Morgana, Gardnerian High Priestess.
By Annemarie Skjold, June 2002
High Priestess Morgana is no megalomaniac potentate wielding the rod of traditionalism over the backs of her followers, but is rather the gentle voice that guides from within; quietly dissolving authoritarian ideology with a sphinx-like smile.
The first thing to learn about Morgana – breadwinner, wife, mother, international co-ordinator for the Pagan Federation – is that she has never in her life conformed to establishment precepts. She has no difficulty deciding which hat – or robe – to wear, there’s only one robe! Whatever the task, it’s just another fold of the same garment; she is following her Goddess heart, mind and soul. Her special gift is an inspired intuition fired by a desire to help people find their potential. This, for Morgana, has always been more important than fitting into any role.
It was this feeling for people that started her off on her journey of spiritual discovery. Leaving the UK in 1974, for three years she taught handicapped children at a secluded Anthroposophical school in Holland – a reclusive opportunity for personal growth and spiritual awareness. It was here that she met future husband Merlin, who had begun investigating Wicca. However, becoming disgruntled with the Christian attitude of the Anthroposophists, Morgana took the hippie trail to India, closing one phase, and starting another. She went in search of a spiritual path that would not exclude women. India, the spiritual Mecca of the seventies surely should have some answers.
She took the overland trail via Afghanistan to Delhi, and stayed for a year. India made a deep and lasting impression on Morgana. Supposedly the most spiritual place on Earth, there was the constant threat of war, divergent extremes of poverty and politics, and religious factions stoning each other on the streets. It cost enormous emotional energy just to survive, and took her to limits she didn’t know she had. It was invigorating.
Returning to England, she suffered a cataclysmic culture shock. The West seemed so mechanical. Heathrow even smelled like an oily machine. After the fragrant heat, colour and vibrant life of Delhi, London was cold, grey and soulless. She fled the UK for Holland to a waiting job – and Merlin. Together they read voraciously, trying to follow the Wiccan training and path finding, depending entirely upon each other for support and encouragement.
But Holland was changing. The easy-going, gentle nature of the job vanished as recession loomed and the rat-race got dirtier. Morgana was fired, and they suddenly found themselves alone in a hard, materialistic world. With their last few guilders, they went on a tenting trip in the UK, visiting magical sites. In a shop Merlin found an address on a stencil which he wanted to follow up. They knocked on the door of a house in Brighton, and the door was answered by a man who said, astonishingly, come in, we’ve been expecting you’.
Merlin and Morgana stayed in Brighton for some weeks and studied intensely with their host and hostess. They were initiated into the Wiccan Mystery Religion and returned to Holland to start their own coven. It was 1979.
In the same year, the Pagan Federation became constitutionalised and a wave of religious influences swamped the Netherlands; from New Age and women’s’ spiritual self-help groups, to Wicca, and Eastern path seeking groups. Star Wars’ splashed across the big screen and Dungeons and Dragons’ swept teenagers of all ages off into role-playing games. 1979 was a spiritual watershed.
We sat in the sun-blanched garden, amongst a joyous profusion of colour, fragrance and liveliness. I asked Morgana about her role as High Priestess, and she answered with one of her sphinx smiles, “High Priestess’ is a paradox. A mystery. Self development is very important and the group is as much important. One feeds from the group, by giving back to the group. It is an organic exchange.”
To illustrate, she described some basic differences between the established church and the ancient nature-based religions. The church, being patriarchal and hierarchical, is full of dictatorial rules and followers are expected to conform without question, to fit clone-like into preordained roles. But a nature-based religion has organic form, ever changing and growing, its members are interrelated, yet followers have the freedom within the group to follow their own path. “It is not spiritually useful all to be the same. Nature is diverse, every leaf on the tree is unique, individual, it is part of and dependent upon the tree, and the tree needs the leaves, all of them, to breathe.”
I observed she never used the word I’ when answering, but we’ and she answered animatedly, “In a world of I’, I’, I’, there is such little emphasis put on the fact that we work together in this life. As human beings we are responsible to each other and to planet Earth. In today’s thinking there is a dimension of me’ over here, alone, closed off . .” she made a little box shape with her hands, ” . . and all that outside of me is other’.” She waved her arms, encompassing the garden, the sky, all of Holland; then leaned forward earnestly. “And that’s not it! That’s a cop-out. To say only I’ is to escape personal responsibility. And if not personally responsible to the whole, then we’ becomes a hollow concept!”
She described the coven as nothing like the structured church with the priest above, preaching down to the congregation, but rather like a circle, with every individual a point on the circle, and each one is spiritually equal. “Everyone feels they’ve come home’. They belong to a big, happy family with Mum and Dad on hand to guide and protect. Initiates are guided from birth through teething troubles and learning to walk, to adolescent testing the boundaries of their world, to final maturity when they leave home and start a family of their own. Even then, they still belong’.”
But with all the freedom of worship in the world today, she didn’t think Wicca would ever become truly visible. “Wicca is a mystery religion, and the mystical side of things will always be private, lonely. It can never be a mass thing. For those that are serious, there are long years of training and dedication; one must Honour the goddess by taking an oath, and it should never be taken lightly. Dedication is missing in people today. Traditionally, breaking an oath was considered worse than murder!”
It seems there is a division amongst today’s path followers. There are the hard core traditionalists who go in for arduous training, taking oaths of honour, of humility and spiritual questing; much in the same way as a Christian nun would take her vows, or a monk, his, and withdraw into a monastery.
Then there are those that are genuinely prepared to do their best toward the environment, say all the right things, and perhaps perform moon rituals. They are like people that attend church occasionally and say I am a good Christian’, but they don’t commit themselves any deeper.
The Pagan Federation has three principals, which applicants must agree to, to become members. So even if they don’t become initiates, at least it is a way to bridge this gap. In everything the pagan has a choice. Yes. Or No.
I asked Morgana about her choices as breadwinner, working 36 hours a week in a bank. Was there a spiritual conflict working in a materialistic environment? After a moment’s consideration she answered that working with numbers is much easier to compartmentalize, than teaching. When working with people, she inevitably becomes emotionally and spiritually involved. She claims to have the constitution for the rat-race, whereas house-husband Merlin never did. But things are changing in Holland again, and Morgana is becoming uneasy. Attitudes are changing, turning into something she cannot associate herself with, and a conflict of spiritual allegiances in the workplace is fast approaching.
So what does she see for the future? “I want to grow old gracefully.”She laughed, sunshine lighting her face. The garden languished in the heat; a large purple flower looked over my shoulder at my scribbles melting into light on the page.
“I have several ideas. One is a library. I want to gather books that the world has not seen together since the destruction of the magnificent library at Alexandria. A bit ambitious, I suppose”, she murmured, quietly burning with enthusiasm. “I want to pass something on. I want to learn what it means to be useful as a crone’. It’s such a waste in western society, to stuff the old and wise away into homes. The role of elder’ is missing. I want to develop a new form of accepted, revered elder in the community.
I have always been the pioneer, and I want to create this for the future – a proper community for older people, where they are useful and cherished. Perhaps working on the astral plane for those that are physically unable to join in rituals anymore; making plans to cope with the restrictions of ageing; finding talents to develop in the winter years. And how to help people pass over. Obviously this is going to happen more and more. We are all growing up, now. I want to create a place where I would want to spend my last days. Imagine me in a home! Hell for me would be reaching the last leg of the journey and having to conform!”
I asked Morgana what she liked most about her life right now. Throwing her arms wide she beamed and said, “I enjoy the freedom I have to do what I do. It is an absolute gift! I have never felt coerced by a government or regime, so I am grateful for the place and the time in which I’ve been born. It has been a fantastically easy life and I appreciate it. Today, amongst all the cynicism and hard heartedness, to know what you’ve got is the most precious thing one can ask for. Life is so fragile, it can change in a second. Enjoy what you’ve got.”