The Phantom Queen
The Morrígan (“phantom queen”) or Mórrígan (“great queen”), also written as Morrígu or in the plural as Morrígna, and spelt Morríghan or Mór-ríoghain in Modern Irish, is a figure from Irish mythology who appears to have been considered a goddess, although she is not explicitly referred to as such in the texts.
The Morrígan is a goddess of battle, strife, and sovereignty. She sometimes appears in the form of a crow, flying above the warriors, and in the Ulster cycle she also takes the form of an eel, a wolf and a cow. She is generally considered a war deity comparable with the Germanic Valkyries, although her association with a cow may also suggest a role connected with wealth and the land.
She is often depicted as a trio of goddesses, all sisters, although membership of the triad varies; the most common combinations are Badb, Macha and Nemain, or Badb, Macha and Anand; Anand is also given as an alternate name for Morrigu.
There is some disagreement over the meaning of the Morrígan’s name. Mor may derive from an Indo-European root connoting terror or monstrousness, cognate with the Old English maere (which survives in the modern English word “nightmare”) and the Scandinavian mara and the Old Russian “mara” (“nightmare”); while rígan translates as ‘queen’. This can be reconstructed in Proto-Celtic as *Moro-rīganī-s. Accordingly, Morrígan is often translated as “Phantom Queen”. This is the derivation generally favoured in current scholarship.
In the Middle Irish period the name is often spelled Mórrígan with a lengthening diacritic over the ‘o’, seemingly intended to mean “Great Queen” (Old Irish mór, ‘great'; this would derive from a hypothetical Proto-Celtic *Māra Rīganī-s). Whitley Stokes believed this latter spelling was a due to a false etymology popular at the time. There have also been attempts by modern writers to link the Morrígan with the Welsh literary figure Morgan le Fay from Arthurian romance, in whose name ‘mor’ may derive from a Welsh word for ‘sea’, but the names are derived from different cultures and branches of the Celtic linguistic tree.
Invocation of Morrigan
Morrigan Morrigan Three times Three,
Hear the words I ask of Thee.
Grant me vision, Grant me power,
Cheer me in my darkest hour.
As the night overtakes the day,
Morrigan Morrigan Light my way.
Morrigan Morrigan Raven Queen
Round and round the Hawthorn Green.
Queen of beauty, Queen of Art,
Yours my body, Yours my heart.
All my trust I place in thee,
Morrigan Morrigan Be with me…
Morrigan As The Triple Goddesss
The Morrígan is often considered a triple goddess, but this triple nature is ambiguous and inconsistent. Sometimes she appears as one of three sisters, the daughters of Ernmas: Morrígan, Badb and Macha. Sometimes the trinity consists of Badb, Macha and Anann, collectively known as the Morrígna. Occasionally Nemain or Fea appear in the various combinations. However, the Morrígan can also appear alone, and her name is sometimes used interchangeably with Badb.
The Morrígan is usually interpreted as a “war goddess”; W. M. Hennessey’s “The Ancient Irish Goddess of War”, written in 1870, was influential in establishing this interpretation. 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. 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.
It has also been suggested that she was closely tied to Irish männerbund groups (described as “bands of youthful warrior-hunters, living on the borders of civilized society and indulging in lawless activities for a time before inheriting property and taking their places as members of settled, landed communities”) and that these groups may have been in some way dedicated to her. If true, her worship may have resembled that of Perchta groups in Germanic areas.
However, Máire Herbert has argued that “war per se is not a primary aspect of the role of the goddess”, and that her association with cattle suggests her role was connected to the earth, fertility and sovereignty; she suggests that her association with war is a result of a confusion between her and the Badb, who she argues was originally a separate figure. She can be interpreted as providing political or military aid, or protection to the king—acting as a goddess of sovereignty, not necessarily a war goddess.
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 usually associated with outsiders such as the Fianna and the above-mentioned männerbund groups, as well as with the hunting of deer. The cooking connection also suggests to some a connection with the three mythical hags who cook the meal of dogflesh that brings the hero Cúchulainn to his doom. The Dá Chich na Morrigna (‘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.
by Anne-Christine Johnson
When the crows shriek thier frightening warnings,
When autumn ends, and Winter falls,
You will see a Lady a wondering,
weeping through the saddened fields.
She is turning the Silver Wheel of the seasons.
When the crows heed their endless calling,
Look to the Moon to see a Lady, dancing in the blackened clouds,
And when at night you see her coming, fall in wonder of what
beauty she possesses, and shed your tears.
The Great Queen is walking her footsteps once again.
Morrighan, Morrighan, you’ll call her by name.
When the old earth opens from beneath your feet,
crows will catch you before you fall and place you in
Her cauldron, where rebirth waits and death awakens,
your prophecy you will find. What you see is Her,
walking the shadows and howling to the Universe,
forewarning Her arrival.
Black hair falling to Her feet, fill the ocean and become the waves,
Her legs become the forest; Her breasts become the mountains.
Her womb becomes your ancient home.
The origins of the Morrigan seem to reach directly back to the megalithic cult of the Mothers. The Mothers (Matrones, Idises, Disir, etc.) usually appeared as triple goddesses and their cult was expressed through both battle ecstasy and regenerative ecstasy. It’s also interesting to note that later Celtic goddesses of sovereignty, such as the trio of Eriu, Banba, and Fotla, also appear as a trio of female deities who use magic in warfare. “Influence in the sphere of warfare, but by means of magic and incantation rather than through physical strength, is common to these beings.” (Ross 205)
Eriu, a goddess connected to the land in a fashion reminiscent of the Mothers, could appear as a beautiful woman or as a crow, as could the Morrigan. The Disir appeared in similar guises. In addition to being battle goddesses, they are significantly associated with fate as well as birth in many cases, along with appearing before a death or to escort the deceased.
There is certainly evidence that the concept of a raven goddess of battle was not limited to the Irish Celts. An inscription found in France which reads Cathubodva, ‘Battle Raven’, shows that a similar concept was at work among the Gaulish Celts.
Valkyries in Norse cosmology. Both use magic to cast fetters on warriors and choose who will die.
During the Second Battle, the Morrigan “said she would go and destroy Indech son of De Domnann and ‘deprive him of the blood of his heart and the kidneys of his valor’, and she gave two handfuls of that blood to the hosts. When Indech later appeared in the battle, he was already doomed.” (Rees 36)
Compare this to the Washer at the Ford, another guise of the Morrigan. The Washer is usually to be found washing the clothes of men about to die in battle. In effect, she is choosing who will die.
An early German spell found in Merseburg mentions the Indisi, who decided the fortunes of war and the fates of warriors. The Scandinavian “Song of the Spear”, quoted in “Njals Saga”, gives a detailed description of Valkyries as women weaving on a grisly loom, with severed heads for weights, arrows for shuttles, and entrails for the warp. As they worked, they exulted at the loss of life that would take place. “All is sinister now to see, a cloud of blood moves over the sky, the air is red with the blood of men, and the battle women chant their song.” (Davidson 94)
An Old English poem, “Exodus”, refers to ravens as choosers of the slain. In all these sources, ravens, choosing of the slain, casting fetters, and female beings are linked.
“As the Norse and English sources show them to us, the walkurjas are figures of awe an even terror, who delight in the deaths of men. As battlefield scavengers, they are very close to the ravens, who are described as waelceasega, “picking over the dead”…” (Our Troth)
“The function of the goddess [the Morrigan] here, it may be noted, is not to attack the hero [Cu Chulainn] with weapons but to render him helpless at a crucial point in the battle, like the valkyries who cast ‘fetters’ upon warriors … thus both in Irish and Scandinavian literature we have a conception of female beings associated with battle, both fierce and erotic.” (Davidson 97, 100)
The Morrigan and Cu Chulainn She appeared to the hero Cu Chulainn(son of the god Lugh) and offered her love to him. When he failed to recognize her and rejected her, she told him that she would hinder him when he was in battle. When Cu Chulainn was eventually killed, she settled on his shoulder in the form of a crow. Cu’s misfortune was that he never recognized the feminine power of sovereignty that she offered to him.
She appeared to him on at least four occasions and each time he failed to recognize her.
- When she appeared to him and declared her love for him.
- After he had wounded her, she appeared to him as an old hag and he offered his blessings to her, which caused her to be healed.
- On his way to his final battle, he saw the Washer at the Ford, who declared that she was washing the clothes and arms of Cu Chulainn, who would soon be dead.
- When he was forced by three hags (the Morrigan in her triple aspect) to break a taboo of eating dogflesh.
by J. Laskey
She haunts you in your dreams
When you wake you can’t even scream
You hear the wind in the midnight sky
Upon which the Morrigu shall fly
She is justice and everything right
Look out for more than dreams tonight…
Between both worlds the crow awaits
This perfect twist of fate Life or death, living or dead
You can’t escape the places you’ve tread
Mark my words, make no mistake
It’s only everything she will take…
Morrigan’s Image Representation
“The Mare-Queen” is often shown as a black raven or hooded crow, who feeds on the killed warriors after battle. She appears also as a caillech, one-eyed old woman. As a shape shifter, she would often appear as a raven or red cow. But sometimes when she is hot and looking for love she is also an attractive young lady.
The origins of the Morrígan seem to reach directly back to the megalithic cult of the Mothers. The Mothers (Matrones, Idises, Dísir, etc.) usually appeared as triple goddesses and their cult was expressed through both battle ecstasy and regenerative ecstasy.
The Morrigu is prophetess of all misfortune in battle and has knowledge of the fate of humanity. She is also the messenger of death as the dark lady/washer at the ford : Morrigan is seen washing bloody laundry prior to battle by those destined to die.
Her personality is associated with the sometimes frightening aspects of female energy.
As a protectress she empowers an individual to confront challenges with great personal strength, even against seemingly overwhelming odds. Roman chroniclers reported that Celts went into battle naked, exposing tattoos to summon their magical forces.
Morrigan’s Signs & Symbols
Sacred animal: Cow and Mare, Raven and Crow
Ford of a river
The Colors RED and BLACK.
Weapons like spears,swords and shields.
Additional Information on Morrigan
Attributes: archetypal Goddess of war, death and passionate love.
Representation: as a black raven or crow, who feeds on the killed warriors after battle.
Relations: Wife or Lover of Dagda, Daughter of
Offerings: Blood sacrifice