Reclaiming Your Sovereignty

Before the Great Battle of Magh Tuireadh, Figol the Druid blessed the warriors, saying “as to the men of Ireland, every breath they breathe will be an increase of strength and of bravery to them; and if they are seven years in the battle they will never be any way tired.”

It is in that Druid tradition I offered this morning’s sermon at the Denton Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.

Introduction – The Land and the King Are One

Toward the end of the 1981 film Excalibur, Camelot lies in ruin. The land is barren and invaders run rampant. King Arthur is near comatose, rendered impotent by the affair between his wife and his best friend, and by his own inaction. Perceval finds the Holy Grail and realizes its secret – the land and the king are one. He brings the Grail back to Camelot, Arthur drinks from it and finds the strength to ride out to the fateful battle of Camlann. Life returns to the land.

The land and the king are one! This concept is older than Arthur is even supposed to be. The king ruled the land, but he did not own the land. The land is an entity of its own, represented by the concept of sovereignty and the Goddess of Sovereignty. The king was joined to the land in sacred marriage and their fates were intertwined. If the king ruled wisely and justly, the land and the people would prosper. If the king ruled poorly, Sovereignty would withdraw her blessing, the land would go barren, the people would suffer, and the king would be replaced – perhaps peacefully, perhaps violently, and perhaps in a sacrifice where his blood was offered to restore the fertility of the land. The land and the king are one.

Definitions of Sovereignty

Our modern society has a very poor understanding of sovereignty. If you hear the word used in a political setting, it is usually invoked by those who argue we have no obligation to respect the human rights of people in or from other countries, or who argue we have no obligation to live up to the promises our nation has made in international treaties. These arguments are usually made with all the eloquence of a four year old screaming “it’s mine and you can’t tell me what to do with it!”

If you hear the word used in a religious setting, it is usually invoked by conservative Calvinists who argue that their god created the Universe, so it’s his and he can do whatever he likes with it, including casting millions of creatures he made into eternal torment. They define the desires of their god as the ultimate good; while the impact of those desires on other beings is deemed irrelevant.

Both of these views see sovereignty as absolute ownership. They claim possession is not nine tenths but ten tenths of the law and that might makes right. But this four year old’s view of sovereignty is at odds with our pagan ancestors and with our Unitarian Universalist principles, which proudly and wisely proclaim the inherent worth and dignity of every person.

These views of sovereignty are also at odds with our common law. The law gives parents great leeway in how they raise their children, but it is not legal to abuse them or to fail to provide education and medical care. Parents do not own their children and children have rights which must be respected. American law doesn’t explicitly recognize animal rights, but while you can own an animal, you cannot starve or torture it. You can own land, but zoning and environmental laws restrict what you can do with it. These restrictions are generally thought of as keeping one landowner from infringing on the rights of other landowners, but two years ago Bolivia passed a law declaring The Rights of Mother Earth and enumerating rights inherently possessed by species and ecosystems.

Sovereignty, then, is not ownership. Sovereignty is both the right to rule and the obligation to rule rightly. And that brings us to the key question for today’s service: who controls your sovereignty? Who is king of your life, and are you flourishing under that king’s rule? Does your life honor the inherent dignity and worth that is yours simply by right of being alive?

Or has your sovereignty been taken from you, by force or by deception or by neglect?

Delegation of Sovereignty

Sovereignty is the right to rule, but we frequently give our sovereignty to others, in part if not in whole. At birth, our sovereignty is held by our parents – even older children don’t have the experience and judgment to make many major decisions. Later, our sovereignty is held by teachers and school administrators. Again, that’s mostly a good thing – when we are six years old and entering the first grade, we don’t know what we need to learn.

As adults, we give some of our sovereignty to governments – the rule of law promotes orderly and ethical interactions within society. We give some to employers – some necessary for the efficient running of a business, and some not.

For the most part, these transfers of sovereignty are legitimate, necessary and helpful. But unless we are mindful, giving our sovereignty to others can become a habit. We may not even recognize the ways in which it is given away or stolen from us.

The land and the king are one. Who is the king of your life? Is that king ruling well? Is your land flourishing?

Your True Will

From the magical system of Thelema, developed in the early years of the last century, comes the idea of True Will. Your True Will isn’t what you want, what you think you want or what you think you’re supposed to want. Your True Will is why you’re here in this life – it’s your purpose, your mission, your destiny. And if your True Will is your purpose in life, then by definition it serves the greater good.

19th century ceremonial magician Eliphas Levi said “the will of a just man is the Will of God Himself and the Law of Nature.”

Thus when Thelemites say “do as you will is the whole of the law” it is not an invitation to chase whatever impulse you feel. Nor is it an invitation for your ego to overpower your soul. “Do as you will” is a reminder to spend your time and energy working on things of ultimate importance. It is a reminder to let your daily activities be guided by your grand purpose.

Or to quote the Christian Saint Augustine, hardly a religious liberal: “Love, and do what thou wilt.”

Sovereignty is the right to rule rightly. So if your sovereignty is the right to rule your life, it is also the obligation to follow your True Will. Are you following your True Will? Are you spending your time and energy on things of ultimate importance? Or are you chasing things you’ve been told should have?

Are you becoming who you’re called to be? Or are you becoming who someone else told you you should be?

Who Has Taken Your Sovereignty?

So what’s interfering with our personal sovereignty? For one thing, sovereignty is hard work. Shakespeare’s Henry IV says “How many thousand of my poorest subjects are at this hour asleep! O sleep, O gentle sleep … Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.”

As we discussed earlier, from our earliest years we’re taught to delegate our sovereignty to others. Though this is mostly good and necessary it builds the habit of deferring to others, a habit that some are more than willing to exploit for their own benefit.

Our sovereignty has been swindled from us by the sorcerers of marketing who distract us from our True Will and convince us that happiness will only be found by buying what they’re selling. Now, there is nothing inherently wrong with advertising – something I hope our Membership and Outreach committees understand. Letting people know you have something they may find helpful can be a good thing.

But modern advertisers don’t simply tell you they have something you might need. First they sell you the idea that you can’t be happy – that you don’t deserve to be happy – unless you look and live a certain way; that you “should” be young and rich and thin, forever. Then it’s easy for them to sell you things that create the illusion of youth, wealth, and attractiveness.

Our sovereignty has been stolen from us by those who manipulate “the system” for their own gain at the expense of the rest of us. The “free market” is free in no sense of the word – it is dominated by the powerful and their greed. The jobs that supported the middle class for two generations have been shipped to “low cost countries” in the name of “maximizing shareholder value.” Higher education – the gateway to the good jobs that remain – has lost much of its state funding and continues to rise in cost. It is hard to pursue your True Will when you are chained to crushing debt that takes years if not decades to clear.

Our sovereignty has been taken from us by politicians and their sorcerer-consultants who try to keep us in a state of fear and outrage, promising us prosperity if we give them our money and our votes and warning of disaster if the other guy wins the election. I am not so cynical as to write off the entire political process. It is necessary, good can and does come out of it, and I will dutifully show up at the polls and vote for the lesser evil. But democracy was never intended to be a spectator sport – it only works if we exercise our sovereignty and participate.

The land and the king are one. Is the king of your life pursuing your True Will? Or does your king have you chasing someone else’s will?

The Challenges of the Future World

The theft of our sovereignty is bad enough. But the need for us to reclaim our sovereignty is only going to increase as our world changes.

This country’s economy went into a great recession five years ago and it’s yet to fully recover. Millions of people remain unemployed while millions more are underemployed. The Western economy is based on the myth of progress and the model of perpetual growth – myths and models that are ultimately unsustainable and are nearing their limits.

Our economy is highly dependent on fossil fuels and the easy to get oil and gas are gone. We’re now trying to transport tar sands from Alberta to the Gulf Coast to convert to gasoline and we’re fracking for natural gas in our own back yards.

More importantly, we appear to have passed the tipping point on climate change. Our climate is becoming hotter, dryer and prone to greater extremes. We missed the opportunity to prevent it – now we’re going to have to figure out how to deal with it, and how to prevent a human calamity as rainfall patterns and growing seasons change and as sea levels begin their inevitable rise.

We humans are an intelligent, resilient species. We’ve survived ice ages, plagues, famines, and countless wars. We will survive these challenges. But we will not solve them by following the same leaders who mindlessly led us here because they saw profit for themselves. We will not solve them by distracting ourselves with the ironically-named “reality” shows. We will not solve them if we continue to live by the same myths that got us into this mess in the first place.

It is frequently said that on their deathbed, no one ever regrets not working more, or feels like their life was a failure because their house wasn’t big enough. What if we didn’t wait till we’re near death to recognize that Western materialistic culture is not satisfying the people living in it and it is killing other people and other creatures.

What if we recognized the Earth as sacred and tried to live in harmony with it, instead of trying to dominate it?

What if we tried living with fewer malls and more parks? Less commuting and more gardening? Less quantity and more quality?

What if we honored our ancestors who lived happy lives without a ton of toys? What if we learned to see through the glamours of advertising and pop culture?

What if we woke up, and then helped others to wake themselves? What if we restored sovereignty to every person, every tribe, and every species?

The land and the king are one. Is your king capable of leading you into a new era? Is it time for a new king? Are you ready to reclaim your sovereignty?

A Warrior’s Approach

It’s easy to let someone else tell you what to think, what to feel, and how to live your life. Reclaiming your sovereignty is hard work. Reclaiming your sovereignty requires the approach of a warrior.

The term “warrior” is frequently misused in our mainstream society, and I do not use it lightly in an era when two thousand Americans and unknown thousands of others have died in the Graveyard of Empires. But the archetype of the warrior is far more than the soldier who fights at the direction of his or her national leaders.

A warrior displays courage in the face of opposition. She does not seek out conflict, but when conflict is necessary she does not avoid it.

A warrior is persistent in the face of obstacles. He does not shy away from hard work or unpleasant tasks. He is undeterred by setbacks, never forgetting why and for whom he fights.

A warrior follows his code of honor and integrity. He is aware of the difference between necessary firmness and unnecessary cruelty. He is aware of the temptation to slide into barbarism and he actively resists it.

A warrior employs good strategy, devising a plan to achieve her goals. She is a tactician, changing plans in response to changes in surroundings and conditions. She studies and trains, so she is prepared for the tasks ahead of her.

A warrior, then, is a person who does what must be done, no matter what. What must you do no matter what? What are you willing to work for? What are you willing to fight for? Who are you willing to fight for?

The Sufi poet Rumi said: “If you want to wear a robe of spiritual sovereignty, let your eyes weep with the wanting.”

What makes your eyes weep with the wanting? What song must you sing, what poem must you write, what art must you make? What mountain must you climb? What wrong must you right?

What is your True Will?

What Must Be Done

So you want to reclaim your sovereignty and you’re willing to do what must be done. What is it, exactly, that must be done?

Wake up! Free your mind. Oh, if only we had a supply of red pills from The Matrix! Turn off the TV and the computer, or at least stop believing everything they tell you. Instead, believe in the inherent worth and dignity of every person, and know that includes you! Respect the interdependent web of all existence, and know that includes you!

Support your freedom with regular spiritual practice. Sit in meditation. Go for a walk. Pick up an inspirational book and read it – bonus points if the book is older than you are. Pray. Don’t worry about who you’re praying to and whether or not he or she can hear you. Stand in the Face of the Sun and the Eye of Light and speak your gratitude. There is much we enjoy we did not earn, much we owe to those who keep things moving. It did not have to be this way, but it is – give thanks. Speak your devotion – express your love for those who are precious to you and for that which is greater than us all, however you see it. Speak the desires of your heart. Yes, some people pray like a four year old visiting Santa Claus, but you now know that is not your True Will. Remember – the will of a just person is the Will of God Herself and the Law of Nature.

Pursue your True Will. Write your poetry, sing your song, make your art. Work for marriage equality, work to protect the land and air and water. Climb a mountain – physical or metaphorical, it doesn’t matter. Plant a garden or stir a cauldron. Do what your soul is whispering or screaming that you must do.

Take care of yourself and your family. In 1932 Bertrand Russell published an essay titled “In Praise of Idleness” where he speculated that in the future no one would need to work more than four hours a day. It hasn’t quite worked out that way. We can debate whether that prediction had no basis in reality or if its failure is yet another example of how our sovereignty has been stolen from us, but in any case the primary challenge of the 21st century isn’t the elimination of work but the difficulty of finding it.

It’s hard to meditate when your roof is leaking. It’s hard to compose poetry when your children are hungry. Do what you have to do so you can do what you’re called to do.

Live sustainably. “Zero impact” is a fantasy and those who claim air conditioning is immoral don’t have to live through Texas summers. But every bit of energy you don’t use is that much less greenhouse gas dumped into the atmosphere, and that much less you have to pay for. In a capitalist country every dollar you spend – or don’t spend – is a vote for what kind of world you want to see. Spend mindfully.

Do what you can today. There is much wrong in our world, much injustice, much suffering. Compassion fatigue is real – we can get to the point where we just can’t look at it any more. You can’t fix it all. We can’t fix it all. But in the words of 19th century Unitarian Edward Everett Hale, “because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.” Don’t let the enormity of the situation prevent you from doing something to make your life and the world a better place, today.

Don’t try to do this alone. Our mainstream culture is fully invested in its distractions and delusions. It prefers the illusion of choice to the responsibility of sovereignty and it will actively resist the call to wake up. It will deny facts that conflict with its myths, it will tell you you’re wasting your time, it will accuse you of “undermining our way of life.” Creating a new culture is hard.

Call on the power of your tribe. Gather regularly with like-minded people – like maybe, every Sunday morning. Talk to people who are doing the same thing you’re doing. You need the support of others – and others need your support. You can’t do this alone, but you don’t have to do it alone.

The Lady of Sovereignty

For some of us sovereignty is more than an abstract concept. For some of us sovereignty is a goddess, a goddess called Morrigan.

Morrigan was worshipped throughout the ancient Celtic world and she appears in the surviving literature in several guises and under several names. She is the Chooser of the Slain, guiding the souls of the dead to the Otherworld – a role similar to the Norse Valkyries. She is a Battle Goddess, supporting those who fight for her people and her causes. And she is the Lady of Sovereignty, giving the right to rule and calling us to rule our lives rightly.

Perhaps Morrigan is a being like you and me, only more. Perhaps she is an aspect of God or Goddess. Perhaps she is a myth or a metaphor: a story to live by or the personification of an important concept. I have my beliefs and my reasons for those beliefs, but ultimately I don’t know.

I first noticed people talking about Morrigan three years ago with some Pagans in California. Then I started hearing about her in other parts of the world. I’ve had my own experiences of Morrigan, as have others here. One of our own has been called to her service.

Perhaps people who take a polytheistic approach to religion are seeing a difficult, dangerous world and are identifying with a mythical figure who is a strong and cunning fighter. Through this identification they are becoming stronger and more confident themselves. Or perhaps this goddess is assembling priestesses and priests and knights for reasons known only to her. I don’t know – the Christian god is not the only one who works in mysterious ways.

But I do know this: the call of sovereignty is loud and getting louder. The call to treat every person, every creature, and every ecosystem with dignity and respect is strong and getting stronger. The call to live your life by your True Will instead of how you’re told you should live it is clear and getting clearer.

The land and the king are one. Who is king of your life? If it is anyone or anything other than your True Will, your highest purpose, your reason for being here in this world, then I suggest it’s time for a revolution. Wake up, stand up, reclaim the sovereignty that is your birthright, and help build a world that respects the sovereignty of all.

About John Beckett

I grew up in Tennessee with the woods right outside my back door. Wandering through them gave me a sense of connection to Nature and to a certain Forest God. I’m a Druid graduate of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, the Coordinating Officer of the Denton Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans and a former Vice President of CUUPS Continental. I’ve been writing, speaking, teaching, and leading public rituals for the past eleven years. I live in the Dallas – Fort Worth area and I earn my keep as an engineer.

  • http://ravens-eye-studio.deviantart.com JoBeth Sexton

    This is an incredible blog post and something that I have been trying to explain to people around me. Thank you for having the courage to post it.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnbeckett/ John Beckett

      Thanks, JoBeth. It’s something that’s been in my head and on my heart for quite a while, and when I was offered the chance to speak, I knew exactly what I was going to say.

  • Laure Hill

    Your words were inspired and had me nodding in agreement throughout. Thank you for such a thoughtful and thought-provoking post. .

  • Mark Harris

    First of all, thank you so much for sharing this and for making your points both logical and understandable!
    Next, I would tell you that I firmly believe what you say is, in fact, a “wake-up” call that is being sounded from coast-to-coast in this country (I cannot speak to other countries as I do not have contacts around the globe). More and more, people (and not just the Pagan community) are coming to the realization that we – the human race – MUST once again live in harmony with Mother Earth.
    Sadly, the “What can I do?” attitude still permeates our society. We are consumed with the idea that we must “go with the flow” in order to just survive, let alone flourish. “I can’t give up my car, because I won’t be able to go to work so I can support my family.” It is that argument alone causes more stagnation in following True Will (as you call it) than any other. And to a good degree it is a valid argument. We must have a societal paradigm shift in order to fully embrace the ideals of which you speak.
    Having said that, though, I wholeheartedly believe that it is a possibility, if not a necessity, if we, as a people, are going to not only survive, but grow and flourish.
    And lastly, I agree with your statement that the Morrighan is gathering her flock. I personally know two people who have been called by her, and the trials that they are facing, I believe, are designed to give them the personal strength and self assurance to weather the upcoming storm that I feel is on the horizon.
    Blessing to all who read your article and may they find the courage to make any changes they need to in their own lives.


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