Maeve (aka the Celtic Mary Magdalen) on Elections, transcribed by Elizabeth Cunningham

You are a poet and a seer. Say you are a V.I.P (very important poet; in the first century CE when I lived such a thing was possible). Because of your poetic prowess, your ability to go between the worlds and see into the heart of the matter, it has fallen upon you to seek a vision. Who will be the new leader of the tribe?  Here is no simple matter of primogeniture. Here no ballots to be counted or stolen. No one has had to endure televised political conventions or candidate debates. It goes hardest for the sacrificial bull, who has been slaughtered and must be consumed—by you, sometimes raw, sometimes cooked, depending on local tradition. In either case, you consume the flesh and blood of the sacred bull. Then you are wrapped in its still-bloody hide. You fall into a trance, you dream….

My name is Maeve (rhymes with brave). I came to be known as Mary Magdalen. (How that happened is a long and exciting story, but not the subject of today’s post.) I am taking Elizabeth’s place to make some commentary from my first century perspective as you twenty-first century Americans prepare to elect new leaders. (You hope you will be electing them. I’d trust poets in bloody bull hides over electronic voting machines any day.) The rite described above, called the tarbhfleis or bull-sleep, was used to select the kings of Tara. The Celts counted wealth in cattle, so the bull was revered. The Gallic god Esus (as the druids called Jesus) was associated with the sacrificial bull. The infamous Queen Maeve of Connacht (for whom I am named), that champion of women’s sovereignty, went to war over a bull that defected from her herds to her husband’s. People said that the bull did not want to be ruled by a woman. Those were fighting words for Queen Maeve. 

There is another Celtic tale of king-making that is worth considering when in your time women’s sovereignty over their own bodies is once again at stake. Five brothers went out into the forest to prove their worth to be king. Each went in turn to seek water from a sacred well guarded by a fearsome hag who demanded a kiss in exchange for water. Three brothers refused and went away thirsty. A fourth grudgingly complied and was granted a grudging prophecy of limited success for his line. Only the fifth brother kissed her in full measure. Before his eyes the hag turned into a beautiful woman. “Who are you?” he asked. She answered, “King of Tara, I am Sovereignty.”  *(see note for source)

Among Celts of my time, Lady Sovereignty was a goddess, you might say the goddess (though we didn’t know from monotheism) because she was the land itself, alive, conscious, responsive, the ground and giver of all life. If a ruler was not in right relation with the land, he or she could not rule. Power literally had grass roots; it came from the earth.  It was the task of poets to challenge a corrupt ruler and to foresee (as they did in the custom of the Bull Sleep) a just one.

Did Bull Sleep always work? I don’t claim to know.  (I was exiled when I was fifteen for interfering with human sacrifice. (Remember Esus?)  I spent a lot of my life looking for my lost beloved. I found him and accompanied him on his ministry, witnessing his steadfast refusal to be made king. I returned to the Holy Isles in my old age to witness the last stand of my daughter Boudica, a great, tragic Celtic queen.) But it is worth noting that your elections take place in the season of Samhain, the Celtic New Year when the veil between the worlds is thin.  At this time, messages can come from the dead and from the future generations. Listen.  Cast a vote for the earth, for her sovereignty. Dream deep and seek visions. Be bold outspoken poets. Have courage!

*Account of this story comes from Celtic Heritage by Alwyn Rees and Brinley Rees, Thames and Hudson, 1961, reprinted 1991.

Elizabeth Cunningham is best known for The Maeve Chronicles, a series of award-winning novels featuring the feisty Celtic Magdalen who is nobody’s disciple. An ordained interfaith minister, Cunningham is in private practice as a counselor. She is also the director of the Center at High Valley where she celebrates the Celtic Cross Quarter Days. She lives in New York State’s Hudson Valley. For more: and

Categories: Politics, Women's Spirituality

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18 replies

  1. When I voted in the Greek elections in May and June, I voted for the earth,and the earth lost… In this election, I held my nose and voted for Obama, who is a liberal hawk with no intention to cut the military budget substantially, and who fell all over himself in the last debate to tell the American people that he is doing more drilling for “fossil fuels” than G W Bush! I wish I had heard of the progressive strategy that says that in states where there is “no contest” either way b/w Romney and Obama, vote Green! I wish I had done that, because I am “sick to death” of voting for Democratic candidates who (against Eisenhower’s warning) support the military industrial complex and refuse to recognize that as we f*** Mother Earth, we are killing our children’s children along with her. As I said in the Greek election, people and the environment cannot be separated… Unfortunately in the US 2 party system, I have never had the option in the over 40 years I have been voting, of voting against the military and for the earth!!!!!!! What is wrong with this picture??????


  2. Hello, Carol! Yes, I was horrified by that exchange over fossil fuels, too. Yes, we are made of earth. We keep forgetting that. Thanks for all your truth-speaking, sister!


  3. The night of November 7, 2000, I was pregnant with my son – a boy later born under the sign of Taurus. When the state I live in went first to Al Gore, and then was contested and handed to George Bush, I feared and grieved for the life of the child inside me and of all the Mother’s children who would have to pay for this act of injustice. We as a nation are still paying for this. On the night of November 4, 2008, I literally *felt* a “puzzle piece” snap in place when my county – an extremely “red” county – went to Barack Obama. I breathed a sigh of relief, knowing that we were back on the right track…we just had to let the train leave the station and move forward from where we were blowing steam for the past eight years.

    I understand your reluctance, Carol, but unfortunately, we have not yet arrived at a place of peace where injustice no longer holds us back. Military might is equivalent to “strength” in the mindsets of many, and politicians must speak in terms of that language, or not be heard at all. We have a long way to go, the bodhisattvas will not be entering nirvana any time soon, but we must persevere and work within the parameters we are given, one small step at a time.


  4. I, too, have already voted and voted for Obama because the alternative is even worse–for women and for the planet. It’s good to hear from Maeve again. Good for her for being so thoughtful. Brava!


  5. Thank you, Barbara. May Lady Sovereignty be with us all!


  6. “Power literally had grass roots; it came from the earth.” Mmmm. I like this. Just imagine!


  7. Maeve, I just received an e-mail from you and Elizabeth, for which many thanks! I’ve already commented on this wonderful post on Facebook, but let me just say again–thank you for encouraging me to regard this election in a new way. I’d never before connected Samhain with the American habit of voting at that time of year. Was also very glad to hear that all is well with Elizabeth and that work is progressing on the new novel!


  8. Yours is such a potent voice, Maeve – I only wish more people (men & women alike) heard you and could learn from your perspective. Please give my best to Elizabeth when you see her!


  9. Sadly the continued search for fossil fuel will not help the country nor it’s people. Love hearing Maeve.


  10. A truly inspired post, Elizabeth [Maeve]. I too will be voting for Obama with some trepidation as Carol and Barbara said. I believe it is time to come together, all of us and create a new political way of moving forward in concert with Earth Mother and humankind alike. A long road ahead, but plenty of good company to keep each other going and on track. Blessed Be.


  11. I finished teaching a Spider Woman (Hopi) myth and how she saved mankind, and then read this wonderful Maeve piece! I completely agree that it is our task as poets to challenge the corrupt rulers and forsee a just one. Thank you for reminding us.


  12. Here is to the poets. I know you are one. Right on, write on!


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