Understanding the Warrior Goddess
Author: Stephanie Woodfield
When I tell most people my patron Goddess in the Morrigan usually their first questions is “Why would you want to worship a Goddess of war?” Those who have worked with the Great Queen will already know the Morrigan has many faces and aspects, war and battle only being one of them. But it is this attribute, one she shares with many other Dark Goddesses, which sadly makes some people question working with her.
Why is it that we fear the warrior Goddess? She appears to us in many forms, and across several cultures. In Egypt, she was Sekhmet, the lioness Goddess who drank the blood of her enemies. In Greek she was Athena, goddess of wisdom and war. As Durga, she was called upon by the Gods to battle demons, as only she had the power and strength to defeat them. She is Kali, Oya, Andraste, Freya, Bellona, and many others. In so many cultures the warrior Goddess was revered and held sacred. She defended clan and country, her fierceness filled enemies with despair. Those she favored were blessed with courage, battle frenzy and victory. Yet now she has become to many a deity to be avoided. What has changed? Have we suddenly recognized these Goddesses as representing something dangerous or have our attitudes towards her mysteries changed?
I think part of why we are afraid of the warrior Goddess is because our concept of war has drastically changed. We live in a world where we don’t have to worry about our food being stolen by people in the neighboring town. The battlefields our armed forces fight and die on are often far away, leaving us with the illusion that the violence of war is something distant, only to be viewed from afar on TV. Modern warfare more often than not is motivated by political agendas, but to our ancestors war was often an aspect of everyday life and most importantly survival.
In the Morrigan’s case, we must remember that warriors were held in high esteem in the Celtic mind and that the warrior caste was one of the highest in their society. Why? Because they kept everyone safe. Take a moment to bring some of our modern day warriors to mind: our military personnel, our police officers and firefighter. Soldiers and police officers sometimes need to use force and violence to protect us. It’s part of their job. They aren’t evil people because they use force. We hold them in esteem for doing a difficult and dangerous job, one that protects the rest of us and maintains peace (most of the time) in the world. In many ways, this is how the warrior archetype, divine and otherwise, was seen by ancient Pagans. When we consider this the warrior Goddess isn’t so unapproachable. Her nature is sometimes fierce, she is a Dark Goddess, her lessons difficult, but she is not by any means evil, nor is there any reason why modern practitioners should avoid working with her.
Generally war Gods or Goddesses reflect the type of warfare their culture participated in, embodying their ideals of honor and glory on the battlefield. War itself varies from culture to culture. The highly organized warfare of the Roman legions bears little resemblance to the somewhat haphazard style of warfare the Celts participated in or for that matter to our modern day high tech approach to war. Irish warfare in particular revolved around cattle raids. Cattle where seen as the ultimate source of wealth, were used as currency to pay debts and as bride prices. Cattle raids against other clans were a way not only to add to the wealth of the clan through heads of cattle and conquered land, but also to establish a leader’s prowess on the battlefield.
The fact that Celtic warfare revolved around cattle, (and ultimately sovereignty over the land and its wealth) is reflected in their Goddess of war, as the Morrigan is usually occupied in stealing cattle, herding them or making it difficult for others to obtain them; all functions that reflect the Celtic cosmology of warfare.
Oddly enough the Morrigan’s male counterparts Dagda, Lugh and Bran who participated in battle do not retain a stigma for being “bloodthirsty” or “evil”. The fact that the Morrigan is female and connected to battle makes her dangerous. Although women have gained equality with men in many ways we are still afraid of women who are dominate. War in the modern mind is still very much thought of as belonging to the realm of men. Women who participate in it become unfeminine and unnatural. Women today who aggressively pursue their dreams and desires, (whether that be a career or other goals in life) and who stand up for themselves are often accused of acting like men. This is especially true in the business world. Unfortunately the message our culture is sending women is that strength and power belong to the realm of men and it is unnatural for women to display these traits. Yet they can be found in warrior goddesses in cultures all around the globe.
Ultimately our concept of war and that of the Celts (or any ancient culture for that matter) is vastly different. We can neither divorce Morrigan from war, nor can we call her evil for being a Goddess of battle. Like the warriors the Celts revered, she protects her people, inspires those who take a stand, and guards her children. She reflects the Celtic concept of battle and war, not our modern ones. That is not to say she cannot be called upon in this guise today, just that to understand her role as a Goddess of war we must keep in mind the culture she came from.
But where does that leave the modern worshiper? Can the warrior Goddess still have a role in our lives today? Absolutely. Her role in our lives may have changed compared to that of our ancestors, but that does not mean we should abandon her mysteries. The warrior Goddess, in all her many guises, is concerned with all forms of conflict and its resolution, and her knack for bringing victory to those who invoke her make her a powerful ally when dealing with life’s problems.
Embracing the warrior Goddess has nothing to do with brandishing a sword or joining the military. You can be a pacifist and still work with a warrior deity. Modern warriors can be found in the most mundane places. The single mom working two jobs to provide for her family, firefighters, police officers, teachers, social workers and environmental activists, these are all warriors and draw on the power of the warrior Goddess. People, who draw on an inner strength to help themselves and others, all embody the warrior spirit.
The warrior Goddess challenges us to stand up and be counted, to draw on our inner strength and champion life’s battles. She knows the most important wars are not the physical ones. Whether it is overcoming an obstacle in life or fighting our inner demons the warrior Goddess is there to champion our cause. Maybe the warrior Goddess will challenge you to fight a “war” against poverty by working to help low income families. Maybe your “war” will be against animal cruelty and you will feel drawn to donate time at an animal shelter. Maybe you wish to draw on her strength to settle a conflict, to end an abusive relationship, to confront sexual harassment in the work place, or negotiating a raise from your boss. Whatever you do, whatever your battle, when life has you down say a prayer to the warrior Goddess.
She is always there, waiting for us to embrace her, ready to offer us victory.