by Saigh Kym Lambert and yes,
it IS copyrighted
and is not free for reposting
years go I tried to write a short piece on the Morrígan and Her
sisters. Concise does not work
well with Them. It ended huge, but
created this site to house
it. Just as I finished it and had it edited, I came upon a call
for submissions for what became By
Bone and Blade: A Tribute to the Morrígan (Nicole
Bonivusto, ed, Asheville, NC: Bibliotheca Alexandrina,
2014) and I submitted it and it was
I am currently asking for $2.50-
$5 "Musings on the
Irish War Goddesses,"
as it was a great deal of time and research involved. And my
animals need to eat.
However, to try to be concise, which is pretty much impossible with
Morrígan is one of the most popular Irish Deities. Or at least
the title is, often the Goddess described is not remotely similar to
Irish Goddess(es) who bore it originally.
There are three directions this takes, one by those who do not follow
Her is that She is too
bloodthirsty, too evil, too dark, too ______
and no one
should ever have anything to do with Her. The other two are the
descriptions by followers, one being that, yes, She is
Dark, maybe She is a Warrior, She is a strong guardian of women,
She helps with "shadow work," She is a psychopomp. The third
claim that both the others, as well as the academic evidence of Her as
a War Goddess, is maligning a loving, warm, sweet,, protective
Great Goddess. None of these images are reflected in the
early Irish evidence we have for Her.
When She called me over a quarter century ago, I felt it was clear I
needed to learn about the culture in order to properly worship Her. Or
I could keep practicing Wicca and pretend to worship Her while deep
down knowing She was ignoring me. Ironically, this means that
Celtic Reconstructionism, which many mistakenly believe denounces all
Unverified Personal Gnosis (UPG), was instigated by UPG. (and UPG is
always a part of CR methodology, it's just identified as such rather
than claimed as lore or tradition). It is an ongoing process to
try to see
things from the view of a past culture and also see where it fits
I believe that this is important if we are to worship the actual
Deities of our Pagan past and not reinvent them into what we
desire. For many years I felt I was not to speak or write too
much about Her or this path. A few years ago, however, I felt a change,
felt it was time to share.
It's impossible to really discuss the Morrígan, Badb and Macha in a
concise way. As I noted when i tired I ended up with "Musings on the
Goddesses" which takes up 35 pages
in the anthology before getting to
the endnotes and
bibliography which adds another 26. Please note the following
will be short on references, all can be found in more detail in my
essay and much of the source material I used is listed
here And, yes, I do hope those
reading this site might read
my essay as well.
Let's start with, yes, They are
War Goddesses in the Irish tradition. They are not "only" War
Goddesses, because that itself implies a one-dimensional concept of warriors,
based far more on modern stereotypes than the reality of early Irish
culture. They are completely immersed in chaos, conflict and battle.
Other "aspects/functions" all intersect with the Gaelic concepts of
warfare. Sovereignty is not about the modern personal concept, but of
actual territorial rule, which involves defense and, yes, sometimes
invasion. Cattle are as much a reason for war as they are a "symbol" of
fertility. Prophecy, shape-shifting and magic are tools of the
Gaelic warrior. Everything ties in. I'm not going to insist
that everyone must worship them through fénnidecht,
or even through a traditional Gaelic lens, I am not going to dictate to
others on that although it certainly what I am called to do and
precisely what this project
is to recreate. The
identities of the War Goddesses is often
As I noted, today emphasis is on the name or title "the Morrígan," with
especially but not exclusively Pagans,
considering the others to be
aspects of Her. However, this concept of "aspects" is really a
concept, especially when we try to force it into Robert Graves
invention of Maiden/Mother/Crone which they do not fit at all.
Ascribing Dumézil's tripartite function system also falls
apart. They are sisters, daughters of Ernmas, although we
do not know if this was true before Christian clerics tried to gather
what were once likely territorial and "tribal" Deities together into a
extended family. And there are more than three once we look at a
more extend family, nieces and "co-wives,". But clearly, They are
individuals, for all that
"Morrígan" and "Badb" are titles which, confusingly, may are assigned
differently in various texts.
Pro: MOR EE
Morrígan - an
[W/V]OR EE [gh]an (The "O" is short when spelled "Mor" and only
long when spelled "Mór." In Old Irish lenition is not often,
out so "g" in words is read as the Middle or Modern Irish "gh," that is
is a voiced velar
fricative. This is essentially a non-existent thing in Modern English,
so think sort of
a "swallowed y"sound. Dropping it all together also works,
although really it's an
almost natural sound between "EE" and "an" in this case, but consider
that modern Irish "queen" is spelled "ríonn."
"W/V" is a nasalized V, in Modern Irish use of the article, as well as
when addressing Her, would be indicated as lenited but that is only
implied in OI, so think of "mh" as in "Samhain") *
I noted above
of the Morrígan is the most popular and, therefore, the one which the
most misinformation is
spread, especially with the help of the internet.
The most common misconception is around the meaning of the
name/title as spelled here. "Morrígan" is often translated today
as "Great Queen"
which simply does not fit this spelling. "Mórrígan"
would be translated as such, but not "Morrígan."
The accent marks do mean something. This latter spelling, with "mór"
meaning "great," which can mean either size or importance just as the
English word can, is found primarily in place names and is considered a
late folk etymology. Also, given the
landscape associations, it probably refers to Her being "big" as in
manuscripts tend to show that Morrígan, which translates to "Phantom
Queen," is the older spelling.
Therefore, if someone means "Great
Queen" they could be spelling it with the "ó."
rather than the "o." Always. Note most people also pronounce the
first syullable with a long "o" which also would be in the spelling
"Mór" while "Mor" would be short, yet everyone insists on using one
spelling and the other pronunciation (the second part is pretty much
always wrong) and meaning.
Again,, evidence stands that the "o"
spelling and "Phantom"
translation is older and it is the one we focus on in this work, for
all the reasons. It is also why I continue to use the Old Irish
spelling, as "Mor" is disused. For the "Great Queen" one could
modernize it to "Mór Rion," however.
The Morrígan, is
one of the most featured Goddesses in the texts and is
one who is actually referred to as a Goddess (in Tochmarc Emire
for example). A Goddess of war, victory and prophecy, She is
often confused as being also a Goddess of sex and sovereignty, because
She has sex with the Dagda before the Cath
Maige Tuired (CMT)
and offers it to Cú Chulainn
in the Táin Bó Cúalnge (TBC). However, neither are bound to
although Dagda had formerly been, and it is victory not sovereignty She
offers. I believe it's clear that when She
offers this it's not always wise to accept, for it a hard won victory
is more honorable for a warrior proving themselves. The idea that
She is a Sex Goddess seems to be due to Her having sex in these cases,
but She does not fit this description as there is no evidence that She
is concerned with the sex life of others.
She is associated
with crows, ravens and other blackbirds, She appears
as such as well as a heifer, an eel and a wolf. Based on the last
and Her interest in the Cú Chulainn, the Hound, I believe She may have
been one of the Deities that the Outlaw war bands may have worshiped
(and yes, some of my own experiences, which I wrote about in "The War
Goddess's Bitch"). Her relationship with Cú
Chulainn is the best example we have of a relationship
between warrior and Patron Deity. It is often a difficult one, often
mistaken by modern Pagans as a hostile one. She tests him and She
berates him, to incite him to greatness, and
in the end She tries to save him from the death he had chosen when he
took up arms for the first time.
remains of just Who is the Morrígan and it is confusing.
title is associated with three War Goddesses, Badb, Macha and Anann,
who are three of six daughters of Ernmas in the Lebor Gabála Érenn: The Book of the Taking
of Ireland Vol IV (LGÉ)
Here the title "the Morrígan" seems to be most often used along with or
in place of "Anann's name, however, it's also used for Macha as well
and there is one entry which makes Anann and the Morrígan the third and
fourth of three sisters. This latter is likely a transcription error as
it makes little sense. However, the confusion in theLGÉ< itself, along with the fact
the Morrígan and Badb are conflated at many points in the Ulster Cycle,
do hint at the possibility of the title having been used for more than
one Goddess. My theory, rather unprovable, is that these all may have
been territorial Goddesses who sometimes bore the title for the people
in Their territories, turned into a "family" by the scribes to try to
make some sense of Them while attempting a sense of unity.To
things more, "morrígna"
in the plural and lower case may also refer to a class of female
Otherworldy beings that are not quite Goddesses. Let's add to
this that the same is true of "badba"
in the plural, which seems to be used for both clearly Otherworldly
beings but also witches who may or may not be human or Otherworldly or
possibly somewhat both.
When I speak of
"the Morrígan" as one of three
Goddesses, I am usually
thinking of Anann. When singular, it is mostly that I am a mere
and it could be any of them and I am not sure which. I might,
do the same with Badb.
actually often left out completely when the War Goddesses are discussed
either in the Pagan community or by academics. Sometimes, just
the title "the Morrígan" is used but, oddly, sometimes the name
"Nemain" is substituted although She is not one of the Daughters of
Ernmas, apparently due to confusion about the Bé Néit (see below).
problem is that because Anann
is often conflated with *Danu or Danann, and *Danu is so commonly
thought to be
a Great Mother Goddess progenitor and this becomes uncomfortable for
there is also a Danann who is
clearly a different being among the TDD
in both the CMT and the Cath Maige
the connection is made in
IV. There one entry describes the Morrígan as being Anann and to
having given Her name, Danann, to the Tuatha
(TDD) through Her sons. (as
this is a tough one for some I'll give the page
numbers pg. 128, 129) However, this doesn't mean She is the
progenitor of the TDD, only
that They were named for Her. The NeoPagan "tradition" of *Danu
as a Primal Great Mother was well questioned in Alexei Kondratiev's , “Danu
and Bile: The Primordial Parents?” and more on the history
found in John Carey's “The Name ‘Tuatha
Dé Danann’" Éigse,
Vol. 18, prt. 2, pg. 291-94.
Therefore, I find
the evidence for Anann being the Morrígan, or one of the Morrígna,
is strong while Danann is also a separate Goddess of Magic of the TDD
. But neither are "Primal
Great Mother of the TDD
there is no such Primal
Pro: BADHV a more modern
pronunciation is BIVE *
translated as "scald crow" or "hooded crow" and is also, when
used in lower case, can mean "witch" or "battle demon." The name
is often used interchangeably with the Morrígan in the CMT
and the TBC.
To add to more
confusion, in Compert Con Culainn
the name is used for Cailitín’s daughters, who have no relationship to
daughters of Ernmas, as well as there being a reference to a Washer at
the Ford who is called Badb's Daughter. This is one reason many
people mistakenly believe that "the Morrígan" fed Cú Chulainn dog meat
and brought about his death, that was Cailitín’s daughters who were
seeking vengeance for their father's death in the TBC
. Badb's Daughter's
identity is less problematic, but it's still debatable as to whether
this is a unique relative, that is Badb's daughter and Anann and
Macha's niece, or if it is meant to be the Morrígan who surely did
mourn his death.
[ch]a (“ch” as “loch” “a” as in “sofa”) *
name means "pasture"
possibly specifically a "enclosure to feed
cattle" This name is used for at least five different
individuals, although many scholars and Pagans will indicate three
perhaps because "we all know everything Celtic comes in
threes"...except when it doesn't...and as we shall, see five is perhaps
the most likely alternative). One is the
daughter of Ernmas, who is at one entry in the LGÉ is identified as the Morrígan.
The others are Macha daughter of Partholón,
Macha wife of Nemed, Macha Monruadh (who I discuss in "'By Force in the
Battlefield': Finding the Irish Female Hero" in the first issue of Air
and Macha ingen Sainrith meic Inboith (who is associated with
horses as noted in Warriors
for the Horse
I tend to not think that they are all the daughters of Ernmas, although
they may reflect Her however, there are many varying opinions on their
relationship to each other.
Those being the
Three Daughters of Ernmas, there are other designations and names of
War Goddesses which are related, interchanged and confused.
Pro: BAY N
ADE ("n" is nasalzied, rhymes with
"Wives of the (War
God) Néit," or possibly "the women of
war." While the Morrígna are usually noted as three sisters, in
this case They are a pair. Perhaps Néit could be seen as the third,
although usually He is not always actually there. There may be one wife
or two, and the names vary and they
may be some combination of Badb, the Morrígan, Nemain or Fea.
There is some possibility that Nuada is a variation and therefore Macha
would also be such a wife, as They "die" together in the CMT
not unlike how Badb
and Nemain "die" with Néit at Ailech in theLGÉ.
ven (again the "m" is is nasalized "v") ***
name is something
like "warlike fury." As
already noted, She is often used to replace Anann but is actually not
in any of the material as a Daughter of Ernmas, but is listed as Their
niece in one genealogy. She is sometimes one of the Bé Néit, usually with Fea or Badb
and in this latter combination They shriek over the troops in
the TBC. It is perhaps due to
the way WM
Hennessey used "Badb"
encompassing title of the three
daughters of Ernmas,
rather than the Morrígan, and the frequent combination of Badb Nemain
that created decades of the name "Nemain" being used to replace "Anann"
by academics which is still done in both academics and the Pagan
Community. However, I feel the best evidence is for Her
being a fourth War Goddess. Of course, if this is a territorial
Goddess issue, then Her people may have called Her their "Phantom
FA (a as in "father" the "e" is not pronounced and serves as a "glide
vowel" between the "f" and the broad "a") **
The meaning is
"woe." Again, a niece in the genealogy and one of
the Bé Néit. It may also be
that this is another name for Badb, however, I feel She a fifth War
Goddess, again possibly the Morrígan of yet another area.
I do realize that this
may not make anything clearer, in fact it may
likely muddied things up for many. All I can say is, welcome to my
world. Confusion is a part of dealing with the War Goddesses,
pronunciations were put together by me with the
*Caera Aislingeach, some with the help of **Carly
McNamara (via Maya StClair) who also
verified no hard "g" in middle of OI words, others gleaned from Sengoídelc Old Irish for Beginners
by David Stifter, A First Old Irish
Grammar and Reader by Kim McCone and the excellent and highly
recommended pronunciation guide in ***Ireland's
Immortals: A History of the Gods
of Irish Myth by Mark Williams. All mistakes are my
copyright © 2015, 2017 Saigh Kym Lambert
Statues by Paul Borda of Dryad
Designs, LTD and
displayed with permission. Photo ©
2013 Saigh Kym Lambert Background
modified by Saigh Kym Lambert based on a Pictish spiral (as featured in
George Bain's Celtic