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Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Morrigan's Call: A Retreat Dedicated to the Great Queen

    I spent the last weekend at Temenos retreat center in Massachusetts, participating in a spiritual retreat dedicated to the Morrigan. The retreat itself ran from Friday afternoon through Sunday afternoon, but a lot was packed into that short amount of time. There were workshops, rituals each day, and a concert by Jenna Greene. We set up a temple in a screened in space at the top of a hill, and our temple had altars for an Dagda, Badb, Macha, Anu, Nuada, and the land spirits, as well as a large main Morrigu altar.
the main Morrigan altar

   I traveled up with my friend Melody. We arrived Friday afternoon and were directed to our cabin by Stephanie, who was organizing things. Temenos is off the grid so there is no cell phone reception, no electricity, and no plumbing. Our cabin, which we shared with two other amazing women, was beautiful; I could easily see myself living in that cabin year round. There was a kerosene lamp for light at night and a woodstove for heat, although we never needed to use the latter.

our cabin
 After unpacking and a quick side trip to the temple space to drop off some altar items, we hiked the half mile or so to the main lodge  over the dirt trail with its roots and stones and undulating rise and fall, watching carefully to avoid stepping on the little salamanders we'd been warned would be out and about. The main lodge was like a large version of our cabin but with a kitchen and limited running water; the water at Temenos is mineral water laced with iron, magnesium, and sulfur so there was also an abundance of bottled water around. Most people were staying at the lodge so on Friday afternoon it was a hub of activity as people arrived and settled in.
   Eventually, when it seemed that everyone who was coming had gotten there, we all processed up to the temple space - and I mean up, up a winding, steep, rocky path that I jokingly called a goat trail - to bless the space and invite in the different Powers. Blessing the space was a special experience, and I am glad I got to be part of it. The altars were a joint effort, created by people who brought different items to add, but the end result was cohesive and beautiful.
   At this point, if memory serves there was a break for dinner and then those of us participating in the first night's ritual headed down to the ritual space to get ready. Stephanie and Mayra Rickey had designed the rituals together and several of us had volunteered to help out by taking parts in them. This first one invoked Badb as the Washer at the Ford and was focused on cleansing and releasing the past. I cannot possibly do justice to the ritual by describing it in words; it was intensely moving and powerful and I truly believe that She was present with us and that we each got what we needed from the experience.
  After ritual, as the moon rose and the sunlight faded to darkness, we made our way back to the lodge and Stephanie and I taught our workshops. Her's was an introduction to the Morrigan and mine was about the Morrigan in the Invasion myths and what we could learn about Them and how They related to other Gods in those stories.

    Saturday morning started early, as we all woke up just after 6 a.m.; nonetheless we were slow getting going out of the cabin. The four of us spent a couple hours talking, reflecting on the first day, getting to know each other, and generally socializing in the cabin.
the view from our cabin
As the sun climbed higher though I finally had to excuse myself to go to the temple for my morning devotionals before breakfast. Morning devotional prayers are a daily practice I find deeply fulfilling and which I always find some way to do, although its much better to have a dedicated temple space to do them in. I went up, prayed, introduced myself to the local land spirits and daoine sidhe before heading down to the lodge looking for something to eat. The atmosphere in the lodge was open and friendly, with people hanging out and chatting in small groups. I made my way to the kitchen where one of my cabin-mates, the amazing Natalie, was cooking and I quickly acquired some pancakes. It was wonderful to stand and eat and get to know my fellow retreat members, especially talking with people that were from very different places that I had an unbelievable amount in common with.
   There were some great workshops Saturday, including a class by Stephanie on Babd, one by Ed Rickey on the warrior mindset, and one by Michelle Skye on connecting to Macha. All of them provided insight and moments to connect to the Goddess in profound ways. I taught one on honoring the Morrigan in difficult times as well. And in between there was lunch and labyrinth walking and more socializing.
   The highlight of Saturday for me was a ritual devoted to Macha, who of course I am dedicated to. The ritual was designed as a challenge, to confront people and ask them what was worth fighting for. I had the role of Macha of the Battlefield and the job of challenging each participant with my sword during the center of the ritual. I consider it a very great honor to have been able to do this as part of my service to Her and I hope that I did that job well. The ritual itself I cannot describe, but I will say that it was one of the most intensely spiritual experiences of my life.
  Afterwards the group headed back to the lodge for dinner and I and a couple others went up to the temple space. Honoring Macha is an honor to do, but it is not always easy nor simple, and certainly not always what I expect it to be. I let go of one of my greatest fears this weekend and embraced an aspect of service I have always balked at doing, always pulled back from. I let go of my fear and faced my own challenge, my own question of what was worth fighting for, and set my feet on a path that I cannot turn back from now. Because there is dedication in word and there is dedication in deed...
    After temple we went down to the lodge with everyone else and ate and enjoyed Jenna Greene's concert. I have heard Jenna many times but it is always a treat to listen to her play her harp and sing, especially this time with Brian Duguay joining in - they duet beautifully. It seemed like such a perfect ending to a day that was both intense and moving, although in fairness my day ended not with gentle music but with a rather amusing trek through the dark, following a flashlight beam and my intrepid cabin-mate Ivy with my other cabin-mates trailing behind. There was a certain symmetry in the day ending as it did, with music and song and fellowship followed by a challenging journey on a rough and unpredictable path through the tenebrous woods.

   The morning of the final day dawned bright and hot. Morning devotionals were followed by breakfast and socializing, very much like the day before, the routine already feeling comfortable and normal. It quickly became clear that the original schedule for the day was going to have to be rearranged to accommodate several unplanned for situations that had arisen, but the entire group rolled with it in a marvelously convivial fashion. We moved the final ritual, a blessing dedicated to Anu, up and shifted the workshops back, moved the location of the ritual closer to the lodge to accommodate some mobility issues and worked in a small mini-ritual before hand to include a couple people who had missed the first two rituals but wanted to come to the final one. I reprised my role as Macha in the mini-ritual and participated in the Anu ritual as Anu of the sidhe, handing out the blessed tokens. The energy of this final ritual was calm and solid - I felt like a standing stone through most of it - and entirely perfect to end the retreat with.
  After the final ritual we had a raffle to raise money for the Wounded Warrior Project, with lots of great items going to support the cause. Then Michelle did a workshop on bird omens, I taught one on Morrigan and the Fair Folk, which ended up more as a class on the Fair Folk with some discussion of how that relates to the Irish Gods (and apologies for my atrocious accent in Irish to the lovely girl from Roscommon), and Natalie did a crafting workshop. And then it was a rush to pack and head off the site to get home....


    People came to this retreat from as far away as Canada and Florida, from California and Virginia. People came representing many different pagan paths and belief systems. Women and men, old and young, different ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds, different education and life experience backgrounds, different beliefs and approaches - a diverse group of people, all coming together for one purpose, to honor the Great Queen. Without melodrama, without interpersonal conflict or ego, without tension between the many, many different people's differences. We came together to honor Her, and we did; in word, and song, in ritual, and prayer, in communion with each other and by sharing our experiences and insights with each other. And it was an awesome and amazing thing to experience.   

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Random Morrigan Shenanigans

 Recently a new book was released: By Blood, Bone, and Blade, a tribute to the Morrigan. This is an interesting work with an assortment of material from many different contributors and like all anthologies some of the material is really good and some is less so. I personally have an essay and several prayers in the book.
  On another Morrigan related note I will be at a Morrigan Retreat in Massachusetts this weekend teaching workshops, helping with rituals, and generally honoring the Great Queens. I'm excited for this opportunity to honor Her/Them and to spend time with other people who honor Her. My workshops look at the Morrignae in the Lebor Gabala Erenn and what that tells us about Them, the Morrigan as a goddess for difficult times, and the Morrigan in relation to the daoine sidhe.
  When I get back I'll share my experiences here.