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Anxiety and the Black God

A friend of mine hosted the Lughnasadh celebration for our multi-tradition ritual group, and she asked me if I’d help her out and take some speaking parts. I accepted, and I made sure to go over my lines before we gathered. We even practiced together before the ritual began, which should have meant that I was prepared for my cues and that the script should have flowed smoothly and beautifully.

Only it didn’t because naturally I missed my cue and had to stumble to find my place and get the ritual back on track while everyone waited patiently for me to get my act together. I was a little embarrassed of course, but no one really minded (or if they did they were gracious and didn’t make me feel bad.) But I’ve been thinking about this moment a lot since the ritual, held at the end of July. Maybe I missed my cue because I just wasn’t paying attention and I’m easily distracted, but I’d like to think that I missed my cue because the ritual was actually working, that the message our talented hostess was trying to share with the group was coming across to me loud and clear.

I already wrote about this ritual over at my personal blog, but like a good ritual should, it’s stuck with me over the past few weeks. As the abundant bounty of summer has shifted from July and we are now well into August and the promise of a fruitful harvest, I’ve had a lot to think about and reflect upon. I think this was an especially important ritual for me to attend (even though my participation might have been less than stellar.)

The ritual focused on spirals and changes and wheels and cycles. I’m not the most familiar with Irish mythology, but from what I understand, the holiday of Lughnasadh is named after the funeral games that Lugh created in honor to celebrate the life of Tailtiu, his foster mother. Tailtiu died after plowing all of Ireland, preparing the land for agriculture and to be used by humans.

The ritual included a description of the powers of Crom Dubh and the powers of Lugh. These are the forces which hold us back and that move us forward. They are the energies that are always circling, always spiraling, anxiety and momentum, momentum and anxiety, a push and pull of protection and fearless daring. Even though we had gone over the ritual beforehand and I had an idea what the hostess would be talking about, I found myself hanging onto her every word as she described the ancient dance of Bright Lugh and Black Crom.

She described Crom Dubh as those fears that keep us safe – don’t touch fire, don’t say that thing, don’t spend all of your money, don’t eat that food, don’t take unnecessary risks, etc. She explained that while he protects us and keeps us safe, sometimes his protective arm might stretch a little too far. As a result of Crom Dubh’s shielding reach, we don’t touch anything, we don’t say anything, we don’t trust anyone. We may be safe, sure, but our refuge may be at the expense of forward motion. Crom Dubh protects us, but maybe he’s that thing that holds us back, too.

So during this ritual (with my cue rapidly approaching and me oblivious) I started thinking and thinking and thinking. What’s holding me back? And why? What am I anxious about? Is this anxiety too much to the point that I am frozen, or is it just the right amount to keep me safe? What am I waiting to harvest, and when the right moment comes, will I be able to act?

Throughout my own personal experiences as well as my studies with social work, I’ve come to understand anxiety pretty well. It seems to plague my family, and my own fight with anxiety is a battle that I have to battle daily. But I’ve come to understand that there are different types of anxiety, and different ways to handle these different types of anxiety. A little anxiety can be a good thing. It kept our ancestors from doing stupid things like eating poisonous mushrooms, talking to strangers, or touching venomous snakes. Anxiety can be that healthy dose of mindfulness that can keep us aware, alert, and on our toes. Anxiety can keep us safe, guarding us in that luminal space between the known and unknown.

I can’t help but wonder if the ancient Irish people understood how anxiety worked, too. Perhaps they understood that anxiety can protect us, but surely they understood the dangers of too much protection, of overwhelming anxiety and the inability to move. This may be the dance of Lugh and Crom Dubh, of safety and anxiety and daringness and recklessness. As a social worker, I can’t help but wonder what the ancient Irish solution to anxiety was. It certainly wasn’t cognitive behavioral therapy or Xanax, but maybe the ancient solution to anxiety was a powerful ritual shared with a trusted community, or even chanting and poetry recited like powerful prayers. Or, like today, maybe the solution to anxiety was something as simple as words of encouragement and reassurance, understanding and patience.

Since the end of July I’ve had plenty of time to think about all of those things that I’m holding onto that are keeping me from moving forward and from enjoying my harvest. These are the blessings that Crom Dubh is keeping safe for me in his big black sack, slung across his crooked back. I can’t say that I’ve come to any specific or profound conclusions. I’m quite familiar with my own anxieties, and perhaps that means that I’ve been familiar with Crom Dubh my whole life. But anxiety has a new name, and when you know the name of a thing, you have power over that thing. So maybe anxiety doesn’t have to be so scary any more. I can appreciate my anxieties and how they protect me, but the wheel turns and turns again, and I remember that it’s also important for me to shine brightly and move forward, to step from the darkness of Black Crom and to the shining light of Bright Lugh.

I just hope I don’t miss my cue!

Post Script: Many and endless thanks and blessings to my dear Druid, Heather Watson, for hosting such a lovely and meaningful ritual, and for allowing me to share her beautiful words.

This is the voice of Crom Dubh, the King Beneath the Mound.
This is the voice of your will to live,
Your strong and steadfast guardian.
Yesterday we may have suffocated under the weight of him
Tomorrow we may struggle in his grip
But tonight we thank him.
Give Crom Dubh your gift as he passes
Look into his eyes and give him your thanks.
You are the treasure he guards.
You are infinitely fragile and infinitely valuable,
And Crom Dubh does not surrender, does not abandon, does not yield.
Crom Dubh is always with you,
Guarding you from the vast darkness of chaos and change that seethes just below your feet,
Warding and protecting you from whatever it is that you fear most.

You can find more of Heather’s work at this link.

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