What the Goddess said to me in Alabama

My companions on this trip Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis and Rev. Peter Heltzel, Auburn Fellows, outside the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church.

By Courtney Weber Hoover

The fish were jumping and the turtles turtle-ing. I was happy. So many rivers shoring cities are devoid of life, yet the Alabama River was teeming it. It gave me hope. I thought of the Morrigan, an Irish Goddess of battle, who trysted annually with Her husband at a river, where once they made plans to destroy their people’s oppressors. It’s my favorite love story.

I did not yet know that it was Confederate Memorial Day.

Later, when I learned, I walked up through the town with two faith leader activists. Our plan was to march around Montgomery’s capitol building in protest of state holiday commemorating the Confederacy. My colleagues envisioned bringing down the Walls of Jericho. I whispered a prayer to the god Lugh who drove oppressors out of his land, aided by the Morrigan.
As you struck out the evil eye of old Balor, so may we strike this old evil out of our country…

It was a tiny but meaningful protest, drawing on our individual traditions for the same goal.

Montgomery’s streets are full of painful memories. The Alabama riverbank was the site where enslaved people – African or of African descent – were brought ashore after being trafficked south. I hadn’t known that until I read a plaque, and I’d felt ashamed for enjoying peace in a place that caused so much pain. They were marched up Commerce Street, named for their enslavers’ profits, the same street we walked to the capitol. Commerce Street passes a magnificent fountain, in the same place of the former auction block. Montgomery is also full of hopeful memories—plaques commemorating Rosa Parks and other civil rights activists. Just blocks from the capitol, which remains ringed by Confederate memorabilia, sits the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church where Dr. King Jr. planned the Montgomery bus boycott.

As we passed the church, a large black bird soared over the steeple. It was a raven, a buzzard, or the biggest crow I’ve ever seen and it circled above us before gliding off into the evening. To the Celts, the raven or crow could be ominous. It symbolized battle. Then again, the bird could be an ally for the righteous. The bird is associated with the Morrigan. Maybe the Goddess appeared above the church.

Celtic myths are full of contradictions and dead-ends. They don’t always offer guidance. They rarely offer answers. But there is one myth of the Morrigan I meditated on as we approached the capitol.

The Morrigan’s people, the Tuatha De, were heavily engaged in a battle against their oppressive enemy-the Fomorians. The Fomorians forced the Tuatha to toil from dawn until dusk. When the god Lugh asked the Morrigan what she had to offer the warriors, she replied, “What I shall follow, I shall hunt.” The battle was nearly over and the warriors tired when She summoned their own kings to battle:

I see all who are born in the blood-zealous vigorous battle, raging on the battlefield with blade scabbards. They attempt our defeat over our own great torrents. Against your attack on the full complement of the Fomorians, in the mossy margins the helpful raven drives strife to our hardy hosts…”

Morrigan by Joseph Christian Leyendecker

I know what I shall follow. But how shall I hunt? I asked myself as I looked up at the enormous, gaudy statue of Jefferson Davis. Again, I thought of the Morrigan. It was Her voice that rallied the warriors to finish their battle and drive their enemies to the sea. She did not have to raise a weapon, herself. Yet her words drove the enemy away. The myth is too large to fit into this piece, but earlier in the story, healers, smiths, holy people, and the “many-skilled God” are credited as crucial to planning the battle. What do I do? I ensure social justice leaders have comfortable beds, nourishing food, and drama-free transportation to the Auburn convenings designed to support them. My job is to make them comfortable. My goal is to help them know they are loved. Those are my many-skills to offer. And like the Morrigan, I can use my voice through my writing such as with this piece.

In Witchcraft, to effect change we start with intention. The best spells are cast with specificity and vision. I envisioned the Confederate flags lowered and removed. In my mind, I saw the Davis statue carted away and monuments to Dr. King and Ms. Parks raised in its place. The monuments don’t simply reflect a history—they hold the shape of the collective mindset. They are more than cold, stone symbols. They infuse their spirit into our now.

I envisioned that day and I envisioned the celebration that would follow. And I thought of the Morrigan’s prayer upon defeat of Her people’s oppressors:

Peace to sky, sky to earth. Earth below sky, strength in each one. I see cups overfull filled with honey, and sufficiency of renown. Have I a story, you ask? I tell you a story of peace to the sky, be it so lasting to the ninth generation.”

But then the Morrigan offered this chilling prophecy:

I shall not see a world which will be dear to me…sad mouths, forests without mast, sea without produce, tower wall of white metal, a multitude of storms around bare fortresses…Welcome to the future world’s evil: howling occupies every face, great unbelievable torments, many crimes, battles waged everywhere. It shall be an evil time…”

Morrigan by Stephen Reid-Eleanor Hull

The old Irish myths are teaching tales, told so long ago that we no longer know precisely what the lesson was meant to be. I embrace this as a warning against taking victories for granted. The Morrigan celebrated Her people’s battle and promised peace for nine generations, but warned them to be vigilant—perhaps against injustice—so that the evil they’d already experienced would not return.

I sat with the myth as I looked at the Confederate monuments, knowing they would one day come down and knowing there would be celebration. But celebration is not the end. This is not a film and the credits will not roll on a happy ending. Victory gives way to more work, more diligence.

Dr. King said the “Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Within that arc, there will be set-backs but also victories. The Morrigan’s myth reminds us that we have a choice, always. We can let our celebrated victories be our end note and risk losing what we’ve gained, or we can celebrate our victories without losing ourselves into them or our sight on the end goal of justice.

I hope I embrace the latter in our future victories. I have hope that I will. I have hope.

* The Morrigan’s speech beginning Kings arise to battle…” adapted from I. Carmody’s translation which can be found at:https://storyarchaeology.com/poems-of-the-morrigan/ The Morrigan’s prophecies of peace and destruction adapted from M. Daimler’s translation, whichcan be found at: http://lairbhan.blogspot.ie/2014/10/translating-untranslated-morrigans.html

Courtney Weber Hoover is the Director of Program Operations for Auburn. She is a Wiccan Priestess, Tarot Adviser, and author of the books Brigid: History, Mystery, and Magick of the Celtic Goddess and Tarot for One: The Art of Reading for Yourself.

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