In the West on this day, December 31, we celebrate the end of one year and the beginning of the next. Parties sparkle with people and noise. We make merry as we remember old friends and welcome new ones.
But the turning of the earth reminds us that we are smack in the middle of the dark days, when we in the northern hemisphere huddle around the hearth fire contemplating the eternal cycle of life, death and life. In that spirit I offer you my contemplations on the Morrigan, Celtic Dark Goddess.
Morrigan, Celtic Goddess of War and Death, is a dark goddess we mortals tend to approach with fear and trepidation. A great Warrior Goddess, She represents the more terrifying aspects of female energy; sensuality, magic, prophecy, revenge, and war. She could either shape-shift into a crow or raven or be accompanied by them. In the Ulster cycle stories she also appears as a cow, a wolf and an eel. This indicates Her connection to prosperity, sovereignty and the land. Encompassing all essential divine functions, She is the Goddess of War, Sovereignty, Fertility and the Land.
Her name is linguistically rooted to the Indo-European words mor – terror and rigan – queen. Current scholars accept Her name to mean either Great Queen or Phantom Queen. In addition, Celtic mythology refers to Her as Morrígu, Morríghan, or Mor-Ríoghain. In Her aspect as Death Goddess, She is also called the “Washer at the Ford”, for when She was found washing a warrior’s armor in the stream it foretold his death in battle that day.
As with so many of the Celtic Goddesses, Morrigan is complex and hard to pin down. The Morrigan can be seen as a title given to either three different goddesses or three aspects of the same goddess. Her three aspects are Badb Catha, “battle crow”, Macha, “a plain” and Neaim, “frenzy”. She can appear as both a beautiful, sensual woman or as an ugly, old hag.
In Her aspect as Neaim, She was seen shrieking and flying over battlefields, striking terror and confusion into men’s hearts, often causing them to either fall dead from fear or to turn upon each other in confusion. As Badb, She revels in the gore and carnage of war. Here She is a flock of crows warning of a great battle or feasting on the slain warriors. As Macha, She takes on the most human of Her forms. But even as wife and mother Her prophesy is of war and death as seen in Macha’s curse on the Ulstermen.
Read more in my recent post on the Feminism and Religion Blog about the stories of Morrigan and the little white bird that appeared in my painting of Her. Click here.