EoPOn the nature of Sovereignty
In the history of our language, the meanings of words tend to migrate. For example, when I was a young man, just about everyone politically to the left of the Klan was proud to proclaim themselves as being "feminist". Well, that was the 70’s. Since then, the Reaganite conservative backlash of the 1980’s and its wildfire takeover of our culture thereafter so altered popular attitudes to many so-called "liberal" topics that it actually redefined parts of the American lexicon. Persons who came of age after that period were subtly taught by this trend in our language to be made uncomfortable by words like "feminist" or "liberal", perhaps in much the same way that the previous generation was cultured to squirm when confronted with words like "patriotism" or "morality".
In our Neopagan subculture we work with the power of words like witch, pagan, shaman or druid, changing and even inverting their traditional meanings, hoping to reclaim the power once stolen from them by the advent of Christianity. Such lexicon-shuffling makes sense to us as insiders but continues to baffle those on the outside in the general culture. Trends like this, along with the examples mentioned above, started out representing the politics of those who initiated the change, yet later we find the changes being propagated along in the common language, by those relatively unaware of the words’ essential or traditional usage.
Another linguistic trend for us to consider is the effect of using terms outside of their original contexts, in a metaphorical or even hyperbolic sense, often as a means to represent an aspect of the self or a new perspective on certain psychological issues. "Spiritual Warrior" and "(Urban) Shaman" spring forward as familiar examples. Which, brings us a little closer to our main topic....
* What is sovereign?
* Who is sovereign?
* Who is a sovereign?
* What is a sovereign?
Look closely. For a start, there we have four uses: implying at least four definitions with significant distinctions between them, some of which are very different than the others. Let it suffice that they all share one primary concept: rulership.
In our Druidic studies, the definitions we most often encounter are those used in anthropology and the study of society. The role and symbols of sovereignty are of great interest in Indo-European Studies and considered key to understanding one of the main components of the much-touted threefold division of the IE worldview and societal structure Dumezil called the Tripartite Ideology.
Georges Dumezil described the IE society as having rested on the shoulders of the farmers and tradesfolk, who he referred to as the Producers (keyword: Fecundity), working in service-to and protected by the Warriors (keyword: Force), lorded over and guided by a dual top function he called Sacred Sovereignty. This was comprised of the shared rulership of a Magician-King, in concert with a powerful Jurist-Priest. To me, the clearest example of this is the one I never seem to find in the literature: the medieval kingship of England, described as a Divine Kingship with it’s formalized sharing of power with the Archbishop of Canterbury. Arthur and Merlin also come to mind. The King (or Queen) as an individual, represented the embodiment of the nation of people, magically wed to the land itself. This sacred relationship was tended and sustained through the stewardship of the chief priest as interpreter of sacred law, constantly informing the actions of the ruler with the will of the gods.
So is sovereignty just a matter of rulership at the top of a societal structure? Well certainly there are other uses for the term and more are being spun up all the time. The socio-political definition we just discussed has much room for exploration at the mythic level; for a thorough treatment of the subject as it appears in the Mabinogion and Arthurian lore, see Caitlin Matthews’ book Arthur and the Sovereignty of Britain. Dumezil’s book Mitra-Varuna is one of his most focused studies of the dual role of Sacred Sovereignty.
In the psychology of personality and the mystical systems for personal self-knowledge and transformation such as Magick and Alchemy, sovereignty is seen less as a goddess or sacred role in society but rather as an element of the self, one through which we reclaim the right to the wholeness of the self and the invincibility of the self-actualized individual. The notion of becoming personally sovereign, recovering full rulership of one’s self, is potentially a healing and liberating prospect for the mystic in us all.
Lughnassad and the Rites of Sovereignty
So how does Sovereignty come to figure so prominently in Neodruidic rites for Lughnassad? Why Lughnassad? In previous articles I have spoken of the essential need for our rites to combine ancient tradition with a seasonal theme to assure that the rite functions in a way that makes some sense to the modern soul. Not simply cobbling together a bogus "historical reenactment" from a bunch of fragments but striving to create something that is symbolically and mythically functional at many levels, we incorporate the powerful effect of rooting it in the seasonal calendar of our lives. Thereby the seasonal connection can be used as a personal metaphor for the current cycle in one’s development or life-passages.
Each of the eight intervals on the Wheel of the Year is like a step along the pathway of a lifetime, the seasons of a life. Through this pattern we can find our way at many symbolic levels, transitioning from one stage to another. The Year becomes a great emblem of all cycles great and small and we see ourselves inextricably woven into its turning.
A sacred marriage to "The Work"...
Now he who in Spring’s early glow
Trod hard cold fields to plow and sow
Returns again, their pact to keep
And standing midst the grain so deep,
Draws back his scythe an arc full wide
To strike the knell of Lammastide! - Earrach ©1994
"The Work" is one’s spiritual role in this lifetime and its external or worldly manifestation, be it raising millions of dollars around the world to end human suffering, or by simply being the very best shoemaker we personally have the capacity of being. It may be the job by which you make your living, it may be the way you ride your bicycle – but it is something which reaches beyond you to leave the world better for having had you in it.
What "The Work" –is-, for you, comes to you through the eyes of your soul. Although it bears a sense of responsibility it is ultimately not an unwelcome burden to our heart, for, if it is a burden, it is not The Work. It is that which you cannot help but do, and for many of us it is that which we are already doing. It might be said that, given the best of our personal skills and resources at hand, it is the holy-work we each are doing at every moment throughout our lives.
At Lughnassadh then, ours is an annual rite of self-dedication, affirmation or renewal-of one’s personal submission to the call of this spiritual responsibility. It is in this rite that we remember, actualize, and celebrate the joys of our skills in action. Like Lugh and Sovereignty his bride, we accept and welcome the responsibility presented to us by our skills; we accept our "calling"... we come to be wed to the work...
Following the living mystery in the nested metaphor: "a day is a year, is a lifetime" we can see our lives now at Lammastide, as the grain stands ready for the Harvester’s return, the divine role of the long awaited responsibility for our own Dharma or sacred life-work is presented before us: an initiation for ourself, unto our Self. Wed to the Work, we take up the scythe and wade into the fields of harvest before us.
Of horses, fairs, and the bridled bride,
the King takes a bride and
the beggars approach the table
of the newlywed sovereigns...
To the Celts, Lughnassad, seems to have been a gathering of the tribes, a time not only for for horse-trading and various competitions but we also find a persistent theme of weddings, particularly weddings of state and investitures. One somewhat obscure citation has Lugh, the golden Lord of All Skills, wedded to Aine or Eire on this feast, hence the name: "the Wedding Games of Lugh". Through this investiture, the divine wedding of the monarch to the land, the celestial realm of the divinities is linked with the fertile, chthonic power of the Earth and those who dwell below. Symbolic of that union and of the nation as the union of the people and the land, Sovereignty, honored as a goddess, emerges from the lore of many IE cultures. The goddesses Eire, Britannia, and perhaps even our own Lady Liberty have more life to them than the metal in our pockets which has borne their images over the centuries. It is no accident that in the common language, the term "sovereigns" also referred to coinage, for whether it had the king’s head upon it or the queen’s, or the very symbol of the Union which their role served, the spirit for which it stood was always Her...
Apprehending our Local Goddess of Sovereignty
I don’t think there’s a more telling moment in our grove work every year than in late July when, following our annual theme of honoring the Feast of Lugh as the Sacred Marriage of the Lord of All Skills to the Lady of the Sovereignty of the Land, we always seem to briefly falter, finding ourselves confounded by the notion that even if it is possible to find legitimate personal spiritual connections to the pan-Celtic Lugh-Lamfadha, the Samildinach ("all-skilled"), that, when we try to personally apprehend his queen, Eriu("Eire") as the personification of the Sovereignty of the Land – we recognize that "the Land" referred-to therein is not that which we know as "the Land"… no, that’s not our land; that's the land of Ireland, far away and long ago….
Is there a way of contacting Sovereignty, the very identity of the place in which we live, not as the land alone but as a personified collective expression of the land, in combination with the people of that land, as… "Her" ?
Images of Goddesses of Sovereignty are much more familiar to us than we may at first assume. It is no coincidence that in the old days many coins were referred to as "sovereigns", these stately ladies show up frequently on the coinage of many of the western nations throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. The UK had its enduring matriarchal emblem in their lady Brittania, Ireland has Eire, the US has Lady Liberty and/or Columbia. The French have their own figure of Liberte’ which of course is closely related to their massive gift to our nation, our Statute of Liberty.
In a number of ways these characters speak to us as having some substance, some functionality, some obscure sense of legitimacy. Somehow one gets the impression that these images are not mere neoclassical stylistic affectations for the amusement of numismatists. They are meant to be meaningful to us as a people, as citizens of a nation.
As old fashioned as they seem, these images do still function on a huge, national scale but, at personal level, they fail to adequately support the expression of the spirit or "persona" of a specific region within the nation. Nonetheless, I believe we tend to spontaneously create spirit-constructs to represent these regions, particularly those within which we live. Terms like "back-home", "hometown", "where I come-from" and, for us, like many other areas of the country, there is the ubiquitous "the Tri-State Area"… belying a packet of semi-conscious images that pop into our heads, images that could just as easily be represented if summed-up as it were by a single anthropomorphic figurehead….
For example, in my town many of us remember an old time local political cartoonist’s character, "Pa-Pitt" as an exact example of what I’m talking about. Well, how much of a jump is it from there to creating ("revealing"?) a larger, more attractive and spiritually charged egregore into which "She" may step and abide? You see, we would not really be "making her up"; anyone who has reached out already knows She is already here, we simply have to give her an accessible and appropriate form in which to manifest to the eye of our hearts.
Where is She?
Spiritual agencies tend to manifest in liminality – transitional boundaries – places where one thing becomes another. This is a principle borne out in the ways of cultures around the world and is particularly active in the lore of the Indo-European peoples. Springs and wells, cave entrances, even doorways where inside become outside… all are considered sacred places with particular powers and magical functions. I have long held the opinion that consciousness itself exists at the liminal boundary of the outer and inner worlds at the very point of their contact. Although each is dependent on the other, experience, self-knowledge, "being" itself manifests where, and only truly where the two come in contact and interact. What would such obscure musings offer our discussion? What would be seen as "liminal" about the land?
The actual point of contact, the generator of this liminality, is the interface between a region and its inhabitants… the human/topographical interface. This interaction is what begets the spirit of the landscape. Remember, "She" arises, not from the land itself, but from our action upon and interaction with the land. The land gives us life and we live upon it – there would be no reason for this type of spirit to manifest if we weren’t here – She has as much to do with us as She does with the Land itself.
To Touch the Face of Our Goddess
Sovereignty does not exist without the land,
nor does it exist without the people...
The King is the people’s representative.
The Lady of Sovereignty is the land's.
How can we authentically come in contact with something like this? A goddess who represents our regional identity? Could she ever "speak" to us in words of her own and not just words we project into our own experience? What would we have to offer Her? What blessings could she bestow upon us? I would suggest that we might look to a pattern as old as the oldest place-names known to humanity, place-names by which people defined themselves and their territory. These names were most often the names of the great rivers that defined their local topography and those river-names were also the names of the primary goddesses by which the people defined their tribal identities.
Caution: Sixth-Grade science class ahead...
Let’s take our exploration a little further and see how my local group and I have used this set of principles based on the topography of my own region, and as you follow along, think of how you could map a similar psychic process onto the characteristics of your own region. Bear with me, I promise that if you do, I’ll have made it worth your time…
Those of us who grew up in our area were conditioned to see our local landscape as being a mass of "hills". It seems so implicitly true that we Western Pennsylvanians are hill-dwellers. But, as a matter of fact, it’s wrong. The truth is quite different and understanding the difference is absolutely essential to being able to see "Her" more clearly.
One has to travel 30 miles east of Pittsburgh to encounter the first true local "hills" and those are at the foot of Chestnut Ridge, the westernmost wrinkle of the country’s oldest mountain chain, the Appalachian Mountains. Geologically speaking, everything west of that easterly leaning north-south line is a flat plain. Or at least it started out that way.
So, we Pittsburghers and Western Pennsylvanians do not live in "hills"; we live in valleys! Yes, what was once a great flat plain (or sea-floor) a million years ago was worn down over the hundreds of thousands of years into what is now a very old, very worn-down canyon. All you need to do to see the old plain is to go to the very top of any of the highest locations in the area. From these vantage points we can see the otherwise disassociated flat-topped sections of the original plain, all sharing a generally common maximum elevation. And what separates them all? A network of thousands of valleys, all made simply by running water, going where running water goes: down. Down the thousands of rivulets leading to the hundreds of minor streams, leading down to the dozens of major streams and minor rivers, down, to the three great rivers which define "Her". And us.
These are not just the contours of her body. They are the lines of her face. For what is a face but a liminality itself? The mass of a head terminates at its surface with a set of topological characteristics that we recognize as the interface of "head" and "not-head" and the most meaningful part of that transitional boundary? We call that a face…
The topographic character of a region and the network of modalities in which humans interact with that landscape makes up the great "being" that manifests at its very surface:
"She" – yes, She with whom we are so very much in touch when we stand at the nexus of the A, the M, and The O *.
(c) 2004, Earrach of Pittsburgh
* A, M, O... ???
For those of you not familiar with our area, the A the M and the O are the three rivers which give Pittsburgh its topographic identity. The city is framed in the triangle at the confluence of the (A) Allegheny River coming in from the north and the (M) Monongehela River coming up from the south, thereby creating the (O) Ohio River which proceeds-out to the west. Any sensitive person walking in Point State Park, at their very confluence, feels its power (some are positively overwhelmed), and those of us who have ever gone there to do actively spiritual work or actual rituals are amazed at how the magical potential of the site magnifies or feeds-into the work. Surely when you think about your region there is some symbolic focal point or geodetic radiant that has already been used by generations as a regional "anchor" like the Point is for us?