Daily Archives: September 15, 2011

Lady A’s Spell of the Day for Sept. 15th: CALM FOR AN OPERATION

CALM FOR AN OPERATION

Before a visit to the hospital for an operation, make yourself a healing
package. Gather together a peridot or green crystal, a small vial of geranium
scented body oil and a small makeup mirror. Wrap everything in tissue and put it all into a pretty gift box. Write these words on a blue piece of paper:

“Here within this magick box
I’ll find enchanted fare -
a crystal to shine and light my day,
a secret oil to smooth my cares
and a looking glass in which I’ll see
my loved ones smiling there.”

This can also be made up for a friend.

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Crystal of the Day for Sept. 15th is Tourmaline

Tourmaline

Causes the wearer to be more flexible, more understanding and more objective in purpose and reason. Calming. Each person has a different response to this stone. Causes a reaction in the intestinal tract.  Black and Crystal-removes negativity and cleanses. Some say it should not be worn as jewelry. Electric and magnetic properties.

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Herb of the Day for Sept. 15th is Valerian

Valerian

Valeriana officinalis
MEDICINAL:Valerian is a relaxer, and is very effective for insomnia. It is often used as a tranquilizer, but it leaves no sluggish effects on the user. It is used for nervous tension, pain relieving, strengthening the heart, lowering blood pressure, IBS, diverticulosis, menstrual cramps, and for muscle spasms. It should not be taken over a long period of time, as it can cause mental depression in some people after long-term steady use. It is not habit forming.

 

RELIGIOUS:Valerian is used to get fighting couples back together, in spells of love, and in purification baths.

 

GROWING: Valerian is a perennial plant that grows to 3 feet tall. It prefers full sun, and average to rich well-drained soil. Root cuttings are best for propogation, and once the plants are established, they self-sow and spread by root runners. Valerian has a similar effect on cats as catnip, so you may need to protect your patch with chicken wire. Harvest roots for medicinal use in the fall of their second year.

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Saint of the Day for Sept.15th is St. Gabriel, the Archangel

St. Gabriel, the Archangel

Patron of communications workers

The name Gabriel means “man of God,” or “God has shown himself mighty.” It appears first in the prophesies of Daniel in the Old Testament. The angel announced to Daniel the prophecy of the seventy weeks. His name also occurs in the apocryphal book of Henoch. He was the angel who appeared to Zachariah to announce the birth of St. John the Baptizer. Finally, he announced to Mary that she would bear a Son Who would be conceived of the Holy Spirit, Son of the Most High, and Saviour of the world. The feast day is September 29th. St. Gabriel is the patron of communications workers.

Catholic Online

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Deity of the Day for September 15th – HORUS

HORUS

The falcon-headed god. A complex deity with many aspects. Some of them are: Horus the Elder, a sky god whose eyes are the sun and the moon, continually at war with Set, the god of evil; Horus of the Horizon, symbolized by the rising and setting sun; Horus the Child, whose frequent depictions as a baby at the breast of his mother Isis influenced Christian images of the Madonna and the Christ child; Horus, son of Isis, avenger of Osiris. There were many others.

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Let’s Include All Genders and Sexualities in Our Paganism

Let’s Include All Genders and Sexualities in Our Paganism

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by Janice Van Cleve

I used to think that paganism was this happy, liberal, fun, exciting adventure, where all the domineering, straight jacketed moralisms of patriarchal religion were out the window. I could probably be forgiven my naiveté, seeing as at the time I was newly arrived into the pagan community. Of course I brushed up against Gardner, Alexander, George and other theorists whose pagan notions retained sexist overtones, but I paid them no attention. After all, paganism is about experience rather than philosophy, right? And so far, my experience in all-women circles was nothing but positive, welcoming, and comfortably feminist.

Then came the skyclad ritual. It was co-ed, and I am a lesbian. I prefer to express my spirituality in woman-only space, but I can occasionally expand my participation to include men as long as they do not impose sexual touch upon me. I had been to a co-ed sky clad ritual before, and that one was okay. This time, however, only after we were already naked in circle, did the priestess announce that this would be a Georgian ritual. We had to get boy, girl, boy, girl and count off in teams for mutual stroking at each of the shrines. This was very different from what I expected, and I was uncomfortable. I would have left then and there except that she did give us a “safe sign” to use if we did not want physical contact. Trusting that the safe sign would be respected, I decided I could stay.

For the most part, it was okay. However, the male priest ignored my safe sign and laid hands and lips on me anyway. I felt violated, and I was very upset. That’s how I was finally forced to confront the issue of gender in my pagan practice.

My initial reaction to the incident was to convey my concerns to the persons in charge. To their credit, they took my concerns seriously and corrected the situation before the next skyclad ritual by allowing people to group in any way they wanted. They realized that the retreat must be inclusive of all sexual orientations, since 20 to 25 percent of the people attending that weekend were gay, lesbian or bisexual.

On a deeper level, however, the trauma of that incident caused me to look at the words and imagery surrounding our neo-pagan practice. How much of our modern pagan experience is limited to the male-female polarity? How much do we assume heterosexuality in our writings or illustrations? Are we ignoring or even marginalizing our lesbian, gay and bisexual sisters and brothers in the way we speak about and act out our paganism?

To start with, I certainly concede that male-female sexual activity, and allusions thereto, are powerful magickal tools. They can and do raise abundant energy. In Dreaming The Dark, Starhawk writes: “Sexuality was a sacrament in the Old Religion; it was (and is) viewed as a powerful force through which the healing, fructifying love of the immanent Goddess was directly known, and could be drawn down to nourish the world, to quicken fertility in human beings and in nature.” Much of Gardnerian magick is based on this notion that physical interaction between male and female is not only desirable, but necessary. Most ritual books, even today, assume a priest and priestess working together to create the magick for which they gathered.

Yet male-female polarity is not the only sexually magickal tool. Sexual energy between two women or two men is equally powerful and effective in pagan practice. Riane Eisler in Sacred Pleasure notes that Isis was served in Egypt by a gay priesthood. Margot Adler in Drawing Down The Moon noted the powerful energy that lesbian women and gay men have brought to the Craft. Ffiona Morgan has given us moving examples of lesbian sexual energy used in pagan ritual in her Goddess Spirituality Book. In an article called “A Sprinkling of Radical Faerie Dust,” Don Kilhefner writes that the dilemma facing gays is “our assimilation into the mainstream versus our enspiritment as a people…. There is a reality to being gay that is radically different from being straight.” Peter Soderberg, in an interview with Margot Adler, said of gays: “There is a lot of queer energy in the men and women most cultures consider magical. It’s practically a requirement for certain kinds of medicine and magic.” He concluded that the pagan movement doesn’t give credit to this, for “there’s a lot of heterosexism in modern neo-pagan culture.”

Kilhefner, Soderberg and others eventually broke away from the mainstream pagan movement to form gender-specific circles. Dianic Wiccans and Radical Faeries became homes for gender specific bonding and magick work. Soon the women’s groups attracted feminists of all sexual orientations who were opposed to assigned patriarchal roles. Radical Faeries attracted men for the same reason. Adler quotes one man: “when he first entered the pagan community, you could not even touch another man. And there were regular polarity checks in circles — you know, boy, girl, boy, girl. There’s been a wonderful loosening and blossoming in the last few years, but there is also much resistance.”

Today, there is a lot less resistance to the energies that lesbians and gays bring to the neo-pagan movement, but there is still a good deal of blossoming yet to accomplish. Removing gender and sexual bias from our pagan practice goes beyond being “politically correct.” It puts into action our belief in the immanence of spirit in all things and in all persons. It acknowledges the equal value of all persons and of their unique expression of life. It takes its authority, not from some headquarters or book, but from the lived experience of our sisters and brothers. It removes from our pagan practice biases that may be burdens to us and barriers to others.

How can we accomplish this? One good place to start is to make no assumptions. Not everybody knows who Gardner or George is, not everybody is heterosexual, and many solitaries or newcomers may not even be aware of common group ritual practices. At the retreat I attended, Sylvan Grove did a workshop prior to their ritual to explain what would be happening. Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica welcomes all to their Gnostic Masses but makes clear in advance that visitors are expected to take communion. These are good examples of groups retaining their traditions and identity but acknowledging the diversity around them.

When we write articles and books, we can avoid assumptions either by acknowledging and including all of our diverse audience or by acknowledging them, but defining our approach up front if we are going to focus on a more narrow segment of them. We can do the same thing in presentations we give in classrooms. In more public settings, as in interfaith gatherings or in pagan gatherings open to all, it would be best to avoid sexual and gender bias altogether.

There is always room for individual groups to follow their own specific traditions, of course. Some groups use only Celtic symbolism while others prefer Native American, Greek or Teutonic. Some groups are just for women or just for men; others may be just for gays or lesbians. As long as none of us assume we have the whole truth or the only truth, and as long as we respect and include pagans who are different from ourselves when outside of our own circles, we will go a long way toward honoring the Goddess and God in all persons.

If we can succeed in doing that, we just may create a paganism that is happy, liberal, fun and an exciting adventure where all the domineering, straitjacketed moralisms truly are out the window.

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Honor Our Pagan Bards

Honor Our Pagan Bards

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by Bronwynn Forrest Torgerson

I never felt the lack of a bard until the day a circle died. Across a room, 75 people clasped hands and stared at one another, uncertain how to end the wobbling, awkward affair. A roomful of pagan strangers had assembled to celebrate community diversity and had drawn lots to see which factions would write the circle casting, energy raising and declaration of intent.

No one knows what happened to the group who fumbled the ball at the end, but after a century’s pause, one lone voice reverted to the old “Isis, Astarte, Diana” chant. Somewhere in a distant glade, I heard the Goddess groan, “Oh for Persephone’s sake — reruns again!” She snatched up the remote and promptly changed the channel. A bard could have saved the day and fixed that fiasco with one chord.

When Leslie Fish, famous at pagan gatherings and filking cons (where old songs are given new lyrics), left the price tag of California and came to call the desert home, I had no idea what a jewel had landed in Arizona’s lap. The lady bard and her guitar graced many a circle, asking naught but applause and a drop to wet the whistle in exchange for her magick. Not ungratefully, but unthinkingly, few offered more. Only in my later Midwest and Northwest times, when I spoke her name and was treated to dropped jaws and intakes of awestruck breath, did I begin to have a clue.

Upon researching the role of bards throughout the ages, it becomes clear that this is a hallowed guest. The Celtic bardic tradition dates to ancient times but was most prominent in medieval and postmedieval Wales and Ireland. Many bards were resident in wealthy homes; others were itinerant. They were particularly important in Wales, where bards were often noble, and where bardic guilds were formed to set standards for writing and reciting. Repeatedly outlawed by the English, as politically inciting, the institution gradually died out.

In Ireland, the training of a bard lasted 12 years, with students undergoing a rigorous curriculum. In the initial years, the student progressed from “principle beginner” to “poet’s attendant.” By his eleventh year, he was termed “a noble stream,” because “a stream of pleasing praise issues from him, and a stream of wealth to him.” Once a bard had mastered 350 stories, he was considered a master and entitled to receive a gold branch with bells attached. When the bard strode into the hall, all were alerted to become silent and summon the help of the inner realms to inspire his poem, song or story.

The body of a bard was inviolate, even in history’s most treacherous times. As the bearer of news, bards roamed at will throughout the far reaches of the kingdom with reports of invasions and death, births and coronations, scandal, triumph and deceit. Bards were deemed to be prophets and emissaries of the Divine, able to bless and curse with a stanza of three lines. Because of the level of autonomy and impunity granted to bards, they often became the voice of the people, whose tongues had to remain silent to keep lives, lands and families together.

Do we as pagans perceive them as filling those same roles today? Yes, indeed! Leslie Fish’s most famous magickal trilogy of songs, formulated specifically to end a prolonged drought, brought down a deluge from the skies. Beginning with a tune called “Out on Thunderbird Road,” which acknowledged the dry, parched ground, she then shifted into a more up-tempo, beseeching number which musically pleaded, “More, more, more… we need more!” Her rousing finale is a hymn to Thor, entitled “White Man’s Rain Chant,” which exhorts the god to “draw the drops of the sky together, break the back of burning wither.” Works like the weather charm it is! Yet, the lady bard can curse as well as cure. No one has ever heard Leslie, an impressive, steely eyed figure with coal-black hair and a knife in her boot, launch into a chorus of “The Oathbreaker Song” without a shuddered sigh of relief that the words weren’t intended for them!

As for historians, we are fortunate as pagans to have such standards to incorporate into our rituals as “The Burning Times,” best arranged by Todd Alan and The Quest. The changing values and chafing repression of our society is brought to the musical fore by Gaia Consort, whose anthem, “Cry Freedom” on their new CD Silent Voices is a reaction to the Bush administration’s faith-based initiative. Hence the razor-edged line, “They try to hold us back with reins of holy smoke, but I am here to say we will not bear the yoke!” In his CD liner notes, Gaia Consort member Christopher Bingham writes that he feels many pagans are in a state of complacency, with their noses stuck too far into their Tarot cards to perceive what is happening in the world around them. Someone needs to sound the wake-up call; enter the bard.

At those circles blessed with a bard, rituals flow, segues are apparent, and some kick-butt energy gets raised. Bards have an innate knack for weaving people together. At a Yule celebration in Bellingham, Washington, I fretted as the talking stick was passed and the full spectrum from serious believers to scoffers and gawkers became apparent. Then our friend Dougal picked up his guitar and passed out lyrics to a Dar Williams song, “The Christians and the Pagans,” about “finding peace and common ground the best that they were able.” Suddenly his strings were not the only thing in tune. As one body, hands reached for red taper candles and lit the wishing wreath. Common good and camaraderie prevailed.

Is there a blessing for a guesting bard? None that I have ever come across; therefore, one needs to be created. One might propose the following festive inclusion. Prior to the bard’s entry into the hall, two garlanded, gaily adorned sweepers come with sprigs of laurel, rosemary and pine (honor, remembrance and renewal) signaling the people that “Music comes! The heart string hums! The good bard comes!”

Enter a third attendant with sistrum or cluster of bells, who announces, “Hark, they ring! Rejoice and sing! Each shining thing the good bard brings! He/She comes!”

A low, draped table should be set aside, near the comfortable seat of honor to which the bard is led. As the preliminary feast begins, food is brought to the bard first by one who says, “Play for us, and touch our souls. Be sustenance, uplift, console. As your music feeds our spirits, may this meal lend strength to your body, good bard.”

Drink is next poured for the bard, with this blessing: “We bless each note that from you pours. Your tales are ours, our love is yours.”

As the last song is sung and the music fades, a purse is given to the bard that each in attendance has had occasion to grace with what monetary gifts may be made. The gifting words spoken are “With gold and silver and precious things, an offering for your blessed strings. As every chord rang bold and true, good bard, we praise and honor you!”

Let us, as pagans, restore our bards to the esteemed position that from antiquity has been theirs. No longer an ill-paid afterthought, but our voice, our magick and our hearts.

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Mabon, Son of His Mother

Mabon, Son of His Mother

Gender Relations in Celtic Myth and Prehistory After the One Mother Goddess’s Passing

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by Melanie Fire Salamander

This holiday is named for the Welsh god Mabon ap Modron — Son, son of Mother, or Mothers. A mamma’s boy, a mother’s son, a young god, it seems, from a time when it was most important that a god be the son of his mother. A matrilineal time, with a different sort of gender relations than we have now.

In 1985, I could have told you just what that meant. Mabon, I’d have said, came down from the misty early days when the One Mother Goddess held sway over Europe and the Near East — the Goddess of the Moon, Goddess of mares and sows, darkness and nature, death and life — and the Celts danced to her measure. To support me, I would have drawn on Starhawk, the Farrars, Robert Graves, Sir James Frazer, Joseph Campbell and a host of others.

Good-bye to the One Mother Goddess

But the reign of the One Mother Goddess is not a concept you can assert anymore without challenging yourself, I think. Academia has been steadily questioning this idea since the 1970s. Most recently for pagans, Ronald Hutton in his 1999 book The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft has carefully delineated the flaws in the One Mother Goddess idea, and delved into why Victorian and Edwardian scholars and later British and American witches so wanted to believe it. The book makes fascinating reading, even if (especially if) you still hold great affection for the old shibboleth. In showing the passions behind the idea, the idea itself collapses still further, convincingly, into dust.

For all his sledgehammer work, Ronald has not got the last word. Many of the conclusions he draws beg for review. Several times, he asks other researchers to follow in his steps and check his claims. He’s also careful to say that the idea of the one European Mother Goddess cannot be disproved: “It must be stressed once more that none of these developments had disproved the former worship of such a deity; they had simply shown that it could not be proven.” And earlier: “All parts of (the idea) were to some extent anchored in real, proven data, even though it ran beyond this to a very significant extent.”

He also points out a few holes in his own argument, making it clear that the idea of a cross-cultural Mother Goddess can be supported by artifacts in Southern Europe and the Near East, though not so much in Great Britain. Marija Gimbutas, a front-rank archaeologist who to the end of her life in 1994 supported the idea of a cross-cultural European goddess cult in the Neolithic, did her main work in Greece and the Balkans, where Hutton says the idea makes more sense than in Britain. The archaeological community has questioned Gimbutas’s findings; Hutton writes: “Her ideas have met with an increasing volume of criticism from fellow archaeologists… although, in view of the quantity of censure which they have attracted, it may be worth pointing out that at the time of writing they are by no means disproven, and may well never be. The controversy has centered upon the issue that the evidence is susceptible of alternative interpretations.” Academe has marginalized the One Mother Goddess, but she is not gone.

But the era in which one could confidently point to One European Mother Goddess at the Beginning of Time is gone, and we’re standing in the cold morning after.

Reading Triumph of the Moon, I did feel nostalgic. I wanted a ruling Mother Goddess because I’m a pagan and a feminist — that is, I want equal civil and cultural rights for women. I have looked to the past, particularly the past of my British and Northern European forebears, to find a society where women’s rights were upheld, if not in the terms I want today, at least so that women were treated as full human beings. If possible, I’d like to find an earlier pagan society with egalitarian values, study its rituals and adapt them to my usage.

Under a Mother Goddess seemed to be the place to look. It was what Riane Eisler promised me, in her book The Chalice and the Blade, a prehistory in which neither patriarchy nor matriarchy held sway but the sexes were equals and friends under the aegis of a loving Mother Goddess. Even if Eisler’s theory is flawed (she based a lot of her work on Gimbutas), she made many points about reinterpreting prehistory through a less patriarchal lens that still hold true. But there’s a very strong chance she read her prehistory wrong.

Realizing why and how I wanted the Mother Goddess is important. One useful development of the social sciences in the last few decades has been the concept of reflexivity. Hutton in his preface to Triumph of the Moon defines it so: “Reflexivity is the readiness of scholars to be openly aware of their prejudices, preconceptions, instincts, emotions, and personal traits which they bring to their studies and the way in which these can influence the latter. It can also include the impact of the process of study itself upon the personality and attitudes of the scholar.”

Interestingly enough, Hutton rejects reflexivity for his own work. Apparently it was too painful for him: “In the end, lying awake one night at 3 a.m. I decided to excise the whole passage (dealing with the topic)…. There were a number of less pleasant experiences, and whereas on the Pagan side they tended to diminish with time, in the wider society, including the university system, they tended to worsen. To retain the whole section carried the risk of perpetuating the very discomforts to which I have referred, and so deprive myself of the chance that, with the publication of this book and a turn to other subjects, I can finally draw a line beneath them.” Clearly this was a painful struggle for Hutton, but to my mind, he lost it. I want to know the lens through which he gazed at his evidence. Did he wish for a universal Mother Goddess, or was the concept repugnant to him? It does matter; at one point, he thought so himself.

Hutton’s reaction aside, I think that the application of reflexivity to one’s own work is useful. Knowing my Goddess-desires and their source lets me factor them out, so that I can be careful not to view prehistory and myth completely through them. To understand the things I see, I must look at the past as clearly as I can, reviewing my world-view and comparing it with the new information that comes to me. I cannot let my desires paint the past to my liking and expect also to know the truth.

But I can look at the past truly and find in its sometimes disappointing patchwork inspiration for my life and ritual. I don’t need to have a paradise behind me to take from history, prehistory and myth lovely hints, gestures, modes of dress, alliances and feelings, chants and songs to inspire my rituals.

At this point, the One Mother Goddess seems mainly to stand in my way, as a distorting lens. It may still be that if I study the past truly, I’ll find her. But these days, I need to be careful not to project her before me.

Her image set aside for now, it looks as if gender relations in the pagan past were a mixed bag. Not surprising, assuming human nature hasn’t changed that much, and altruism and selfishness have always had interplay. Women had certain powers in certain places, held in position by culture or by law. Men had other powers, and almost always the power of force, which often trumps. In Crete, well-respected archaeologist Gerald Cadogan indicates in Palaces of Minoan Crete, women’s power may have been strong early in the civilization, then eroded. In Sumer, the same seems to hold true: an early, more egalitarian society’s equal civil rights disintegrated under the rule of the patriarchal Akkadians, as Iris Furlong writes in “The Mythology of the Ancient Near East” in The Feminist Companion to Mythology, edited by Carolyne Larrington. In Britain and Northern Europe, the early power structure is less clear.

In all these cases, division of powers seems to be the rule. There might not have been One Mother Goddess, but often there were strong goddesses. Hutton echoes feminist pagans of my acquaintance: “The evidence from the historic ancient world was full of unmistakable proof of the widespread veneration of goddesses, often locally represented as superior to gods and associated with functions — rulership, justice, city-building, industry, agricultural processing, learning — which could make excellent role models for modern feminists.” Among the division of powers, I find glimmers and hints of the balance I desire.

Welsh Myth: Mabon and His Like

To return to Mabon, Son, Son of Mother: Celtic mythology and prehistory is a tapestry of these egalitarian glimmers and hints. There shine forth many strong women and goddesses, sometimes literally strong: goddesses who defeat men in battle, goddesses who train heroes in arms. Naming a god “Son of Mother” is such a hint.

The legend of Mabon ap Modron appears in the Welsh tale collection The Mabinogion in the story “Culhwch and Olwen.” His presence is incidental to the story line; he is merely one of a list of things retrieved so that Culhwch, a young prince, can woo the maiden Olwen from her father, Ysbaddaden Chief Giant. Mabon steps in, steps out; elsewhere he is noted as one of Arthur’s warriors; and that’s it.

But he was not always such an incidental character. Welsh myths come down to us in a Christianized, demythologized folktale form, and only the more-than-human attributes of certain princes and ladies, birds and beasts, along with supporting evidence such as inscriptions, show these figures’ former status of divine. Welsh scholar Gwyn Jones in his introduction to his and Thomas Jones’ Everyman version of The Mabinogion (1993 revision) wrote, “That such personages as Bendigeidran (Bran), Rhiannon, Math and Mabon son of Modron are in both the literary and mythological sense of divine origin, is so conclusively to be proved from the Mabinogion itself, from the rich and extensive Irish analogues, and from our knowledge of the myth-making and myth-degrading habits of our remote world-ancestors, that the theme needs no development at our hands. Euhemerized though such personages are, they remain invested with a physical and moral grandeur which amply bespeaks their godlike state and superhuman nature.”

“Culhwch and Olwen” tells us a little about Mabon. In the tale, Culhwch applies to his cousin King Arthur for help obtaining the 39 wonders (three 13s) that Ysbaddaden Chief Giant requires in exchange for Olwen. Of all the marvels that Culhwch is to get, Arthur suggests they go after Mabon first. Arthur’s lieutenant Cei and the interpreter Gwrhyr, who knows all tongues, with several others seek Mabon by following the advice of five marvelous animals, each older than the previous: an ouzel bird, a stag, an owl, an eagle and a salmon. It takes all the great age of the salmon to recall hearing of Mabon, but the salmon can help. At the wall of Caer Loyw, where the salmon swims daily, he hears a constant lamentation. The salmon takes Cei and Gwrhyr there; they find the crier is Mabon. Arthur sets him free, and he continues with the band to obtain the other treasures, fighting in the lists.

Culhwch mainly requires Mabon so as to play houndsman to a famous hound, Drudwhyn the whelp of Greid son of Eri, for the purpose of hunting a famous boar, Twrch Trwyth. Mabon’s being sought first underlines his importance; the talent for which he’s important is the control of animals. Mabon seems thus to have features of the Lord of Animals.

He’s no mere human huntsman. Mabon appears in inscriptions in northern England as Maponus, according to R.J. Stewart in Celtic Gods, Celtic Goddesses. In a Romano-Celtic inscription, Stewart writes, Mabon is equated with Apollo Citharoedus, Apollo the lyre-player. The connection points to Mabon’s being a musician, a patron of the arts, a god of light. His lamentation, then, at times becomes a song. Mabon was also said to have made prophesies while in imprisonment, another connection to Apollo, patron of oracles. Mabon was the son of a human father; such half-breed children often retain some mortal status. In the Greek myth of Castor and Pollux, the divine twin gives up half of his divinity so that his beloved brother can live half of each year; each of the twins spends half the year in the underworld. Commentators similarly associate Mabon’s prison-castle with the Celtic underworld or other world. His imprisonment is intriguing; when the light of the sun is imprisoned, we have winter. A half-god, half-human being, imprisoned half the year in the underworld — light that trades place with darkness? The light twin of a pair of brothers? We can’t know, but the idea is tantalizing.

But if Mabon is the Son of Mother, who is his mother? Inscriptions from Celtic times across Britain, Stewart writes, often refer to the local goddess simply as Mother — “Modron.” As a group, the Mothers seem to have been earth-guardians, spirits of place that looked after a certain hollow, a certain dell, a certain stream, requiring worship as these places were approached. Mother goddesses also have some background in Celtic myth. The Irish Tuatha de Danann were called the children of the goddess Danu, a goddess also named Anu, called by the medieval Cormac’s Glossary “the Mother of the deities of Ireland.” A recurring figure in Celtic mythology also is the goddess of sovereignty, the goddess of the land that is married to a king, god or hero. Only from her does the king or god get his legitimacy.

Such a mother, it seems, is Mabon’s — female place, female lineage, femaleness as the generative power. Maybe each Modron was local, but the cult of Modron was still strong.

But if we’re looking at gender relations, the tale tells little; Son never relates to Mother in the myth. All the interaction we see between the two is that Mabon was stolen at three days old — “from between his mother’s side and the wall,” in one translation. Was his mother not strong enough to protect him? If he’s imprisoned in the underworld, though, it’s quite possible an extraordinary force brought him there, which no amount of protection would have prevented. So too was Welsh goddess Rhiannon’s son Pryderi stolen, though six women were there to keep watch, in a fort full of soldiers. Perhaps the myths connect; perhaps Mabon is an older or worn-down version of Pryderi. Whether or no, we can usefully look at Rhiannon and Pryderi for a mother’s relation to her newly found son.

When Pryderi meets again his mother Rhiannon, years after his abduction, he comes to her at his father Pwyll’s castle. There, for killing her son (which the six watching women accused her of), she has taken the penance of carrying each visiting man into court, like the mare with which she is associated. Pryderi refuses to treat his mother so. But it is not till the feast that night with Pwyll that Pryderi’s parentage is made clear. In response to the knowledge, “Rhiannon said, `I should be delivered of my care if that were true'” (from the Everyman Mabinogion). The boy’s future name, Pryderi, is taken from her rejoinder — Pryderi means Care or Thought. Here too the mother names the son.

But the myth only nods to matrilineality and female power. In common usage, Pryderi is called son of Pwyll, for all that his given name comes from his mother. Most of the power in The Mabinogion lies in men’s hands. In a myth set when Pryderi is king, “Manawydan Son of Llyr,” he offers his mother to the king Manawydan without even telling her beforehand.

Yet there is an interplay, and a place for strong women and goddesses. When Manawydan meets Rhiannon, “Manawydan and Rhiannon began to sit together and converse, and with the converse his head and heart grew tender towards her, and he admired in his heart how he had never beheld a lady more graced with beauty and comeliness than she. `Pryderi,’ said he, `I will abide by what thou didst say.’ `What saying was that?’ asked Rhiannon. `Lady,’ said Pryderi, `I have bestowed thee as wife upon Manawydan son of Llyr.’ `And I too will abide by that, gladly,’ said Rhiannon.” Manawydan does not take Rhiannon by force but woos her; his affection for her and turnabout is important to him for marriage; and Rhiannon agrees to that marriage as well.

Irish myth: The Morrigan and Maeve

In Irish myth, we find goddesses more powerful than The Mabinogion’s Rhiannon. Scholars have long argued that females seem stronger in Irish myth because, unlike with Wales, the Romans never conquered Ireland; except for the Norse, the country stayed relatively free of non-Celts until the English won the Battle of Boyne in 1690. Consensus seems to be that because of this relative noninterference, the Irish preserved their female-forward traditions later than the Welsh.

Take the war goddess Morrigan’s relations with the hero of Ulster Cuchulain, for example. She presents herself to him first in the guise of a woman, but no such biddable woman as Rhiannon in The Mabinogion, to be given in marriage will she or not. The Morrigan chooses her own lover. “They went on till they met with a chariot, and a red horse yoked to it, and a woman sitting in it, with red eyebrows, and a red dress on her, and a long red cloak that fell on to the ground between the two wheels of the chariot, and on her back she had a grey spear. `What is your name, and what is it you are wanting?’ said Cuchulain. `I am the daughter of King Buan,’ she said, `and what I am come for is to find you and to offer you my love, for I have heard of all the great deeds you have done.’ `It is a bad time you have chosen for coming,’ said Cuchulain, `for I am wasted and worn out with the hardship of the war, and I have no mind to be speaking with women.’

“`You will have my help in everything you do,’ she said, `and it is protecting you I was up to this, and I will protect you from this out.’ `It is not trusting to a woman’s protection I am in this work I have in my hands,’ said Cuchulain. `Then if you will not take my help,’ she said, `I will turn it against you; and at the time when you will be fighting with some man as good as yourself, I will come against you in all shapes, by water and by land, till you are beaten.’ There was anger on Cuchulain then, and he took his sword, and made a leap at the chariot. But on the moment, the chariot and the horse and the woman had disappeared, and all he saw was a black crow, and it sitting on a branch; and by that he knew it was the Morrigu had been talking with him” (from Lady Augusta Gregory’s Cuchulain of Muirthemne).

The war-goddess has been Cuchulain’s patroness and protector as he learns the art of war from the goddess Scathach and when he fights the warrior-queen Aiofe, by whom he had a son. But during the Cattle Raid of Cuailgne he refuses the Morrigan his love, so when Loch son of Mofebis comes against Cuchulain she begins her revenge: “The Morrigu came against Cuchulain with the appearance of a white, red-eared heifer, and fifty other heifers along with her, and a chain of white bronze between every two of them, and they made a rush into the ford. But Cuchulain made a cast at her, and wounded one of her eyes. Then she came down the stream in the shape of a black eel, and would herself about Cuchulain’s legs in the water; and while he was getting himself free of her, and bruising her against a green stone of the ford, Loch wounded his body. Then she took the appearance of a grey wolf, and took hold of his right arm, and while he was getting free of her, Loch wounded him again.” Despite the Morrigan’s interference, Cuchulain kills Loch, but she tricks him into healing her wounds with three blessings she gets from him, in return for three drinks of milk she gives him, as an old woman milking a cow by the side of the road.

Her enmity doesn’t stop there; throughout the Cattle Raid, the Morrigan harries Cuchulain, stirring up trouble between the fighting armies: “And in the night the Morrigu came like a lean, grey-haired hag, shrieking from one army to the other, hopping over the points of their weapons, to stir up anger between them, and she called out that ravens would be picking men’s necks on the morrow.” In the end, she forces Cuchulain to break a geas, which leads to his death. He has insulted the goddess as a woman, and it is the female power of sex and death who brings him down. But she has loved him, and she hates to see him die. On the day his death is foretold, his chariot is found broken, “and it was the Morrigu had unyoked it and had broken it the night before, for she did not like Cuchulain to go out and to get his death in battle.”

Even in the myths of Cuchulain, for all that his story is mostly arms and battle, women play as great a role as men. When he is brought low, “`without the spells of the children of Calatin, the whole of them would not have been able to do him to death.'” The children of Calatin are three witches — including Badbh, another war-goddess and a double of the Morrigan — who plot revenge against Cuchulain because he killed their father. Doubly the war-goddess brings the great god-hero low. Men’s strength falls at last before women’s.

Cuchulain’s greatest human opponent in myth is Maeve, later considered a queen of the Sidhe or fey folk, which often denotes a fallen goddess. Maeve sponsors the children of Calatin in their revenge, and she sends man after man to kill Cuchulain. He wins her animosity during the Cattle Raid of Cuailgne because he protects the Brown Bull she has sworn to steal.

Maeve begins the raid in a fit of royal pique. Her husband, King Ailell, has complacently complimented her, “`You are better today than the day I married you.'” She retorts, “`I was good before I ever had to do with you” and goes on to list her attributes, including: “`of the six daughters of my father Eochaid, King of Ireland… as for dividing gifts and giving wages, I was the best of them, and as for battle feats and arms and fighting, I was the best of them. It was I had fifteen hundred paid soldiers, and fifteen hundred more that were the sons of chief men.'” She doesn’t mention weaving or singing or womanly arts. She has the strengths of a man.

On top of that, she has the allure of a woman. She lists her many suitors and says she chose Ailell because for her marriage portion she required a man “`without stinginess, without jealousy, without fear…. It would not be fitting for me to be with a man that would be cowardly, for I myself go into struggles and fights and battles and gain the victory; and it would be a reproach to my husband, his wife to be better than himself. And it would not be fitting for me to be with a husband that would be jealous, for I would never hold myself to be bound to one man only.'” As much as any man, she claims the right to go to war and take lovers.

Her marriage portion having been Ailell’s good nature, she in turn gave him costly wedding gifts. In the end, she says, “`the riches that belong to me are greater than the riches that belong to you.'” Ailell disputes this statement; the two compare their wealth. Their riches prove exactly equal, except that Ailell has in his herd a fine bull, Fionnbanach, the White-Horned, who’d been calved among Maeve’s cattle. “But he would not stop in Maeve’s herds, for he did not think it fitting to be under the rule of a woman.” Maeve has no such bull, so she resolves to steal Donn Cuailgne, the Brown Bull of Cuailgne, twice as good as Fionnbanach, so that her riches beat Ailell’s.

Cuchulain ends up defending the bull single-handed against Maeve’s armies for quite a while, because the men of Ulster are under a curse of pain like a woman’s in labor. He kills Maeve’s heroes one after the other; Maeve relentlessly drives her men on. While Ulster’s men are beset by women’s pains, she fights as well as any man; when Cethern of the North weighs in on Ulster’s side, he reports: “There came at me a beautiful, pale, long-faced woman, with long, flowing yellow hair on her, a crimson cloak with a brooch of gold over her breast, and a straight spear shining red in her hand. It was she who gave me that wound, and she got a little wound from me.” Cuchulain names the woman who wounded Cethern as Maeve. Says Maeve’s champion Ferdiad to her, “It is a fit queen you are for Cruachan of the Swords, with your high talk and your fierce strength.'” Generous, warlike, sexual, Maeve is the picture of a queen, equal to her husband or any man.

But Ferdiad regrets Maeve’s war: “‘This army is swept away today; it is wandering and going astray like a mare among her foals that goes astray in a strange place, not knowing which path to take. And it is following the lead of a woman,’ he said, `has brought it into this distress.'” The Morrigan and Maeve live in a world where female and male power are balanced, blended, mixed. Maeve loses the Cattle Raid of Cuailgne to Cuchulain, in the end. Though the hero is broken and bloody, Maeve’s warrior Fergus, Cuchulain’s brother-in-arms from Scathach’s training, surrenders the battle to him. The Morrigan, in contrast, wins against Cuchulain in the end, but her goddess’s heart regrets it.

Maeve and the Morrigan are not the One Mother Goddess but specific goddesses, with specific realms; their attributes are not particularly motherly, though each is a mother. But in studying their aspects, and those of other Celtic goddesses and heroines, we see models of female strength. Like Welsh myth, Irish myth has its patriarchal aspects — men generally rule; sons inherit from fathers and are known by their names; fathers give daughters away in marriage. But strong women and goddesses fight their way through and make their mark on the stories.

From a handful of Celtic myth, I’ve picked some shimmering bits. What I see among these shining ogham pieces is that Celtic myth, like the present, shows us a world of divided powers. In some places and situations, men or gods rule, in others women or goddesses. In the variegated world of Celtic myth, shot with fear, silvered with pleasure, with women and men jostling for power, I can find shards that help me create the egalitarian rituals I want. I can use the past for inspiration, without pretending what I’m doing is authentic to the rituals as done before — it can’t be — and without creating a past to suit my fancy.

If I need One Mother Goddess, I can find her in many pagan rituals — and it’s true if you call the One Goddess with a true heart, she will come. If I need a specific goddess, I can find her too. I don’t need a perfect past for that. Then as now, the world is mixed. I want to start from what actually comes to us from the past, patched and tattered though it be, full of nightmares and dreams, and then move forward.

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