The Morrígan or Mórrígan, also known as Morrígu, is a figure from Irish mythology. The name is Mór-Ríoghain in Modern Irish, and it has been translated as "great queen" or "phantom queen".
The Morrígan is often described as a trio of individuals, all sisters, called "the three Morrígna". Membership of the triad varies; sometimes it is given as:
- Badb (Baib)
- Nemain NEY-van
While elsewhere it is given as Badb, Macha and Anand (the latter is given as another name for the Morrígan).
Episode: File 0017: Let's Get Mythical
Release Date: February 26th 2021
Researched and presented by Halli
The Morrígan was seen by medieval Irish writers as an archetypal figure in her relation to spirits, particularly malevolent female spirits and monsters. These scholars referred to such spirits as morrígna, and used the term morrígna to describe beings as diverse as the Middle Eastern lamia and the demon-goddess Lilith from the Latin Vulgate Bible.
The Morrígan was often called "Phantom Queen," a title acknowledging her relationship with the dead.
The Morrígan's earliest narrative appearances, in which she is depicted as an individual, are in stories of the Ulster Cycle, where she has an ambiguous relationship with the hero Cúchulainn (Coo-cull-lann).
In the Táin Bó Regamna ("The Cattle Raid of Regamain"), Cúchulainn encounters the Morrígan, but does not recognize her, as she drives a heifer from his territory. In response to this perceived challenge, and his ignorance of her role as a sovereignty figure, he insults her. But before he can attack her she becomes a black bird on a nearby branch. Cúchulainn now knows who she is, and tells her that had he known before, they would not have parted in enmity. She notes that whatever he had done would have brought him ill luck. To his response that she cannot harm him, she delivers a series of warnings, foretelling a coming battle in which he will be killed. She tells him,
"It is at the guarding of thy death that I am; and I shall be."
The stories are written in Old and Middle Irish, mostly in prose, interspersed with occasional verse passages. They are preserved in manuscripts of the 12th to 15th centuries but, in many cases, are much older. The language of the earliest stories is dateable to the 8th century, and events and characters are referred to in poems dating to the 7th. The tone is terse, violent, sometimes comic, and mostly realistic, although supernatural elements intrude from time to time.
The Morrígan is mainly associated with war and fate, and is often interpreted as a "war goddess". W. M. Hennessy's The Ancient Irish Goddess of War, written in 1870, was influential in establishing this interpretation.
She is said to derive pleasure from mustered hosts. Her role often involves premonitions of a particular warrior's violent death, suggesting a link with the banshee of later folklore.
This connection is further noted by Patricia Lysaght:
"In certain areas of Ireland this supernatural being is, in addition to the name banshee, also called the badhb".
Her role was to not only be a symbol of imminent death, but to also influence the outcome of war. Most often, she did this by appearing as a crow flying overhead, and would either inspire fear or courage in the hearts of the warriors. In some cases, she is written to have appeared in visions to those who are destined to die in battle as washing their bloody armor. In this specific role, she is also given the role of foretelling imminent death with a particular emphasis on the individual. There are also a few rare accounts where she would join in the battle itself as a warrior and show her favoritism in a more direct manner.
There is a burnt mound site in County Tipperary known as Fulacht na Mór Ríoghna ("cooking pit of the Mórrígan"). The fulachtaí sites are found in wild areas, and are usually associated with outsiders such as the fianna, as well as with the hunting of deer.
There may be a link with the three mythical hags who cook the meal of dogflesh that brings the hero Cúchulainn to his doom.
The Dá Chích na Morrígna ("two breasts of the Mórrígan"), a pair of hills in County Meath, suggest to some a role as a tutelary goddess, comparable to Anu, who has her own hills, Dá Chích Anann ("the breasts of Anu") in County Kerry. Other goddesses known to have similar hills are Áine and Grian of County Limerick who, in addition to a tutelary function, also have solar attributes.
There have been attempts by some modern researchers and authors of fiction to link the Morrígan with the character of Morgan, the latter often being depicted in the legend as a fairy or otherwise supernatural sister of King Arthur. Morgan first appears in literature in Geoffrey of Monmouth's 12th-century Vita Merlini as a goddess-like figure in no blood relation to Arthur, whom she takes to her Otherworld style land of Avalon following his mortal wound in a battle.
In some Arthurian texts, such as Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Morgan is portrayed as a hag whose actions set into motion a bloody trail of events that lead the hero into numerous instances of danger. Morgan is also depicted as a seductress, much like the older legends of the Morrígan, and has numerous lovers whom she might be even abducting for this purpose (as in some stories of Lancelot and Ogier the Dane, among others). The character is frequently depicted as wielding power over others to achieve her own purposes, allowing those actions to play out over time, to the benefit or detriment of other characters.
However, while the creators of the literary character of Morgan may have been somewhat inspired by the much older tales of the goddess, the relationship likely ends there. Scholars such as Rosalind Clark hold that the names are unrelated, the Welsh "Morgan" (Wales being the original source of the Matter of Britain) being derived from root words associated with the sea, while the Irish "Morrígan" has its roots either in a word for "terror" or a word for "greatness".
Morrigan is known for her strengths, which include her ability to instill fear in those who crossed her. She is also known for her weaknesses and was described as vindictive. She wasn't afraid to kill if she felt disrespected. She is forever linked to the festival of Samhain and is usually symbolically represented by a crow or raven. She is also sometimes associated with horse symbolism and has been linked to Epona, the equine Goddess.
The Morrigan has shown up in pop culture, from band names and songs to other media like television and comics. But there are still worshippers of the goddess.
The Coru Cathubodua is a Pagan Polytheist priesthood dedicated to the Morrígan in Her many forms. The Priesthood was founded in 2012 in response to a calling from the Morrígan to gather Her priests and begin the work of building a tradition of practice and an organization dedicated to Her. Many people within the Pagan and Polytheist communities have observed a rising and increasingly urgent sense of the presence of the Morrígan in the recent few years, and many have heard and responded to Her call. It was that same presence, urgency and calling that brought our Priesthood into being.
Primarily based in the San Francisco Bay Area, we also travel to bring service to communities abroad. We provide ritual, spiritual, and religious support to individuals on a private level, and ritual leadership at public gatherings, conferences, and rituals. We organize and facilitate teachings, classes, and pilgrimages in Celtic spirituality and Polytheist religious practice and we aid our communities in services such as organizing blood drives, fundraising, and medical and spiritual response teams for civil rights and social justice actions.
The Coru Cathubodua priesthood is committed to building an inclusive tradition and community. As practitioners of Celtic Polytheism, a tradition that venerates justice, honor and the sovereignty of all people. They affirm the following policies and commitments:
We respect and welcome all persons regardless of color, ethnicity, age, ability, religion, size, class, perceived or actual sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.
We affirm that Celtic Polytheism is and must be an inclusive tradition, and that all people have inherent worth and inherent right to seek, study and honor the Gods, regardless of ancestry or any other personal quality.
We affirm that "folkish" beliefs or any other attitude that preferences people based on European ancestry or white race have no place in Celtic Polytheism, nor will these attitudes be tolerated within our practice and community.
We recognize ancestral powers, traditional folk practices, and the historical roots of Celtic Polytheism as spiritual wellsprings, not as prescriptive social norms, and we strongly reject their use as a means to exclude or marginalize people. Wherever these sources of tradition present threads of racism, classism, sexism, heteronormativity, and ableism, we affirm our right and our commitment to cultivating a more inclusive living tradition that supports all members of the community.
Spaces we host and control are safe and consent-based spaces. Unsafe behaviors and words that target or marginalize people including but not limited to racism, sexism, ageism, classism, transphobia, homophobia, xenophobia, ethnicism, sizeism, ableism and other prejudicial and discriminatory behaviors will not be tolerated. This includes both physical and online spaces we host and control.
We stand and we act in solidarity with People of Color, women, ethnic and gender minority people, and all those who suffer systemic oppression and prejudicial treatment in our society. We affirm the moral right and duty of religious leaders to take positive action to seek justice for the people we serve.
We are committed to the active practice of justice and inclusivity, and to constantly striving to do better. We welcome feedback from our community to help us continually act in the service of all community members, and we are committed to listening.
PRAYER TO THE MORRIGAN (RYNN FOX, AUGUST 2012)
Great Queen, The Morrigan
Hear me, I am your Priest and your Warrior,
Protect me from harm, be it by intent or by ignorance,
In the face of life's trials and joys,
May I be ever steady: calm in mind, body, and emotion,
May I be centered, present, embodied,
My mind like water; clinging to no thing and untroubled,
May I act decisively, truth and wisdom as my guideposts,
May my actions and words move from a place of honor, wisdom, compassion, and love,
May I know when to cut, and when to be cut
Clothe me in guile and cunning;
That I may move with suppleness and resiliency between the worlds