Sunday, February 27, 2011

What was Morgan le Fay's religion? Whom did she worship, and how?

I think it's fairly safe to say she was not a Christian. "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live" says Exodus, and a badass witch with a direct channel to the old powers of the Earth is exactly what the Israelite elders were worried about.

But Christianity wasn't universal in Britain in her time. As far as I could tell from my research, Arthur flourished around 500AD. That's the date Geoffrey Ashe identifies a British war leader named Riothamus whose exploits match those of the legendary Arthur (and Riothamus just means "High King"). It's also around the date that South Cadbury Castle, a hillfort thought to be Camelot, was refortified in the Roman style.

Until 400 AD, Britain was part of the Roman Empire; culturally, it still was in 500 AD. But the Empire itself had only been officially Christian since 313 AD. Until then, Christianity was illegal and secret, one of the few religions the Romans didn't tolerate. The Roman Army was full of Mithra worshippers. Most people worshipped their old tribal gods, though various Eastern religions swept through the West from time to time.

Morgan probably worshipped the old Celtic religion.

We don't know a whole lot about the old Celtic religion. The Celts didn't write anything down until they were conquered by the Romans. The Romans did, but they liked to equate other people's gods with their gods, so when they talked about Lugos, for example, they'd say he was the Celtic Apollo and tend to sweep the differences under the mat.

It's not always easy to tell when the Romans are writing propaganda. For example, Caesar says the Celts liked to put their captured enemies in giant wicker men and burn them. He wasn't a scholar writing for history, though. He was a politician who'd just slaughtered large numbers of Celts.

But we do know the Celts were headhunters. (Did you know that?) We have shrines with alcoves to put heads in. Multiple sources, including the old Irish legends, suggest that the Celts liked to cut off the heads of their enemies in battle and tie them, by their hair, to their chariots. The Irish would then keep their enemies' heads around to show to guests.

Angel Gulermovich, in her Ph. D. thesis, War Goddess: The Morrígan and her Germano-Celtic counterparts, makes a pretty convincing case that the Celts had a warrior cult something like the Vikings did. The men hoped to die in battle. If they were valiant, the war goddess would take the form of crows and eat their bodies, taking them to the afterlife. (She's what you call a "psychopomp," meaning she can take you to your final destination.) She was often called "Badb," which just means "Crow."

(If you read old accounts of battles, you often hear about the crows gathering in huge numbers in the trees before the battle. Somehow, they knew they'd be feasting. Crows are smart.)

In Britain, the Morrígan would have been known by her British name, Morigenos, by the common people, and by the name of the Roman goddess of war, Bellona, by the educated people who spoke Latin.

Of course Bellona Morigenos wasn't the only important Celtic god or Goddess. Lugos (British) or Lugh (Irish) had lots of cities named after him, including the city the Romans called Lugodunum, which we call London, and the city of Lyons, France. Lugos was a god of light; that's why the Romans conflated him with their sun god, Apollo. The Irish had a god known as the Dagda, which just means "the good God."

The Morrígan loved the legendary Irish warrior Cú Chulainn. Rejected, she causes his death, and then appears to him at his death, I imagine to take him to the Irish Valhalla. It's not hard to imagine that Morgan had an affinity for the war goddess. Later in her legend, she causes Arthur's death, but then appears to take him to island of Avalon to live forever as the King Who Sleeps.

(Incidentally, their names have nothing to do with each other. Morgan means "sea-born." Morrígan means "queen of shadows"; her name could also be spelled Mórrígan, which means "Great Queen." Since the Irish didn't actually write down their accents back then, we don't know.

But there's religion and there's spellcasting. If Morgan prayed, she might have prayed to the Great Queen of Shadows, whether she knew her as Bellona Morigenos, the Morrígan, or her many other names, which meant Crow, Terror and Panic.

But a witch would have needed to do more than ask nicely. She would have had to channel the power herself.

There's no archeology of what happens during a spell. All we have to go on is contemporary spellcasting, which is, to say the least, underpowered compared to what Morgan had. For that we have to turn to contemporary witchcraft, known as Wicca.

When a modern witch casts a spell, she (or he) generally casts a circle. It's intended to focus the powers she raises. Then she calls on the powers of earth, air, fire and water. There doesn't have to be a visible circle; the chalk and the knife and the candles are there to help the witch focus. She invokes these powers into her circle and into herself.

From there she channels the energies into the working she hopes to do. Witchcraft is about changing reality.

Most of the witches I know are trying to change their own reality. You don't have to believe their spells change the rules of the universe. It's enough if they change themselves. If a love spell makes a witch more confident, it may lead to more love.

Morgan would have had far greater power, power to rupture time or open the gates to other places across the Veil between Seen and Unseen. The book is an attempt to imagine how that would have felt to her. It's not a question of having a wand and saying the right words. It's a question of becoming a gateway for immense, primal powers; and having the discipline to control those powers and shut the gateway afterwards.

Morgan would have had two religions, I guess. She would have had a goddess she worshipped. I like to think that was the Morrígan. And then she would have been in touch directly with the powers. They have no names.

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1 Comments:

Really good!!!

By Blogger Elizabeth B., at March 7, 2011 at 3:14 PM  

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