The Morrigan, or Mórrígu is a Celtic goddess with many faces. A member of the Tuatha D Danann, her name most likely means either “Mare Queen” or “Great Queen”. She is most often linked to her sisters, Babd and Macha, as one aspect of a Triple Goddess but she also stands as a goddess in her own right. Other sources link her to Nemain, Anann, and Eire. Celts in France may have worshiped her under the name Cathubodva, or “Battle Raven”. Badb and Macha, greatness of wealth, Morrigu--
springs of craftiness,
sources of bitter fighting
were the three daughters of Ernmas.
(1. Lebor Gabála Érenn)
The Morrigan is most often referred to as a goddess of war and destruction. Being the daughter of Ernmas (Murder), it is not surprising that this goddess is associated strongly with death and destruction. “Morrigu...is the Battle-Crow and is called the Wife of Neit, i.e. the Goddess of Battle, for Neit is the same as God of Battle”. (2. The Wooing of Emer) In “The Second Battle of Mag Tuired”, she even takes Dagda as another consort during Samhain to ensure victory over the Fomorians. She is “Morrigu who brings victory” in battle. (3. Lore of Women).
The Morrigan is also referred to as a goddess fate and prophecy. In “The Second Battle of Mag Tuired”, she is the “Washer at the Ford” cleaning the garments of those to be slain in battle. In doing so, she is predicting who will die. Along with her ability to choose who will die, her prophecy regarding the end of the world establishes her role as a goddess of prophecy. "I shall not see a world
Which will be dear to me:
Summer without blossoms,
Cattle will be without milk,
Women without modesty,
Men without valor.”
(4. The Second Battle of Mag Tuired)
Mórrígu is also presented as a shape changer making her a goddess of transformation as well as destruction. The most common shapes taken by the Morrigan, and especially her sister Badb, is that of a hooded crow or raven. She appears as a crow on the shoulder of the dead hero in “The Death of Cu Chulainn”. When she changes from a red haired woman into a black bird before Cúchulainn, he announces her as “a dangerous (or magical) woman”. (5. The Cattle-Raid of Regamna). In this story she threatens to change into an eel, a grey wolf, and a “white heifer with red ears” who with one hundred other cows of like color will test the “truth of men”.
Being a magical woman, the Morrigan is also a goddess of magic and sorcery. She is listed as a sorceress of the Tuatha D Danann along with her sisters Babd and Macha on more than one occasion. Badb and Macha and Morrigan went to the Knoll of the Taking of the Hostages, and to the Hill of Summoning of Hosts at Tara, and sent forth magic showers of sorcery and compact clouds of mist and a furious rain of fire, with a downpour of red blood from the air on the warriors’ heads; and they allowed the Fir Bolg neither rest nor stay for three days and nights.
(6. The First Battle of Moytura)
In is in her Macha incarnation that the Morrigan best represents the role of “Mare Queen” or that of a horse goddess. Traditionally, Celtic horse goddesses rule over sovereignty. It is through marriage to them that kings are made legitimate. It is also important to note that by refusing her in “Tain Bo Cuailnge”, Cu Chulainn is refusing ultimate sovereignty over Ireland and insuring his own eventual destruction. Even his horse, the Gray of Macha (a gift from Macha or the Morrigan) who cried on Cu Chulainn’s feet could not prevent his death in the end.
Mórrígu’s association with fertility is best represented by her associations with Anann.. The Book of Invasions lists her as “Morrigu, whose name was Anand” thus establishing a firm link between the Morrigan and the namesake for the “Paps of Anu”. The fertility aspect of this landmark speaks for itself.
1.) MacAlister, R.A. Stewart. “Lebor Gabála Érenn: The Book of the Taking of Ireland, Part IV.” Irish Texts Society, Vol. XLI., 1941.
2.) Meyer, Kuno (trans), “The Wooing of Emer”, CELT: Corpus of Electronic Texts: a project of University College, Cork College Road, Cork, Ireland. — http://www.ucc.ie/celt
3.) ni C. Dobbs, Maighreád. "The Ban-shenchus" (Lore of Women). Revue Celtique. vol. 47-49. Collected from the Books of Leinster, Lecan, Ui Maine, Ballymote
4.) Gray, Elizabeth A. “Cath Maige Tuired: The Second Battle of Mag Tuired”, 1982
5.) Leahy, A. H.. “Heroic Romances of Ireland, Volume II.”, (The Cattle-Raid of Regamna ), 1906
6.) Fraser, J. "The First Battle of Moytura." Ériu v.8 , 1915