ve been longing for the last hour or so.

I pull out my phone again, and dip into social media, just to see if anyone has posted anything interesting.

A friend of mine wrote, “Writers romanticize everything, I know this because I am one.”

Hmmm…, I’ll have to think about that.

—•••—

I know that I won’t remember any of my other customers when this evening is over, but I’ll remember her.  Tall and tan and perfect in all the ways of a sun-touched goddess, and with a playful smile that isn’t just put on for show, I can see it reflected in her eyes when she laughs.

And I think I just caught myself flirting – if only gently.

As we speak I began to hear the sound of bark being torn from trees by restless antlers; beneath my feet I feel the thrumming of hooves pawing at the earth.  In the primeval forest that stands just beyond our limited mortal perception, the woodland god is waking from his slumber.

“Sorry, sorry, false alarm, let’s just focus on the job at hand!”

The feeling of disappointment washes over me like a wave, followed by the sound of retreating hooves and then a distant crash, the echoing fall of some unfortunate tree, splintered and broken, in a moment of irritation.

—•••—

I’m home after dark.

I feed the cat, and then myself.

I sit for a while, watching a little television as I digest and allow my mind and body to unwind after a busy day.

Before bed, I take a brief walk in the backyard.  The moon is hanging in the east, nearly full, and the cat is moving along at my feet, a shadow among shadows in the moonlight.

I’m about the head back in when I hear the owls again, making that same lost puppy sound that first caught my attention a couple weeks ago.  I spend the next several minutes watching them hurtle to and fro, over my head and across the yard, to the neighbors and back again.

As I watch them I think about the comment I’d read earlier in the day, “Writers romanticize everything…,”.  Maybe that’s true; it certainly fits with the world as we have been taught to understand it.

But what if the world is filled with a romance all its own, comprised of infinite layers of truth and perception, perfectly nested, each within the other, most of which we pass on our journey, never the wiser.  And writers, along with those artists of a more visual nature, are simply able to bring out the romance that we would otherwise miss, because our art requires us to both see and express the world in terms our audience can understand.

—•••—

The house is locked up, and I’m for bed.

I take a last glance at The Fool, resting there on my altar, and I am forced to smile.

The punchline, of course, is that every day is a journey into mystery and the most important thing we can do is to recognize that fact and take in the scenery we pass along the way.

One last glimpse at the online world and I’ll be done for the night.

Ahhh, another post on my wall, this one extolling the unlimited virtues of surrendering to that ‘one’ merciful god.

Sorry friends, but looking at that news feed, again and again, day after day, I’m just not seeing the benefit in dedicating myself wholly to just the one god, or to any single perception of truth.

I think the healthier choice is to live a modest lifestyle and to honor all beings in moderation.

Now then, until the morning comes, I wish you a good night.

Plato Quote

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Filed under Art, Modern Life, Mythology, Philosophy, Religion, Spiritual Journey, The Gods

Lift up the cloak

There are stories hidden within stories.

The monks of Ireland once wrote down a tale concerning a holy woman who went before the king of Leinster, asking for a plot of land upon which to build her convent.  The king, though amused by her request, was not of a giving nature, and she was denied.

Dismissed though she was, she favored him with a smile and tried once again, this time asking if he would not offer her at least as much land as her cloak might cover, when laid flat upon the ground.

Feeling himself mocked before his men, he laughed, as if sharing in the joke, and agreed to her terms.  And it was, after all, only a very small cloak.

Removing the cloth from about her shoulders, she held it tightly by one corner while instructing her young students to grip the other corners and to pull the cloth out as far as it would stretch.  The girls did as she asked and, to the amazement of the king and his party, the great cloth trailed out behind them as they backed, first walking, then running and leaping away, over distant fields.

As the cloak spread out before them, the king knew he would soon be bound by his promise to give up the whole of his kingdom.  And so he cried out, begging the young woman to stop, and offering her all the land she had originally asked for.

And so the matter was settled.

The woman in the story is Saint Brigit of Kildare, who is said to have roamed the emerald isle from the late 5th to early 6th century C.E., and whose feast day on February 1st, has only just passed.

Bride Cloak

There are stories hidden within stories, and sometimes, there are gods hidden within saints.

There is much evidence to suggest that the the woman venerated today as “Mary of the Gael”  is actually a modern reflection of a much earlier goddess — Bríde the ‘exalted one’, goddess of both hearth and forge, inspiration of poets and sacred flame of ancient Ireland.

With that thought in mind, imagine the same story, only stripped now of its hagiographic trappings…,

Imagine the cold fields and forests of that long ago time, still covered in the frost of the long winter.  This is the dead half of the year, when the doors to the House of Donn are thrown open, and its king holds sway over all the land.

But there is movement in the fields and valleys.  A goddess walks upon the earth.  She opens her arms, trailing her long cloak behind her, blanketing the fallow soil with the first warmth of spring.  And while the cold wind still whips above, in the deep places there is a stirring, as the seedlings of the new season begin their journey upward, where they will eventually burst free into the light of the sun.

The season of death is over and soon, the king of that realm must surrender his lands, once again, unto the living spring.  If you listen, you can still hear a gentle laughter carried on the breeze.  Step outside and turn your face to the sun, and you can’t help but feel the warmth of her smile.

The stories that we tell and pass down make up a great tapestry, a cloak of sorts, that we pull with us, covering all the lands and binding us together.  Lift up a corner of that vast cloak, and you will find truths hidden there, waiting to be discovered.

Lá Fhéile Bríde is upon us, yet again.

May it find you warm and happy!

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Filed under Celtic Polytheism, Holidays, Ireland, Mythology, Religion, The Gods, Traditions

Salvation – with a shot of espresso.

My friends are all believers.

I see them daily, offering their praise, extolling the blessings and virtues of the one.

I walk past the holy place on my way to work, and I see them within, tithing their hard earned currency in the hope that they will find ease and comfort to take them through the day.

And what a comfort it must be, for the faithful, to see their brothers and sisters sharing in the holy communion throughout the day.  I find myself watching them with a certain envy.  They seem so very sure of a truth, which, while obvious to them, I am unable to share.

And it is not as if haven’t tried.

It’s not as if I don’t want to believe.

Oh, how I wish I could.

Because it would be so much easier, when I am in doubt, or depressed, or in those moments when exhaustion threatens to bring me down, if I could simply bow my head and drink in the warmth and peace that so many others enjoy.

I have tried, I really have, but conversion is simply not an option.

And though my friends and neighbors, with naught but goodwill in their hearts, continue to proclaim the good news, I must find my salvation elsewhere.  For the Dark Goddess which they worship, always leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

The Dark Goddess

This weeks blog post brought to you by my new neighbors, who kept me up all last night with their loud party music.  If ever I wished I could abide the taste of coffee, it is right now, as I sit here trying my best to focus on the empty page before me.

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Filed under Culture, Modern Life, Religion

The Goddess in the Harbor

There are days when I close my eyes, and I see her like this…,

The Struggle of Liberty

She struggles against those who would pull her down and extinguish the light she has held aloft for so long.  The torch has fallen and she reaches for it while the guttering flame casts eerie shadows all about her struggling form.

Her assailants rise above her, but who are they?

Who threatens the Goddess?

They do not hail from any foreign land.  It is no invading army that threatens her reign.  These are her own children, grown up in the light of freedom, which seek to break her will.

They love ‘the cross’ more than they do the Constitution and they are descended from the very same rabble who pulled down the statues of her brothers and sisters, looting the temples of ancient Rome, and murdering their priests.

How long before they rise up and try to pull down her greatest effigy?

Liberty!   Goddess!

They may call themselves “True Americans” and they may speak of our origins as a “Christian Nation”, but their claims are false.  One cannot love Liberty while seeking to chain all men to the worship of a single god through false claims of tradition.  Liberty breaks all chains and will tolerate no masters.

History will not bend to their will.  Here is an image of the goddess, stamped into the coins of the American Revolution nearly a hundred years before anyone ever read the words “In God We Trust”…,

Liberty Ha'Penny

Her enemies, her wayward children, they fume and they howl in their impotent rage.  They seek to twist the laws of the land to reflect their own vision of a world that will never be.  They will not rest until their God rules unquestioned over the whole of the land, but they don’t understand that he can never rule here.  This nation was born in Liberty, and if you thrust her aside, if her divine light is extinguished, the nation dies with her.

They may have the one, or the other, but never both.

This nation, these United States, belong to Liberty.

She stands, the Goddess in the Harbor of our greatest city, shining her light out for all the world to see.  Over four million people a year make pilgrimage to her great statue, her weathered copper shrine.  I have only ever come this close…,

Goddess In The Harbor

I hope one day to return and gaze again upon Liberty Enlightening the World.  And in the meantime, I hope that we, her children, will work to keep that flame burning brightly for all time.  Remember her in your prayers, this Independence Day.

She is the promise made, that we must keep.

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Filed under Culture, Holidays, Modern Life, Religion, The Gods

Sacred Space: My body is my temple

How do we create a sacred space?

We begin with what we have, of course.  Before stone or timber, before even the first shovel-full of dirt is turned, we begin with the first temple we ever knew.

We begin with the body.

Deep in the lore of many peoples, there are stories about how the world was made.  Some of those ancient tales speak of a great giant, a primordial spirit of selfish chaos, a tyrant put down by his own children.  His skin, they say, was stretched out of shape upon the sharpened skewers of his own bones.  He who would have consumed all, was made all, and the universe as we know it, built from his immortal flesh.

There are other stories, of course.  In some of these, we may find a great mother.  She is the mother of all life and however far we wander, we are never far from her.  The great hills are her breasts, the wind is her breath, and the distant horizon marks the subtle curve of her belly.  She who birthed all is likewise home to all, and the universe as we know it is shaped from her immortal flesh.

The people who told those stories wandered through a world which was, every fiber of it, divine.  The whole of the world was holy to them, and yet as they explored those uncharted places, they found tracts where the spirit was stronger, the land more alive.  The ancients gathered in these places.  They built temples and tombs and observatories, and in doing so, they focused the power which flowed there, bridging the gap perhaps, between the world we know, and the one which lie just outside our mortal grasp.

These were the first sacred spaces.

If you have read the first post in this series, you will know that I am endeavoring to design and build, either a small temple or a shrine, on the property behind my home.  It is a big project and there are many questions which I feel need to be answered before I can even ‘break ground’.

The first, and I think, most obvious of these questions is: ‘What is a temple?’.

And the answer, I have come to believe, is that a temple is, at its most fundamental level, an extension of the body.

Vitruvian Man

“My Body is My Temple.”

It is one of those catch phrases which you hear carelessly tossed around by yoga instructors and fitness gurus.  And in this modern western context, the expression represents a philosophy of focus upon the self.  In particular, it seems intended to promote a mindfulness on the health and wellbeing of body and mind.

Well, that’s a fine start, but I think we can do better.

Digging a little deeper, we see that this particular adage is actually paraphrased from the First Epistle to the Corinthians in the Christian Bible, where it reads like this…,

“Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.”

Now within this particular religious context, we are told that the human body is a house built for the Holy Spirit, which is, according to Christian tradition, one part of that Holy Trinity which makes up the godhead.  We are further admonished to treat the body as we would a physical temple: keeping it free from corruption and remaining reverent in its use.

The body then, according to Christian scripture, is a house for their god.  And while the specific words may have their origin in the Bible, it seems clear that the basic idea behind those words is far older.

The ancients, as we have seen, understood that the world around them was a physical manifestation of the gods they worshipped.  Throughout the homelands of my own ancestors, there are natural features, hills and rivers and rocky islands, that still carry the names of the deities of whom they were believed to form a part.

We mortal men move across the body of the land and it is the temple within which we worship.  But even as we move upon the land, the gods move within us.  We were not created in the image of the gods.  We look like them because we evolved in a world which is made of their flesh and bone.  The gods exist within us because we are part of them, and we have it within our power to sanctify that space and to invite them to be housed within our hearts and minds.

So why then, should we build temples at all?  What need have we to house the gods when we have the power to hold them within us?

For most of us Pagans and Polytheists, just hanging on at the spiritual fringes of society, the only temple we will ever know is the one we build within ourselves.  And for some, that may be enough.

But the answer to the question “why?” is in the phrase itself.

“My Body is My Temple.”

My temple.  Not yours, not ours.  Just mine.

Our ancestors gathered together within the sacred spaces, the temples, tombs, shrines and observatories, because human beings have an inborn need for shared experience.

We have grown too comfortable in our solitude, and it gains us but little.

Alone we contribute nothing.

Together we become powerful.

And the temples will be, as they have always been, where we go to share.

I wonder if it is only coincidence that when we gather into large groups we are often called ‘a body’.

****

This is the second post in a series following my progress in the planning and construction of a small temple space on my property.  If you wish to follow along with my progress you may see other posts in this series by clicking here.

 

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Filed under Mythology, Nature, Religion, Sacred Space, The Gods

Ravens Laughing

I was only a quarter of the way up the rock face when I stopped to take a rest.

Sitting, slightly out of breath, on a rounded shelf of sandstone, I could see my car down below, parked by the roadside.  Surprised to find it cloaked in shadow, I glanced over my right shoulder to see the sun, dipping low over the Rockies.

What was I doing up here?

I’d been driving south out of Denver, and had wanted to stop and stretch my legs one last time before the long drive into New Mexico.  The sun had been higher when I pulled over, and the air, still warm and fresh.  I’d stood and stretched and looked across the road, where giant slabs of orange rock, pitched against each other like fallen dominoes, glowed against the deepening sky.

I had no particular purpose in mind, when I strolled across the road.

I should have known better.  I have a compulsion that makes me want to climb, and on a good day, when I can feel the energy flowing through the stone beneath me, it’s as if I can stick to the rock.

Just ask anyone who’s ever gone hiking with me.  They will tell you how, when you least expect it, I’ll vanish from the trail, only to appear moments later, somewhere high above, calling down with a sheepish grin on my face.

It’s an inconsiderate habit to have on the trail, I know, but when traveling alone, it can be deadly.

So there I was, at an altitude to which I am unaccustomed, breathing air turned suddenly sharp and cool, my car, a shape in the gloom below me, attempting a climb that would be dangerous enough in full daylight, and no living soul could have told you where to look for me.

Idiot!

Afraid now, I began to ease my way back down toward the road and safety.  Dropping off the rock shelf, and onto a heap of boulders, I felt the need to steal one last, wistful glance back up the rock face which had drawn me so powerfully onward.

And there they were.

Three ravens, where none had been before.

One wheeling in the sky, high above.

A second I could see clinging to the branches of a dead tree, rising from a gap in the rocky crown that had been my distant objective.

The third was standing in the center of the rounded shelf, almost precisely where I had paused to take my rest and come to my senses.

The three formed a perfect line from my vantage point.

The nearest of the great black birds, the one who seemed to be staring at me so intently, suddenly opened its beak and cawed loudly.

“Not today,” I answered, and began to make my way back down, the way I had come.

And now all three began a mocking chorus that echoed from the rocks around me.  The terrible sound followed me down the cliffside and across the road, only to be shut out finally when I slammed the car door behind me.

I drove south that night in shame.  The sound of ravens laughing still ringing in my ears.

The Morrígan, Badb

What is it that the gods want for us and what do they want for themselves?

Many of us seem to imagine that the gods are very much like ourselves, with similar wants and desires.  I hear many of my fellow polytheists speak of the gods protecting and guiding them.  The gods, they will tell you, may act as our muses, our teachers, our kinsmen and lovers.  They may defend or scold or even punish when the need arises.

I deny none of these things.

I have had similar experiences of the divine, at one time or another.

The gods, some of them, may truly love us, I have no doubt.

And what is love?  How complicated and dangerous an emotion is love among us simple mortals.  It has become clear to me that love seldom means exactly the same thing to any two people.  How much must it differ among the many gods?

The Morrígan.

The exact translation of her name is lost to time, but some take it to mean ‘The Phantom Queen’, while others see ‘The Queen of the Slain’.  She is a goddess of chaos, bloodshed, magic, sex and prophesy.  According to the ancient lore, she may change her shape at will, becoming either crow, wolf, heifer, biting eel, seductress or crone.

She is as likely to give you the inside information you need to win a battle as she is to predict your ultimate demise.  Indeed some see her as a demoness, taking nourishment from among the newly dead, while others see her as a psychopomp, plucking the souls from the bodies of the fallen and conducting them on black wings, to the lands of the dead.

She is sometimes a single goddess, and sometimes three (or even five).

I have seen her compared to the Valkyries, to the Fates, the Norns and to the likes of Hecate and Kali, but I don’t believe any of those comparisons are more than skin deep.

She is the Morrígan, and rather than trying to squeeze her into some easy to categorize box, it would be best to deal with her on her own terms.

And what are her terms?

My reading of the mythology would suggest that, if she loves you, she wants to see you either triumph against overwhelming odds, or die in the attempt.

As I said, love is a complicated and sometimes dangerous business.

The Morrígan, Badb

I was haunted for a while after that foolish sunset climb.

At random moments I would experience a nagging feeling of something left undone.  Occasionally, when I closed my eyes during such moments I would see that great rock rising up out of the earth, and faintly, in the distance, I could hear the raucous sound of ravens laughing.

It wasn’t often, mind you.  Sometimes months would go by, when suddenly the feeling would return.

A year passed, and another, and another…,

And finally I went back, with a purpose, and not alone.

My girlfriend Donna hiked with me all day, and even joined me in some light bouldering, but when I finally decided to face that dreaded rock again, she opted to stay behind and watch my progress from a nearby lookout.

I had made it as far as that still familiar resting spot when I noticed that the ravens had returned as well.  All three of them were gathered, resting in the branches of that distant, and otherwise barren tree, which I had noticed on my first visit.

Time seemed to stretch out as I stood there watching them, watching me, and then, with a deep breath, I continued my ascent.  Climbing, and sometimes leaping, from point to point, free soloing my way upward, I made my way finally to a narrow cleft between two great slabs of worn stone.  This narrow crack provided an almost perfect set of handholds and steps, allowing me to rise quickly up and depositing me at a gap in the crown of rock, where a gnarled tree stood, leafless against the wind.

I stood there, gazing out at the horizon, winded from the climb and not a little surprised that I had finally made it.  When I finally reached out and touched the tree, the sky exploded with the guttural cawing of ravens.  Looking up, I could see all three of them, circling directly above me.  Their cries felt different to me this time, uplifting, triumphant even.

When I stepped back down again, I turned to look at what lay in the opposite direction from that which I had come, before heading back down again.  I expected to see nothing more than another cliff face descending away from me.  Instead, I found myself looking at a deep valley of tall trees bordered on every side by towering walls of rock.  And through the trees, at the other end of the valley, I noticed a woman, seated on a flat stone, her back against a tree, looking back at me.

At first I didn’t even notice that silence had fallen again.  Glancing into the sky, there was no sign of the great black birds which had circled there only moments before.

Across the valley, unreachable yet so near, the raven haired woman made not the slightest sign to acknowledge my presence.  Yet in that moment, I could feel an overwhelming attention (and exaltation, and fear – the two emotions may be more alike than most people realize).

Whatever else I felt, or heard, or thought in those moments…,

That belongs to me.

The Morrígan, Badb

I’ve never seen her again, but the ravens still visit me sometimes.  They warn, and they guide, and they scold me with their gurgling laughter.  And somewhere ahead, perhaps just beyond the horizon, there is another challenge waiting, another great rock to climb.

And whether I reach the top, or crumble and fall, I know who is waiting for me there.  I know who will guide me at last to the lands of the dead.  And I can live with that.

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Filed under Celtic Polytheism, Death, Mythology, Religion, Spiritual Journey, The Gods