There is an eerie stillness to battlefields, no matter their age or place. There are probably few places one can go where someone or something hasn't died at some point in time. What makes these places different I wonder? Because there is a difference. A silence and energy that is distinct yet difficult to define. When I began my journey within Paganism I didn't expect that I would be devoted to a goddess of the battlefield. When many of us first discover the divine feminine it is the image of a loving mother goddess to whom we are introduced. But the divine feminine is multi-faceted. Being a woman, divine or otherwise, is about far more than bearing children. And we find some of the true depth and power of the divine feminine in the gods we have labeled as encompassing the dark goddess (in short, goddesses who rule over the difficult parts of life and the things we tend to fear—war and battle being among them).
Modern Pagans are often stuck between two worlds: the identity and function of a god in times past and the identity of that god in the modern world. I do not think the Gods are stagnant, I believe they evolve as humanity does. The core of their lessons the same, just taking on different forms as time marches onward. I am not a Bronze Age Celt, so how I approach the Morrigan, or any of the gods I worship for that matter, is obviously going to be different than those who worshiped them in the past. I will most likely never be part of an actual cattle raid, but that doesn't mean the Morrigan doesn't have wisdom for me to draw on. The battlefields I face are metaphoric ones. Yet one of the things that the Great Queen has called on me to do is visit actual battlefields as part of my devotional work.
There is an old graveyard that sits just before the entrance to Castillo de San Marcos fort from an outbreak of Yellow Fever. My partner and I leave offerings at the gate. I whisper words under my breath as tourists walk by. After exploring the Castillo fort we find a quiet area by the water. There are other people walking the Castillo, a family flying a kite on the grassy area surrounding the seventeenth-century Spanish fort. Most of the battlefields we have visited have been turned into some kind of park or monument. I think about how odd it is to have a family picnic on a place where people once brutally fought, a graveyard of a different kind than the one we passed earlier. We watch the waves wash against the sea wall upon which we perched on for a time, then pour our offerings and say the words that have come to be a familiar prayer. Some of the words come from the peace prophesy the Morrigan says after the Battle of Moyura, along with our own words. There seems something fitting about using the Great Queen's own words as a prayer, words supposedly said on a mystical battlefield between gods. Words have power, and these resonate through me. And as I speak the words, calling out to the Morrigan, to the dead and the battlefield that this place once was, I think of the other battlefields where I have spoken these same words.
I think of Dade Battlefield; the park looks much like many of the trails in central Florida that I enjoy hiking. But along its trails you will find small stone monuments recording where soldiers died in a skirmish that started the second Seminole Indian war. Coming to the battlefields, visiting the many that are near where I live, and the ones I am able to visit when I travel, is something the Great Queen has called me to do. It is my own quiet devotional act, honoring these places, honoring the dead who fought on both sides without judgment, honoring the blood spilled on the land. Knowing battle, war, is unfair and brutal. And calling for peace, calling for rest for the dead. We have spoken these words and called for peace at Civil War battlefields, Revolutionary War ones in New England, ones connected to the Seminole Wars in Florida, and a modern day one at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando.
Visiting Pulse was perhaps the most difficult of our devotionals. We live a short drive away from the nightclub, and spent a long, heart-wrenching weekend praying our friends and co-workers were safe when news of the shooting broke. It was raining the day we visited what remained of the club, now turned into a memorial of sorts. It was just a few weeks away from the anniversary of the shooting, and it was unnerving parking next to what was clearly an unmarked police car, watching everyone who came to the memorial. There were many others there too, leaving flowers, posters and other items. Rainbows, pictures of those who died, poems, art work, all covered the fence baring entrance to the building. More items lovingly placed on the ground around the parking lot, and posted or painted on the Pulse sign. No one spoke. Many cried silently. The presence of those who died in this place were palpable. As a community Orlando came together in an amazing way after this tragedy, and the mourning continues. I wonder if calling out to the dead in our mourning is keeping them here in this place. I leave a single crow feather inside a rainbow-colored heart someone has outlined on the ground using painted stones. We offer our prayers to the dead and the blood-soaked earth. We call for peace, for the victims, for those who mourn. I silently call to the Morrigan and ask that the spirit of those who still cling to this place find peace and rest, that they may move on. We don't speak for a while after we leave, hoping the words we say, the devotion we offer, gives some measure of healing to the dead and those gathered at the memorial.
It may seem strange that a goddess of war is urging me to work to bring peace. Most people would probably assume as a devotee to the Morrigan and other dark goddesses I should be out stirring up battles, inspiring people to fight, right? But ultimately isn't peace what we fight for when you come right down to it? The Morrigan doesn't just urge us on the battlefield for the love of slaughter. She asks us what we are willing to fight for, what is worth laying your life down for. We should go into battle not for a love of violence, but out of love for what we hold dear, or what we wish to create in the world.
Like most dark goddesses, the full depth of what the Morrigan embodies is often overlooked. On the surface we see her connection to battle, war, and bloodshed. These things scare us, and if we only take what a deity represents at face value, the deeper mystery, the true power of that deity is lost. While one of the many things she is concerned with is battle, she is also the one who proclaims the peace when the struggle is done. When the battle is over she asks us if it was all worth it. Because what she goads us towards as a deity of war isn't really the battle itself—it is what lies at the end of battle, the peace that comes afterwards. While most people envision the Morrigan dancing upon spear points, egging on the fighting, they forget that it is she who stands upon the battlefield between the Irish gods and their enemies and announces the peace. Like any dark deity we must embrace the full depth of what they embody, to truly understand what they can teach us.
Modern devotees of the Morrigan talk about warfare and battle a great deal. We contemplate what warriorship means in a modern context. Many find meaning in the battles they face in life, perhaps not a physical battlefield but one just as difficult. Others offer training in martial arts, SCA, or other types of self defense and weapons training, as acts of devotion. There are many things I do as part of my devotion to the Morrigan, but honoring the battlefield is one that I find the most rewarding, because when you invoke peace in places like that, you invoke in within yourself as well. In tending the dead you learn to have more compassion for the living, to see what is the most meaningful in your own life and cherish it.
There are many kinds of battlefields: the ones in our hearts, in the hearts of our communities, the ones upon the land itself, some ancient, some modern, and some where the battle continues to rage on. May there be peace upon them. May we find peace within us, and may we remember that dark gods are there to see us through the darkness of the world and the darkness within ourselves. They exist not to continue the battle but to show us how to find the peace that comes after.
Devotional Battlefield Prayer
Síth co nem.
Nem co doman.
Doman fo nim,
Sky to earth.
Earth below sky,
Strength in each one,
A cup overfull, filled with honey,
Sufficiency of renown
Morrigan you who see all
Who are born in the blood-zealous vigorous battle,
Hear us we speak to the blood soaked earth
We speak to the battlefield
We speak to the fallen friend and foe alike
The land remembers and we remember
The clashing of wills
The hosts giving battle
The strife of men
May the dead be honored
May there be peace
Peace as high as the skies
Summer in winter,
Spears supported by warriors
Warriors supported by forts
Justice when asked for
Banished are sad out cries
Peace as high as the skies
Sky to earth, strength in everyone
Both the living and the honored dead
Macha whose harvest is upon the battlefield may there be peace
Badb who washes the sorrows of the dead and spurs on the battle, may there be peace
Anu whose sacred land receives the bodies of the dead may there be peace
Great Queen may we remember why we sharpen our swords.
That we fight for the peace that comes after strife
And may we remember that peace has a price
And may we honor that price now in this place
Great Queen, Honored dead, accept our offerings.
Stephanie Woodfield (Orlando, FL) has been a practicing Pagan for the past twenty years. A devotional polytheist, teacher, and Priestess of the Morrigan, she is one of the founding members of Morrigu's Daughters and is an ...