I had pulled Warriors for the Horse Goddess from the website several months ago to expand and submit to Air n-Aithesc where it was published in Vol. 2 Issue 2, Lughnasadh/Samhain 2015. The contract with AnA before rights return is for 3 months, however, I usually would wait for at least 6 months as I do feel it makes more sense to wait until the next issue is out. However, for this article I am making an exception and I have returned it, updated and in PDF form to the website.
As I noted in An Morrígan and Sarah Connor: Pt. 1 Deities and Icons I had been planning before the blogosphere explosion to write a bit about how the Sarah Connor Charm School and Hooded Crow relate for me. About why I am doing both, where they meet and where they don’t. To do so was actually probably sparked when I was told that someone had proclaimed the Charm School as a Gaelic Heathen warrior group. As it was at a time I was trying to get more attention out about my Hooded Crow project, I think it was especially annoying. Of course, it would come as a big surprise to all those Christian women I work with in the Charm School, and probably Pagans of other cultural involvements.
So having reiterated that the SCCS is not a Pagan group, I shall now admit that it actually started out as a Pagan joke. And now may be responsible for this Pagan project. In fact, I’m starting to reconsider what I said that They never used Sarah Connor’s image, because I think They did quite a bit to kick me in the ass….even if none have ever copied her appearance. Because right when I needed it, there it was.
|It was probably this one|
Never having seen The Terminator, I didn’t pay much attention when a friend, a mentor on the warrior path, and his roommate were talking about the second movie about to come out. I seem to remember them focused on Arnie and machines. *yawn* Later that day, I was a bit surprised when I visited other friends (at the time) who were not, AFAIK, Arnie fans anymore than I was, to find that they were all excited about Terminator 2 as well. Then they showed me her photo in a magazine (remember those things? ah, yes, tell me the machines aren’t taking over, after all). Linda Hamilton, dressed in black and with all that muscle.
You know how you don’t know you were looking for something until you find it? Yeah, one of those moments. Or rather it built, I sought out the first movie, got to the new one the first chance I got. The first moment when Sarah is on the screen doing chin ups was probably when it really hit. This was something I was looking for, I just hadn’t known it.
There are people who probably do great without story and imagery to motivate and drive them. I’m not one of those people. I am very driven by story and image, I need to put things in my head to work towards. While I had found enough to get me into martial arts and physical training to be on this path I found myself on, much was rather anachronistic and much was unformed in many ways. Especially as a woman on the path, with a male mentor who had a world of images and stories through the ages he could go on but which tended to make those like me feel marginalized.
Yes, there were other strong women fictional roles before then, including Ripley of the Alien franchise. But Sarah was different, because there was a multitude of layers about here which were meaningful for me. Okay, maybe I wasn’t that paranoid about machines and I never had a kid, the latter being a strong connect for some of my friends, but pretty much everything else. Despite a fantastical story line, she was very real, very everyday. Just one of us.
The key thing was her character arch, which might be one of the best ever created in movies. Yeah, I might be bias. She was just like most of us have been at some point, directionless, working a dead end job we hated and felt inept at, not exactly winning at love. She wasn’t a warrior, she didn’t start out with knowledge of how to fight, she wasn’t granted super powers. In the first movie she is totally a Final Girl, with two notable exceptions. One is that she survived having sex, but then she does have to have this kid as it’s sort of the point. But the main one is that when the monster is finally dead, rather than sighing with relief and trying to return to a “normal life” despite the trauma, she heads south of the border pregnant, with a gun and a dog and looking for training. When she appears again she’s crazy, trained, physically strong. To the point that she, herself, may be more machine, but you can see her arch continue as her relationship with her son begins to heal in T2.
The combination of physical strength, fight training and preparedness were things I realized where intricate to making a civilian warrior. A bit of craziness might not hurt either. Because this was where I felt directionless at the time this movie came out. Obviously, I wasn’t going to be transported back to the Iron Age. I also had health issues which made being a professional warrior of any type, law enforcement, military or firefighter (which had at one time wished to do), impossible. Um, okay, I also have an issue with authority which might have gotten in the way. It helped to see the survivalist presented. And a woman at that.
Of course, there was the muscle. I was struggling with fitness, in part due to health issues (some of which got worse in the year or so before the movie came out) as well as being a scrawny hard-gainer. I was studying a martial art, which included some fitness (although probably shouldn’t…I have several issues with that now), was lifting, running. I was having problems with figuring out what to do and how to do it. I had long ditched the standard fitness advice to women, for it was (and is) about diminishing, getting smaller and weaker, not about strength. Therefore I was reading bodybuilding magazines and books, but that often left me frustrated, because of being a hard-gainer (but I did learn the term “hard-gainer”). Sarah offered more realistic physique than the bodybuilders did. Oh, still very different than I could and Linda Hamilton was not a hard-gainer, having obtained that look in a very short time. But still more real. At some point along the line I did decide to figure it out by become a personal trainer…which is it’s own twisted tale.
This was the practical side, which I don’t feel I was at all grounded in before. And which is vital to the warrior path. Which also needs to be grounded in the present day, even if the reasons we do it are in the future (and, no, probably not Skynet or Revenants, so it’s best to be ready for anything).
So I was pretty obsessed, using this story and imagery to motivate me as I continued with my growing physical training and with continuing research on Gaelic culture and religion. And now, back to how the Charm School started as a Pagan joke.
The same people who first showed me Linda/Sarah’s photo were working on a parody Pagan newsletter not long after the movie came out (or maybe even had started before, time slides). It was going to satirize various excesses of the Pagan community. I was at first trying to come up with something mocking some other folks I knew, but, well, sometimes it’s more fun to joke about yourself. And so, “Sarah Connor Charm School” and an “ad campaign” for this “warrior training program” bloomed. The parody ‘zine never happened, but the Sarah Connor Charm School remained a running joke. Which spread among many of my other friends from various circles.
As I got online, I kept referencing the joke with real life friends who already were in on it and it grew to those I “met” online. Indeed, many women had been inspired by the character in similar ways. We made up a batch of T-shirts, we discussed fitness, martial arts and self-defense, a bit of prepping..I started a LiveJournal page for it.
Meanwhile, I kept worshiping the War Goddesses, yet felt forbidden to speak Their names or talk or write much about Them, which often became uncomfortable (especially as others were not so forbidden and, well, some of the information spread was…well….). I worked within or Outside a variety of groups, started a warrior group within an organization which has fortunately written me out their history from what I understand and so will remain nameless here, tried to start up some other things which got too distracting and off my path….. I returned to the wilderness, with the internet my primary way of keeping involved in things Celtic Reconstructionist. I kept trying to build what that was, continuing my own studies and training.
In the mid-aughts, there was a big strive to get CR well defined and a group of people I was friendly with got together on that. Including the two people who first showed me “Sarah’s” photo. It was over all a stressful time in my life, my Mum died during it being at the center of my own chaos and hell. Within this group of people, there was a lot of ego clashing and underhanded ploys for control which I unfortunately got too caught up in. It was just a real clusterfuck. Then something happened among these people that was sort of “off-topic” but a major ethical and spiritual deal breaker for me, regarding oaths I had taken….and then was abused and mocked for taking a stand on. I was already sick of the ego plays, power grabs and fighting. I said “fuck it” and walked away.
Oh, some CR-types stuck with me as friends and were as disgusted as I was, of course, but I wasn’t all that active in “the movement” any longer. I even stopped at all using the term CR, although I, of course, continued to use that methodology. I kept doing my own thing, “labeled” for the syncretic tendencies of being Scottish focused and married to a Heathen, kept working with Badb, Macha and the Morrígan……but for online connections and networking I threw myself more into The Sarah Connor Charm School. It was, after all, a hell of a lot more fun than what I’d been dealing with. At a time when my life was continuing to be less fun. My Dad and several dogs and horses all died during this time period, too (all for natural causes related to age).
I started a website which I eventually got a domain for, started a Facebook page, met more and more people, especially women, who were inspired by her. Many who were not Pagan, who I probably wouldn’t have worked with on such things if I had done something Pagan focused…but also Pagans who are dedicated to other Gods or are not dedicated to particular Gods or are more ….well, there’s a lot of variety. And we talked more about fitness and training and prepping…and we developed the Honorary Degree thing where we celebrate real strong women and girls (and now boys with the John Connor Award and heroic
animals with Max’s First Line of Defense Heroes). I even took my ideas developed for a Pagan warrior group and removed the religious and cultural material, replacing it with basic charm school type liberal arts and with Sarah related languages (as she had trained in Central and/or South America) for the curriculum. The physical, prepping and even arts stuff was already in there. (and for all those mighty, mostly male, Pagan “warriors” who complained my ideas were too tough…we now have someone systematically using it, thank you very much!).
I also cracked down on some training I hadn’t gotten to yet, having a job where I could afford it and perhaps more time and energy due to less drama. You can, of course, read about some of that here, here and here. And wrote stuff *wavesingeneraldirectionatblog* I had already included research in pop culture female action heroes, physical feminism and related topics in my studies long ago, but I got a deep focus on that during this time.
And then it happened. Writing I had put on a back burner, or really the freezer, and didn’t know what to do with I took out, heated up and started working on. Making several changes, including writing about the War Goddesses. Suddenly, it was vital that I write and talk about Them. A lot. I then put that on the back burner, but only that far, because I felt the need to work on an extensive but shorter piece. Which, when finished I suddenly found a place to submit it to. Then more possible places and more things are out in editors’ hands. And all to one degree or another related to the War Goddesses. And then I realized I needed to make the “online shrine” and change the name of this blog to match. And, of course, a FaceBook page for it and two related groups Clann na Morrígna and Ban-gaiscedach na Morrígna (I fear LJ is becoming a thing of the past, but I have an older group there just called Hooded Crow which you need to message me to join and really isn’t used as much). And two related At some point I’ll probably put a page outlining the training program up, but if someone is already doing the cultural-religious stuff, then that’s already posted.
And in doing so, I have become more involved in doing things within the Pagan/Polytheist communities, but choosing where I hang out and who I do them with. Sometimes, now that I’ve been away from certain prejudices, with some association with folks I wouldn’t once have. Finding common ground where They want me to.
I think that stepping way from the drama and focusing on the Sarah Connor Charm School stuff helped clear away a lot of bullshit. It also led me to meet and learn from some really wonderful women who I might not have had the time and energy to get to know. It’s helped me move along my own path more than the work I had been doing trying to build a general CR focused “movement” which did often leave me with little energy for the warrior stuff.
So, this is exactly how these two things tie together for me. Of course, they are, I’m not big on separating parts of my life all that much. I figure Hooded Crow will always be smaller than the Charm School, given that the focus on CR methodology and one group of Goddesses combines for a less interest. Even though it’s less gender specific (SCCS has a lot of male supporters, but the “school” itself is for women…it should be realized, as I have said before, men have a lot more stories than we do already). Right now it’s mostly just my thing, anyway, while the Charm School has become a lot of women’s thing.
And if you missed it please see An Morrígan and Sarah Connor: Pt. 1 Deities and Icons part 3 is on it’s way (EDIT is now up Our Gods and Heroes in Pop Culture), I’ll be less focused on Sarah Connor (although Linda Hamilton will get a mention) and instead discuss Gaelic Gods and Heroes in pop culture, especially the Morrígan (although in general that should be “sort of”). (EDIT: also now have An Morrígan and SC: Pt. 4: Training)
copyright © Saigh Kym Lambert
Recently Morpheus Ravenna, of Coru Cathubodua,* wrote that she is Not Rebuilding Her Cult in response to others who called for reviving ancient Deity cults and one mentioning that she was doing so for an Morrígan. I’m carrying on the blog cycle, for my first reaction to the title was “Well, I am!”
But that’s not really accurate, either. I have no desire to build a cult and lead it, if that’s what that sounds like. It’s more I feel She or They are trying to rebuild it, that They are seeking people out to follow Them in a manner that is related to the old cult I believed existed. I wouldn’t mind helping to incite Her cult back into existence, however,and to offer evidence of it and ways it might happen today. Although, of course, I may not always like what others do with the information I share, I have learned it’s better to live with that than be control freak (although I might have rants on it, of course). And I’m finding certain pressures to reveal my work despite any concerns that I might have.
The difference in my thinking might be explained in her second paragraph and my own take on the issues she brings up there. One being a different take on what the fact that there was no continuation and no documentation from practitioners of what such a cult was like means for rebuilding. We don’t even know if there ever was a cult to the War Goddesses. But that’s an overall problem with Pagan Gaelic traditions, we have to work with what we got, which is a combination of archaeology, Christian literature and law and some Classical observations (which were fewer for Gaelic cultures), as well as some cross-Indo-European speculations. Which is, of course, where Reconstructionist methodology comes in, we wouldn’t need to reconstruct if this problem wasn’t substantial.
Coming from this methodology also leads to a different take on what such a rebuilt, or reconstructed, cult might look like, today. Despite some “definitions” I’ve seen given that often makes it sound like we intend to practice exactly as our ancestors did (something which is impossible if we can never actually know and need to reconstruct to begin with, as well as living under different laws), “Reconstruction” means that we are using research of the past to reconstruct what such things might look like today, in a culturally related fashion. Neither recreating out of cultural context nor trying to live in a past that is gone. This means that even when we have evidence, not all things will be revived. Just as modern Druids, even Reconstructionist ones, manage to practice without human sacrifice,except symbolically, I believe we can reconstruct the war band cults without actually taking heads. At least until the Revenant Cataclysm finally comes.
|Panel from Gundestrup cauldron
likely showing a warrior initiation
I do believe that such a cult or cults very likely existed, and I am focused on the war bands as evidence of them. I follow Epstein’s speculation that Cú Chulainn** is a representation of what the Christian scribes interpreted it might have been like.(Epstein, Ch 3). Following her thoughts that there would be similarities to the berserkr (“bear coats”) and ulfheðnar (“wolf coats”) practices of the likely very cultic Germanic warbands, I also extrapolate that we find hints in the stories of the Fíanna, despite actual Goddess connection lacking (although perhaps some hints to it with the female teachers, one named Bodbmall who Epstein notes may connect to the name Badb and she and Nagy have related to Buannan (Nagy, Wisdom of the Outlaw, pg. 102, Epstein, Ch. 2). From there, of course, to the díberga and their relationship to fáelad (wolfing). I find them interesting in their “unsavory” Paganism and withhold bias against them for the general brigand traits the clerics also attributed to them.(see Sharpe for díberga/Fíanna and McCone and West for that and the wolf speculations) I have also been doing a good bit of writing in regards to the canine aspects and how Cú Chulainn actually fits as more of an Outlaw than a tribal warrior, but these are not yet published. (I will, of course, be letting you know in this blog when they are available somewhere)
Although I want to point out that I’m not trying to create conflict between Ravenna’s vision and my own, only to note how we might be viewing particular’s differently as well as may have different focuses on thie history. Regarding the points Morpheus makes in her post. With location I am, as long time readers have likely figured out, focused on the War Goddesses in Gaelic culture only. I do however look for relevant similarities found not only in the other Celtic cultures, but, also Germanic ones as there do seem to be many correlations between the war band cults of these cultures, although the Germanic are often to male Deities. I do agree that the title an Morrígan may well have been held by many regional Goddesses, although I follow Stokes, Epstein and others regarding the title “Morrígan” as more common and older than “Mórrígan” and therefore means “Phantom Queen” rather than “Great (or Big) Queen” which is a later folk etymology (Stokes, pg. 128, Epstein Ch. 1 “etymologies,” I also go into this a good bit in some upcoming work) and may not bear relation to the “Great Queens” of Brythonic cultures which. Therefore my focus is with working within a Gaelic framework, although I would hope to network with those who might revive war band cults from other cultures. It does, however, lead to a certain flexibility and understanding that more than one actual cult is likely, should any start up again or not.
As for seasons, there is a preponderance of focus on Samain† in the tales an Morrígan is strongly featured in. However, this does seem to have been a time relating to Otherworldly and special events. While wars in the tales often start at this time, we also have later Fenian tales that note that warfare ceased from Samain to Beltene,. Other accounts, and archaeology, does seem to point that warfare and raiding did seem to quiet, if not cease, at Samain, but raiding started up around Imbolc.(Patterson pg. 123, 132-133) Given the link with the warbands and wolves, as well as this return to raiding, I also link Imbolc, or the period between Imbolc and Beltene, with specific work on Awakening the Wolf. Lugnasad, a time of festivals involving horse racing, has been linked specifically to the sister War Goddess Macha. Therefore there is no specific season for me in regard, there may just be difference in focus, devotions of a modern cult might turn inwards more during the winter months, and outward during the summer, in keeping with the tales or might alter depending on seasonal changes in location. Modernizing this doesn’t seem to be a large issue for me.
Incidental or temporal worship already seems carried over by many us anyway, again, within the bounds of legality. Taking omens, making offerings (even if subtly) for specific reasons in specific places is not a large issue. It would, undoubtedly, be an issue for those professional warriors upon battlefields, but this is where we adapt to the situations we are in. And, after all, incidental worship is about adapting.
It is devotional practice is what gets to the meat of it. That which was done, that which we can do now based on the evidence. It might also be where difference in seeing a rebuilding or a new tradition might come in. I already noted, that if in general CRs have had to forgo human sacrifice or adopt symbolic practices (many of which are later folk practices such as the Bealtuinn “sacrifice”) I think we can manage to refrain from piling actual heads. A few modern Gaels I know are quite into the symbolism all the same. Of course, “war spoils” and other related votive offerings can be easily retranslated to modern context of what we find symbolic.
But as I noted, I relate the cult to the Outlaw war bands, what may well have been a Pagan subculture of the early Christian culture. (see McCone, Sharpe, West) Therefore my focus is on the practices which we can interpret about these bands, even in the face of the rather negative reputations the díberga might have, especially in some saint tales. Devotion to me may not be that far off from the non-battle things these warriors offered. Their bodies, their effort into training and preparing. Whether one becomes a full, literally blooded, warrior or not, the training part is there for all of us who do walk the warrior path.
But, again, as I noted above, I also see this as ecstatic practice “shape-shifting” …for me it’s canine, for others I’ve talked to there may be corvid. This may be about out-of-body travel or about an embodied fugue state, strengthening the trained body. (I will eventually have an announcement on something on this). While I am often focused, especially in this blog, on the practical, I feel it’s important to have the ecstatic aspect as well, at least for those so inclined. (No one said every member of a cult would necessarily do the exact same things)
So for me rebuilding Her/Their Cult/s is about the devotional practices, often very embodied ones. And in a modern context. These things would vary by whether one is a professional soldier or a, well, amateur walking the warrior path, of course, as well as on ability and talents. But it would involved fitness, practical martial arts training (which may not always be traditionally Gaelic and could include firearms training), culturally traditional Gaelic martial arts training (which may not always be practical), ecstatic shape-shifting, Seership, poetry and other arts. Not all in the cult might be warriors, we have in the Fenian material druids who helped train Finn in the Sight, after all. But it would be the key focus. I also see an importance on preparedness for a variety of situations, as well….after all, many of us amateur path walkers seem to be preppers. For some of us, hunting, foraging and deep wilderness exploration might connect us to the Outlaw role as well. Again, we must adapt for hunting seasons are almost the opposite now as they were in early Irish law. (Patterson)
There is, of course, what a cult provides, both members and community, as I believe that service is a key role. The war bands may not have been in the society, but they did serve it. This is not necessarily focused on our “religious” or cultural communities, but should probably include or physical neighbors of all cultural and religious backgrounds. The professional, soldier, LEO or related, serves a broad community in obvious ways. Others might volunteer for CERT (Community Emergency Response Team), help organize the local community to deal with disaster and long-term preparedness, teach martial arts and/or self-defense, become victims’ advocates, do volunteer escort in dangerous areas (working with a proper community organization and within their guidelines). And, of course, providing appropriate rituals for those who do worship our Gods when they have need of the War Goddesses.
Needs for members would vary for the professional warrior who has seen combat and is returning to her family, but also for the rape survivor who is moving from victim to hero in her own story. Rituals can be developed for such transitions based on literary references. Makings sure cult members are served by the cult, creating a support system for each other, is a part of the reason to have such a cult, after all. Because it is true, this is not an easy worship, not even for those of us just on the path who might never be blooded as full warriors. For those who are blooded, it is often traumatic so support within a cult would be vital. Ritual, counseling, intervention, just having the right people to connect with and help each other connect to the Goddess we serve. ETA: Perhaps even a good hurling team can be a part of that healing. How long a cult member might be in the cult may vary individually and by need as well. A soldier may find her/himself drawn to service of a War Goddess, but wish cleansing and to move away from the cult when returning to civilian life while others may be, as Nagy put it, “chronic Outlaws.”
I feel that cults based on what we know of the culture, kept in cultural perspective but adapted for the laws we live under, is fully possible using Reconstructionist methodology. I also believe it’s something They want and I hope to see more cultic development in my lifetime. In fact, I’m smelling things on the wind which I think might become very interesting.
*ETA: I now need to note that I in no way associated with this group. I had only ever read the blog and for awhile some members where in my FB War Goddess group. As I am a devotee to Macha who has vowed to fight for Her horses and to end horse slaughter, I no longer have even that amount of contact due to the group eating horse meat in a misguided and loathsome attempt to somehow honor Her. Doing this is as close to sacrilege as I could even imagine. Therefore do not read this mention of the post, done before I knew about this, to be any sort of recommendation. Please see another blog I write for Heathens and Pagans for the Horses
**This relationship seems problematic as most see conflict and rejection between Cú Chulainn and the Morrígan. However, looked at from from the warrior path apparent antagonism begins to make sense that She challenges and goads him, he comes back with the arrogance She expects and he rejects the easy victory as he is also expected to do. No one said serving a War Goddess was simple, straightforward or painless.
†I am using the older spellings here, rather than the Scottish Gaelic ones which are my preference as this is relating literature and history.
Angelique Gulermovich Epstein, “War Goddess: the Morrígan and her Germano-Celtic Counterparts” dissertation for UCLA, 1998
Kim McCone, “Varia II” Ériu 36, 1985
Kim McCone “Werewolves, Cyclopes, Díberga and Fíanna: Juvenile Delinquency in Early Ireland” Cambridge Medieval Celtic Studies, issue 12, 1986
Joseph Falaky Nagy. The Wisdom of the Outlaw: The Boyhood Deeds of Finn in Gaelic Narrative Tradition, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985
Nerys Patterson. Cattle Lords & Clansmen: The Social Structure of Early Ireland, Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame, 1994
Richard Sharpe, “Laicus, Irish Láech and the Devil’s Men,” Ériu 30, 1979
Whitley Stokes, trans. “The Second Battle of Moytura” Revue Celtique 12
copyright © 2013 Saigh Kym Lambert