The Cooking Hearth of the Great Queen – Lessons in the fire

The main error committed by those who have called the Morrígan a “war goddess” has not been in giving her that designation, but in defining it too narrowly. When one considers what war was for the medieval Irish, rather than in light of what war means now, or even to the Romans, the designation becomes as complex and nuanced as its subject herself. All the messiness, the intricacies, and the facets of the Morrígan are the facets, intricacies, and messiness of war as the Irish knew it. Nearly all the important narrative texts of medieval Irish literature, and Ulster cycle texts in particular, center on that enterprise. It is therefore no surprise that the Morrígan, as embodiment of war, would appear conspicuously in these texts. Fame and glory, gore and terror: in war, are all one. And so the Morrígan. — The Morrígan and her Germano-Celtic Counterparts A dissertation by Angelique Gulermovich Epstein

Ever since reading Epstein’s wonderful dissertation this quote has stayed with me. It helps to succinctly keep the mind open to all the possibilities and facets of such a complex goddess and culture instead of getting too trapped in single ideas. I am always looking to learn more and to more full integrate my spiritual beliefs into my everyday life. So when new nuances come to light and settle so harmoniously with what I already have in my life and methods it just helps to deepen those bonds that I have found and created.

Last year I was inspired to go on a ritual camping trip to honor the Morrighan. Having found a truly amazing location that would include a 3 mile hike to the campsite and then allow for a beach side ritual, I was deeply motivated and looking forward to the challenge that this camping trip would provide. I often find that physical challenge is something that I yearn for in my day to day life that is absent. Thankfully, I don’t have to struggle to procure food, or fight for my life. This is a privilege of the modern first world that I live in and I am grateful. Yet…there is a part of me that wonders if I can ever truly know myself in such comfortable surroundings. There is some nameless voice in my soul that believes that it is through adversity, danger, fear, that you temper your core and truly find yourself. Many a sleepless night I have wondered if I am truly living my principles by not fully embracing this belief.  Shouldn’t someone who believes such things dive head first into a life that would manifest these things? Shouldn’t I have joined the military? The Peace Corp? Any other of countless paths that would bring me face to face with what I describe? It is the paradox of my existence in that this belief and pull goes head to head with my belief that life is meant to be enjoyed. That I consider my life well lived if I and my loved ones are happy. I am a conflicted soul if ever there was one lol.

So here presented itself a safe but challenging opportunity to get out into nature and connect with myself and the divine. More I knew that there were others in my community that would welcome the opportunity for the same. In my public priestess work amoungst a  mixed crowd of personal paths I relish the opportunity to do things the way I do them and invite others along to partake. I spent some time trying to figure out who to invite and how open to make this trip. Ultimately it seemed best to invite those who worked with the Great Queen or had approached me about working with her and those willing to undertake the physical challenges.

Not surprisingly when you set out with the intention of holding a ritual camping trip with the Great Queen to challenge yourself, you are challenged…and expected to adapted.

The first location that inspired the trip was just flatly not available for the weekend for up to a year in advance. Being someone who has only ever done much camping in national forest situations I was shocked that a month in advance was not enough. That in fact a year was needed. Adapted or die, right? Lol

Interestingly as this first plan and rendition of the ritual trip fell away there was an extreme influx of emotional and personal challenge in our community and amoungst my dear inner circle.  Things were hard, everyday was an emotional roller coaster. Within my own house we are still grieving for the loss of the Lumberjack’s mother and the first year of her passing quickly approaches. As anyone who has suffered through hard times know that the stress, depression, anxiety and other aspects take their toll physically and mentally. During this time I continued to pray, and to hold that some how I would do my best to honor her and her glory.

It was the Lumberjack that had me look farther inland after spending so long looking for a good site on the coast. I wanted some place that was a little less populated than most state parks and also had some water source. Then as the emotional turmoil reached its peak we went for a long and much needed drive out to scout out prospective camping sites. There is something spiritually comforting to me about long driving trips. It probably hearkens back to my childhood spent driving from one side of the country to the other. Something about it can just rest my mind, pull me out of the drudgery and see the bigger picture of life. I have to say that is was exactly what the doctor order. Truly I am blessed to have the Lumberjack in my life willing to support me and tend to my emotional needs amoungst everything else.

The drive up was beautiful and the location was stunning. It was a much more developed camping site than the original site, but still remote and next to an amazing reservoir. Stunningly blue and filled with pyrite and quartz. The location did not have the same wild rugged energy that had drawn me to the first location. Instead it was serene, inviting and ethereal. Standing on the banks looking out on the tranquil reservoir feeling that familiar welcomed feeling of finally being able to breath fully deeply, two ravens languidly circling the trees and I just accepted it as a gift. The time and energy of the present was harsh and tumultuous, here was the time and the place to gain respite. To nourish the soul. How often do such opportunities present themselves? And again should you limit the understanding and honoring of the Gods? No we would not be physically challenging ourselves, and meeting nature in the untamed wilds. But each and every one of us were being challenged in our daily lives. Having to self analysis, to face difficult situations, people and conversations and not turn away. It seemed more than possible that in the stillness and rugged outdoors we all would find a piece of ourselves that would help to preserve us through the challenges at home.

Bullard's Bar

With the new location came new possibilities. If the original offering of physical exertion and shear will to make this happen was no longer the center point, then naturally food would be the new center. Food is the center point of most of my offerings and connection to deity at home and I saw no reason why we shouldn’t feast to her honor. Luckily for me the group was equally eager to bring abundance and feast to the trip, and in the end we had so much food. We planned the meals together as a community. Marinated Chicken and grilled corn, plenty of sandwich meats and cheese for lunches and snack, pancakes, bacon and eggs for breakfast, and a Primal Heart beef stew for the culminating supper. No one went hungry.

We spent out days in the cerulean quartz charged water. Delighting in the refreshment and glitter. Quickly we found a treasure of pyrite laced clay mud. Smooth and glorious it immediately became a favored past time to cover ourselves in clay and search for quartz treasures on the shore. Beer, laughter, swimming, mud, I didn’t know these were things I needed.

The late days were spent tending the fire, getting the stew started and fighting off mosquito. I enjoy cooking on most days, but I have not had the pleasure of cooking over that many open flames yet. That is soon to change, there is something amazing and so heartening to throw hunks of meat into a cast iron pan over a roaring fire, hearing the sizzle, smelling the sear. There is a deep contentment in getting a large cauldron boiling and stirring into it the intentions of health and comfort for all.

Generally I associate my cooking with the Dagda. He has a shrine in my kitchen, and it well associated with food. His cauldron of plenty, his ever roasting pig, etc.  But over that fire, I felt her presence. There isn’t much more that I can say than that. Upon returning home from trip I was inspired to look up an article that was in my que to read for a while on Tairis Tales, I vaguely remembered it was about cooking and the Morrighan. Lo, indeed it was:

There is a popular belief that the Morrígan is a war-goddess and not much more than that, but like any other deity, things are never as simple as they might seem. Aside from her associations with war and magic there are some intriguing references in popular lore and the medieval manuscripts that associate her with the Fulacht na Morrighna, or ‘The Spit of the Morrígan’, often simply referred to as the ‘Cooking Hearth of the Great Queen’ (or variations thereof…). — Fulacht na Morrighna

Isn’t that just amazingly in alignment with just freakin’ everything? I laughed when I read it. Just laughed. But more it really did drive home the feelings and inspirations that I felt in that campsite. This part in particular:

It’s notable that the last paragraph in the excerpt above specifically mentions outlaws approaching the Morrígan, since the fulacht themselves are generally found in places that are not associated with settlements; they are commonly called fulacht fiadh, the latter word meaning ‘wild’, possibly referring to the location of them, or else the wild meats (such as deer) that were cooked and then consumed in them. Outlaws were usually young men who left their tuatha to live outside of normal society (and therefore the law and protections that such status within the tuath brought with it), and made their living as hunters and warriors for hire (or brigandage). 

We very much were outside of our normal community for those three days. We were outside of our homes, our families, and the usual titles and jobs that we tend to day to day. For those three days were were just in the “wilds” and had found comfort and solace at the hearth fire of the Great Queen. It is my hope that the other also felt this since of comradery and sanctuary amoungst the trees, the swooping birds, and dirt.

Over the two nights I told the tale of Cu Chulainn and his first meeting with the Morrighan and then his last stand. Probably not my best retelling but it was fun and heartfelt. Ritually I kept things simple and as I do at home just part of the natural weave. Offerings to the Land, Sea, Sky and Ancestors on arrival. Burning juniper on the first fire of the night for protection and blessing. Offerings to the Morrighan every night. Chicken hearts roasted over the open fire and joyfully popped into the mouth. Offered up on the open flames to the Phantom Queen. I sang her songs, and then we that felt called to sang their own inspirations. We asked for wisdom and visions that we might need. We raised our glasses in her glory and honor. We composed a new song to her in the dark by the light of the fire. We enjoyed ourselves, and washed our clay and oil caked hair in cool water. We laughed, we ate, and just lived in her presence.

One dim morning I sat up in my tent to brush my hair and listen to the wind in the trees. Just in time to watch a sleek regal raven swoop down and land on a branch above our camp and sweep a glance over us all before flying off towards the water. It was a moment of peace and I smile remembering it even now.

There are many small lessons that I took away from this trip. It was a subtle expression of what is usually portrayed to be a very catalystic deity. It was the light hearted stories of glory and triumph. It was the comfort of a well cooked meal found even so far from home.  I hold a renewed respect and love for my Queen. The Queen who demands self improvement at all times, who does not flinch at throwing adversity and terror to teach lessons. The Queen who knows, who sees, and who foretells. Is the same Queen who keeps her people fed, who shows that even in the wilds there is a way. There is always a way. Maybe just not the way you were expecting…

I look forward to more such trips. To trying my hand at returning to the original location and the different lessons learned there. But ultimately I am grateful I have the opportunities that I do.

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