Monday, April 12, 2021

When the Warrior Doesn’t Win by Barbara Whiterose Marie McSweeney PhD

She Who Is Art

I worry about the modern-day myth I encounter so often: the one that assures girls and women that if we are just self-knowledgeable enough, determined enough, and confident enough, we will flourish and thrive. Women have always had self-knowledge, determination, and confidence, but we haven’t always flourished or thrived. Boldness and defiance are not always welcome.

Some things are stronger than us. We can be overrun by unwarranted power, by male supremacy, by a zero-sum mentality, and by our families’ passive negligence or active disregard. In a woman-hating culture, spunk is not enough. Nor is a warrior spirit; some warriors lose.

I have journeyed with Macha for twelve years now, and she remains elusive. Her gifts come in the form not of attainment but of awareness. Macha reminds me that, no matter how much self-knowledge, determination, and confidence I have, and no matter how right I may be, I am not omnipotent. Boldness and defiance don’t cut it with those who thirst for domination. On the contrary, a woman’s forthrightness, power, and self-respect may be what triggers aggressors to attack. As in the story of Macha, a woman’s strength may bring out others’ weaknesses.

Sometimes a woman tries to negotiate a patriarchal bargain, thinking that if she accommodates and appeases, and if she sells out other women, she will gain respect and camaraderie from the club. But in doing so, she sacrifices Sovereignty, and she will never, ever receive genuine respect from those to whom she has ceded her integrity and personal power. She will be reminded constantly that her success is an illusion, a pretense offered only at the pleasure of the King. And the King, knowing she knows this, need do nothing more to remind her she is not really a member of the club. She already knows. I’ve seen at least one woman ruined by her efforts to grovel, to placate, and to serve as proxy for male-pattern aggression. I’ve also seen men shunned when they refuse to join in the dance of domination: When a man declines to betray women, thereby forgoing solidarity with men, he too risks being snubbed and smeared.

When I see women caught between the Scylla of compliance and the Charybdis of resistance, Macha reminds me that many, many women and men in human history have lived without full control over their destinies—most people, I would think—but have nevertheless found ways to be in charge. Honoring one’s own integrity and personal power in the face of disenfranchisement is one way to embrace Sovereignty—even when one must stand alone.1

Excerpts from ''When the Warrior Doesn't Win'' in our upcoming anthology, Warrior Queen: Answering the Call of The Morrigan.

Barbara Whiterose Marie McSweeney, Ph.D., is a composer, performer, creative writer, and scholar. Her theatrical presentations and concert works engage with Celtic Goddesses and Spirits, such as Macha, Brigid, Cerridwen, and Awenyddion (her own female version of Taliesin). She is also an idiosyncratic clarinetist, exploring the wonders of the sounding breath through a kinship with the solo Zen repertoire of the Japanese bamboo flute. Current composing/performing projects include duos with shakuhachi performer Riley Lee and with Cape Breton guitarist Charles MacDonald. Barbara Whiterose’s latest CD, Farewell to Music, is forthcoming on Albany Records. She is grateful to Tom Cowan and Susan McClellan for their teachings in Celtic shamanism. Website:

1 Jessica Johnson depicts the Goddess’s integrity: “As Macha, I am a protector goddess, and you can call on me when you are scared. I will help you to not be afraid, and to stand up for what is right.” (Jessica Johnson, My Name is The Morrigan [The Girl God Books, 2018, Kindle Edition], 28.) Tom Cowan’s Macha (n. 3) ends with an acknowledgment of Macha’s isolation: “But whatever happened to her, Macha is still present whenever people fall in love, make promises, or need courage to stand alone against the crowd.”

1 comment:

  1. I feel this in my bones. Thank you for putting words to my lived experiences.