The Morrigan

by Leaf McGowan, Technogypsie Productions, on December 28, 2013. © 2013: All Rights Reserved –

Also known as The Phantom Queen (“Morrigan”), The Great Queen (“Morrigan”), “Morrigu”, “Morrigna”, “Morrighan”, “Mir-rioghain” (modern Irish), “Morrighan”, “Morgan”, “Mir Rigan”, “Morrigu”, “The Dark Fae Queen”

Goddess of Life, Death, Battle, strife, and sovereignty

Ancestry: Father was Aed Ernmas, Her mother was Ernmas and she has two sisters known as badb and Macha. Her sons were “Glon”, “Gaim”, and “Coscar”.

Corresponding Deity: “Nemon” (Venom), “Macha” (Battle and the Mother), “Fea” (Hate), “Badbh” (Fury); Anu; and “Anand”.

Associations: War, Life, Death, Dark Fae, Dark Elves, Ravens, Crows, the Earth, Mugwort, Yew Trees, Willow Trees, Quartz Crystals; strife, and sovereignty

Forms/Shape shifting: Hag, The Carrion Crow, eel, wolf, heifer, old crone,

Sacred Sites: Plain of Muirthemne (Dundalk, County Louth); Cave of the Cats (Roscommon, county Roscommon); River Unshin (Corann); “The Paps” hills in the North or The Di Chich na Morrigna (pair of hills) (‘two breasts of the Morrigan’) in County Meath; The Cooking Pit of the Morrigan (Fulacht na Mor Rioghna) burnt mound site in County Tipperary; and others.

Cave of the Cats, Rathcroghan, Ireland

Description: – The Morrigan, the Triple Goddess, known in modern film fantasy (such as “Lost Girl”) as the Queen of the Dark Fae goes far back to the origins of Irish mythology. She is depicted as a Faerie Queen as well as a Goddess. She was the Goddess of Death, Battle, Life, strife, War, and sovereignty. She resided in the Northern realms which were associated with that of the Earth, justice, and the Ancestral Dead. As a Triple Goddess she was also the Crone aspect of the Earth Goddess. The other aspects were “Macha” as the “Mother” and “Anu” as the “Maiden”. She was known to many as the Goddess of War, Life, and Death. She could take life as quickly as she could give life. She was often seen teamed up with the Furies : The Goddesses of War as “Fea”, “Nemon”, “Badbh” (as her three aspects) and “Macha”, “the Mother” who was also the “battle fury”. Indo-European translations suggest that the term “Morrigan” roots as meaning “terror” or “monstrousness” relating to the Old English “maere” meaning “nightmare”, Scandinavian “mara” or Old-Russian “mara” also meaning “nightmare” and “rogan” meaning “queen”. She was known as the “Great Queen”, “Phantom Queen”, and/or “Queen of Demons”. She was notorious for appearing before great warriors when their life was in danger offering them an alternative and assistance in exchange for a commitment, item, or duty. She was known to have appeared before Cuchulainn in a variety of forms. His father, the Dagda, was recorded to have made love to her during creation myths. Cuchulainn was said to have described her as a beautiful woman with streaming long hair, red eyebrows, and wearing a long red cloak and armed with a gray spear riding in a chariot. While he was in battle, she challenged him as an eel, wolf, old crone, and heifer. Other theorists claim the cult of the Morrigan can be tied into many of the other megalithic Goddess cults such as to Matrones, Idises, Dosir that appeared as triple Goddesses as well. Many of these inter-related to fate, death, and birth. Others say the Morrigan is more similar to Norse Mythology’s – the Valkyries as harbingers of death, using magic to cast blessings or curses on warriors and heroes and choosing who will live and die. She was a known shape shifter who could change form at will. One of her favorite battlefield shapeshifting forms is either the crow or raven. The Morrigan has also been accused of inspiring the Irish monnerbund groups who would band together as a group of young warrior-hunters who lived on the borders of society and participating in lawless activities before joining the mainstream when they got older. Some say these groups as well as the Fianna dedicated themselves to her and that she was their Matron. They would gather together at the infamous Fulacht na Mor Rioghn burnt mound sites and cook their hunted deer here somewhat in the like regard of the three hags who cooked the hound in the Cuchulainn myth. She is also seen as a guide to the Underworld or Otherworld, with mazes and passageways, tunnels and caverns leading not only to her lair, but those of Otherworldly entities and places. In this way she is seen as a a dark Queen of the faerie kingdom. She will choose the souls and spirits that she wants to guide down certain paths whether correct or incorrect in achieving their chosen destinations. She is known to use foul weather to cloak passageways or roads, with subtle mists or dense fog, storm clouds, thunder, lightning, or bezerk noises to misguide the traveler. As a Goddess of Sovereignty she is associated with the land and the earth, also as seen as the ruler of the land by granting victory and kingship to those she deems fit. According to myth, legend, lore, archaeology, and literary evidece she could have been the first and earliest of the tribal / territorial Goddesses in Ireland, whereas her connection to land, kingsip, and sovereignty was important if tribal land threatened.

Folklore: There are many Irish myths and legends involving the Morrigan, and this list is but a sampling: The Tain Bo Cuailgne, The Morrigan and Cuchulainn, The Battle of Muirthemne, Bres Mac Elatha and the Tuatha De Danann, The Hostel of the Quicken Trees, The Exploits of the Dagda, The Awakening of the Men of Ulster, The Morrigu, Cruachan, Dagda, The Courting of Emer by Lady Gregory, The Story of the Tuatha De Danann, and Donn Son of Midhir to name a few. In the “Battle of Mag Tuired” (Cath Maige Tuireadh), the Dagda comes across the Morrigan on Samhain at the river Unius where she is washing herself with one foot on each side of the river’s bank. It is said the river was formed from her urination. The Morrigan makes love to the Dagda just before he goes to battle with the Fomorians and they form a tryst. She promises him she would summon the great Druids of Ireland to cast a spell on behalf of the Tuatha De Danann destroying Indech, the Fomorian King, taking from him “the blood of his heart and the kidneys of his valour.” She was believed to have taken two handfuls of his blood and depositing them in the Unius river. As the battle is about to be joined, Lugh, of the Tuatha De Danann asks each of them what power they are bringing to battle … he was unable to interpret the Morrigan’s reply, but knows it involved pursuing, destroying, and subduing. In Battle she chants a poem that breaks the battle and the Fomorians are driven off into sea. After that, she chants another poem that celebrates the victory and prophesizes the end of the world. When she appeared before Cuchulainn as a beautiful red-headed warrior, he turned away her amorous attempts, and apparently in due form during his battles in the Ulster Cycle conflicted him as a heifer, eel, wolf, and old hag. During his battle at Muirthemne, she appeared to him as three crones who were roasting a hound on a rowan spit. He was not to eat of the meat for his namesake was after the hound. Eating such would be forsaken and represent the day he dies. The crones shamed him into eating the tabooed flesh and that led to his death in battle that same day. The Morrigan transformed to the form of a black crow, flew to his corpse, and sat on his soldier so that the enemies knew he was truly deceased. Another Cuchulainn’s death tale depicts Cuchulainn encountering the Morrigan as a hag washing his bloody armour in a ford prophesizing his death. After this, Cuchulainn holds himself up tied to a standing stone with his own entrails so he could die standing upright and it is in this pose that the Morrigan transformed as a crow lands on his shoulders so all knew he was dead. Another tale talks of the Morrigan appearing as an old crone trying to cross a stream in front of Diarmuid O’Duibne. No one in Diarmuid’s company took pity on her except he, and went to the stream carrying her across the water on his back. During this act, she transformed into a beautiful tall sidhe woman who was from Tir na nog. She blessed him with the gift that no woman could ever resist his look or refuse him. A woman named Grainne fell in love with him causing him to gain the wraith of Fionn Mac Cumhaill who was also trying to woo’ her. Another legend tells about the Morrigan luring away Odras’ bull. Odras then follows her to the Otherworld through the cave of Cruachan. The Morrigan discovering this, awaits for Odras to fall asleep and then turns her into a pool of water. I’ve always wondered if this “cave of Cruachan” is the “Cave of the Cats” in Roscommon, and if the the pool of water just beneath the rockfall leading up to a hole and passage to the Morrigan’s house is poor old Odras?

just by the pool’s edge, before the shamble
up to the Morrigan’s Home
Cave of the Cats, Rathcroghan, Ireland

History: The earliest manuscripts referring to her are in the 8th century O’Mulconry Glossary saying that “Macha” is one of the three “morrigna”. 9th century Latin Vulgate translation of the Book of Isaiah as the Lmaia translating to Herbrew Lilith, described in the glosses as “a monster in female form, that is a morrigan”. The 9th century C.E. Cormac’s glossary also describes her as does a gloss in the H.3.18 manuscript of “gudemain” meaning “spectres” with a plural form as “morrigna”. The earliest account depicting the Morrigan as an individual was during the Ulster Cycle stories where the tale between her and Co Chulainn are told in the Tain Bo Regamna (“The cattle Raid of Regamain”). In the 12th century texts known as the “Mythological Cycle” she is also described and told tales about. In the “Lebor Gabola irenn” she is listed amongst the “Tuatha De Danann” as a daughter of Ernmas, granddaughter of the Nuada. In the Mythological Cycle, Ernmas is said to have three sisters known as uriu, Banba, and Fodla which are synonyms for Ireland and were married to Mac Cuill, Mac Cocht, and Mac Graine, the last three Kings of Ireland that were Tuatha De Danann. Ernmas had three daughters who were Badb, Macha, and the Morrigan that were described as being “wealthy”, “springs of craftiness”, and “sources of bitter fighting”. The Morrigan was also referred to as being named “Anand”. She had three sons, “Glon”, “Gaim”, and “Coscar”. The 17th century “History of Ireland” by Geoffrey Keating stated the oriu, Banba, and Fodla worshiped Badb, Macha, and the Morrigan respectively. The 1870 publication of “The Ancient Irish Goddess of War” by W.M. Hennessey was very popular in dressing the Morrigan as a war or battle Goddess. She was also at times linked with the Banshee because of her raven or crow-like shape shifting image and her involvement with foretelling omens, oracles, and prophesies involving certain warrior’s and hero’s violent deaths, just as the Banshee do. The scholar Patricia Lysaght states that “In certain areas of Ireland this supernatural being is, in addition to the name banshee, also called the badhb.” It was through this interpretation that the Morrigan was known not only to cry out imminent death but also the outcomes of war.

Present-day Rites and Rituals:

Many Neo-Pagans today celebrate, worship, honor, and pay tribute to “The Morrigan”. This can be found in many different Pagan traditions such as Druidism, Wicca, Witchcraft, and Celtic Shamanism. Sometimes she’s included in ceremonies with other Deities, while others actually set up permanent shrines in her honor. These shrines sometimes have items sacred to her such as a bowl of brine and blood, raven or crow feathers, red cloth, menstrual blood, and anything else that represents life and death, fertility and war, the crow, or mythology associated with her. Some modern-day Morrigan cults suggest that the rites be kept sweet and simple, to encompass her mythos, and add in elements of her symbology. They say when you fee her presence to offer her something of value to you such as your blood, hair, or favorite beverage. She is infamous attendee of initiations regardless of being a birth, a death, transformation, or a commitment. Some ritualists call the Morrigan down into their cauldrons in order to gain her prophecy or wisdom there.

Bibliography / Recommended Reading / References:

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