When I took my first vows of priesthood, one of the things I promised was to “tell your stories, both ancient and new, to all who wish to hear; so that the Old Gods may be worshipped once again.” So when Erin Kane and I both got the message that Morrigan wanted her stories told here and now, we started working on a way to do that at Beltane.
Last night’s Denton CUUPS Beltane Circle was not your typical light-hearted celebration of fertility. We had a Maypole dance and a spiral dance, but in between was an interactive, dramatic presentation of two stories of Morrigan and her dealings with the god Dagda and with the hero Cú Chulainn. These stories come from two different sources, and traditionally, Morrigan’s affair with Dagda took place at Samhain. However, they present a clear contrast of responses to the Goddess of Sovereignty. Since Beltane celebrates the awakening of the land and the Goddess of Sovereignty speaks for the land, we figured Beltane would be as good a time as any to tell these stories.
What follows is a condensed account of our dramatic presentation, which itself is a condensation of the source material – we didn’t have a cast of six times thirty hundred warriors. But we were able to present the essence of the stories, and we stopped at various points to ask the assembly what they would do in that situation.
It was a dark time for the gods of Ireland. The Tuatha De Danann, the Children of the Goddess Danu, were oppressed by the Fomorians. The Fomorians had gathered all their forces from Lochlainn westwards to Ireland, to impose their tribute and their rule by force, and no army ever came to Ireland which was more terrifying or dreadful than that of the Fomorians.
And the Goddess Morrigan said “Undertake a battle of overthrowing.”
And so the warriors, physicians, smiths and druids of the Tuatha De Danann met in secret conference. Each told what power he or she possessed, and what he or she would bring to the battle. And Dagda arranged to meet Morrigan at the River Unshin. He met her there, and she had one foot on the south bank and the other foot on the north bank.
“Great warrior, I would give you my love, and I would give you my aid.”
“My lady, I would be honored to accept.”
The warriors thought it better for them to find death while protecting their homeland than to be in bondage and under tribute as they had been. Then Morrigan came, and she was heartening the Tuatha De Danann to fight the battle resolutely and fiercely.
Immediately afterwards the battle broke, and the Fomorians were driven to the sea. And when the slaughter had been cleaned away, Morrigan announced the great victory to the royal heights of Ireland and to its sidhe hosts, to its chief waters and to its river mouths.
“Peace up to heaven.
Heaven down to earth.
Earth beneath heaven,
Strength in each,
A cup very full,
Full of honey;
Mead in abundance.
Summer in winter
Peace up to heaven.”
And so the Tuatha De Danann would rule Ireland until the coming of the Sons of Men. But many years later, the Táin Bó Cúalnge tells of another warrior who encountered Morrigan, the great Cú Chulainn. Cú Chulainn won his arms when he was only seven years old, and at seventeen he single-handedly defeated the army of Queen Medb.
As she had with Dagda, Morrigan made an offer to Cú Chulainn. “Great warrior, I would give you my love, and I would give you my aid.”
But Cú Chulainn refused her. “It is a bad time you have chosen for coming, for I did not come here for the favors of a woman.”
“You will have my help in everything you do, and I will protect you from this night forward.”
“I do not need the help of any woman in battle.”
“If you will not take my help, I will turn it against you; and at the time when you are fighting I will come against you by water and by land, till you are beaten.”
Then Queen Medb sent Loch, son of Mofebis, to face Cú Chulainn. Morrigan came at him as a red-eared heifer, as a black eel, and as a grey wolf. Each time Cú Chulainn repelled her, and injured her in the processes. Cú Chulainn defeated Loch and went away from the battle victorious, but injured as well.
Now it was only by the hand of Cú Chulainn himself that Morrigan could be healed of the wounds he had given her. And so she turned herself into an old woman, and sat beside the road milking a cow.
Cú Chulainn asked “Old woman, I am thirsty and tired from battle. Might I have a drink from your cow?” When she gave it to him, he said “the full blessing of the gods and of the people on you.” And with that blessing, Morrigan’s wounds were healed.
Soon after, Cú Chulainn came upon an old woman who was cooking an animal over a small fire. Now, Cú Chulainn was under a geis that forbade him from refusing hospitality whenever it was offered. But he was under another geis that forbade him from eating the flesh of a dog. The woman offered to share her meal, but Cú Chulainn refused.
She challenged him. “That is because I have nothing better than a dog to give you. If I had a grand cooking-hearth, you would stop and visit, but because it is only a little I have to offer you, you will not stop. But he that will not show respect for the small, though he is great, will get no respect himself.”
Then she gave him the shoulder-blade of the dog out of her left hand, and he ate it out of his left hand. And he put it down on his left thigh. And the hand that took it was struck down, and the thigh he put it on was struck through and through, so that the strength that was in them before left them.
Then Cú Chulainn went against Lugaid. His great strength and skill was gone, and though he fought bravely he was struck dead.
Cú Chulainn refused the aid of the Goddess of Sovereignty and made her his enemy. He wounded her, but through cunning she was healed. She forced him to break his geis, and in doing so caused this great warrior to lose his last battle, and his life. But many years before, Dagda accepted her aid and her love, and his army was victorious over the Fomorians.
At Beltane we celebrate the awakening of the land and we honor the Goddess of Sovereignty, who speaks for the land. Like calls to like, and through our ritual we awaken ourselves and call to ourselves sacred fertility in all its many forms.
The Goddess of Sovereignty is active in our world, and in our time. She calls us to reclaim our sovereignty from those who would take it from us, be they Fomorians, politicians or corporations. She calls us to help build a world that respects the sovereignty of every person, every creature, and every ecosystem.
What will you work for? What will you fight for? Who will you fight for? The Goddess of Sovereignty offers her aid. Will you accept it?
Our Priestess of Morrigan holds cards. We invite you to come forward and take one, as a token of your commitment to work for sovereignty. But know these tokens, like sovereignty itself, are never given easily. You must take them.
If you would answer the call of Sovereignty, come.
Fomorian – Lee Vogt
Unnamed God – Ted Davidson
Morrigan – Erin Kane
Dagda – Ed Jordan
Cú Chulainn – Conor O’Bryan Warren
Loch – Roq Hodge
Lugaid – Shelley Jackson
Narrator – John Beckett
Photographer – Cathy