A couple weeks ago I read a blog post I’ve been carrying around with me ever since — it pops up at odd moments, because it touches on a profound experience of the divine familiar to many Druids and other Pagans. But it goes deeper than that, too, in its perception of the nature of divinity. You can find it over at Banshee Arts, courtesy of blogger Morpheus Ravenna. She reflects on her patron deity, the war goddess Morrigan, and receives wisdom from her that we need to hear and contemplate.
Here’s Morpheus’ post for March 22, 2013, “Voice of the Sacrificed,” which I cite verbatim in its entirety, so you can read it all here. The italics are original with her post:
This week brought my 37th birthday, and with it the tenth anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq.
Yes, it was my good fortune ten years ago, to watch as my country preemptively invaded another and lit its skies on fire with “shock and awe”, on my birthday. I remember it vividly. Though I knew the war wasn’t launched on my birthday for any reasons to do with me, somehow that coinciding still did make it more personal and even more unsettling to me than it already was. My oldest friend had recently joined the army and I knew she would soon be deployed there; I’d been worrying about that all winter as the war loomed inevitably closer. And then it launched on my birthday.
That war felt terribly intimate, as though it had attached itself to me; as though by inaugurating on my name-day it had taken my name and was ruthlessly marching its destructive way in my name. Well, it was. Not just me, of course. It was destruction in all our names, all American citizens.
And I suppose it also felt intimate because I was eyeballs deep in a personal moral struggle over my devotion to a war Goddess. As the country stomped its bombastic way toward war, I had been engaging in a series of deep meditations communicating with the Morrígan. I was confused, scared, disturbed. I had always felt some unease about my devotional relationship with a war Goddess – had wondered if on some level I was condoning the brutality of war by worshiping Her. Now those questions haunted me irrepressibly as the war began. I went to my altar and prayed, chanted, begged for answers. She spoke.
I recorded my memories of those conversations in my journal (to the extent that direct nonverbal communications with a divinity can be translated into words). Here are a few fragments:
Why have I been chosen to have this connection with you? You know I am ill at ease with your warlike aspect.
It is in your blood. You are descended from invaders, violent warring Celts. Warfare and violence are part of who you are. You cannot run from this. You must understand it, and it is through me that you can understand this part of your being.
I am troubled about this war, about the justice of it. How can we tell a just war from an unjust war?
There are no just wars. For each individual who experiences it, war is an injustice. It is an injustice to those who suffer and die when they should have lived; it is an injustice to those who find themselves doing violence to their human kin in the service of war. War is always an injustice. The Gods cannot tell you whether your war is right or wrong by the standards of your justice; you must count the cost and choose, though you are blind. And sometimes it will come on you without your choosing, and that too is an injustice. Your task, when you do choose to make war, is to pursue it swiftly and strike with certainty. You must recognize that every life destroyed is in your hands and it is up to you to make that sacrifice worth something.
The reason your ancestors revered their enemies so much is this: when you slay your opponent in battle, the spilling of their blood is a sacrifice to your sword. It is required that you honor their sacrifice by dedicating it to a worthy purpose.
The law of human life is that you are only capable of solving your problems within the set of ways your culture contains. I arose in the form you know me among the old Celts. Their culture was shaped and defined by tribal warfare. You, and your culture, are the inheritors of this in many ways. When you alter your culture to contain a different set of possible actions, then you may be able to solve your problems without bloodshed. Until then, I will always be present. My role in war is to make it swift and terrible, and effective; to carry for you the knowledge that you could learn from your actions if you choose to listen; and to mourn the cost.
Unlike most gods of monotheism, the Pagan gods specialize (though often enough Jehovah gets his war on, so we can be excused for thinking he’s principally a war god, too). But what wisdom Morpheus (and the Morrigan) offers here: “The law of human life is that you are only capable of solving your problems within the set of ways your culture contains.”
Or to paraphrase so apparently unrelated a thinker as Muslim reformer Irshad Manji, “There is nothing wrong with a culture that cannot be corrected from what has been historically right with the culture.”* Or to go to the Qur’anic source that inspires Manji: “Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves” (Qur’an 13:11). But I would add that the change may alter the culture sufficiently so that many feel uprooted, or even perceive that their culture has “died.” All things are subject to change, and human creations like cultures don’t stand exempt. Certainly we walk today in the midst of deep change in many of the world’s cultures. This is a time rife with change, and also ripe for change and possibility.
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*Check out a half-hour interview with Manji by Canadian talk show host and Conservative pundit Allan Gregg on Youtube — the line cited above is paraphrased from Manji’s comment around 13:00 in the video.