Dark eyes, the color of rich, loamy soil, hold my gaze. “Would you run for me?”
The woman’s voice spills across my shoulders and down my back before drifting upon the breeze. The green grass of a running field stretches to my left. Out of view, horses chuff and stamp their hooves upon fertile earth. Her earth. Her body trembles from their touch. I know. That tremor spills through me, too.
I lower my gaze and drop gently to my knees. My fingers press against Her warm earth and I exhale, my voice a whisper. “Mother Macha…”
The Celts, the Goddess and Sovereignty
The Goddess stands at the heart of the Celtic mystical tradition. For practitioners of Druidry and Celtic shamanism, Her faces offer familiar contours and refuges, encountered at every turn. We see Her in the land, the wells, the forge, the hearth fire. She shines Her light upon us night and day through Her orbs—the Moon, the Sun, even the Milky Way. She is the food we eat, the air we breathe, the water we drink.
She is the ever-present mother, the great womb, the source of all life. Her heartbeat nourishes us, guides us and, ultimately, calls us home.
We live in constant relationship with Her and the list of goddesses’ names in the Celtic tradition is, therefore, extensive. She whispers to us through the voice of Dána, Ériu, Bríde, Rhiannon, Arianrhod… and so many others. While every goddess of the tradition opens doorways to initiations and awakenings that carry us to the depths of our souls, the Celtic goddess who calls us to true center is Lady Sovereignty.
Sovereignty, as a word and a concept, may seem rather far-removed from the day-to-day life of modern practitioners. For our Celtic ancestors, however, sovereignty thrummed at the heart, the very center of life.
We see confirmation of this in the old Irish story, “The Settling of Tara.” This text presents the Great Wheel of Life of the Celtic tradition. Like medicine wheels in other shamanic cultures, the Celtic Wheel of Life establishes the unique energies and qualities of the Airds—the sacred directions of north, east, south, west and center—as well as the intrinsic alignments of life and land. In this text, the druid Fintan tells us:
And sovereignty dwells in the Center, where we are in right standing with our destiny, the people around us, and the earth beneath us, as it has always been, as it will be from now until the end of time. (MacEowen 2007)
For a king of Celtic lands, the relationship with sovereignty goes even deeper. In the Celtic tradition, the goddess of the land, the very soul of the land, is called Sovereignty. To be a king according to the ancient ways was to marry the land, to align individual soul with the soul of the land, with Lady Sovereignty, through the sacred marriage.
Yet the Celtic Wheel of Life reminds us—sovereignty does not pertain only to kings and kingship. Being sovereign requires more than just ruling. It arises out of being responsible, accountable, while living in a way that upholds right relationship, maintains the sacred harmony and mediates balance within ourselves and the world around us. Cultivating sovereignty is the center, the heart blood, the destiny of us all.
So important is the concept of sovereignty within the tradition, each Celtic province has its own Sovereignty goddess, its own Lady Sovereignty. Ireland alone has five—Bríg (Brigid), Áine, the Mórrigan, Medb and Macha.
Macha, a Goddess of Ireland
Macha’s story is an ancient one. A goddess of the earth, she brought fertility and fecundity to the land of Ireland, especially to the land of Ulster. For eons she nurtured Her domain, bestowing loving care from Her home in the Otherworld.
Then, she fell in love.
His name was Crunnchu. A simple farmer, his tender care of Her lands won Her heart.
She moved into his small home, tended his hearth and cooked his meals. In his bed, she knew and shared deep, abiding love. He held Her with the same tenderness he showered upon Her earth. They were happy together and his farm prospered.
The seasons turned one into the other, as they do, and soon another harvest was upon them. That autumn, Crunnchu decided to attend the great assembly. Macha discouraged him. Some say she even begged him to stay home. But Crunnchu had it in his head to go. So, Macha packed a basket for him and kissed him goodbye. She herself was pregnant and too close to Her time to travel. As he stood on the threshold of their home, she made one simple request.
“Tell no one about me.”
She knew something was wrong when the king’s men arrived at Her door.
Crunnchu had boasted before all that his wife could outrun the king’s prized horses.
To be fair, some say Crunnchu was drunk at the time. But, whether true or not, it made no difference in the end. Upon hearing of this boast, the king took offense. As recompense, he demanded Macha race his horses to save Her husband’s life.
Dragged before the assembly, she begged both king and clan for pity. Surely she could not run so close to Her time. But the king refused Her plea. Invoking his title, he insisted. Macha turned to the spectators, the people living upon Her lands. She called for a champion, a single person to run in Her stead.
No one responded.
Her belly swollen to fullness, Macha ran. Before the king and clan, she raced the king’s horses and won.
But the effort took its toll. Upon the finish line, Macha went into labor and birthed twins. Heart sore, she pronounced a curse upon the people of Ulster that they should be as weak as a woman in childbirth at the time of their greatest need.
Kingship, Lady Sovereignty and the Wasteland
In the Celtic tradition, Macha represents the fertility of Ireland as a whole. As a sovereignty goddess, she is associated specifically with Ulster, the northern province of Ireland which today constitutes the bulk of Northern Ireland. Her name is etched into that land through Emhain Macha, the seat of the royal court of old Ulster.
Here the ancient kings of the north were ritually married to the goddess of the land and imbued with the power to rule, with sovereignty. And, according to Celtic tradition, so long as the king’s relationship with Lady Sovereignty remained in right relationship, in balance, the clan and their lands thrived.
But Macha was dishonored. Both the king and his clan refused to honor the goddess who protected their land, imbued their earth with fertility, bestowed and guarded their sovereignty. The sacred bond was broken. Now the earth and we suffer the consequences.
Look around you. It is easy to see the resulting imbalances. The Ulstermen of old were forced to hire a champion, Cú Chulainn, to fight for them in their hour of need. Who will fight for us?
Macha’s curse seems to grow stronger with each passing year. Seeping through Her earthly domain, possibly passed from earth goddess to earth goddess, it wails beyond the boundaries of Ulster and Ireland. Perhaps it has simply followed the wandering Irish and Scots, Ulstermen by ancestry, across the seas and from continent to continent. Today, the resulting wasteland threatens to encompass the globe. Like Lady Sovereignty in the Grail stories, Macha stands before us outraged and menacing. To borrow the words of John Matthews, Macha has become the goddess “who forces us to come to terms with our own woundedness and take action to find healing.” (Matthews 1997)
The days of sacred kings are over, yet Macha and Lady Sovereignty wait. They call to us, begging us to return to the Center of our personal Wheel of Life. They challenge us to rediscover right standing and to remember—with or without a king, cultivating sovereignty is the responsibility of us all.
This is especially true for us as shamanic practitioners within the tradition. We are the threshold walkers, the guardians of the doorways between the physical world and the world of soul. Our ancestors recognized those chosen by the Spirits, the shamanic healers and wisdom keepers of their day, as the ones who could turn the tide on behalf of the community. Like us, they were responsible for mediating balance between This World and the Otherworld to maintain sacred relationship.
Macha is waiting for us. With eternal patience, she urges us to remember and to come home to Her. In the timeless Now of the Otherworld, Macha stands, belly swollen in pregnancy, awaiting Her champion. The earth turning to wasteland around Her, she implores us to restore the sacred bond.
Would you run for Her? Would you run to restore the sacred balance between the clan and the Goddess, between humanity and Mother Earth?
Running for Macha
The ritual can be as complex or simple as you choose. You can build an altar to Macha for this work, or simply light a candle. You can even find an obliging field to lie down in, provided you can be safe from physical dangers while journeying.
Better still, should you choose to run for Macha, let Her choose the setting. For the ancient stories, like the Grail stories and Macha’s own tale, remind us—the best way to honor Lady Sovereignty is to let Her choose for Herself.
To begin the journey, connect with your primary Animal Ally or Teacher in the Otherworld. Explain that you have come to honor the Earth Mother and restore the sacred balance between clan and Goddess. Then ask—if it serves your highest good and the highest good, may you run for Macha?
This journey can be a one-time ritual. Or it could become a part of your seasonal celebrations, a journey you offer to honor the earth and the Goddess with each fire festival, every solstice and equinox, or each swelling of the moon. Discuss it with your Allies or with Macha herself. Perhaps even let Her decide.
You Are the Champion
What if the ancestors were correct? What if the actions of one person could restore balance?
The Brehon Laws and other legal texts remaining from the Celtic past clearly indicate the Celtic peoples believed in a system of redress, of restoring balance. Injuries, to reputation as well as life and limb, required recompense. Whether through a service provided, payment of an honor price, or merely public acknowledgement, the wrong had to be righted for balance to be restored. Furthermore, the responsibility for redressing any injury spread from individual, to family, to tribe before flowing outward in ever widening circles until restitution was paid.
How do we redress the wrong done to Macha? To the Goddess and Lady Sovereignty Herself? How do we make amends and heal the festering wound after so long?
As shamanic practitioners within the tradition, we can choose to mediate the balance through our own actions and restore right standing between clan and Goddess. We can pay the debt outstanding through an act of personal sovereignty.
Our ancestors responsible for the original insult have long left this earth. Now the burden of offering recompense falls upon us. We are the outflowing of their lives and we can choose to do the right thing—for Her, for us, for the future. Like a champion out of the Celtic past, we can kneel before Macha and offer to run for Her.
References & Resources
Hamilton, Claire. Maiden, Mother, Crone. 2005.
Kirkey, Jason. The Salmon in the Spring. 2009.
MacEowen, Frank. The Celtic Way of Seeing. 2007.
MacLeod, Sharon Paice. Celtic Myth and Religion. 2012.
Matthews, John. Healing the Wounded King. 1997.