The Masculine Principle: Part 4- The Quest

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Questing Knight, artist unknown, but I get a Games Workshop vibe….

The Quest

Cormac was probably expecting he and his men to travel all the way to the West, the direction of death and the Blessed Isles, that’s where he’d find Tir na n’Og.  There he’d find The Stranger and his family.  He was more than likely all fuelled up on adrenaline and anger as he prepared for the long journey from his fort.  He must have been quite surprised, once the fog had cleared, to find he was in a strange land.  Stranger still must have been the sights before him as he steadily rode on in wonder at the horsemen putting feathers on a roof only for them to blow away, at the young man who kept refuelling the fire as it burned its insatiable appetite for wood.  He must surely have realised he was no longer in his own realm as he approached the pool surrounded by nine hazel trees, this pool was only ever heard of in legend!

It is not without irony that Cormac, after drinking from the pool gained understanding, as was revealed later, the pool he drank from was the waters of the heart.

Cormac’s quest had actually led him to himself.  As most quests do.

Quests are great plot devices to move a story forward.  They are an entertaining way for us to follow the protagonist as they go and look for something or someone.  An adventure to be had as the audience is taken on a journey of the search for some MacGuffin or the rescue of a person (not always a lady, this could be a family member or someone who can help the main character in some way- provide a cure for instance).  For some quest’s that’s all there is to it.  The monster is dead, hero gets made leader, marries, the end.  For others, the protagonist often discovers something about their self or from their tribulations manages to become more in themselves in some way.

The Welsh Peredur leaves his mother in order to become a knight for Arthur, only for him to go on a series of adventures where he sets out to right the wrongs that are occurring in the land.  In so doing this he discovers, through his own innocence, that he is better in strength and bravery than any of those knights he sought to become.  He also learns that some of his acts had been engineered in order for him to fulfil a prophecy of avenging his uncle’s death.

The Scottish hero Diarmuid, a member of the war-band known as the Feans (Scottish version of the Irish war-band the Fianna) is summoned to the underwater realm of the Fomorii in order to use his healing skill on their princess.  To retrieve the healing cup she needs, Diarmuid travels to the Plain of Wonder.  It is with the help of a Brownie he gets to the Plain of Wonder, but he uses up the power of the Cup of Healing in order to heal the gatekeeper he killed.  The Brownie helps him again and takes him to the Waters of Healing on the Island of Death.  The Brownie also gives Diarmuid the advice of refusing whatever the King of the Fomorii offers as reward for healing the Princess.  Once this is done, he asks for only a boat to take him back above water.  In all of this, Diarmuid discovers that pride clouds reason, that a true heart can make friends in any realm, that his skill is to be given to the world, not traded for, and that what seemed like three nights for him was but minutes for his companions!

Cormac rode with his men only to be separated in the fog until he alone emerged in Tir na n‘Og.  His quest was one of self discovery.  Diarmuid’s quest was not for himself, but for helping his friend.  Although it was only his skill of healing that qualified him to take part.  It was for him to learn the lessons he discovered which he would not have done if his band had been with him.

Sometimes, we must undergo the quest to find ourselves and this can only be achieved alone.  Once we get past the cloud of fear and doubt, if we take the time to listen to our own hearts do we know what we really want or need.  To go onto the quest for ourselves is to have an outcome in mind, but we must not take this quest lightly.  For by the end of it we will emerge a changed person. And the outcome might not be what we expected.  To be a more complete and whole version of ourselves- that is the quest.

The other tales and their protagonists had people helping them and giving advice along the way, in another tale, Culhwch and Olwen, Culhwch would have failed miserably if not for the help of his friends.  Culhwch’s story teaches that a quest need not be one taken alone.  He acquired a band of brothers.

 

Band of Brothers

At times, we need others we can fall back on.  Others we can confide in and trust to have our backs when we need them; to keep us going when we cannot.  This is where the Band of Brothers comes in.  For Culhwch, it was a handful of Arthur’s knights and a cousin.  For Arthur it was his knights and Merlin.  For Robin Hood it was his ‘Merry Men’.  For Diarmuid it was his fellows of the Feans.  For Bendigeidfran it was his brother and step-brothers.

The Band of Brothers isn’t simply a gang to beat seven levels of crap out of anyone who looks at you wrong, but a fellowship of support and faith in each other.  It doesn’t have to be a seasoned group of warriors, ex-soldiers or gangsters.  Your own Band of Brothers can be your friends, family members, and people with a common interest that trust each other.  My very own ‘Band of Brothers’ includes women in it and others I can trust to help me when I need it, as well as who I trust to turn around and tell me when  I’m being a dick!  There’s that saying that ‘True Friends will tell you exactly what you don’t want to hear.’  Stop right now.  And think.  Who in your life do you trust implicitly?  Who do you turn to when things go wrong? Who tells you the truth even though you didn’t want to hear it? Who are you there for when they need you in return? These are the people who can be regarded as your ‘Band of Brothers’.

Cormac was separated from his soldiers to go on his quest alone, but his band wasn’t his men.  His band was his family, they were his heart.  Cormac learned they were his true source of strength and his true wealth.  Cormac wasn’t a raging warlord, he sought peace and negotiation (let’s not fool ourselves into thinking there were never any ‘aggressive negotiations’) and at the same time he was strong and wise.  It was a moment of folly that took him to learn what was most valuable to him; there are times in all of our lives where a moment of folly takes place.

Cormac was prepared to do whatever it took to get his family back.  His rational and calmer side now gone, it could be said he went on the quest for his Feminine Principle.

 

The Quest for the Feminine Principle

 If we go along with the idea in Part 3, that the Masculine Principle needs the Feminine Principle to balance and compliment it, then this is the real deep meaning of The Quest:  It isn’t about rescuing a damsel in distress, it isn’t winning the girl’s love and affection, it’s about coming into contact with something within that makes us whole.  We know what happens when the Masculine Principle becomes too much: It becomes base, shallow and aggressive.  It will assert itself any damn way it wants and if you don’t like it, it’ll tear your gods-damned head off and stick it on a spike!

I could say that by touching the Fairy Branch (Phallic device, anyone?) it had already ignited the fire of over ‘manliness’ in Cormac.  So much so, that he abandoned reason altogether and never thought to ask what the price would be.  Only when it was too late did he regret his actions, spurring him on to make things right…. in the headstrong, avenging manner.

The Quest took him onto a journey of discovering what it meant to be a good king, a good person: to not be led by his own vanity, to not burn out all of his energies for others and to look into the heart of things by paying attention to the world around him.  It was with patience in listening to the small company and what truths they shared did he finally say aloud the truth of himself: He was a vain fool and would only be happy once he had his wife and children back.  That was when he was reintroduced to his family.  That was when he was reconnected with his Feminine Principle, and we can see this in the last gift that ever so crafty Manannan Mac Lir gave to him: The Cup of Truth (Vaginal device anyone!?)

So, am I saying that for a mortal man to become the best at what he could be, it took the orchestrations of a masculine deity of a feminine energy (God of the Sea) to teach him how?

Yes.  For Cormac to become the High Chief, the King he was meant to be, he had to find the harmony of both Principles in himself.

The quest to seek either the Masculine or Feminine Principles is the quest to find the truth about ourselves, what is our strength? Where are our values? What gives us meaning?

To follow the Masculine Principle is to follow our heart; from it we know our own truths.  It is also to know your inner strength (once you have found it) for it will give confidence, fortitude, discernment and resolve.

 

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The Masculine Principle in Paganism- Part 3: The Life Force

 

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The Life Force is what is in each one of us; it is in all living things.  Not just animals and plants, but down to our cells and all of them reproduce.  They pass on what they are to the next generation, or in some cases, simply replicate each other.  I could have just labelled this particular post as ‘Sexuality’ but that’s not just what this post is about.  Ok, I lied.  It is!

When talking about the Life Force as procreation, most species do require male and female parts in order to procreate.  There are other species that do not.  Cells replicate their DNA asexually, as does bacteria.  Some species such Earthworms are hermaphrodites, beings that don’t require sexual partners because their biology enables them to create their own offspring.

For the sake of this blog series, I shall be referring to the Human Condition, already aware of how complex that already is.  Yes we as a species require a sperm and egg to fertilise in order to reproduce, but not everyone who is born identifies with the simple male and female categorisations.  It does indeed appear that the Human Condition is not as binary as we originally thought, but does need binary Humans in order for the Human Race to continue.

And reproduction was seen as the basic manifestation of the Life Force.  The model of Sky Father and Mother Earth for example is something that was big in olden times.  The sunlight and rain make the Earth fertile and grow millions of flora and fauna, feeding and housing countless species around us.  Interesting then that in some cultures the Sun is seen as female (The Irish name for the sun is Grian, a feminine word.  The Norse mythology has the sun and moon as sister and brother respectively as Sol and Mani.  In the Japanese Shinto it is the deity Amaterasu).  To counter this, some Neolithic monoliths have phallic features carved into the rock, the phallus of the earth pointing to the impregnable sky.

We also see this in ancient statues, the Venus type, for example showing the round image of a pregnant woman.  In some cases images like these were carved to include phallic shape in order emphasise the male parts + female parts = life.

Ain Sakhri Lovers
Two lovers carved into a phallic object, the Ain Sakhri Lovers

 

Ritual & Magic:

In the Western Magical Tradition, this union of masculine and feminine energies is one of the most powerful acts of magic.  The act of placing the wand into the chalice is extremely symbolic of the penis entering the vagina in order to create a magical outcome.  Not every magical act requires this as there are thousands of ways to make a spell without any sexual connotations or symbols.  That’s right, faithful reader, anyone who practices magic isn’t just going around shagging everyone and nor should they.  Sex can be used in magic with consenting adults or just between a couple and not just limited to heterosexuals.

Modern Paganism is filled, saturated even with sexual celebration, even if only metaphorically.  The ceremonial wheel of the year, for example, sees The Goddess bloom until the God has grown into adulthood, they marry and have sex as the Summer goes on until the God begins to wither and dies as Autumn turns to Winter, the Goddess gives birth during Midwinter after which she takes on her Crone aspect until she is reinvigorated at Spring.  The Modern Pagan version of Beltane would have us believe that May is a time of sexual awakening and the whole of summer is about the celebration of the growing energy in our part of the world.  This, despite that Human Beings don’t have a set mating season, but it’s all in the cosmology and symbolism of the Modern Pagan view of the awakening world around them.

Of course not all Pagan spirituality follows this imagery as there are different paths and interpretations of the seasons.

This imagery happens once again in the relatively recent personification of the Green Man entering his Oak (another phallic device, just think of the shape of an acorn) phase and as Spring grows into Summer he brings his Life Force into that of the Earth so everything comes alive.

The Elements

Even in the Alchemical Elements we have examples of the Life Force split into masculine and feminine in the energies of Air, Fire Water and Earth.  This is most regularly seen in the Tarot:

Air:  Masculine:  Represented by the Swords, a piercing (phallic?) device with warlike connotations.  The realm of air is normally associated with logic, thought and ideas.  Supposedly these are the traits of the intellectual MAN.

Fire: Masculine:  Represented by the Staff or the Wands.  A more obvious phallic device, especially when the fiery qualities of dynamism, determination, passion are thought of as traits of MAN.

The staff has more phallic imagery behind it when we identify Bile (Tree) as being the name of the Irish father-god, the consort of the watery mother-goddess Danu.

Water: Feminine:  Represented by the Cups or Cauldron.  The watery world of emotions, of dream, of the heart has been assigned to the qualities of WOMAN.  The Cup has been used as a device of the vulva and the Cauldron as the womb.

Earth: Feminine:  Represented by the Stones, Coins or Pentacles, although not sexual in imagery, the stone is symbolic of the Land.  And with the land comes Sovereignty.  Mother Nature, the Mother of All: She gives and she takes.   This is the realm of the physical; the malleable and tactile.

Interestingly, given the masculine attributes of the symbol of the sword it is in Arthurian Legend we find the sword as being temporarily given to man.  It is loaned from the Lady of the Lake and must be returned before the user dies.  The sword known as Excalibur originally came with a scabbard (vaginal device?) which protected the user from harm, but this was stolen from Arthur by Morgana La Fey.  In the story of Balin and Balan, a sword of power was drawn by Balin, a knight of Arthur and Camelot.   He was supposed to give it back to the Lady of the Lake, but in his hubris he kept it and beheaded her!  His life was then cursed until both he and his brother died fighting each other.  A prime example of the Masculine Principle being too out of flow with the Life Force and not heeding the request of giving the power back to its source, the feminine.

Being a part of the Arthurian world, which takes its themes from the Celtic myths and legends that came before, the Lady of the Lake not only represents the Divine Feminine, she is also the Goddess and guardian of Sovereignty.  In the Celtic stories, Sovereignty could only be passed on to the chief by the Goddess.  In other words, it could not be taken, the women chose the men to give it to!

Ultimately, when talking about the Alchemical Elements, Air, Fire, Water, Earth or even the universe itself:  Planet Earth, the moon, the sun, planets, stars….. None of these have gender.  It is only us, the Human Beings that assign such things to them.  Yes, it is fascinating when different cultures have different names for the sun or even different genders for it, but at the end of it all it is a great big star in our sky.

What we have to bear in mind here is that this particular system of Masculine and Feminine energies became widespread among the known world during  medieval times, of which the mindset was utilised by the Church and saw Masculine as dominant and the Feminine as submissive.  Because my main spiritual focus is of the Pre-Christian peoples of this land, I can share that they saw things differently.  Both men and women could be chiefs and warriors and they could also be hunters and Druids.  Quite often in the old tales, it was the women who would initiate courtship or sexual relations.  Even the gods shared similar powers but there is one thing women could do that men could not: bear children.  For that reason alone, for the mothering of future generations, can we see why the Celts traced their blood through their mothers?  As previously mentioned, women could give their sovereignty to a man of their choosing making him chief.  Indeed, it was normal for the chief to marry the goddess of their land.  This was an act that our Celtic ancestors shared with our Germanic ones.  Our Germanic ancestors even had a magic called Seidr which was said to be for women only.  It involved speaking to the ancestors, healing and divination and was priestess led.  It was considered taboo for a man to learn this and any man who did was considered feminine.  Curiously enough, Odin, the Germanic All-Father god in his quest for wisdom learned this.   I am no expert when it comes to the Germanic lore, and if I have got this wrong, then that is my own ignorance.

So what have we learned about the Masculine Principle in the Life-Force? According to this particular paradigm, it is but one part of a whole in our species.  The example of Balin shows what happens when the Masculine Principle becomes too dominant, it becomes aggressive.  Without the temperance and sustaining rationale of the Feminine Principle to balance the cold, hard logic and powerful dynamism, it becomes destructive and harmful.  One half is needed to balance the other, without both halves, the whole dies out.  Ok, that’s a bit dramatic, but you get the idea.

Cormac had already lost his wife and children to The Stranger who had exacted his price, it wasn’t just his woman or his legacy that he had lost; it was what completed him.  His reason to keep going, his cause to be the best chief he could be.  Yes, he had material wealth, but what is that without his family to share with?  Only too late did he learn this, and so he went in search of them.  Not just in a rescue, but a quest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Masculine Principle in Paganism- Part 2: The Stereotypes

Before we delve into understanding what the Masculine Principle is what do you think of when I write the word Masculine?  It’s ok, take a few moments to think about it, write them down if you want and see what you come up with.  And what do you think of when I write the word Feminine?  That’s alright, you take as long as you need, write them down if that helps and compare the two.

How many positive and negative connotations are there attributed to masculine?  How many positive and negative are there attributed to feminine?  Are they equal?  Does one have more positivity than the other?  Chances are the masculine has a more negative bias.

In 20th Century magical tradition, the masculine side, the male side is seen as a driving force.  It is dominant, powerful, dynamic as well as destructive.  The feminine side, the female side is seen as a birthing force.  It is receptive, gentle, creative and healing.  Or so we are led to believe.  I am of course working on stereotypes here.   And that’s what this particular post will be all about.

There was a podcast episode that had Penny Billington (OBOD’s Touchstone editor) give a story of a man at a Pagan Camp.  Music was being played and as he danced, a woman said to him “You’re very in touch with your feminine side, aren’t you?”  To which he responded with “I just like dancing to the music, what’s my feminine side got to do with it?”  So, like the preconception that masculine is forceful, there was a preconception made that assumed the man MUST have feminine qualities because he danced.  What is the definition of masculinity? According to Collins Compact English Dictionary, Harper Collins Publishers, 1998:

Masculine adj 1 possessing qualities or characteristics considered typical of or appropriate to man; manly.  2 unwomanly; not feminine.  3 Grammar denoting a gender of nouns that includes some male animate things.

Uh oh.  There’s that word.  Gender, I was hoping to avoid it, too late.

Ok, let’s go with the idea that masculine is already laden with gender based terms, i.e ‘manly’.

The early 21st Century man is stereotyped as being successful, rich, and dominant in his world, has all the latest gadgets and cars, loves getting his own way and is basically a spoiled child grown up.  He is Mr. Cocksure and women love him.  Supposedly.

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Mr Cocksure as represented by Fight Club’s Tyler Durden.  Pic from washingtonpost.com

 

The other, Mr.  Hardpec, is perhaps not so affluent, but loves going to the gym and with that stern jaw line and those huge arms, his tall well built frame puts the fear of the gods into you just by looking at him.

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Mr Harpec….. was very tempted to put my own head here! Pic from play.google.com

Then there’s Mr. Sensitive, he’s funny, he cares, he wishes he could be like Mr. Hardpec, but that’s way too aggressive and people like him scare Mr. Sensitive because Mr. Sensitive feels less masculine when Mr.  Hardpec is around.  Mr. Sensitive bitches about Mr Cocksure but secretly wishes he had Mr. Cocksure’s confidence and arrogance.  Well, just enough of the arrogance to have a spine.

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Mr. Sensitive, nice hair! Pic from academichelp.com

It appears that to be a “man”, we must treat everyone like shit and have the body of Adonis.  When I gave the example of Mr. Cocksure in a talk, one man said out loud “But he gets all the girls”.  Sure, if all you think you need to prove your worth is solely based on getting laid.  And no matter who or what you class yourself as (in terms of gender or sex, or none at all), confidence goes a long way.

You’ll recognise these ‘manly’ examples as we see them all the time in our media, magazines, posters, television shows, games and movies.  And in all of them, Mr. Sensitive is usually the comic relief.  Guess which one I identify with?  The Masculine Principle has become, in our modern society either something to despise, something to fear or something to laugh at.  It seems that in our 21st Century society we are pushed to being one or the other, realistically the best way would be to have the confidence of one, the inner strength of the other and the openness of the last.

Cormac was a man who had everything, he was the High Chief of all four provinces of Ireland, had a wife, children, an entire court to himself, he wasn’t a typical draw swords now and ask questions later sort of guy.  But he was foolish enough to trade his wife and children for a cool thing.

Seeming that we are already discussing stereotypes, let’s break these down into archetypes:

The Provider:

In the Western Magical Tradition, the masculine principle is there to copulate with the Feminine Principle in order to recreate himself; he is fated to die- but shall be reborn again.  In this aspect the Masculine Principle is the provider.  And this covers a whole range:

Hunter, fisher, farmer, survivor, teacher, thinker, philosopher, devisor, entertainer, storyteller, creator, builder, as well as more I can’t think of right now.   We also see this in the characters of Horus, Jesus Christ and later, John Barleycorn.  Even the quite recent mythology of the Oak and Holly King’s can fall into this category.  In short, the Masculine Principle is to be sacrificed in order for others to live.

 

The Warrior:

Perhaps, this is the most renowned aspect of the Masculine Principle.  We see this often enough in our literature, movies and computer games in more of the Hero guise.  The warrior, sadly, is needed to fight wars made by people, mostly men.  The Warrior can also cover: hunter, defender, survivor, explorer, healer, physician amongst others.  According to Anne Ross (Pagan Celtic Britain, Cardinal 1974), in the British Celtic culture, the Warrior could also be the healer as well as fertility principle.

And we aren’t just limiting ourselves to simply men here.  It’s been found recently that women joined in the hunt for killing creatures for food.  This makes perfect sense, especially when in Celtic culture women could also be warriors.  The Morrigan, Medbh, Scathach, are all examples of warrior goddesses, queens and teachers of the martial arts.  As anyone knows, nothing is scarier in the world as a woman who is angry….

 

The Ruler:

Someone’s got to be in charge right?  The Animal Kingdom has its Alphas, its bulls, its studs, its kings…. Fact is we are a social animal and if we can’t make the hard decisions, we look to those who can.  The Ruler can be made, elected and even born, but depending on the type of person who is the ruler, lies the fate of the tribe.  A more instinctual and emotional ruler might be a warlord, desperate to save his position or his people.  A more rational ruler might be a peacemaker or one who knows how to play the game to keep in his favour.  A benign ruler might be generous and loved by his people, but will others see this as weakness?  Arthur, Cormac, Hannibal are a few names for the many types of Ruler as are Julius Caesar, Genghis Khan, Uther Pendragon.

The downside of the Masculine Principle is, again, what we see a lot in the media and tabloids, he is the thief, the murderer, the rapist, the abuser, the tyrant, the zealot, the warmonger…. need I go on?

It could be argued that the negative side of the Masculine Principle is the bestial side of the Life Force.  Our Human Animal uncontrolled in its urge to reproduce as well as claim territory: ‘What’s mine is mine and what’s yours is yours, but if I want yours I’ll make it mine.’ To emphasise this, we can even look at the Greek Myths, where the characterisation of the predatory, rapacious and aggressive side is represented by the half-man, half-beast creatures: Minotaurs, Centaurs, Satyrs, etc.  With this in mind, perhaps there is more to the reason that the image of Cernunnos has come to represent strength, fertility and the hunt?   In ancient British cosmology, horns represent the solar aspect to a deity, and to be in touch with his animalistic side is to be fertile.  The phallus again can be represented here, have you ever seen the images of the god Freyr?

Freyr_idolPic from http://www.hurstwic.com

 

In Modern Paganism we have the paradigm of the Maid, Mother and Crone to represent the three stages of the Feminine Principle.  Realistically, Humans are a little more complex than to be simply clumped into three types (what about infancy, childhood or even senility?).  The Masculine Principle can therefore be treated in the same way:

Seeker– Is the young man going out into the world to make his mark.  He has much to learn and wants to find his place in the Universe as well as who he is.

 Master- Knows who he is and what he has accomplished in life.  By now, he has become the ‘King in his own Castle’.  He has found his way and his place in the world, or he is on his way to making it happen.

 Sage– Been there and done that, this one has achieved what he needed to.  He is the wise one who teaches others what they need to know and can enjoy his legacy at best.  He is the cynical old geezer who should know better and yet doesn’t at worst.

Why use stereotypes and archetypes at all?  Its how we, as an animal acknowledge the world around us.  We put names to things, at our most basic this is identification of what we can eat, drink, what is a threat to us and who we choose to mate with.  One question we hear a lot nowadays: “Why does everyone and everything have to be labelled?”  Because, it’s how WE work.  We might not agree with it or identify with what we have been labelled with, but labelling is how we see the world:  That’s a chair, that’s a car, that’s a monkey (regardless of type) and so, when we see another Human Being we will ALWAYS on an instinctual level look at someone as either a friend, a threat or a mate.  Yes we have thoughts and emotions, but we forget that Homo-Sapiens is a creature too.  Instinct and emotion?  Yikes!

Stereotypes help us to form a picture of a type of person.  In the worlds of story a character that breaks the stereotype becomes much more memorable and fully rounded.  They become believable and someone we can identify with.

With looking at the stereotypes of the Masculine Principle, we gain the imagery in our minds of the strong, the brave, the gentle, the wise, and the creative.

When it comes to the glamorised image of the types of male imagery there’s this illusion that we have to be one of them.  We are in fact all of them in many different degrees.

 

Cormac found himself alone in his hall once he had awoken. Tears welled up in his eyes.  The anger, the rage built up inside him, how could he have been so…. stupid?

The Stranger had taken his son, his daughter, his Wife! HIS Family.  Never mind the dishonour he had made, his blood boiled within and he felt the hard wood of the Fairy Branch in his whitening grip.  If only The Stranger was here now!  He would stab it right through the silver-haired bastard’s skull.

“ENOUGH!”  Cormac roared.  His nobles came rushing through as he barked the orders for his horse, his armour and his sword.  The rational part of him knew it was his fault; it implored him to listen to reason and ask his advisors what to do next, where to go.  But there was something inside that was hurt and that something was in control.   Cormac would get his family back, even if it meant claiming them back by force.