The Morrigan watches with crossed arms as I scrape and scrabble at the stones of my tower. I have dislodged a few, loosened a couple more, but there are so many I am afraid to count them for fear I’ll give up this foolish quest. My fingers bleed; sweat drips down my face; I am exhausted and aching and angry. Good, the Morrigan says. You should be angry. Look at this prison! Think of how long it has trapped you; think how long it will take to tear down. Embrace your anger so you never let anyone, especially yourself, place one new stone on its foundation. I want to tell Her I’m too tired to continue – but then a little light shines through the gaps now, a cool breeze flutters in, and the hunger for freedom renews my strength. I know I can do this. Slowly but surely I will dismantle this tower so it can never entomb me again.
The gods appear to us in the forms they choose for a reason.
Bast appears to me close at hand as if I’m a small child and She’s holding me in Her arms. She is an older woman with a face graced always by a gentle, loving smile. Freckles are scattered across her cheeks like stars and perpetual laugh lines gather at the corners of her golden eyes. She is muscled yet soft, in the way a woman who has given birth to many children is simultaneously rounded and strengthened. Her dress is of white linen, Her jewelry of gold, amethyst, and lapis lazuli. Her dark hair is woven through with beads and charms which jingle softly when She moves. She is the quintessential mother goddess with a soft breast to cry on and strong shoulders to lean on. I can feel in Her embrace the latent energy of the war goddess, and know She could change in a heartbeat if any danger came my way, yet to me She always appears in this maternal form.
Inanna appears to me veiled in red silk and firelight so I may only see Her soft belly and pendulous breasts and that sacred place between Her hips for which songs were sung. Sometimes I catch a glimpse of red hair, full lips, a proud hawk nose, but otherwise Her specific features remain uncertain. She is almost close enough to touch but always just out of reach, the way a dancer moves away from your embrace with the fluidity of water. Her face is hidden in shadow and because of this She might be any of the wild, unbound goddesses men have tried to shame for eons: Inanna, Ishtar, Lilith, Babylon the Great. She takes this form so I must face Her innate physicality; if I want to work with Her, I cannot avoid Her divine flesh.
The Morrigan appears to me only from afar as a shadowed figure backlit by heavy red skies. I cannot make out Her face but I can feel the weight of Her gaze, the immensity of Her presence. She is tall and thin as a finely honed blade, and like a blade there is a patient tension in Her form, a promise of deadly grace. She has long, dark hair, I think, and pale skin. She is not young; if I could get closer I would see lines on that gaunt face, especially at the corners of Her mouth and between Her eyebrows. Neither, though, is She frail; beneath Her dark cloak is a body spare yet strong as steel. This is all the Morrigan will let me see just now: the sovereign of the battlefield, the goddess of war and bone.
The gods appear to us in the forms they choose for a reason. What these forms show us – and do not show us – always hints at what we have to learn from them. Bastet is my mother; Inanna is my mentor; the Morrigan is my guide down a dark road.
The river calls to me and I see it sliding through the land like a black snake beneath a leaden sky. At its banks an old woman kneels. Her garb is dark and her bent back hides her face, but I sense underneath a body wrought in steel. Her callused hands grip blood-soaked clothes; I watch as she beats them on the rocks and scours them on the sand until the waters run red, red, red. I know this river, I think. I know those clothes. I know that woman. I think I know what this means. Oh Washer at the Ford, what does your river hold for me? Oh Mistress of Dark Waters, where will your river carry me? I am ready for those cold waves to close over my head, to pluck at my body as they pull me swiftly past distant banks. Wash away the stains I bear, river! Carry away my old fears, scrub off my old cares, drown and discard my old selves! I give myself up to your flow. I give myself up to the Washer at the Ford.
the Morrigan throws the Hierophant at me (why do you let yourself be bound by useless convention?) and empty fortune cookies (do you think I will just hand the answers to you?) and in my dreams I soar high on black wings while in mud puddles a thousand feet below She writes great wisdom I cannot read (shit happens), and thus is the nature of Her worship
and in doing so to dismantle the prison tower of my own creation
and to build in its place a watchtower to stand against the darkness.
I offer my determination if You offer your strength.
I offer my sincerity if you offer Your guidance.
I offer my faith if you offer Your goodwill.
And by this oath for a year and a day are we bound.
I ask the Morrigan what side of Her I need to better understand and She shows me the Five of Pentacles. Traditionally this card portrays a ragged individual huddled in the snow outside a stone building, their gaunt features highlighted by warm light pouring from a nearby window. I realized when the Morrigan gave me this card that I make several automatic assumptions based on the image. First, that this person is a soldier, with the bandages on their arms or legs suggesting wounds earned in battle. Second, that this stone edifice they shelter beside is a church with a service currently in session. And third, that this soldier stands in the snow outside the church, begging for a coin or bite of bread, because the church refuses to succor them. Why these assumptions? I do not know, but I feel they are the core of the Morrigan’s message regardless of the card’s classical interpretation. To me, the Five of Pentacles shows how the church has turned away this old soldier and yet the Morrigan stands with him in the cold darkness. After the war ends, after the victories and defeats have faded to mere history, the Morrigan remembers all those who fought on both sides. She remembers – and She understands. She understands the ache of old wounds which refuse to heal. She understands the weight of memories too dark to share with loved ones. She understands the difficulty of returning to a society that values war yet devalues those who must wage it. The Morrigan is not only a goddess of battle; She is a goddess of war, and war does not end just because one has left the battlefield.
Lightning did strike, though of course not in the way I expected. It was a flash of illumination, not destruction, and it revealed my tower in all its fearful glory. I knew then that the Morrigan had no intention of tearing down that tower – she intends me to do it. Brick by brick, inch by inch, I will dig at the mortar until my nails are cracked and bleeding. I have been building this tower all my life, though my work began in earnest when my father died eleven years ago. To dismantle my tower I will need to deal with the grief I locked away inside. And that is correct and right, I know it in my heart. After all, what do you learn from someone else doing the heavy lifting?
Still, part of me longs for the quick, crushing swing of the wrecking ball.