Wednesday, January 5, 2022

The Face of Defiance by Sionainn McLean


Art by Molly Roberts

“LOL! But she died, what was the point?”

Every time there is a discussion somewhere on Boudicca, I see words similar to this. I can’t help but feel incredulous and angry.

Cu Chulainn.



Leonidas I.


Ragnar Lothbrook.


William Wallace.

To name a few.

Few men ever say “but they died, what was the point” about these “heroes” because they were men, standing up for what they believed in, fighting for their cause, facing their deaths proudly.

So why do they shake their heads at Boudicca’s story? She died like her male counterparts, a message to the world in her actions – It was better to die fighting than it was to live on your knees.

It’s almost as if women are held to a different standard. Men can live and die by the sword – avenging injustice, claiming what’s “theirs,” and fighting for what they believe in. For these men, few ever laugh and say, “but they died,” as if victory is only ever measured by staying alive.

But when the topic of Boudicca is raised, that’s what I hear them do. The fact is that after her husband died, after her lands were stolen, after she was publicly whipped and after her daughters were raped, she picked up a spear and shield, and led her army to battle. She destroyed Camulodunum and burned Londinium and Verulamium, killing 70,000–80,000 in her wrath. Does that mean nothing, simply because she was a woman?

We women have the heart of a warrior, the soul of a mama bear protecting her cubs. Inside each of us is a piece of Boudicca. But when we are children, society tries to stamp it out.

Be Ladies.

Sugar and spice and everything nice.

Don’t swear.

Girls cry so easily.

Why are you so emotional? Is it that time of the month?

Don’t get muddy and dirty, girls are clean creatures.

Don’t shout.

Don’t learn to fight, or use weapons, or shoot big guns (Though sometimes you can carry this cute little camo pink gun, just in case you are foolish enough to put yourself in a situation where you could get robbed or raped.)

Don’t get raped.

Go to college to get your degree, but don’t make more money than your potential husband.

Be slim and fit, but not so you can fight. Do it so you look great on a man’s arm.

Die as an old widow, content with your children and grandchildren, tame and peaceful.

Our piece of Boudicca never gets stamped out though, it’s just pushed inside us, deep and forgotten. Sometimes a piece shines through, when we need to protect our children, our loved ones, even our homes, but in the end, society makes us push it back. Be tamed, Boudicca. You should’ve rolled over to the Romans.

Had it been her husband Prasutagus, would these same men be jeering the man that he avenged his wife and daughters by burning cities? Would they dismiss the fact that he fought to the end to protect his people from slavery, a fate many might consider worse than death? Or would they lift his name in awe and consider him someone to emulate, a true hero to look up to? Of course they would. He would’ve died a hero, sword in hand, fighting for honorable reasons: justice, freedom, defiance.

I look at the story of Boudicca, and I wonder what she was like before the Romans came along. I bet she was a strong-willed child who got dirty, who played against the boys, training in case she ever needed to fight. I bet she was a generous lover to her husband, and she loved her daughters more than life itself.

I bet she laughed a lot, and enjoyed the beautiful warm days, and found meaning in the cold dark days. I wonder if she howled at the moon, in a moment of sheer bliss for her untamed, wild self, her unrestrained emotions and desires. I bet she worshipped strong Gods, and when her world shattered, I wonder if she had a moment of weakness, and asked why? Why her? Why her children, why her husband?

Boudicca, in her grief, might’ve realized that the Roman army itself was enormous, and what could one person do? The Gods don’t grant wishes, they only give us the means to chase them. Did Andraste hand Boudicca her spear and tell her to fight, to extract her vengeance where she could? Maybe she knew it was a lost cause but chose to fight nonetheless. Because in the end, she knew her people would die anyway – either as slaves to the Romans, or as free people.

And her vengeance she had. She wiped out everyone at Camulodunum, and then burned the cities of Londinium and Verulamium. Her armies showed no mercy, just as the Romans had shown no mercy to her or her daughters. Her wrath was so strong that Nero himself almost gave up, almost withdrawing his troops from Briton.

However, it was not meant to be. The Iceni were not equipped for the last battle against Suetonius and his men, and perhaps Boudicca and her generals got too arrogant, after so many victories. We can never know why it befell as it did that day, only that it did, with Boudicca’s fate being death by her own hands. I choose to believe a woman so determined to defy Rome would rather have taken her own life rather than give them the satisfaction of taking her alive. To say she died in any other way was only to minimize her impact and shame her.

But Boudicca was as brave, if not braver than any man. She was... she IS the face of defiance against oppression, someone whose name should be on the lips of our daughters and sons. Boudicca, guided by Andraste, had her revenge against the wrongs Rome inflicted upon her and her people. May we learn from her strength, and her mistakes, and when faced with oppression, invoke her presence so our spears land true. So that we understand that some things are worth fighting for, and all fights have a risk of death. We should not back away from those fights because we are afraid.

Sionainn McLean is a polytheist fire witch, on a crazy spiritual journey over the last 25 years. She has worked with The Morrigan for 5+ years. She is currently studying to get her certificate in Community Ministry, as well as a Spiritual Direction certificate with Cherry Hill Seminary. She is also studying magic and shamanistic practice with Three Worlds, One Heart School of Mystery. She’s also a mom, wife, writer, and gardener.

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