|the river on camp grounds|
The support staff and teachers arrived the day before the Retreat began, on Thursday. This gave us time to get settled in and get a feel for the place before the Retreat participants begin arriving, and I really like that. It also meant time to get the area cleansed and warded, the temple set up and blessed, and this year to have a ritual with the staff group before the full-on Retreat began.
This year my friend and I were in the same cabin we'd been in two years ago, which I was happy about because, while its a hike to the main area and bathrooms, its right next to the river. We also lucked out with who our two cabin mates were (Peppermint cabin for the win!). The area we were in is at the edges of the activity, but feels closer to the heart of nature, and that's where I'd rather be. I love that little river and after several years of coming to that location it felt like seeing an old friend again. We settled in and then ventured out to say hello to everyone. There were some new faces this year, and a few missing from past years, but many, many familiar faces. The ritual Thursday night was low-key but moving.
The first official day of Retreat began early for me, but I wasn't the only early riser. Its hectic on the first day, of course, because people are coming in and setting up throughout the day, but it was a good kind of hectic. Just as many of the support staff have returned to help out year after year, so too we have many people who travel to join the Retreat year after year and it makes me happy to see people that I only see once a year at this gathering. We had people coming in from the west coast and up from Florida, and we had people who joined us from Canada, and that's always a wonderful thing to see as well, the way that this event gathers people together from thousands of miles away, as much as from neighboring towns and states.
I taught a class in the afternoon called Meeting the Morrigans. I have taught this at every Retreat since the first one, and it makes a good way to start things off, offering a basis for people who may have only a minimal (or no) knowledge of the Morrigans' history and myth. Our viewpoints and understandings of the Morrigan may vary widely, but the mythology is something that can be a touchstone for everyone, a way to connect us all together as we seek to better connect to and understand the Morrigan, Badb, and Macha.
The rituals at this year's Retreat were slightly different than in the previous years. In the first three years one person designed all of the rituals and each one connected to the others, like a story arch, so that the three rituals become a journey in themselves for people. While that could offer some amazing connections and experiences, it also meant that it was problematic if anyone missed a ritual. So this year, instead, each ritual was designed by different people and was a stand alone. The ritual for Friday night was based on the idea of 9 different faces of the Morrigan and participants choosing one of these faces/aspects to take a message from (the messages were written on a piece of paper). I had the role of Morrigan of the Sidhe, and my message related to seeing both the dark and the light within the Fairy Queen.
Another thing that was different this year was that we were offering oracle times in the temple. This was a period of a few hours set aside each day where a person who was experienced in channeling work would be in the temple space for anyone who may have questions or want a message. The person seeking to enter would be cleansed with smoke, then challenged before entering, then guided back to the person acting as oracle. Since I have been doing oracle work for over a decade I volunteered to serve in the temple as needed, which meant taking a shift each day it was offered. I admit that I underestimated how difficult that would be to do for extended periods of time, three days in a row, on top of everything else I was doing but since it seems to have been a valuable service to the community (based on people's comments later) I am glad that I chose to do it.
I woke up painfully early Saturday morning, but there was a silver lining - while I was wandering around killing time before breakfast I ran into Segomâros Widugeni, one of my favorite humans and an all around interesting person to talk to. Which led to an hour and a half long conversation about everything from Gaulish deity names to the possible influences of Neolithic Irish pagan beliefs on the Irish Celts. I had an absolute blast talking to him, because it isn't often I can let myself full on nerd-out about my interests without feeling like I am horribly boring whoever is stuck talking to me. I think we could have talked for hours more, but as it was bacon is a prime motivator and breakfast called.
Immediately after breakfast I had a class on dealing with non-human spirits. It was scheduled in the smaller pavilion but it was quickly apparent that, 9 am or not, there were going to be more people than would fit in the space. So in true 'Celtic' fashion we raided the neighboring territory, otherwise known as taking over the larger pavilion (in fairness it was empty as mine was the only class that early). It was a fun class to teach, based on a blog I wrote last year, and hopefully it helped people get at least the basics of what is needed to safely deal with non-human spirits.
|up at 4:30 am on Saturday, admiring the full moon as he hovered just above the trees|
My second class that day - and my final one at the Retreat - was 'Geasa, Buada, and Oaths' which discussed what exactly all of those things were in an Irish context, why they were significant to the iron age Irish, and ways that they may still be important today. We spent most of the time discussing geasa, but that probably wasn't a bad thing since its such a hefty topic. I also wanted to offer lots of examples of geasa, how they were acquired, and what happened when they were broken, and that takes time.
The ritual for Saturday was centered on Macha, featuring the five different Machas that appear in mythology (probably to no one's surprise I had the role of Macha of the sidhe). In the ritual I told the story of Macha, wife of Nemed, and how she cleared the plains, and we as a collective group of ritual particpiants built a small cairn representing our desire to build community in the Morrigan's honor. This was my favorite ritual, and I really hope that other people got as much out of it as I did.
After ritual there was dinner, conversation, and generally great fellowship. One thing I love about the Retreat is that it offers an opportunity to connect and reconnect with such amazing people. This year there was a lot of laughter and tears, and both felt needed and good. This year I also witnessed someone's personal dedication to the Morrigan in a small private ceremony in the Temple; last year I was honored to help facilitate a baby blessing and I loved that this year we had a dedication ceremony. It makes me feel like in some small way we really are building a community, transient and ephemeral as it may be. Saturday night ended with more time working as an oracle in the temple and then hanging out with some friends.
|community built cairn|
Sunday, the final day, was really bittersweet this year. It seemed like the time had flown by and suddenly we were in the closing hours. I had oracle duty right after breakfast, and when that was done, in all honesty, I was pretty wiped out and decided to go sit and just relax for a bit. Sunday was also the hottest day of the four, getting into the 90's, and between the two things I chose to sit out the final ritual (the one I wasn't in), which was dedicated to Badb. I feel some guilt for missing it, but on the other hand I'm fairly sure I'd have passed out standing in the sun for it so I think it was probably the better choice. Someone going face first into the turf (or river) is not the way to end a great Retreat. Instead I bartered several of my books for a massage from the fabulous massage therapist onsite, because people keep telling me how great this whole self care thing is supposed to be.
I spent the final day then simply being with people, talking to anyone who wandered by where I was sitting in the main hall and wanted to talk. I am an introvert by nature, and I usually feel really socially awkward in the best of circumstances but by Sunday I had hit that zone where I was actually feeling comfortable - or maybe delirious. People who had lingering questions from my workshops, people who had random questions that they thought I might be able to answer, and people who just wanted to chat; friends and new faces. I even got over my own self-consciousness enough to ask my friends for pictures of us together before we all left. In retrospect it seems like the perfect note to end on; fellowship and friendship.
|Another view of the river|
The Morrigan's Call Retreat has become a touchstone of my year, and a cornerstone of my public practice as a priest/ess. I came into it this year deeply uncertain about many things, as my own spiritual path has undergone so many changes since Ireland. Yet only once in all of it did I feel strongly prohibited from participating in something, and the Macha ritual especially was deeply meaningful to me. There was a lot of silliness right alongside the deep devotion, spontaneous song parodies as much as serious in ritual singing. There was as much fun as there was effort, as much of a feeling of blessings as of work. I came in wondering if this was something I was meant to continue doing, as I move away from so many public things and into a more solitary and private practice. What I found here this year was amazing conversations with people that I feel truly honored to know, a sense of intersectionality that I badly needed to be reminded of - and with it a feeling of acceptance and belonging that I hadn't even realized I needed to feel - and a reminder that there is value in community building, even when it feels painfully hard. I found magic and mystery in the smell of peppermint. I heard Her voice in the morning song of the river and of crows. And most of all I saw people coming together in Her name and building, stone by stone, the hope of what honoring Her in community can be.