This blog is part of the Scáth na Feannóige/Shadow of the Hooded Crow project exploring fénnidecht as a practice to follow the War Goddessses, Badb, Macha and the Morrígan whose name is Anann. This is a less formal place for me to discuss various issues of interest to someone on a modern version of the Outlaw warrior path such as physical training, history, Old Irish literature, pop culture inspirations, werewolves, ecstatic trance (okay, I find that one tough to write about but I may try), gender issues the wilderness....


Monday, December 23, 2013

Dark Nights and Shadow Hounds

Cù and Òrlaith
This is another "administrative" post, I suppose, a filler to keep this active. Some may have noticed a slight name change here. There are many reasons for this choice. It does keep a certain theme which runs in other things I do, such as our home's name. It also perhaps seems pretentious to claim we actually fly with Her/Them, instead we run in Their shadows, with the mad hounds. Which is another aspect which may not seem obvious to anyone but me...the canine theme in what I do seems to be coming through stronger as I go along. It's, again, the focus of what I've been (or was) writing about. It is a subject which I often feel uncomfortable talking about because I do not relate to most of the wolfy identity stuff that is popular. I'm not Otherkin, I don't identify by any of the "in the wrong body" stuff. And how that is different is often hard to explain. But it's, in part, what I've been trying to work on.

And so, I've been working on an article centered around this find. It's really only a part of the article, but it was a key prompt, if you will.   It was hard to deal with some of the ideas of dog sacrifice, even if kept in the past (to be clear I think it's not something that should be brought back and there is no evidence of it in the Irish material, except for the ever unique Cú Chulainn's killing of the hound he was named for which may echo this older, far away rite), as we had lost our male Greyhound, Cù Mór this summer. Yes, that often made it hard.
Òrlaith and I
just before last Lùnasdal ritual
Missing our Cù

Now our female Greyhound, our only Greyhound now, Òrlaith has bone cancer and will likely, indeed, die this winter. Due to her age, we've opted not to have the highly invasive surgery, the removal of her lower jaw and replacement with a prosthetic, and chemo. She'd likely have no chance of a full recovery to the point where she is completely out of pain and the effects of the chemo. We are trying, with the help of her new vets, multiple alternative treatments in hopes to slow it down. But we do not expect miracles. As long as she's comfortable, happy and eating we'll keep trying. All her remedies are disguised as treats so it also amounts to spoiling her.

This has made the writing even harder, although I poke at it slowly. After I post this I intend to  do more work on it. For the most part, right now, I am working on other aspects of possible initiation rites. But it also brings home my belief at what does make for the appropriate role of dogs and the death of dogs in how I practice. Caring for them, living with them, learning from them...and, when the time comes, giving them a meaningful send off.

Greyhounds are "primitive" in their social pack behavior. While I have always learned from the dogs in my life, I find this breed, so connected also with Gaelic culture, to have perhaps taught me the most on this aspect. The Border Collie crosses which are also part of our pack, have as well. Both breeds retain a lot of the wolf, but have modified it in different ways.  The Greyhounds are still pack hunters, the BCs use the same techniques to herd, stopping short of the kill. I watched the Greyhounds teach the BCs, Gleann and Sachairi, a bit more of the social aspects, and Òrlaith has definitely been the leader among the dogs. The boys, including Cù, have practically worshiped the ground she walks on. Meanwhile, she has taken her cues from us, the alphas. We learned from her, and Irony before her, how to be quiet, gentle alphas.  

In these past few weeks, she may be thinking herself a bit above us as we spoil her as much as possible. This is an act of worship for me, an honoring of the canine spirit which is a part of me and a connection to something bigger.  When she goes we will bury her with the other hounds, Cù, Scolaighe, Bran and Irony, the Shadow Pack....both our living and our dead are called that, but the ones on the other side grow in number. Someday I will be buried among them, at least if my wishes are honored (and such a burial is still legal in NH), along with the bones of my first dog Gabe, who is to be reinterred with me. With us. At our ritual site.

There will be howling for her, both humans and dogs, as we always do. Our funeral rituals are simple, but they are important. The dogs mourn hard, like us they have not fully recovered from losing Cù. When we do ritual we share with those gone on as well. Dogs are always part of our rites, even when they are not at the center of them. 

And so, I hope there will be an article finished soon and news about where it will end up. I needed a moment to share this. Because I realize I can't even describe what a vital part of my path my pack has been and is. That I'd not understand my wolf if I didn't learn from them. Perhaps others can do it other ways, but I would not be doing this without them.  I believe that they are central to my relationship with the War Goddesses, that being Their hound or wolf is far more key for my path than such human identity as "priest/ess."  And all time spent with them is a sort of rite in itself.  And so I shall go to be with her.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Update on not updating -- writing and stuff

Someday I may finish the next Cú Chulainn post, but it's set aside for the moment. Likewise, plans to post an outline and maybe some details regarding a theoretical training program is not likely to be posted for a bit. I've got a deadline looming for an article that I should be working on instead. But, you know, here I am posting here...but this is going to be quick, really! 
The late, great Cù, posted just because I miss him

My article "The Hero(es) Betwixt and Between" has been published in Keltria Journal #43. Yay! I have just submitted another article to an anthology and am waiting to hear on the fate some others tht are out there.  I see all of these as part of the over all "Hooded Crow" project. However, I am intending to spend the dark half of the year concentrating largely on getting the whole thing pulled together. Lots of wolfy, warrior Outlaw thoughts coming together. And, yeah, those other thing will eventually get up...as they are all a part of the whole as well.

We're still prepping for winter and will be celebrating Samhuinn around the full moon. I'll be putting a lot of intent toward a productive winter of writing.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Morrígan and Cú Chulainn pt. 2: Insult and Praise as Incitement

"Cuchullain and the
Battle-Goddess" by Willy Pogány in The Frenzied Prince
based on Táin Bó Regamna  
In my earlier post about an Morrígan appearing to Cú Chulainn and offering sex and victory as a test,  I noted that this is not featured in all versions of the Táin Bó Cúailnge. Instead, the Book of Leinster edition uses the remscéla (foretale) Táin Bó Regamna, to set up Her coming at him as a heifer, eel and wolf.(TBC pg. 54, 194)   The story is, again, read as if showing their hatred of each other and why CC needs to be "punished."  There are several other issues which come up with it, however, which again make no sense if you read it this way and also view the Morrígan as a powerful Goddess.

The Táin Bó Regamna is one of the stories which sets up the circumstances for the Táin Bó Cúailnge, in which the Morrígan essentially sets the entire stream which makes sure Cú Chulainn will play his role. She steals a cow to breed to the Donn Cúailnge, the bull Medb will raid for. Cú Chulainn tries to stop the theft, finding Her all in red in a chariot with a single red, one legged horse with the pole running through it and a man herding the cow. He is first angered that the "woman" answers rather than the man, he even leaps upon Her shoulders. She identifies Herself this time as a satirist, which should at least be a clue as to the words She then gives. The chariot, horse, man and semblance of a woman disappear and She takes the form of a black bird, revealing who She actually is. She seemingly predicts that he will die in a cattle raid when the calf the cow carries is a year old. This gets him angry and he boasts that he will not only survive the raid but will kill all who come against him and will find his fame in it.  She then makes the threat of coming against him as eel, wolf and heifer while he counters as to how he will wound Her. She disappears with the cow.

Now it's often said that in this She is speaking prophecy, yet if we believe She is a powerful Goddess with great prophetic powers, how can this be? She would be, after all, wrong for, as he proclaimed, he didn't die then.  Even a true satire, one meant to create magic which makes the words so, would mean he'd have to die in the TBC...or it means She has little power.  So again, we see that if this is taken as it usually is, that they are truly contentious, it shows Her as weak. Perhaps not a problem for some focused on him, but as a follower of Her it is problematic.

So, again, let's consider what else this might be. What I believe it is is gressacht. This is a form of incitment to battle, using mocking and insult to create rage in the fighter, related to the laíded which Mac Cana demonstrates is incitement through praise.(MacCana, pg 77-78)  He notes the War Goddess doing this in his Macgnímrada which is part of the TBC, and that it is obvious what She is doing there despite the term not being used. (MacCana pg. 80)  Therefore seeing this in the TBR as well as part of the exchange between them in the TBC which we have discussed, shows a pattern, one fitting the role of a warrior and the Goddess who would wish to incite him.

She is, of course, not the only one using this form of incitement on him nor is he the only one it's used on. In fact, in his battle with Lóch, when She also attacks him, this form of incitement is used on both of them. The women of Connacht and then Medb taunt Lóch to get him to fight Cú Chulainn. Seeing CC in trouble fighting both the eel-shaped Morrígan and Lóch, Fergus called upon one of the Ulstermen to incite him so that he can defeat them both and Bricriu steps up to the task. (MacCana, pg. 79). But perhaps the best known example is when Cú Chulainn must face his beloved Ferdiad and he asks his charioteer Láeg to incite him in this way. (MacCana, pg. 77-78)

The response, to gressacht is expected to be "I'll show you!" But wordier then followed with the action. Again, we see exactly this in the paring of the TBR interaction between Cú Chulainn and an Morrígan and the events in the TBC.

The concept of the inciting the warrior into action by verbal insult is hardly unique to early Ireland. Most of us know of the verbal lashing associated with drill sergeants and coaches. The idea, especially in the military, had been to create soldiers who could take pressure. And resist being female, as it's commonly the featured insult (interestingly, MacCana noted that the Irish insults never use the accusation of being womanly to insult men, pg. 90-91 although I think we might want to look at how it was still used as in insult regarding Medb).  However, in light of awareness of bullying's devastating consequences these methods have been questioned and curbed, although some surely still practice them when possible. We have seen it seep into pop culture "fitness" thanks to Jillian Michaels.  In fact, some personal trainers call such abusive tactics "going Jillian Michaels on someone" and, yes, this is considered a very inappropriate way to treat a client.. Because the problem is that uch insulting usually is nothing more than verbal abuse. Bullying. Because for all some might claim it's for "their own good" it's really about control.  And it's done without regard for what baggage the person it's being said to already has.

If someone has grown up with verbal abuse, they have learned from the beginning to not respond positively. They have been taught that "I'll show you!" is not the sought after response. More of abuse just causes more pain and damage, even if the abuser expects and wants a "I'll show you!" response. And that's something we must always be aware of. I am not calling for us to use this as a method....unless the person on the receiving end requests it, like CC asked his charioteer. Not even among my, ahem, cult members, although I think this concept has a place as we'll get to.  In fact, MacCana notes that only certain people seem to have been allowed. Charioteers, women (and there is a heterosexual component with the recipients being male), satirists....Fergus cannot do it, so he calls up on those who can (MacCana pg. 86-89).  Obviously, Goddesses would be among those who can.

The fact that verbal insult can demoralize, psych out, rather than provoke, psych up, was also evident in the Irish literature and in sports today. MacCana notes the various times when screams, shouts, taunts and other noise is mentioned in the war literature, either from opposing forces or the War Goddesses.(MacCana, pg. 69-74)  This too is used in modern sports, especially seen in fighting sports (and taken to a crazier level in scripted "wrestling"). But we can often see that sometimes it does psych up rather than psych out, as taunts are thrown and countered with "I'll show you!" (sometimes both almost as poetic as in the literature).  Of course, a fighter might want to have their opponent visibly psyched up, it makes for a more glorious fight. We have hardly left the idea that we discussed earlier that a good fighter wants to be known for having a good fight, not an easy win.

As part of that, of course, we again have the laíded, the praise. Not just given by the supporters of the winner or the loser of the winner (part of "good sportsmanship" and "losing well" is to be sure that now everyone knows you lost to someone who was very good, that your skills will benefit from this and "I'll show you next time!") but often the winner of the loser. There is no glory in making out the opponent you beat as having no skill, the more skilled they are the more you must have been. We insult, then we praise.

How can we use this today? As I said I think with care, for harming those harmed already is useless. And some of my suggestions are not likely going to sit well with those who might have such backgrounds. I want to say that I think learning to be able to say "I'll show you!" is a good thing, but I also am well aware that my knowledge of the psychology of it all is far to limited to say how. I think it might be something some may wish to explore with professional help.  It's not something I'm familiar with because the forms of verbal abuse I can identify being an issue for me have been different...it's been the "friendly, helpful," sneaky, manipulative backhanded compliment type that "friends" taught me later in life.  The overt, insult stuff I learned to blow off as a kid. Not always a "I'll show you!" but more the belief my mother engendered that people who talked shit about you weren't people who mattered. 

Yet, even those who haven't been overwhelmed by others' abusing us sometimes do it to ourselves all the same. And maybe those backhanded compliments which slowly, subtly degrade our self-esteem at the hands of friends have their own way too. So even without the overt abuse, we feel we're not smart enough, not strong enough, not skilled enough..... And we tell ourselves this.

So it's the self-talk we may need to first learn to say "I'll show you!" to. Say it with conviction and say it in poetic detail!  And take the action to prove those voices wrong.  Get creative with your response to the negative self-talk, hells, have fun with it! Because the way to deal with it from others is to first deal with it in yourself.

Again, this may well be a gross oversimplification for many, so if you're not do not let that strengthen the bad self-talk instead! Please!  There are also times to be gentle with yourself.

And to praise yourself!  Never forget that side of it! 

I do think there is room, for some, for doing this between two people.  There are even situations where some might seek it out. I have realized one for me, something which ...well...is a bit odd.

Although my father never insulted my ability with horses that I can remember, I developed at an early age a need to prove myself to him.  Perhaps this was actually a response to a sense of protectiveness that the feminist child I was resented?  In more recent years  I know my father was quite worried about, first, the crazy abuse survivor, Saoradh, I rescued and, later, my crazy filly, Saorsa, but I was determined to show him in both cases. I did with Saoradh who became calm, happy and no longer so violently reactive in his last years.  But when he died, I seemed to internalize the worry. I became afraid both of "ruining" her and of getting hurt. I became less self-confident with a horse than I have ever been and I ended up seeking a trainer to work with her. And despite that, I just wasn't getting ti back.  I was getting a great deal of encouragement from my mate and from the trainer...but I couldn't find it in me.

Then we had a farrier here who flat out told me she was too much horse for me, she'd make a great horse for someone who was confident and I should sell her.  And it was like a fucking light switch went off. After that I began working with her myself and progressed greatly.  Sadly, when he nearly crippled our other mare we had to find another trimmer and I no longer have his reminder to keep that up.  What I do have is a husband confused at why I get annoyed with my doubts come back and he tells me I can do it. Apparently horses are one area where I need someone who makes me say "I'll show you!" even if they're not actually taunting me.  (maybe someone will read this and take on the role LOL)

Having identified this one place where I seem to need someone to prove myself to, I can see where that need can be used to strengthen myself. I could see a place for ritualized taunting among warriors. I can also feel that the War Goddesses do do this to us, even today. That perhaps "self talk" isn't...but then don't we believers often struggle with who might actually be speaking in our heads (and the accusations non-believers might have on that)? And that, really, it might work best as the taunter is on your side, as Bricriu, Láeg and, most assuredly, the Morrígan really were on Cú Chulainn's. That such interaction is not adversity but aid. That those taunting know, as does the recipient, that the taunts are lies. And that they'll be there to praise after. But, sometimes, you have to settle for a know it all asshole who can't even do his own job adequately.

I do know that there are times when a small murder of crows in a tree I'm going buy when I'm just not feeling into a run feels like more than just a group of wild birds squawking at each other, but are aiming gressacht their remarks at me. I know because it brings up the "I'll show you!" feeling in me. And I know the difference in the run before and after. And I know the feeling when I put a bit more effort in a run and a chorus of coywolves erupts just as it's coming to an end, that more than just a local pack calling for a hunt, it's laíded for my effort. Small moments, but we can find strength in the face of insult and we will feel rewarded. We just have to remember, sometimes the One who taunts will give the deepest praise once we show Her.

See also:
The Morrígan and Cú Chulainn: On Saying "No" 

 The Morrígan and Cú Chulainn pt. 3: Of death and dog meat

I also discuss some of this, as well as expand on the nature of the Morrígan "Musings on the Irish War Goddesses" in By Blood, Bone and  Blade: A Tribute to the Morrígan Nicole Bonivusto, ed,  Ashville, NC: Bibliotheca Alexandrina, 2014

Bibliography

A. H. Leahy, ed. and trans, “Táin Bó Regamna,” Heroic Romances of Ireland, Volume II London: David Nutt, 1906 Irish English


Proinsias MacCana, “Láided, Gressacht ‘Formalized Incitement’” Érui vol. 43

Cecile O'Rahilly, trans., Táin Bó Cúalnge from Book of Leinster Dublin: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, 1967 Irish  English

Cecile O'Rahilly, trans. Táin Bó Cúalnge, Recession 1 Dublin: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, 1976 Irish English

 Copyright © 2013 Saigh Kym Lambert

Friday, September 13, 2013

An Morrígan and Sarah Connor: Pt. 4: Training

So, yeah, I had made some warning that there might be yet another installment on this theme and here it is.  Really, I'm using it mostly because this is somewhat a continuation of things touched upon in part 2 about how the Sarah Connor Charm School became an exercise in implementing some of my warrior path training ideas, with modifications. Since I'm finding my current focus on upping my own training and working on getting my business going again seems to be interfering with work on my second post about Cú Chulainn's relationship with the Morrígan, I figured maybe writing about training on this path might help me get on track in several ways. I have to stay that thoughts about the Tara High Kings Festival competition may also be prompting this (and there may be a post in that after we see what takes place)

One thing that has been coming up for me is the idea that I "broke training" for much of this summer.  In June and July we were caring for a very sick dog. For much of that there was a heat wave here. Neither of us got much sleep for those weeks, although my mate as an EMT really seldom does, nor did we eat very well. Everything was constant stress. After our Cù died, I had started to get back with it, but became very sick myself...as often happens when getting through tremendous stress and poor self-care and then, well, the body realizes that it doesn't have to get through anymore.

There is a lot of focus in the amateur fitness world that you work out through everything.  Illness, stress, business, what ever. As a fitness professional, I tell my clients to back off or take breaks when sick, because the body doesn't need extra stress when trying to heal. To take breaks on a regular basis, actually, as the body needs rest and adapts to constant exercise in a negative way. I'm good about taking scheduled rest breaks, but still self-flagellate about taking breaks when it's not "in the plan" so I get caught up in that thinking.

But, really, what are training for? For me it's different from what many think about, even while the industry sometimes gives lip service to the idea of fitness for life, it's largely about looks, usually about weight. So if your focus is on that, well, taking a break when things are going to shit might mean gaining weight (although this is largely a fallacy, weight isn't as easily controlled as such ideas make it out to be, which is part of why I am a Health At Every Size™ trainer) or losing muscle (you do, but muscle rebuilds faster than it built in the first place).  That's not what I'm training for. It's not what those I train train for. The truth is, I'm training for being as healthy as possible. And, really, I'm raining for crisis. And when there is one I'm in it, training for it just can take away from what I need to put into the crisis at hand.

Okay, it might not be as romantic and exciting as the idea that I'm training for the Zombie Apocalypse, er, Revenant Cataclysm, but in reality training for any crisis is training for any other. It's about making the body stronger so it better adapts to stress. What ever form that stress may take. So that the body doesn't break down, at least not completely.  A bad summer cold is nothing compared to other possible stress related health problems, after all. And even a crisis which might not seem overly physically taxing does still mean physical work needs to be done, especially when homesteading. Keeping up with things that needed done here like caring for our other animals often took a toll just due to the exhaustion. I hadn't been training before, I'd likely not have been able to do any of that at all.

It's true that certain stressful periods can be aided by exercise, it can alleviate anxiety. I won't say I didn't exercise at all while taking care of Cù, there were times when my husband was there to watch after him that I'd escape to the gym or the trail for awhile. But the work out was light, exhaustion catching up with me. And not as frequent.  Therefore not within my usual training perimeters. 

Of course, training on this path isn't just about fitness. But I do believe that it is the base of all the rest of training. This is obvious for martial arts training but for some it may not be for the less obviously physical. However, I find warrior trance to be very physically challenging, it is often movement based and even when not puts a great deal of stress on the body. When it comes to research, I also find I am more focused when I am engaging in regular physical training. All these things fell behind too during that time. The only thing that didn't, obviously, were the parts about connecting with my animals, especially my dogs, especially this one, and the Otherworld. Because those things were at the center of everything. And all these things are aspects of the path.

I have been playing with the outline for a training program, you know for this War Goddesss cult I'm not starting.  A look at what I feel is needed to serve Her/Them. As I noted before, I had started such an outline for organizations I was in but they never panned out. I was often told they were too much, yet I know someone doing the version I redid, changing out the cultural and mystical bits, for the Sarah Connor Charm School.  There's also endless modification...so...

I am hoping to be posting a new outline on the website soon. It will take some thought. I see as a three fold path, after all, warrior-seer-poet. Some of us ares strong in one of these than the others and that may change. I am weakest in the poetry, but as I age I might increase my focus and learn more to strengthen it. Never know.  This combination is based on what we see among the warriors of the Fianna as well as the Scáthach's training of Cú Chulainn and is coming up a lot in my writing.

But right at this moment, I'm focused on the fitness part of the physical training an starting to get back to the martial part, as well as working on Sight, research and writing. Well, this is somewhat a restart of the writing. LOL

As I am so focused, I thought I'd leave you with links for posts I did for the Sarah Connor Charm School Blog. As, really, this is one element of the training programs which wouldn't change. We have no real concrete information on fitness training, other than there was lots of running, of the early Irish warriors, so we go with what we know works. Even if I had details, I'd modify it for reasons of science and, especially, safety.

EDIT: I have revised this specifically for the Shadow of the Hooded Crow Fitness Files



SCCS Fitness Training Intro: This Fitness Program will make you look just like Sarah Connor a Stronger You!
SCCS Fitness Training Part 1: The Activity Triad
SCCS Fitness Training Part 2: Flexibility
SCCS Fitness Training Part 3: Cardiovascular/Endurance/Aerobics
SCCS Fitness Training Part 4: Strength Training

 Copyright © 2013 Saigh Kym Lambert

Friday, August 16, 2013

The Morrígan and Cú Chulainn Part 1: On Saying "No"

Those of us who follow an Morrígan are in an interesting position compared to many Gaelic Polytheists. We actually have an example of a patron/client relationship between a Deity and a human (albeit a human with divine paternity, sort of).  It is, of course, through Christian eyes that we get it, so many dismiss this all together. This is particularly true as this warrior, Cú Chulainn, often offends the sensibilities of many who claim to be devoted to Her and on the warrior path.

There are many issues, really, but right now I want to concentrate on aspects of the relationship between CC and the Morrígan which I feel are widely misunderstood.  The problem is that without looking at some of the issues from a warrior perspective, including by people who claim to be warriors, and with an understanding of certain elements of Irish culture, it can be read in a very different way from what it may have meant to early warriors who may have heard and orally shared the stories. Some of the scribes who wrote them down, also not being warriors, may well have considered them much as we do today, yet the actual stories seem to give a different read when taken from a warrior perspective.

The reading that many in the Pagan community, from the "fluffiest of fluffies" to the "hardest core Reconstructionists," give the relationship is that CC is rude, arrogant and offensive to the Morrígan.  And it can appear so. Even form the earliest encounters as a boy, when She mocks him as unable to fight a phantom, which he then does defeat.(TBC Rec I, pg. 16, 139) It seems there that She doesn't like him much, but consider then what that means that CC actually orders his charioteer to mock him at a later point.(TBC Rec I, pg. 93, 207) At some point I hope to further explore gressacht, inciting by ridicule, something which is very difficult to understand in a culture where it would be mistaken for bullying which is meant to crush us.(MacCana)

The biggest confusion comes from his response to Her in Táin Bó Cúailnge Rec I, when she comes to him and offers him Sex in the middle of his standoff at the ford. This tale actually does not appear in all of the versions of the TBC and I hope to explore the events in the Táin Bó Regamna (Edit: and I did in Part 2) which also serves to set up the same events at a later time. (I have explored both somewhat already in, "Musings on the Irish War Goddesses" publication pending)  Both of these do, after all, seem to get heavily misread.

The reading of this version is that he spurns Her offer of "love" and She, being female and therefore only able to resort to revenge when crushed in this way, punishes him by coming against him while he's in battle. Some of these retellings of the meeting between CC and the Morrígan make Her out to be a truly pathetic woman we are supposed to feel sorry for while others point what a mistake it is to refuse such a powerful Goddess...some manage to take both these directions at once.  It is used by several "warriors" to show why one does not refuse the demands of the Goddess, ever (in what appears to be an attempt to excuse their own recent actions).

This is a translation of the exchange in question:
 Cú Chulainn saw coming towards him a young woman of surpassing beauty, clad in clothes of many colours. ‘Who are you?’ asked Cú Chulainn. ‘I am the daughter of Búan the king,’ said she. ‘I have come to you for I fell in love with you on hearing your fame, and I have brought with me my treasures and my cattle.’

‘It is not a good time at which you have come to us, that is, our condition is ill, we are starving (?). So it is not easy for me to meet a woman while I am in this strife.’ ‘I shall help you in it.’ ‘It is not for a woman's body that I have come.’

‘It will be worse for you’, said she, ‘when I go against you as you are fighting your enemies. I shall go in the form of an eel under your feet in the ford so that you shall fall.’ ‘I prefer that to the king's daughter,’ said he. ‘I shall seize you between my toes so that your ribs are crushed and you shall suffer that blemish until you get a judgment blessing.’ ‘I shall drive the cattle over the ford to you while I am in the form of a grey she-wolf.’ ‘I shall throw a stone at you from my sling so and smash your eye in your head, and you shall suffer from that blemish until you get a judgment blessing.’ ‘I shall come to you in the guise of a hornless red heifer in front of the cattle and they will rush upon you at many fords and pools yet you will not see me in front of you.’ ‘I shall cast a stone at you,’ said he, ‘so that your legs will break under you, and you shall suffer thus until you get a judgment blessing.’ Whereupon she left him (Cecile O'Rahilly, trans. Táin Bó Cúalnge, Recession 1 Dublin: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, 1976 English pg. 177, Irish pg. 37) 

At face value, taken as a modern story, the reading given does seem obvious. It appears She comes in disguise, however, even in doing so Her role is very clear. Epstein notes that She clearly reveals Herself as a Sovereignty/Victory Goddess when She offers help in his battle. (Epstein, sorry due to mangled formatting I have no page number) Yet there seems at least some hint in calling Herself the daughter of King Búan.  A king's daughter to make a king, Búan linked to "Búanann" a name related to Anann and therefore the Morrígan.(O'Donavan, pg. 17, Epstein)  She does indeed say She loves him...for his fame. Which many others did as well, but given context, it could serve as a reminder that, indeed, the glory he has sought since childhood is why She is there.

Certainly, She does say,  "It will be worse for you when I go against you as you are fighting your enemies." So that must mean She's angry and is going to retaliate.  Right?  Say "no" to this Goddess is a foolish thing.  Because Cú Chulainn's life was horrible and hard and we'd never want what he had.  Wait? What?

No, let's look at what is She really offering and what is he rejecting?  She is saying She is offering love and, obviously, sex.  Yet even those mistaking this for a story of scorn love realize that this is also about offering victory as She offered Dagda in the Cath Maige Tuired. (CMT, para. 84) Of course, many seem to think of that as a love story as well, rather than the powerful rite that it was. Dagda accepts and while the victory is not easy, it is had.   Cú Chulainn refuses, the Morrígan is hurt and refuses him victory and he is destr.....oh, wait.

I realize this may be really hard for people to grasp. But Cú Chulainn does win. But it's not easy. And She does make it harder. But was that punishment?  Really?

Let's compare what is different about CC and Dagda for a moment.  Dagda is a God, an equal in all ways to the Morrígan. He is an established warrior among the Tuatha Dé Danann and has even been king. He has His own magic, again well established.  Mostly, He has nothing to prove.

Cú Chulainn as a boy took up arms when he heard it was a good hour to do so to live a glorious life and die
The boy Cú Chulainn
by Stephen Reid
1912
young and famous. He had by this time proven himself many times yet was always challenged for his youth and strangeness. He was still a youth and this was, in fact, the story which would make that fame if he was to have it. While other exploits contributed, this was the story which marked him.  He still had to fight it.

So let us think what the Morrígan was doing here, actually doing here.

Let's think that all evidence we have. She does love him.. If we try to understand the gressacht for what it is and we realize that at his death She is distraught and is not Cailitín's daughter who is also, confusingly, called Badb, who facilitates his death. Rather She tries, despite obviously knowing it's futile to prevent it. (Van Hamel, pg. 69-133, O'Grady and Stokes in Hull, pg. 235-263) this becomes clear. And She does love him for his fame or rather his determination to have it. And that is important.

What she is offering, by offering him to lie with Sovereignty/Victory, is to lose that all.  Think. Go beyond what you think is good or bad, is reward or punishment and think what he had wanted. And think what laying with Victory would give.

What she offered was an easy victory during the events which would mark his fame. He clearly knew who She was and what that would mean.  He would have won easily, there would be no tale to tell, he would have been at best a side note but possibly totally forgotten. We'd have no stories today.

ETA: I should also note, that She'd have turned from him, as well.  He'd be forgotten for he'd never do anything of note. He'd be no champion and his people would be left without. 

This is called a test. She did not want him to say "yes." If he had then he'd undoubtedly have been punished.  He'd have won easily and been forgotten. The worse punishment there could have been for him.

The punishment you see, that She comes against him while he is in battle, serves to further his fame. A fight that is "worse" means winning is better.  For he not only faced a warrior but the War Goddess in battle.  Do you really believe that She is so weak he would have won against Her if that wasn't the point?  Then why worship such a weak Goddess?

That, btw, is something that boggles me.  Especially, among those who then claim "well, She showed him not to say "no" to her!" Um, he won. Is this the extent of strength you see in your Goddess?  That She'd try to fight him for real and failed?  Then you claim you are afraid to say "no" to Her?  What sort of wimp are you then?

Instead, I believe She acts to show Her chosen favorite is indeed mighty!  Rather than an easy and easily forgotten victory, She gives him a harder one, one that let's him rise above all! Because he knew to say "no" to Her test.

She then offers him milk, again in "disguise" which must clearly have been evident.  A three teated cow in the presence of an old woman doesn't add up to a Goddess of cattle?  In this She gives him fame for the other side of war, that he also can heal, even a Goddess.

Think.  What is punishment to a warrior who as a very small child declared he wanted to have a glorious, famous short life?  Why, it would be to have forgotten long one.

And if one thinks a forgotten life is better if you live safely into old age, are you ready to walk the warrior path?   None of us are Cú Chulainn, but if you choose a safe life and easy victories, if you choose to say "yes" when ever She tests you to see how much you want what you claim you want then you are far from following his way.

This is a lesson we must learn, that She will ask of us things that go against what we know deep down in our hearts is the right way.  She will ask us to do things which She does not want us to do. To serve the Morrígan one needs to have the courage to say "no."  While there are many ways that Cú Chulainn might be a problematic role model, showing the importance of passing such tests is not one of them.   He shows us well. Act in accordance to your heart when the Phantom Queen tests you and it will serve you well. Even if the weak can never understand.

See also:
The Morrígan and Cú Chulainn pt. 2: Insult and Praise as Incitement

The Morrígan and Cú Chulainn pt. 3: Of death and dog meat

I also discuss some of this, as well as expand on the nature of the Morrígan "Musings on the Irish War Goddesses" in By Blood, Bone and  Blade: A Tribute to the Morrígan Nicole Bonivusto, ed,  Ashville, NC: Bibliotheca Alexandrina, 2014

Bibliography

Angelique Gulermovich Epstein, “War Goddess: The Morrígan and her Germano-Celtic Counterparts” dissertation, University of California in Los Angeles, 1998

Elizabeth Gray, trans. Cath Maige Tuired: The Second Battle of Mag Tuired  Dublin: Irish Text Society,  Irish English  

Eleanor Hull, ed., The Cuchullin Saga in Irish Literature: being a collection of stories relating to the Hero Cuchullin, London: David Nutt on the Strand, 1898 (Hayes O'Grady, trans., “The Great Defeat on the Plain of Muirthemne before Cuchullin’s Death” and Whitley Stokes, trans., “The Tragical Death of Cochulainn,)

Proinsias MacCana, “Láided, Gressacht ‘Formalized Incitement’” Érui vol. 43


Kuno Meyer, trans. ‘The Wooing of Emer’“Tochmarc Emire,” Archaeological Review 1, 1888, Irish English 

John O'Donovan, ed. and trans. (with notes and translations from Whitley Stokes) Sanas Cormaic Calcutta: O. T. Cutter for the Irish Archeological and Celtic Society, 1868,

Cecile O'Rahilly, trans. Táin Bó Cúalnge, Recession 1 Dublin: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, 1976 Irish English

AG van Hamel Compert Con Culainn and Other Stories, Medieval and Modern Irish Series, Vol 3, Dublin: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, 1933

Copyright © 2013 Saigh Kym Lambert

Thursday, June 13, 2013

An Morrígan and Sarah Connor: Pt.3 Our Gods and Heroes in Pop Culture

If we're going to talk about Pop Culture in Paganism, I think we should discuss the flip side, Paganism in Pop Culture. Given my own interests, I'm going to stick with the Gaelic Gods and heroes in movies, TV and related media. Novels would make  it such a huge undertaking that I can't even begin to think about it other than a couple of mentions. Really, I'm going to just skim the surface here, because there's a lot out there already. And all of it goes from sucking to really, really sucking.

Some are optimistic about Pop Culture depictions of the literature, Gorm Sionnach finds hope that greater positive interest might be gained by more modern exposure to the stories. On the Norse side of things, where there has been as Gorm Sionnach also noted much more exposure, Dr. Karl E. H. Seigfried expresses a positive opinion of the Marvel Thor comics, as well as discusses the continued popularity of Norse mythology in Pop Culture. Certainly the series Vikings has met with much positive reactions among Heathens, although I have seen snipes in various groups along with the praise. And there is no denying that the many decades of Tolkien's popularity has been a "gate-way drug" for many into Heathen ways.

Of course, one of the things I think I personally like about Tolkien's work is that he based his based his stories on the lore and cultures, yet the "names have been changed to protect the ancient." That sort of fictionalization I'm a bit more comfortable with. Do with it as you will, but skip the actual names.

Over the past few years there has been much talk of movies based on Cú Chulainn and the Táin Bó Cúailnge. One attempt, Hound by Breakthru Films, appears to have been "on hold" for about three years. It's unclear what the future is. Michael Fassbender was talking plans for a movie as well, last year, apparently with his 30something self playing the boy Cú Chulainn.  Depicting Cú Chulainn as an adult is likely going to be only part of the problem. I, of course, am just so looking forward to more misogyny thrown at Medb. (you really did catch the sarcasm there, right? At this point I don't want to be too subtle).  And that is, of course, as far as even scholars get to so I don't expect any film writer to do much better. (for an academic look that doesn't do this, see my review of Dominiguez's book and then see the book. I also discuss this a bit in '“By Force in the Battlefield”: Finding the Irish Female Hero' publication pending)

There have been, of course, several novelizations of the story, I'm just not going to try to round them all up. Morgan Llewellyn's perhaps the most famous. There is also a new graphic novel by Will Sliney, Celtic Warrior: The Legend of Cú Chulainn also with an oddly adult looking, but thankfully beardless, CC. Of course, Medb is a pencil with boobs in a painted on bodiced dress...so period.  Considering the rich descriptions given in the Táin itself, you'd think an artist would actually have some fun using those descriptions. I don't get it, this is just standard comic book art, at its most sexist at that.


This is not to say there aren't modern pop culture depictions I haven't enjoyed. I quite love the power and atmosphere that Horslips created in their album The Tain even if some points could be picked apart. This album just hits me in the feels real hard. However, I fear that when compared to such musical attempts that these movies will be more in line with the truly horrid The Tain album by The Decemberists complete with Andy Smetanka's equally horrid video...although at least CC looks like the boy not an adult man.Of course, my love for one and dislike of the other may also just show that I'm old. Well, okay, so there was one I liked.

There is also another movie, The Curse of Macha, which is supposed to come out sometime this year. It seems to have absolutely nothing to do with the story it's titled for, perhaps fortunately. I have also heard that a Finn Mac Cumhail movie and/or graphic novel is being made. It remains to be seen what any of these projects will become.

I suppose when it comes to a big reason why I doubt that a lot of Pop Culture exposure is going to have a positive resonation for Gaelic Paganism has to do with what's happened so far. We can, of course, look to the more "mainstream" Pagan, with it's Wiccan and Witchy focus, and the fun they've had with newbees coming in with their heads filled with The Craft and Charmed during the '90s (and probably still). But I can look closer to home.

While Gorm Sionnach is hopeful to see more of the Morrígan in the upcoming American Gods series, I am hoping that She is not going to be expanded. Of course, American Gods is one of the few novels featuring Gods which I rather love (and here's the first place I get to mention Linda Hamilton, as she mentioned it as one of her favorite novels of all time during the panel discussion at Chicago Comiccon 2010, making us co-fangirls!), as I think it raises some interesting questions, and I didn't utterly hate his depiction of Her although I'm glad it was brief just in case. That means I have issues with the HBO series because of a tendency to hate movies based on novels I love. But, no, She's rather been used and abused too much in pop culture, in my opinion.

"Morrigan" either as title or name and always mispronounced (although in the same way most Pagans also do) is actually real popular in pop culture. I've already ranted on, a good bit, about DC Comics Wonder Woman depiction in what is, sadly, my most popular post. In comics the title, along with some of the other Túatha Dé Danann have appeared in Marvel...apparently a bit more positively.

Morrigan Aensland in Darkstalkers
If you Google "Morrigan" the first links and images you will get do not relate to the Goddess at all, but to the green-haired, bat-winged succubus from the video game Darkstalkers. She was born in Scotland 300 years ago. I'm not sure anyone is at this point confusing her with the Goddess. But that may be coming.

In Dragon Age
It has happened with another popular game character with the name, a mortal shape-shifting witch in the game Dragon Age. Doesn't seem too confusing, does it?  A few days ago, while gathering material for this post I came across a very popular page for the Goddess, which along with a great deal of general Pagan fluff and misinformation about Her, had an entry about "Morrigan" the "daughter of Flemeth" and so forth. Presented, and shared I saw, as if it was information about the Goddess. Yes, no confusion there. Mind you, not that much more inaccurate that many other Pagan writings about Her but...

In Xena and Hercules
On TV we have had a "Morrigan" show up in Xena and Hercules. And here we again can look at another example. I think we might want to ask how much many Hellenic Reconstructionists loved these shows liberties with their Gods on a regular basis. Which means I suppose I shouldn't bitch too much about the inventiveness they took with the pan-Celtic mishmash they added later.  Yes, all in campy fun. But the truth is, I still meet up with people who confuse the shows' "mythology" withe actual Greek mythology, which has long been available. Again, not real hopeful that confusion isn't an issue.
In Sanctuary

More recently there was Sanctuary's depiction of three enslaved sisters used against King Arthur, that typical and mistaken conflation with Morgan. Also, Scottish rather than Irish, so perhaps Darkstalkers comprised some of their research too.


In Lost Girl
Also on the SyFy channels is a show I really would like to have liked. Lost Girl, after all, has one of the few bisexual main characters found in the mainstream media. Of course, she's a succubus, which brings it's own issues for me.  There is also the matter that (here we are again) Linda Hamilton appeared this past season and is scheduled to appear again. As a Valkyrie, apparently.  I really want to love anything she's in. And I did watch the episode and she was great in it and looked awesome....love leather jackets, so...  But the general liberties taken with a plethora of folk legends and lore are annoying even before coming to the fact that "the Morrigan" is the title given to the leader of the Dark Fae, one of the two groups trying to get Bo, the lead character, to take sides. *sigh* Really? 

Of course, I'm just a downer on this stuff, even when it's just the culture and not the Gods or legendary heroes. I have issues with anachronisms and out right inventions made out to be history or lore. I have already blasted the way the Picts are, well, depicted in CenturionI could do the same with other movies, such as King Arthur. I adore Brave, but largely despite it being placed in Scotland....it could have been placed in any place or time.

While more knowledge about the Gaelic cultures in our mainstream might be nice, I think that any story using our beloved literature or history will be muddied with what sells. While I know some are bothered by Pagans who use Pop Culture icons in their practice due to it being commercial property, I am far more worried about our culture and lore being made into commercial property.  Of course, in either case what will be will be. More people will still know "Morrigan Aensland" than will know the Daughters of Ernmas and some will confuse Them with the daughter of "Flemeth."  Perhaps at some point someone will do a really good rendition of one of our stories. But I fear, I remain pessimistic on that.

If you have missed them the first two installments were Part 1: Deities and Icons and Part 2: Warrior Cults and Charm Schools.
I also have added Part 4: Training

 Text copyright © Saigh Kym Lambert 
Art from linked pages owned by the licensed owner and used here for critique purposes

Monday, June 3, 2013

An Morrígan and Sarah Connor: Pt. 2 Warrior Cults and Charm Schools

As I noted in An Morrígan and Sarah Connor: Pt. 1 Deities and Icons I had been planning before the blogosphere explosion to write a bit about how the Sarah Connor Charm School and Flying With the Hooded Crow relate for me. About why I am doing both, where they meet and where they don't. To do so was actually probably sparked when I was told that someone had proclaimed the Charm School as a Gaelic Heathen warrior group. As it was at a time I was trying to get more attention out about my Hooded Crow project, I think it was especially annoying. Of course, it would come as a big surprise to all those Christian women I work with in the Charm School, and probably Pagans of other cultural involvements.

So having reiterated that the SCCS is not a Pagan group, I shall now admit that it actually started out as a Pagan joke. And now may be responsible for this Pagan project. In fact, I'm starting to reconsider what I said that They never used Sarah Connor's image, because I think They did quite a bit to kick me in the ass....even if none have ever copied her appearance. Because right when I needed it, there it was.

It was probably this one
Never having seen The Terminator, I didn't pay much attention when a friend, a mentor on the warrior path, and his roommate were talking about the second movie about to come out. I seem to remember them focused on Arnie and machines. *yawn* Later that day, I was a bit surprised when I visited other friends (at the time) who were not, AFAIK, Arnie fans anymore than I was, to find that they were all excited about Terminator 2 as well. Then they showed me her photo in a magazine (remember those things? ah, yes, tell me the machines aren't taking over, after all). Linda Hamilton, dressed in black and with all that muscle.

You know how you don't know you were looking for something until you find it? Yeah, one of those moments. Or rather it built, I sought out the first movie, got to the new one the first chance I got. The first moment when Sarah is on the screen doing chin ups was probably when it really hit. This was something I was looking for, I just hadn't known it.

There are people who probably do great without story and imagery to motivate and drive them. I'm not one of those people. I am very driven by story and image, I need to put things in my head to work towards.  While I had found enough to get me into martial arts and physical training to be on this path I found myself on, much was rather anachronistic and much was unformed in many ways. Especially as a woman on the path, with a male mentor who had a world of images and stories through the ages he could go on but which tended to make those like me feel marginalized.

Yes, there were other strong women fictional roles before then, including Ripley of the Alien franchise. But Sarah was different, because there was a multitude of layers about here which were meaningful for me. Okay, maybe I wasn't that paranoid about machines and I never had a kid, the latter being a strong connect for some of my friends, but pretty much everything else. Despite a fantastical story line, she was very real, very everyday. Just one of us.

The key thing was her character arch, which might be one of the best ever created in movies. Yeah, I might be bias. She was just like most of us have been at some point, directionless, working a dead end job we hated and felt inept at, not exactly winning at love. She wasn't a warrior, she didn't start out with knowledge of how to fight, she wasn't granted super powers. In the first movie she is totally a Final Girl, with two notable exceptions. One is that she survived having sex, but then she does have to have this kid as it's sort of the point. But the main one is that when the monster is finally dead, rather than sighing with relief and trying to return to a "normal life" despite the trauma, she heads south of the border pregnant, with a gun and a dog and looking for training. When she appears again she's crazy, trained, physically strong. To the point that she, herself, may be more machine, but you can see her arch continue as her relationship with her son begins to heal in T2.

The combination of physical strength, fight training and preparedness were things I realized where intricate to making a civilian warrior. A bit of craziness might not hurt either. Because this was where I felt directionless at the time this movie came out. Obviously, I wasn't going to be transported back to the Iron Age. I also had health issues which made being a professional warrior of any type, law enforcement, military or firefighter (which  had at one time wished to do), impossible. Um, okay, I also have an issue with authority which might have gotten in the way. It helped to see the survivalist presented. And a woman at that.

Of course, there was the muscle. I was struggling with fitness, in part due to health issues (some of which got worse in the year or so before the movie came out) as well as being a scrawny hard-gainer. I was studying a martial art, which included some fitness (although probably shouldn't...I have several issues with that now), was lifting, running. I was having problems with figuring out what to do and how to do it. I had long ditched the standard fitness advice to women, for it was (and is) about diminishing, getting smaller and weaker, not about strength. Therefore I was reading bodybuilding magazines and books, but that often left me frustrated, because of being a hard-gainer (but I did learn the term "hard-gainer").  Sarah offered  more realistic physique than the bodybuilders did. Oh, still very different than I could and Linda Hamilton was not a hard-gainer, having obtained that look in a very short time. But still more real. At some point along the line I did decide to figure it out by become a personal trainer...which is it's own twisted tale.

This was the practical side, which I don't feel I was at all grounded in before. And which is vital to the warrior path. Which also needs to be grounded in the present day, even if the reasons we do it are in the future (and, no, probably not Skynet or Revenants, so it's best to be ready for anything). 

So I was pretty obsessed, using this story and imagery to motivate me as I continued with my growing physical training and with continuing research on Gaelic culture and religion. And now, back to how the Charm School started as a Pagan joke.

The same people who first showed me Linda/Sarah's photo were working on a parody Pagan newsletter not long after the movie came out (or maybe even had started before, time slides). It was going to satirize various excesses of the Pagan community. I was at first trying to come up with something mocking some other folks I knew, but, well, sometimes it's more fun to joke about yourself. And so, "Sarah Connor Charm School" and an "ad campaign" for this "warrior training program" bloomed. The parody 'zine never happened, but the Sarah Connor Charm School remained a running joke.  Which spread among many of my other friends from various circles.

As I got online, I kept referencing the joke with real life friends who already were in on it and it grew to those I "met" online. Indeed, many women had been inspired by the character in similar ways.  We made up a batch of T-shirts, we discussed fitness, martial arts and self-defense, a bit of prepping..I started a LiveJournal page for it.

Meanwhile, I kept worshiping the War Goddesses, yet felt forbidden to speak Their names or talk or write much about Them, which often became uncomfortable (especially as others were not so forbidden and, well, some of the information spread was...well....). I worked within or Outside a variety of groups, started a warrior group within an organization which has fortunately written me out their history from what I understand and so will remain nameless here, tried to start up some other things which got too distracting and off my path.....  I returned to the wilderness, with the internet my primary way of keeping involved in things Celtic Reconstructionist. I kept trying to build what that was, continuing my own studies and training.

In the mid-oughts, there was a big strive to get CR well defined and a group of people I was friendly with got together on that. Including the two people who first showed me "Sarah's" photo. It was over all a stressful time in my life, my Mum died during it being at the center of my own chaos and hell. Within this group of people, there was a lot of ego clashing and underhanded ploys for control which I unfortunately got too caught up in. It was just a real clusterfuck. Then something happened among these people that was sort of "off-topic" but a major ethical and spiritual deal breaker for me, regarding oaths I had taken....and then was abused and mocked for taking a stand on. I was already sick of the ego plays, power grabs and fighting. I said "fuck it" and walked away.

Oh, some CR-types stuck with me as friends and were as disgusted as I was, of course, but I wasn't all that active in "the movement" any longer. I even stopped at all using the term CR, although I, of course, continued to use that methodology. I kept doing my own thing, "labeled" for the syncretic tendencies of being Scottish focused and married to a Heathen, kept working with Badb, Macha and the Morrígan......but for online connections and networking I threw myself more into The Sarah Connor Charm School. It was, after all, a hell of a lot more fun than what I'd been dealing with. At a time when my life was continuing to be less fun. My Dad and several dogs and horses all died during this time period, too (all for natural causes related to age).

I started a website which I eventually got a domain for, started a Facebook page, met more and more people, especially women, who were inspired by her. Many who were not Pagan, who I probably wouldn't have worked with on such things if I had done something Pagan focused...but also Pagans who are dedicated to other Gods or are not dedicated to particular Gods or are more ....well, there's a lot of variety.  And we talked more about fitness and training and prepping...and we developed the Honorary Degree thing where we celebrate real strong women and girls (and now boys with the John Connor Award and heroic animals with Max's First Line of Defense Heroes). I even took my ideas developed for a Pagan warrior group and removed the religious and cultural material, replacing it with basic charm school type liberal arts and with Sarah related languages (as she had trained in Central and/or South America) for the curriculum. The physical, prepping and even arts stuff was already in there. (and for all those mighty, mostly male, Pagan "wariors" who complained my ideas were too tough...we now have someone systematically using it, thank you very much!).

And, of course, I got to go meet Linda Hamilton and give a token of all of our appreciation.

I also cracked down on some training I hadn't gotten to yet, having a job where I could afford it and perhaps more time and energy due to less drama. You can, of course, read about some of that here, here and here. And wrote stuff *wavesingeneraldirectionatblog*  I had already included research in pop culture female action heroes, physical feminism and related topics in my studies long ago, but I got a deep focus on that during this time.

And then it happened. Writing I had put on a back burner, or really the freezer, and didn't know what to do with I took out, heated up and started working on. Making several changes, including writing about the War Goddesses. Suddenly, it was vital that I write and talk about Them. A lot. I then put that on the back burner, but only that far, because I felt the need to work on an extensive but shorter piece. Which, when finished I suddenly found a place to submit it to. Then more possible places and more things are out in editors' hands. And all to one degree or another related to the War Goddesses. And then I realized I needed to make the "online shrine" and change the name of this blog to match.  And, of course, a FaceBook page for it and two related groups Clann na Morrígna and Ban-gaiscedach na Morrígna (I fear LJ is becoming a thing of the past, but I have an older group there just called Hooded Crow which you need to message me to join and really isn't used as much). And two related At some point I'll probably put a page outlining the training program up, but if someone is already doing the cultural-religious stuff, then that's already posted.

And in doing so, I have become more involved in doing things within the Pagan/Polytheist communities, but choosing where I hang out and who I do them with. Sometimes, now that I've been away from certain prejudices, with some association with folks I wouldn't once have. Finding common ground where They want me to.

I think that stepping way from the drama and focusing on the Sarah Connor Charm School stuff helped clear away a lot of bullshit. It also led me to meet and learn from some really wonderful women who I might not have had the time and energy to get to know. It's helped me move along my own path more than the work I had been doing trying to build a general CR focused "movement" which did often leave me with little energy for the warrior stuff.

So, this is exactly how these two things tie together for me. Of course, they are, I'm not big on separating parts of my life all that much.  I figure Hooded Crow will always be smaller than the Charm School, given that the focus on CR methodology and one group of Goddesses combines for a less interest. Even though it's less gender specific (SCCS has a lot of male supporters, but the "school" itself is for women...it should be realized, as I have said before, men have a lot more stories than we do already).  Right now it's mostly just my thing, anyway, while the Charm School has become a lot of women's thing.

And if you missed it please see  An Morrígan and Sarah Connor: Pt. 1 Deities and Icons part 3 is on it's way (EDIT is now up Our Gods and Heroes in Pop Culture), I'll be less focused on Sarah Connor (although Linda Hamilton will get a mention) and instead discuss Gaelic Gods and Heroes in pop culture, especially the Morrígan (although in general that should be "sort of").  (EDIT: also now have An Morrígan and SC: Pt. 4: Training)


copyright © Saigh Kym Lambert

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

An Morrígan and Sarah Connor: Pt. 1 Deities and Icons

 A few weeks ago I was going to write a post about the relationship between my path following the War Goddesses and my pop culture interests and involvement in the Sarah Connor Charm School. I hadn't gotten around to it, because it's a busy time of year on the homestead and I was supposed to spend my writing time on an article which has a deadline (and I give myself an earlier one so I can get some feed back from a few trusted friends before sending it off). But it's raining, and while I suppose I could be doing house work I'm not, and the article is in rough draft and I need a break before editing it so...here I am...

Meanwhile, during the time I wasn't writing that I started to see links posted on  FB about some explosion about Pop Culture Worship on the Pagan Blogsphere. It wasn't happening in any blogs I read nor were any Pagans I know who are students of pop culture (yes, this is studied), in fact, none of them seem to have piped up on it yet. I suspect one is watching for a research paper at this point. ~;p So I didn't pay much attention until it did land in a blog I do read. I discussed some there, although by the time it landed in another blog I read, my interest in chatting had faded.  The first link has a lot of links to much of what was written before, although it seems to have continued going all over the place. I've only read a few, mostly just skimmed, most I haven't.

And I'm not really going to get into the argument. There are too many things that came up that I could, but most seem to partially come from 1) perhaps caring a bit too much about what the fuck other people are doing. Yeah, I can go there, but I'm old and tired now, it doesn't interest me much unless it affects my work in some way (like liars I have associated with and people who are claiming things about Gaelic culture that is insanely stupid). 2) Most of these opinions are expressed without a real understanding of certain aspects of pop culture studies that, well, I'm too old and tired to go into the entire background of here. It could take books, after all, then I'd have to come around to what has been said and where that fits or doesn't. The overwhelming concern with pop cultures as "consumerist" is part of why I see no point really getting into it as that both over simplifies pop culture and also forgets the agendas of survival (in a different economic system) behind many of our old stories). There isn't as much difference between modern pop culture and the popular cultures of the past as I think some people seem to think, just shortening the term doesn't give it a different meaning. But I'm too old and tired to give 30 years of work in one blog post.  3) This idea is certainly nothing new. I've been around too many fucking Discordians and too many "Jungian Archetype" Pagans, often mixed, for far to fucking long to get my panties in a bunch about this. Where were you all talking about this 30 years ago?  Really, you're just discovering this?

So I'm mostly going to discuss this in regards to, well, me...this is my fucking blog after all. And, of course, this post, which was partially planned already, may seem a bit defensive. Oh, well.

Of course, only one of the those blogging might read my blog, maybe. Has links to here anyway. But others might see that this blog mixes pop culture and spirituality, read that I have a Sarah Connor action figure on my gym shrine and such and come away with the idea that I worship Sarah Connor. Sorry, that would be weird (especially as I've met Linda Hamilton and it would be all weirdly conflated and how weird is that for her? Hells, it seems to have taken time for her to come to terms with the whole icon thing as it is). So here's the deal, some of us make personal spiritual connections with pop culture without worshiping them. Deal with it.

The Sarah Connor figure on my shrine doesn't represent any Goddess, They are represented by a statue, a modern artist's interpretation of an Morrígan. "Sarah" is there to be a modern representation of warrior woman, not just this one character but a general, well, archetype. Yes, while I am a hard polytheist about my Gods, I also see the power of archetypes. I don't worship them either. She's there to be, as the character is for me, something to strive towards. And it's important to me to have modern representation, not just those out of the Iron Age. Because I don't live in the Iron Age.


That, of course, goes with much of what else I do. My primary interest in training on the warrior path is modern, I might like sword training, but for me it's not as practical as shooting. I try to do both, of course, because it allows me to honor the past and be ready in the present. Mind you, sword training can be practical, as my knees continue to age it might be more so for I might carry a cane as often as I do a gun. But in general, I'd just as soon have the gun too. I'm not role playing.

There seems to be some concept that if we focus on modern pop culture images that They might use it to connect with us. Well, yes. I just don't see the same problem with that that others seem to have. And I also don't think we can avoid it. See, I'm of the mind that it happens all the time already. Look at "alien abduction" and the similarities with Fairy encounters of the past. I'm personally not with the Whitley Strieber camp that that means the Folk, let alone the Gods, have been aliens all along. I believe instead the Folk show themselves to people in ways that those people might identify with, as it's useful. It's going to happen, we are products of our time.  And They are timeless.

Back in the days when my head was sort of stuck in the past, I had two things happen to me. One was a meditation in a warrior path workshop where we were told to approach a mirror and see ourselves as the warriors we wish to become. I actually approached expecting to see myself as my imagining of an Iron Age warrior, but instead I was pretty much dressed much as I was dressed, not much unlike Sarah Connor actually but for colder camping conditions. Unlike as I was then, in MA and not having made peace with guns, I also had firearms. It was a clear reminder to me to stay in the present.

Shortly after that I met one of the War Goddesses. Before this They always appeared archaic. This time, She was wearing a black wool skirt just below the knee, black tights and sensible shoes, a black sweater, neatly tailored black leather jacket and a beret. Same face I knew but the tattooing only faintly showing, same tri-colored hair but shorter and Her braids not as noticeable; She could have been mistaken for a human if one didn't look closely. I'd been doing research on the IRA at the time, so I recognized this. But I also got the message here, "I am of Ulster at heart, but of all time."  Mostly I still see Them in more archaic garb, but, again, it was a time when I think I could have fallen into too much romance of the distant past and I needed to be reminded not to.

No, She hasn't appeared dressed as Sarah Connor, but if She did it wouldn't be the same as me suddenly worshiping the character. After all, She'd have Her own face as I know it and tri-colored braids. It would be simply another form for the Shape-shifter, it would be up to me to reason why. After all this, it might even be a joke. I know better than to take everything seriously now.


Oh, wait, I've changed my mind


Yeah, I'm going to run off a few thoughts about the whole "pop culture is different from past popular cultures." In order to avoid writing the book that this could take, I will probably get a bit disjointed. I also realize this is going to be at least two blog posts to get back to my original plan.

I do not know that there was ever a Goddess actually worshiped by the pre-Christian Irish titled the Morrígan. I don't know for sure that there were Goddesses named Macha, Badb or Anann or if any would have born the title if They were. I don't have one single myth. Anyone who calls the Irish literature "mythology" is mistaken. It's not.  You can wish it to be, but it's not.  It's literature, written by Christian monks. And, at the core, that's the only thing we really know about it.

We know it correlates to place names, but we don't know what that means. So we know for some reason Emain Macha exists, but...we have multiple stories about why. (Meyer et al) Ronald Hutton's take on this is that “It looks as if the authors knew nothing of her except her name, and were inventing stories to go with it.”(Hutton) Now, personally, I don't believe that they created all these stories out of thin air, but the fact remains we don't know. All these stories may well be complete fictions created with Biblical and Classical stories in mind, as the Monks certainly knew the latter as well as former,, or they may be older Irish stories with some Biblical and Classical elements added. That the Biblical elements have been included is indisputable, it's just a matter of what they're introduced to. The Classical can be debated, are these similarities from common Indo-Eureopean threads or directly lifted? This depends on if you follow natavist or anti-nativist thinking...or, like me, tend to be a bit in between. (Wooding)

The debate about the literature and it's possible connection to pre-Christian ideas is going to go on. Most of us work around our doubts, find what we believe to be the voices of our Gods there, even when we have dismissed notions that any of these clerics purposely tried to keep Pagan ways alive. They had many different agendas, but I doubt that one. Yet, we still find power there because at least part of it is a continuation of the culture, even if the culture we get it from was decidedly Christian. Folklore still told by the people also changed, we have no idea what it was in the centuries before it was recorded even later than the literature. We hope, we pray, and it has meaning for us despite this.

For a lot of scholars, btw, it's fiction. Interesting, telling of the time it was written, but fiction. I've seen Pagans get huffy about it, but that's what it remains for many who have delved very deeply into it.

The simple truth is that all stories we have, no matter how old, no matter if they were through story telling or written down, have people with agendas behind them. Especially when they get written down. How different is it for a scribe 1000 years ago to keep himself alive by writing a fake history that pleases a king and a writer today who writes something marketable so she can try to make a living?  I suppose some will find major differences, but I don't.

When we read the warrior tales, we see some really repugnant behavior, much which goes against the values expressed in the contemporary legal systems, from the heroes of the tales. This includes Cú Chulainn and Conchobar, of the Ulster cycle (something which I've been focused on lately a bit). Does this mean it's our own sensibilities that are offended? As I said, much would go against the early Christian laws. Or might we think that the scribes had little interest in showing these Pagan warriors in a good light. Is this any different from a screenwriter who believes women should not behave "like men" getting license for one of the very characters he once complained wasn't his definition of appropriately feminine? There are always agendas behind stories.

But story is always more than the agenda of those who create or tell it. Every person makes it something different. In feminist critique there is the concept of coding (or filtering). Whether it's ancient tales (this has been used greatly in studies of folk tales, or modern.(Radner) People code things, change the stories in their own heads, in accordance to their own experiences. It isn't only a gender thing, although that's where most of the study has been, but also class, culture, sexual orientation, religion....pretty much everything that makes us different from one another. Diana Dominguez uses this method in her study of Medb, looking at how women, as well as the men usually focused on, might have coded these stories.(Dominguez)  I think over all studies of Irish literature could benefit from this form of  critique, again not just the gender issues. What do people get from it based on their backgrounds is as important to consider as what the creators might have meant.

What I'm coming to, and there could be so much more here, is that the differences between old stories and new ones exist but perhaps not as greatly as some think. It's just our distance from one as compared to the other that makes it seem so. Rather like how so many people are surprised by every little finding that shows people have always been people, we always seem to think those in the past were greatly different than us. Everyone is different, but that's just one way we've always been the same. ~;)

Seeking Inspiration 

I think we're now way beyond any idea that I'm talking about worshiping Sarah Connor or any other pop culture character. Let's get to what spiritual meaning might be found separate of worship. Because that's a big deal for me.

As I said, I believe story is important. It shapes us since were children and, yes, our stories come through TV, movies and comics as much as through books and far, far more than oral telling or even live plays.  Some people are geared to it more than others, some spend vast amounts of time role playing, cosplaying, writing fanfic, participating in fan clubs, going to cons. Some of us spend hours reading media critique and writing it. There are people who are not mindful of their media intake at all, perhaps the majority. But some of us know we are affected. We also know others are affected and we worry about it.

Yeah, some of that's a "woman thing." And I think that's another issue that comes up for me. While men on a Gaelic warrior path have tons of old literature depicting their heroes as heroes, although I do hope they question some of the "heroic" acts described, you know such as rape, as I woman I'm not left with much. Despite the popular belief that there are lots of women warriors to be found, there really aren't that many. And the one who has the most material about her is the villain of the piece, although I personally code her as more heroic than the Ulstermen she fights, all things considered and Dominguez''s study gives lots of reasons why. There are a couple of other women warriors who show heroism, one you'll find in some links I've given already, but their tales are very short. One really is no more than a paragraph. This, btw, is the topic of the article I have been working on, I'll let you know if it gets published.

So along with also looking for modern day role models, we sometimes just looking for role models. Any. And we're not going to just be looking in the past. Are there real life ones we could be looking to instead, shit yeah! In fact, the Sarah Connor Charm School has developed a strong focus for honoring such women.  But Sarah Connor sums up all of that in one fictional package. And, of course, it brings up that she isn't completely fictional, because she's all of us. In all of us. Yes, including the paranoid conspiracy theory parts, in at least some of us. *ahem*   Again, there's that archetype thing.

I feel I'm in pretty good company here. After all, while we are not a  "Gaelic Heathen warrior group" as I'm told someone described us on a Pagan radio podcast, many CR women who walk the warrior path seem to be interested. The reality is that it a very mixed bag, with many of our most active members being Christian. On the academic side, Dominguez has also written about modern warrior female warrior icons, "It's Not Easy Being a Cast Iron Bitch": Sexual Difference and the Female Action Hero and Tough and Tender, Buff and Brainy: A New Breed of Female Television Action Hero Blurs the Boundaries of Gender. Because we need to explore what the warrior woman means to us and to the culture.


This is turning out long, I have already accidentally published it and those reading on feeds may well have too much insight to my strange habit of stealing my own FB posts as notes for a blog. ~;p I intend to actually get back to the original post I was going to make in a separate post (EDIT: which is now up: An Morrígan and Sarah Connor: Pt. 2 Warrior Cults and Charm Schools).  I guess I got sucked into the way more than I thought I would, but I'm leaving the above, where I claim I won't do that, where it is. (EDIT also Part 3: Our Gods and Heroes in Pop Culture takes a look at the reverse issue)  (EDIT: also Part 4: Training)


Oh, another note, of all the posts on this blog, the Wonder Woman one is more popular than all the other combined, by many times. I do think that tells us something, too.
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Kuno Meyer, trans. ‘The Wooing of Emer’“Tochmarc Emire,” Archaeological Review 1, 1888, English Irish para. 30 pg. 151-152, Geoffrey Keating (Seathrún Céitinn), Foras Feasa ar Éirinn: The History of Ireland Vol. 2, David Comyn, Patrick S. Dinneen, eds., London: David Nutt, for the Irish Texts Society, 1902–1914 English Irish Section 28, John O'Donovan ed. and trans., Annala Rioghachta Eireann: Annals of the kingdom of Ireland by the Four Masters, from the earliest period to the year 1616. Library of the Royal Irish Academy and of Trinity College Dublin Pt 1 English, Irish M4505-M4546, Edward Gwynn, ed. The Metrical Dindshenchas Vol. 4, Dublin: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, 1991 (org. 1906) English Irish Poem 12

Ronald Hutton, The Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles: Their Nature and Legacy, Cambridge, MA: Blackwell Publishers, Inc., 1995 pg. 154


Jonathan M. Wooding’s “Reapproaching the Pagan Celtic Past – Anti-Nativism, Asterisk Reality and the Late-Antiquity Paradigm” Studia Celtica Fennica VI, Finnish Society for Celtic Studies, 2009 pg. 51-74


Joan Newlon Radner, ed., Feminist Messages: Coding in Women’s Folk Culture, Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1993

Diana Dominguez. Historical Residues in the Old Irish Legends of Queen Medb: An Expanded Interpretation of the Ulster Cycle, Lewiston, NY: The Edwin Mellen Press, 2010


copyright © Saigh Kym Lambert