Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law
The following piece has arisen from a recent viewing of the 1994 film 'The Crow', a gothic occult thriller in which the lead character is brought back to life by a crow who acts as a kind of 'reverse psychopomp'. A psychopomp is an animal who acts as a guide and protector, ensuring safe passage from the land of the living to that of the dead. The crow and raven (synonymous in most sources) serve this purpose in several Irish traditions. All of this got me thinking about crows, psychopomps, and the Irish Goddess associated with both, the Morrigan.
Aspects of this piece, and themes in this piece have been previously published, but this forms a drastic expansion on previous attempts.
The Crow And Raven In Mythology And Magick
Crows are known world round, and appears in many myths. Foremost for me is the Greek: Coronis, daughter of Phlegyas, King of the Lapiths, was one of Apollo's lovers. While Apollo was away, Coronis, already pregnant with Asclepius, fell in love with Ischys. A white crow which Apollo had left to guard her informed him of the affair and Apollo, enraged that the bird had not pecked out Ischys' eyes as soon as he approached Coronis, flung a curse upon it so furious that it scorched its feathers, which is why all crows are black. (1)
A similar tale is told in Christian apocrypha - before the fall crows and ravens had white wings - only after the fall did they become black.
The crow is also intimately connected with auguries (interpreting birds as a form of divination/ omen). The following rhyme (from England I think) gives some attributions of the grouping of crows as augury.
One Crow for sorrow,
Two Crows for mirth;
Three Crows for a wedding,
Four Crows for a birth;
Five Crows for silver,
Six Crows for gold;
Seven Crows for a secret, not to be told;
Eight Crows for heaven,
Nine Crows for hell;
And ten Crows for the devils own self.
In native American and Aboriginal mythology the crow is seen as a trickster, and in Australia is a very Promethean figure, stealing fire from heaven. Here we see the link between 'heaven' and 'earth' as messenger and psychopomp.
In the Northern tradition the raven plays a prominant role, two of them in fact, Huginn and Muninn. They act as messengers of Odin.
Finally, in Scotland, it is said Witches can turn themselves into crows.
Much more mythology exists, but this gives a sampling of some of the thoughts offered on crows and ravens. Obviousily, the crow and raven are intimately related with the Irish goddess the Morrigan.
Morrigan: The Battle Bitch
‘Here and there around us are many bloody spoils; horrible are the huge entrails the Morrígan washes.
She has come to us, an evil visitor; it is she who incites us. Many are the spoils she washes, horrible the hateful laugh she laughs.
She has tossed her mane over her back; a good, just heart hates her. Though she is near us, do not let fear startle you.’
- Reicne Fothaid CanainneIn much of the neo-pagan, Celtic Reconstructionalist and magical world the Morrigan has become a popularized, and often sanitized aspect of the Dark Goddess. So often I have heard the name used casually – “oh, I work with the Morrigan (she’s “dark” you know!!)”. But who is the Morrigan, and how can we reclaim Her from being just a popularised name, to be a dynamic draconian energy with which to work.
In choosing the first quote of this section I wanted to affirm the Morrigan is not a nice lady, she is not some misunderstood aspect of a love and light Goddess. Those who knew Her by experience knew the crow- psychopomp of death, the she-bitch, the white haired hag, the vengeful and embittered maiden, the collector of heads, a sexually empowered, dominant woman, and at the core of it, a woman of substance and distinct individuality. She is in many ways an embodiment of the ferocious, yet feminine and sexual Goddess we met last week in Babalon.
The Morrigan, at her most basic level is a war Goddess, but at that an Irish war Goddess, of a race of people to whom war is a way of life, living in the glory of the battle. She revels in the battle. But She is also a deity who uses the powers of sorcery and prophesy- she fully deserves the title Witch. The Morrigan is not merely a name, but also a descriptive term, and means “Great Queen” or “Phantom Queen”. She most often appears as a trinity of Goddesses under the names Macha (Crow), Badb and Nemain (frenzy).
One can categorise the Morrigan in various roles including Goddess of battle and death, of vengeance, of prophesy, magic and shapshifting, and of sexuality and fertility.
As Goddess of the battle She is an inciter of chaos, working the warriors into a battle frenzy. As a patron of the people of the Tuatha De Dannan She concealed their coming from the Fir Bolg, ensuring their success in battle. In the role of destructress some mythologies speak of the Morrigan in the form of Badb overturning a primordial cauldron at the end of days, destroying everything.
As the vengeful Goddess we see Macha, who as a being of great speed was forced to race the horses of the king while heavy with child. She did so and won, only to give birth directly afterwards. In the moment after giving birth she cursed the army of the king. In their hour of most need, all of those in the army would be struck down by the pains of childbirth, leaving them helpless before their enemies. This event later came to pass in the Tain saga.
As prophetess the Morrigan appears after the second battle of Mag Tuiread prophesising the worlds end. She is also seen in the form of a Hag, the washer at the ford, washing the armour of those to die in battle. Some view this as prophetic, while others see it as a magical act, sympathetically marking the warriors.
There is also a strong element of Lycanthropy in the many varied forms of the Morrigan, from beautiful seductress, to hag, to crow.
The Morrigan as a sexual being is linked with the sovereignty of the land. At Samhain, a festival intimately linked with death and renewal, the Morrigan lays down with the Dagda, or Good God, often seen as a symbol of the renewal of fertility of the land. After the Dagda has appeased Her, She tells Him the location of the enemies army, and would later use Her power to steal away the strength of the enemy king.
So it becomes clear that She is not another image of a love infused, light mother Goddess figure which perforates modern Goddess worship. And yet She is becoming more and more used as a focus in occult ritual, from the Goddess movement to Wicca, from those working in Irish traditions, to those working in ritual; magick. What is the draw of this phantom queen?
The Morrigan is a Goddess of war and there comes with her all the connotations of death, but in the Morrigan we meet the glory of the battle, and this is something we meet head on. Along with the fear of death we are given the path of the warrior, who must face and integrate this shadow aspect to become whole, to become fearless in battle. In some respects the Morrigan is an aspect of the draconian energies which forms the basis of left Hand Path magick, or divergent and individualizing spirituality.
In the draconian nature of the Morrigan we gain an opportunity to be tried by fire. This may mean such a work will throw our lives up in the air, it may be unyielding in its initiatory task, but through meeting this shadow aspect we are offered the opportunity be transmuted in the most extreme way. But how might we work with Her?Geis, Honour and the Warrior Path
The path of battle is not always one of violence and war. Equally so we have wars against ignorance, greed, and all that challenges the individual liberty of the spiritual warrior. In the Irish tradition (and particularly in tales of Cu Chullainn) we encounter the idea of Geis, a taboo which is actively taken on. Alongside this there are the bounds of honour, our oaths and promises as spiritual aspirants and as human beings. In the Irish tradition we were not bound by the fear of spiritual retribution, an unfortunate modern reduction of the Eastern concept of karma, but bound in a positive way by the discipline of our individual selves that we may better serve as tools of the spiritual. Thus we remove an external standard and take responsibility for ourselves and our honour. There are significant parallels in this with the idea of the law of liberty presented by Aleister Crowley.
In taking on these promises in a ritualistic setting I would suggest a declaration of the liberty of the spiritual aspirant as a free individual willing to commit themselves to the path of battle. This may further be elaborated by connecting oneself to the militant image of the red hand (in its ancient use amongst the warriors of the red hand, the
Fianna, and not as a modern political symbol) and the Fianna. The aspirant may then read a list of geis or taboos which they take upon themselves not to do, and oaths of honour setting standards of conduct which they choose to be liberated by. The Morrigan may be acknowledged in this process as a patron of war, and as a deity encountered on the path of spiritual freedom. This process may be elaborated at will, from swearing upon a weapon, or adopting it for group settings.Death and the Draconian Initiation
Who is stronger than hope? Death.
Who is stronger than will? Death.
Stronger than love? Death
Stronger than life? Death.
But who is stronger than death? Me, evidently.
A common theme of initiation rituals is a symbolic death process through which the person may be initiated. Initiation is a word with a lot of weight attached to it, but personally I like the stance of the initiate W.E. Butler who said “initiation means to begin. That is all”. In beginning something new, we also leave behind something old, allow something to die that from its substance may arise a new, more refined form.
I remember one of my earliest experiences of Shamanism, at the age of 16 at a workshop in Shamanism. The shaman in question pre-explained a journey and on adding smudging, relative darkness and shamanic drumming, my process began. I already knew I had some connection to the crow as an animal, not as something dark, but just as something I was drawn to. I was picked up a crow and flown to a tree, entering at a hole at its base and journeying downwards. The journey downwards was analogous the rather confusing Alice in Wonderland scene of a similar nature.
On emerging from a hole in the ground we found ourselves in a forest, somewhat dark and terribly old. I loosened myself from the crow and it now stood in front of me. Without warning the crow began to tear at my chest with its beak – and the same sensation came from behind. From out of the trees a torrent of black birds flew towards me, pecking the clothes from my body, the flesh from my bones. And when I was without the muscle to uphold me, the spatial remains of my skeletal form lay upon the ground. All the birds dissipated except one, the one who had come with me, who picked up my remains.
Off she flew (I don’t know why, but for me she seemed like a woman) and flew into the sky with me, the blinding sun bleaching my bones a brilliant white. Without warning she began to descend, hurdling straight towards the ground. She did not stop. She bore deep into the virgin earth, as its substance met me, pushed against me, surrounded me and finally was of me. This all went on such a long time the callback had already begun- it felt unfinished somehow, but she pushed me ever deeper into the earth as I gained more weight, more substance. Until she stopped. And she left me there and flew upwards, leaving me alone. Somewhere in the background the callback, slow and methodical, met somehow my own heartbeat- I felt it in my chest and found myself back.
The name of the Morrigan was one I had never heard before- I think my first encounter with the name was roughly a month after this event while looking. Was she my psychopomp?
The death encounter of initiation can be found very aptly put by Goethe - 'Die and become'. This encounter can be made in many different ways, from ritualised drama, shamanic work and experimentation with various other methods of “tripping” or ASC’s including fasting, asana, pranayama, mantra or even substance guided methodologies. Out of continuing work with these journeys (using various methods) I have developed a very individual and personal experience of the Morrigan which I cannot help but feel is ill conveyed here in what can only be a brief overview of Her attributes.The Severed Head - Embodying And Cursing As Legitimate Spiritual Practices
The Celts were notorious for cutting off the head of their enemies, and many have speculated this is involved with the soul aspect of the enemy, their power if you will. The Morrigan also collected heads after the battle. This soul aspect is tied into the astral and the emotional realm, and we too may take power from our enemies. When I speak of our enemies, I do not necessarily speak of people, but also of powers and influences which have power over us. This may be a vice of character, a dominant negative emotion, or an addictive habit.
In my work I do a number of things, including working with clay. This is an extension of my will in creating my desired result, my magical medium and I often use the medium of clay for making sigils, symbols, and figures for sympathetic magic. It is this last area that I see the potential for a work with the idea of the severed head.
In creating an image of something which has power over you we infuse it with an autonomous identity- a character if you will. This comes in the initial process of kneading clay as we introduce ensouled aspects to this substance of earth. Thus we may introduce spittle as the element of water, smoke exhaled from our body as air and either blood or sexual fluids for the fire of the I or spiritual self. We ensoul this with the life this aspect holds over us- we contain its power so we may take it.
Next we may ensoul the piece of clay by giving it form. We form a body with a head. This form may also reflect the vice being countered, for example excess and uncontrollable anger would fall under the energies of mars and would contain very sharp features. Finally the vice, or individual is named.
When dealing with a vice the head and body may be separated from each other, disposing of the body saying “I remove the will of the hands of this vice, the instrument of this vice. I claim power over this ensouled vice, under the fire of my will”. The clay head may then be fired if a kiln is available, transformed by the fire of the occultists will. Otherwise it may be allowed to dry and symbolically blessed with fire, using this same symbolism. This finished head is now kept as a power object and every time the vice in question begins to reappear it may be taken out and the dominion of the occultists will over it may be reaffirmed. For cursing work such an effigy is used identically to a poppet.Boons, Banes And Cursing
The topic of cursing is not one to be taken lightly, but neither is it one to be ignored in the context of the 'dark' aspects of magick. Indeed, She herself cursed many people, often in the context of protection and war. Indeed, in some among the Traditional Witchcraft community it is said that to be able to heal one must also be able to curse.
Of course there is a ethical question which comes with any such action, but it is not my intention to define a moral standard. In the way of the warrior there is no dictate of what honour bond the individual warrior takes, only that he declares and aligns himself with his higher ideals and the dictates of his conscience.Blood
Blood is, with the possible exception of sexual fluids, the most maligned, yet also most potent physical substance for use in ritual. There are not many ritualistic settings in which there is call for using blood, but the rites of the Morrigan is one of the few places where it is both apt and extremely effective. With the idea of blood sacrifice we have horrified visions of sacrificed animals and children, a myth we in the occult community want to avoid at all costs. But there is also the aspect of a willing sacrifice of a part of our own substance, either through let blood from a small wound or through the menstrual cycle. This blood may be charged to a given purpose and given substance, for example, clay for an amulet, or charged and incorporated with food or drink to be ingested. The technical aspects of such ritual are many and varied and are best left to personal discretion. These statements are of course made in the context of solitary practice and discretion of safety is advised in similar practice in any group working.
This started as a post on crows, but naturally leaned towards the correspondence I most connect with the corvus (the family of both crow and raven), the Morrigan and her worship and work. I hope these two subjects have been of some interest to you.
Love is the law, love under will
Epstein, Angelique G. War Goddess: The Morrigan And The Germano-Celtic Counterparts (UCLA, 1998)
Rankine, David & D’Este, Sorita Guises Of The Morrigan (Avalonia, 2005)
1)(adapted text from Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coronis_(Greek_mythology)2) Hughes, Ted Crow: From the Life and Songs of the Crow. (Faber & Faber, 1972)