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Thursday, September 29, 2016

Cu Sidhe

There are many different types of fairy animals, both the more intelligent beings like the puka who can take animal form and animals that are part of fairy. One of the more interesting ones is the fairy hound, or cu sidhe (pronounced koo shee). The cu sidhe are known by many names including cu sith (Scottish), cwn annwn (Welsh), and when riding with the Wild Hunt may be called the Gabriel Ratchets, dandy dogs, or Hell hounds. They are also sometimes conflated with the ghostly hounds known as the black dog, black shuck, Hell Hounds, Padfoot, Bogey, Moddey Doo or the Grim. Katherine Briggs divides these supernatural dogs into three categories: supernatural beings, human ghosts in dog form, and ghosts of dogs (Briggs, 1978). For our purposes we will discusses all appearances of Otherworldly dogs, but it is important to understand up front that the subject is complex and that what appears to be a dog may or may not actually be a dog.

Irish wolfhound, image public domain

The cu sidhe may appear as huge shaggy black or dark green dogs, or as swift white hounds with red eyes and ears, sometimes missing a limb. They are known by their enormous size, often described as being as large as a calf with huge round eyes (Parkinson, 2013). These spectral dogs may be male or female and may appear alone, in pairs, or in packs (Campbell, 2008). A cu sidhe may also appear as a black dog with a white ring around its neck, usually seen on a fairy hill (Evans Wentz, 1911).

The cu sidhe when associated with the Wild Hunt usually frighten people, as the Hunt itself is an omen of war, death, and madness, although it can also bring blessings. The black dogs are seen as omens of death, although it is a bit murky as to whether, like the Irish bansidhe, the dog shows up to warn of an impending death or whether the dog causes the death (Parkinson, 2013). However not all black dogs are bad omens; in at least some cases the appearance of the black dog was protective as in one story from Swancliffe where a man has a black dog appear and accompany him through a dark wood, twice, only to find out later that the dog had saved him from being robbed and killed by highwaymen (Parkinson, 2013). They may also appear as guardians of treasure, something they are known for in Scotland (Parkinson, 2013). In Ireland cu sidhe are often associated with specific fairy locations where they are known to be seen over the course of multiple generations and are known to sit and watch people, but they are only considered dangerous if they are disturbed, otherwise they will remain peaceful (Lenihan & Green, 2004). In at least one Irish example a small white fairy dog appeared as an omen of the coming of the daoine sidhe to a home, to warn the inhabitants to prepare (Evans Wentz, 1911).

Fairy dogs may appear with the daoine sidhe during fairy rades, or they may appear wandering on their own, gaurding fairy hills, or going ahead of the Gentry to warn of their presence. Black dogs seem to be territorial, favoring churchyards, roadways, and crossroads, especially where gallows have been (Parkinson, 2013). In stories they are often associated with a particular area which is considered haunted (Campbell, 2008). Cu sidhe may appear standing motionless on fairy hills or even among mortal dogs on occasion (Evans Wentz, 1911).

Many people assume the cu sidhe and black dogs are ill-omens, and indeed they may be, but not always. While the appearance of such a hound, especially if it is baying or howling, is usually an omen of death the fairy hounds may also appear for other reasons. Sometimes they can be protective, either of a location in which case simply leaving them and the area alone will allow you to walk away unharmed, or of a person. They may also appear for unknown reasons, without directly harming or effecting anyone.

I have seen fairy hounds twice in my life.

The first time, many years ago, a friend and I were sitting in the doorway of a mutual friend's business in the city, beneath the darkness of the early evening sky. Suddenly we both became aware of the eerie silence – the sounds of the city had fallen away, the traffic had stopped going past on the street, everything seemed deserted. As we watched two huge black dogs came trotting down the sidewalk across the street. No one was with them but they walked calmly and with a purpose. My friend broke the silence and joked that perhaps they would cross the (empty) street and no sooner had the words left his mouth then both dogs changed directions and moved across the street towards us. We immediately fled into the building and closed the door; peering out the window we looked out to watch the dogs walk past and saw nothing. Literally no dogs, anywhere. Venturing back out we saw the dogs walking down the sidewalk away from us, although it was impossible for them to have passed where we were without us seeing them. They disappeared when the road curved and moments later the sound and traffic returned.

The second time I saw a faery hound happened when I was working as an EMT. My partner and I were on a layover at 5 am on a winter morning in a city by the shore of Long Island Sound and we had parked in a lot next to a large field fenced off for construction. My partner was reading a book but I decided to get out and stretch my legs while we waited, despite the cold weather. I walked over near the chain link fence that surrounded that field and noticed something white moving on the far side. As I watched in the darkness the white shape moved steadily towards me; it seemed to be moving quickly across the field and eventually I realized it was a dog although its gait seemed odd. I looked past it for any sign of a person out for a morning walk with their pet but saw no one. The white dog, some sort of hound by its shape, was so white that it almost glowed in the pre-dawn darkness and I stood there watching it come straight towards me, trying to puzzle out why it was alone in a fenced in field and why its movement seemed jerky and off even though it moved quickly. When it had crossed about two-thirds of the space between us I finally realized that it had only one front leg – not that it was missing one, but that its front leg was placed in the center of its chest. A wave of fear went over me and before I could think I had turned, run, and jumped back into the ambulance. My partner looked up, startled, and asked me what was wrong, and I told him there was a dog. Looking out he asked me what dog. Sure enough when I looked there was no dog to be seen anywhere, despite the fact that there was nowhere for it to go in the empty field and no time for it to have gone anywhere.


Parkinson, D., (2013). Phantom Black Dogs
Briggs, K., (1978). An Encyclopedia of Fairies
Campbell, J., (2008) the Gaelic Otherworld
Lenihan, E., and Green, C., (2004). Meeting the Other Crowd
Evans Wentz, W., (1911). Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries

originally written January 2014 copyright M. Daimler

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Slánugud na Mórrigna - the Healing of the Morrigan

Slánugud na Mórrigna

And-sin tánic in Mórrígu ingen Ernmais a Sídib irricht sentainne, corrabi ic blegun bó trí sine na fiadnaisse. Is immi tanic-si (mar) sin, ar bith a forithen do Choinchulaind. Dáig ni gonad Cuchulaind nech ar a térnád, co m-beth cuit dó féin na legis
Conattech Cuchulaind blegon furri, iarna dechrad d'íttaid. Dobretha-si blegon sini dó. Rop slán aneim dam-sa so. Ba slán a lethrosc na rigna. Conattech-som blegon sini furri. Dobreth si dó. Inéim rop slán intí doridnacht. Conaittecht-som in tres n-dig ocus dobretha-si blegon sine dó. Bendacht dee & andee fort, a ingen. Batar é a n-dee in t-aés cumachta, ocus andee in t-aés trebaire. Ocus ba slán ind rígan.
 - E. Windisch, 1905

not three teated cows

The Healing of the Morrigan

Then came the Morrigan daughter of Ernmas from the Sidhe in the form of on old woman, engaged in milking a three teated cow where he'd witness her. For this she came, for the sake of a remedy from Cu Chulainn. Since any wound of Cu Chulain anyone escaped him with, for a portion of life only himself could heal.
Cu Chulainn submitted to her for the milking, iron-furious his thirst. She gave him the milking of a teat. 

"May this be health promptly for me."
The Queen's one eye was healed. He submitted to her for the milking of a teat. She gave it to him.
"Promptly may this be health to whoever gave it."
He submitted for the third portion and she gave to him the milking of a teat. 

"Blessing of Gods and not-Gods on you, oh maiden."
Their Gods are the people of power, and the not-Gods are the farmers*. And the Queen was whole.

* I just want to note that although trebaire has been understood as farmers or tillers of soil the word also means warriors and heroes. This passage "Batar é a n-dee in t-aés cumachta, ocus andee in t-aés trebaire" *could* also be read as 'their Gods are the people of [magical] power and the not-Gods are the warriors'. 

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Álfablot - Honoring the Álfar

"It appears even that to these black elves in particular, i.e., mountain spirits, who in various ways came into contact with man, a distinct reverence was paid, a species of worship, traces of which lasted down to recent times. The clearest evidence of this is found in the Kormakssaga p. 216-8. The hill of the elves, like the altar of a god, is to be reddened with the blood of a slaughtered bull, and of the animal's flesh a feast prepared for the elves....An actual âlfabôt. With this I connect the superstitious custom of cooking food for angels, and setting it for them. So there is a table covered and a pot of food placed for home-smiths and kobolds; meat and drink for domina Abundia; money or bread deposited in the caves of subterraneans, in going past
- Grimm, Teutonic Mythology

equinox sunrise

There is a long and reasonably well documented history of offering to the elves which can be described as a more formal religious ritual or sacrifice. In the 11th century Austrfararvísur there is a passage which recounts the story of a Christian traveler who is turned away from a Swedish home because the family is celebrating an álfablót and fears to offend the Gods by allowing the unbeliever in (Hall, 2007). The widow who turned him away specifically cited a fear of 'Odin's wrath' which may indicate a link between the alfar and Odin, something which is reinforced by Odin's connections to the Wild Hunt (Gundarsson, 2007). Evidence suggests that the Swedish álfablót took place in late autumn; additionally the reference mentioned by Grimm from Kormak's Saga involved an injured man who was offering a bull sacrifice to the elves in hope of healing (Gundarsson, 2007). There is also an account from Norway from 1909 of a man whose family sacrificed a cow to 'the mound dwellers' when his father died (Gundarsson, 2007). This indicates that álfablóts were possibly both seasonal and done when need dictated. 

As part of the religious aspect of my practice of Álfatrú I do celebrate álfablóts [sacrifices to elves], although I am not in a position to sacrifice cattle. I generally offer butter and milk or cream, as these are two things that folklore across many cultures says that the hidden folk value. I have a boulder in my yard, and for all intents and purposes I consider it an álfur steinn, or elf-stone. Elf-stones, called elf-stenar in Swedish, are boulders with cup like indentations, or that are strongly associated as being the homes of the alfar, and are believed to have healing powers (Lockey, 1882; Towrie, 2016). These boulders were places that people would go to make vows, and to leave offerings which ranged from lard and butter to copper coins, flowers, and ribbons (Lockey, 1882). The acknowledgment of the one in my yard is obviously personal gnosis on my part but I have my reasons for believing this is what it is - I can say for example that the spring after I started this acknowledgment my entire backyard was inexplicably taken over by raspberry canes, something I consider a great gift and the only fruit that grows wild in my area - and the stone serves this purpose for me certainly. It is at this elf-stone that I leave my offerings for the alfar and where I celebrate my álfablóts. 

I celebrate my álfablóts twice a year on the equinoxes, as well as at any point that I feel one is needed. Some years that may not be any, some years that may be often. My connection to the alfar is an organic thing that is always in motion and depends a lot on my respecting them, knowing what I should and should not do, and listening when I need to listen. I do a lot of listening.

I like honoring the alfar on the equinoxes. To me the equinoxes are a good time symbolically to honor the Álfar because they represent a time of balance, a time which is naturally liminal, but I also like this because to me the Álfar are tied into the fertility of the earth and the harvest. Honoring them on the vernal equinox when the earth in my area is just beginning to ready itself for a new year of growth and planting as well as at the autumnal equinox during the harvest seems very appropriate. There is also a nice balance in the twice yearly offering specifically to the elves at such a time, or the spirits that we may call elves in English. At Yule I honor my house spirits, and at Yule and and Walpurgisnacht (Bealtiane) I honor the Wild Hunt. At Midsummer I honor the Good Neighbors more generally, as I also do at Samhain and Bealtaine. So I like the idea of having those two equinoxes to honor the alfar, the elves, to remember them and offer to them. 

As day and night hang in balance, I will go out and offer butter and cream, and remember to be grateful for the blessings in my life. 

Hall, A., (2007). Elves in Anglo-Saxon England
Grimm, J., (1883) Teutonic Mythology
Lockey, N., (1882) Nature, vol. 26
Towrie, S., (2016). Orkney's Standing Stones
Gundarsson, K., (2007) Elves, Wights, and Trolls

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Morgan's Re-telling of the Morrigan's Interactions with Cu Chulainn part 3

Rounding out our modern re-tellings of the Morrigan's interactions with Cu Chulainn we have what may be called the final chapter of the Ulster Cycle, the Death of Cu Chulainn. I will say this, there is some disagreement about some of the details here, specifically in some places who was doing what, and there are also more than one version of this story. I am giving a re-telling which I feel is true to the spirit of the originals, but of course I encourage everyone to read the originals themselves

The Death of Cu Chulainn

The cattle raid of Cuiligne was done and over and Cu Chulainn had several other adventures since that time, but he had made some dangerous enemies, one of which was Queen Medb who had never forgiven him for ruining her plans to take the Brown Bull, or for killing so many of her champions. And she probably still remembered that time he killed her pet sitting on her shoulder when he flung a sling stone at her, as well. So Medb had gotten together many warriors who also hated Cu Chulainn, and she had gotten the children of Calatin, a warrior Cu Chulainn had killed in the Tain Bo Cuiligne to ally with her against him. The daughters of Calatin were fearsome looking, each having only one eye, and Medb sent them to be trained in witchcraft.

Medb began attacking Ulster again with her army and her new champions, hoping to draw Cu Chulainn out to fight. Initially the people who cared about Cu Chulainn tried to trick him into not joining the fighting in several ways, including sending him to a valley where he would be unable to hear any outside noises, but he still saw the smoke rising from the other army and insisted on fighting.

The night before his final battle the Morrigan broke his chariot, trying to prevent his going because she knew he would not return. When he tried to leave the next morning there were several ill omens, including the weapons falling from the racks and Cu Chulainn's own brooch pin falling and cutting his foot. When he called for his chariot to be readied Laeg replied that for the first time his horse, the Grey of Macha was refusing to be harnessed. Cu Chulainn went out himself and spoke to the horse, who turned his left side to his master three times then cried tears of blood at his feet.

All the women wept to see him going, and after he left he saw a woman [the Morrigan or Badb] washing bloody clothes in a river. When he called to her and asked whose clothes she was washing she responded that it was his own.

Then he came upon the three one-eyed daughters of Calatin disguised as three crones. They were at a cooking hearth by the side of the road cooking a dog on a rowan spit, and Cu Chulainn had geasa on him not to eat at a wild cooking hearth or to eat his namesake so he tried to hurry past. The three witches called out to him though and asked him to join them, and when he refused they mocked him for turning down their hospitality saying he would have stopped for a grand meal but not for the small bit they had to offer. Since there was also a geis on refusing hospitality Cu Chulainn was literally screwed if he did and screwed if he didn't, so he stopped. One of the women offered him the shoulder of the cooked dog with her left hand and he took it in his left hand and ate, then put the bone beneath his left leg; the arm and leg immediately weakened.

Then he came to the plain of Muirthemne where the warrior Erc has set up an ambush for him, with many warriors waiting. And it had been said that kings would fall by Cu Chulain's spear so they had devised a clever strategy to get him to give them his spear, that is they set up three pairs of men fighting each other and with each stood a satirist. As Cu Chulainn went across the plain fighting the army he came upon the first pair of fighting men and the satirist called to him to stop them, so he did by killing them. Then the satirist asked for his spear, and when Cu Chulainn refused the satirst said he would make a mockery of him for not giving it so Cu Chulainn hurled his spear through the man. Then his enemies, Lugaid and Erc, recovered it and Lugaid asked the sons of Calatin who would be killed by the spear and one replied that a king would be killed by it. So Lugaid threw it and struck Laeg, who was acclaimed as the king of charioteers. Laeg died and Cu Chulainn carried on, removing the spear and driving his own chariot.

Then he came upon the second pair and again was asked to stop them, again killed them and had the satirist demand his spear. Again he refused and the satirist said he would mock him but Cu Chulainn said he had already bought his honor that day, so the satirist promised to mock Ulster if he did not so he threw it through the man and this time Erc recovered it. He asked the sons of Calatin who would be kiiled by the spear and they replied a king so Erc threw it and mortally wounded the Grey of Macha who was called the king of horses. Cu Chulainn pulled the spear out and the Grey of Macha broke free and ran to the Sliab Fuait with half the yoke still attached.

Again he drove across the plain and this time saw the third pair fighting and again stopped them when requested and as before the third satirist asked for his spear. He refused and the satirist said he would mock him but Cu Chulainn said he had already bought his honor that day, so the satirist promised to mock Ulster if he did not and he said he had paid for that already as well. Finally the satirist promised to mock his whole people and Cu Chulainn threw the spear butt first through the man. Lugaid recovered it and asked the sons of Calatin who the spear would kill. They said a king, so as Cu Chulainn drove again through the army Lugaid threw the spear, disemboweling the king of Ireland's heroes. His second horse broke its yoke as well and fled, stranding the chariot with Cu Chulainn in it.

Now he asked his enemies if he could go to the nearby lake for a drink and they agreed as long as he promised to come back, and he said he would or if he could not they would have to come get him. And he held his guts to his chest with his hands and went to get a drink, and wash himself, and prepare for death. On his return to the plain he saw a great pillar stone and he tied himself to it so that he wold die on his feet. When his enemies gathered around him they did not know if he was alive or dead yet, and as they waited the Grey of Macha came back and defended him for as long as he lived.

Finally the Morrigan and her sisters came in the guise of hooded crows and perched on the pillar, or some say on Cu Chulainn's shoulders, and so his enemies knew that the life was gone from him and they closed in to claim their battle trophies, carrying off his head and right hand to Tara, although Lugaid lost his own right hand when Cu Chulainn's sword fell and severed it.

Cu Chulainn's allies were hurrying to the plain and the met the Grey of Macha on the road, covered in blood and gore, and knew that Cu Chulainn had died. And they followed the horse to his body, where the Grey of Macha stood and laid his head against Cu Chulainn's chest in grief.

Morgan's Re-telling of the Morrigan's Interactions with Cu Chulainn part 2

Part 2 - the Tain Bo Cuiligne

So the big cattle raid that the Morrigan predicted in the Tain Bo Regamna, which we re-told in part 1, has now come to pass. In this part we are going to look only at the actions of the Morrigan in dealing with Cu Chulainn - keep in mind though this is not her only appearances in this story, nor even her most important ones in my opinion.

We begin with the story of King Buan's Daughter, but here's the thing about that - 1. it only appears as far as I know in one recorded version of the Tain Bo Cuiligne, 2 it is basically a modified and condensed version of some of the events in the Tain Bo Regamna which is older, specifically the threats to attack Cu Chulainn; some scholars have suggested this episode was added later by a scribe trying to justify the Morrigan's interaction with Cu Chulainn within the text and 3 I would highly advise taking the events with a huge grain of salt as we know that the Morrigan has previously been deceptive towards Cu Chulainn. I personally don't think the proclamation of love or offer to help him are genuine, but you can decide for yourself.

King Buan's Daughter

Cu Chulainn was guarding the ford after many long days fighting when he saw a beautiful young woman approaching. He asks her who she is and she says that she is the daughter of King Buan, and that she fell in love with him after hearing of his glorious deeds and has brought her treasure and her cows with her. He tells her its not a good time, and that they are struggling and hungry so he isn't in a good position to meet a woman. She says that she could help him, but he replies 'I am not here for a woman's ass'.

She then promises to cause him trouble by coming against him when he is fighting, tangling his legs in the form of an eel. Cu Chulainn replies that he prefers that to the King's daughter and says he will break her ribs and she will not be healed unless he blesses her. She then says she will drive cattle at him while in the form of a wolf to which he replies that he will smash her eye with a stone from his sling and she won't be healed unless he blesses her. Finally she says she will come at him in the form of a hornless red heifer, and he says that he will break her legs with a sling stone and she won't be healed unless he blesses her. Then they parted

The Death of Loch

Now Cu Chulainn found himself fighting against the warrior Loch who was a formidable opponent and while they fought in the river ford the Morrigan came from the sidhe to fulfill her promise to destroy Cu Chulainn. She came in the form of a white red-eared heifer with fifty white cows, each bound to another with a bronze chain. Cu Chulain threw a stone with his sling and broke one of her eyes.

Then she came at him again, this time in the form of a black eel who twined around his ankles and tripped him, so that he fell and Loch wounded him in the chest. Cu Chulain rose when he was wounded and smashed the eel against some rocks, breaking its ribs.

Finally she came at him as a grey-red wolf bitch, driving cows before her, and she bit him and distracted him so that Loch wounded him again this time in the loins. Cu Chulainn cast a spear at her and wounded her a third time, and was so enraged that he cast teh Gae Bulga at Loch, impaling him upon it and mortally wounding him. Dying Loch asked that Cu Chulainn grant him the dignity of dying on his face not his back so that everyone would know he had not died trying to run away, which Cu Chulainn did.

Cu Chulainn then composed a poem of the fight in which he recounted the events, and mentions the wolf and eel attacking him, calling the Morrigan 'Badb'

The Healing of the Morrigan

After fighting Loch Cu Chulainn has what may fairly be called a very bad day, with Medb violating the agreement of fair combat which dictated that warriors would fight one on one by sending 6 warriors at once against Cu Chulainn.

The Morrigan then appeared again to Cu Chulainn disguised as an old woman* who was milking a three teated cow. Because he had wounded her and no one could be healed from such wounds unless Cu Chulainn blessed them.

Desperately thirsty Cu Chulainn begs the old woman for a drink and she gives him some milk from the first teat. He responds by saying "May this be a cure for me, O old woman" and so the Morrigan's eye was healed. He begged for another drink and she gave him milk from the second teat to which he said "May she be healthy now who gave this" and her ribs were healed. He begged a third drink and she gave him one from the final teat, after which he said "blessing of the Gods and un-Gods on you, woman" at which her leg was healed. And so the Morrigan was healed.

Medb then attacks him again with her warriors and he defeats them

*just want to note the Irish used actually specifies a woman over 70 years old.

Morgan's Retelling of the Morrigan's Interactions with Cu Chulainn part 1

So, for those who haven't read the Ulster Cycle consider this a slightly abridged re-telling of the Morrigan's interactions with Cu Chulainn, beginning with the encounter that sets up their encounters in the Tain Bo Cuiligne

In the Tain Bo Regamna....

Cu Chulainn wakes up to the sound of a cow bellowing. Leaping out of bed naked he runs outside with his wife Emer chasing him carrying his clothes. He yells to his charoiteer, Laeg, to ready their chariot and they go to find out what all the hubbub is about. After a short ride they come upon a strange sight: a chariot pulled by a one legged red horse, with the chariot post affixed through the horses body and forehead. In the chariot is a red haired woman wearing a red cloak which trails to the ground; next to it is a large man using a hazel rod to drive a cow who is bellowing.

Cu Chulain points out that the cow doesn't like the way she's being driven and the woman replies that its none of his business because its not his cow, or his friend's cow. Cu Chulainn then says that it is his business because every cow in Ulster is his business, to which the woman replies that he takes on a lot. He then asks why she is talking to him and the man isn't and she says because she's the one he yelled at. He then says that when she speaks she speaks for the man and she replies by giving the man's name as
"Cold wind-conflict-brightness-strife". Cu Chulainn remarks that this is a wondrous name and asks if she is going to speak for him the whole time and what her name is, at which point the man speaks, and tells him that the woman's name is "Keen edged-small lipped-plain cloaked-hair-sharp shouting-fierceness-a phantom"

Cu Chulain gets pissed at this point and accuses them of trying to make a fool of him, then leaps onto the woman in the chariot and holds a spear to her head, asking her who she really is.

She tells him that she is a satirist and that the cow was payment for a poem, given to her by Daire mac Fiachnai of Cuiligne. So Cu Chulainn says that he wants to hear her recite a poem and she says she will if he will get off of her, which he does, jumping down between the chariot poles.

She proceeds to recite a poem against him and he leaps into his own chariot only to find that the woman, cow, and man have disappeared and only a black bird remains perched in a tree nearby.

He calls her a hurtful woman and she says that the place they are at will be named 'Bog of Distress' because of his words.

He says if he knew who he was talking to they wouldn't have parted that way and she pledges that whatever he would have done it would still have ended badly for him. He then says that she has no power over him, to which she replies that she does indeed, and that she is bringing and will bring his death; she then explains that she has brought the cow from out of the Sidhe of Cruachan to be bred by the Brown Bull of Cuiligne and that the calf it carries will start a great cattle raid, and implies that Cu Chulainn will die in this raid. He of course replies that he will not be killed and that he will become enormously famous in this cattle raid. 

She then promises to wait until he is fighting a skilled opponent, who is his equal in all ways, and then she will come to him as an eel in the ford to trip him so that he will be fighting an unfair fight. He replies that he will dash her against a stone to break her ribs and that she won't be healed unless he himself blesses her.

She then promises to come at him as a wolf and tear a strip from his arm during the fighting so that the odds will be really unfair, to which he replies that he will wound her eye with his spear and she won't be healed until he blesses her.

Finally she says she will appear as a red-eared white heifer driving fifty other cows before her into the ford and the fight will be so unfair that he will be killed and his head taken as a trophy. He pledges to break her leg with a sling stone and that she won't be healed unless he blesses her, which he will not do.

The two then go their separate ways. 

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Colors and the Morrigan

Its an interesting thing that many of us who follow, work with, honor, or are otherwise connected to the Morrigan tend to associate her with the colors red, white, and black. At first one may wonder why, as there isn't any straightforward text or piece of evidence that says 'the Morrigan's colors are such and such'. However, if we look at the total of the evidence, that is all the textual references that mention her and also mention color, we can see some patterns that may explain it.

Directly relating to the Morrigan we admittedly have only a few pieces of color related evidence, but we do have some.

From the Tain Bo Regamna:
"A red-haired woman with red eyebrows was in the chariot with a red cloak around her shoulders"
"... he saw that she was a black bird on a branch near him."
"I will be a blue-grey wolf-bitch then against you," she said.
"I will be a red-eared white heifer then," said she...

From the Tain Bo Cuiligne:
"...a smooth, black eel"
"...a rough, grey-red bitch"
"...a white, red-eared heifer"

From the Cath Mag Rath:
"She is the grey-haired Morrigu"

Additionally we see Badb referred to repeatedly as 'red-mouthed' or 'the Red Badb', for example here in the Cath Maige Tuired Cunga: "The Red Badb will thank them for the battle-combats I look on.". In the Tochmarc Ferbe Badb is described as a 'white woman' or 'shining woman' and in the Destruction of De Choca's Hostel she is also said to be red-mouthed and pale. Black would be associated with her through ravens and crows. 

Macha, has less blatant references to color so more guesswork is required. As Macha Mongruadh [Macha of the red-mane] she would seem to be associated with the color red, something we may also with less surety say due to her being called 'the sun of womanhood' in the Rennes Dindshenchas. Her association with skull could perhaps give us the color white for her, although that in itself is an assumption based on her explicit connection to severed heads and the wider Celtic cultural use of skulls. Black is easier as she is clearly connected to crows and ravens, and grey is also a color connected to her through the hooded crow and through the most famous horse known to be hers [before he was known to be Cu Chulainn's] the Liath Macha, literally 'Macha's Grey'. 

All three of the Morrigans [Morrigan, Badb, and Macha] are said to take the form of hooded crows, birds which are black and light grey, and of ravens or crows more generally. In several stories including the Tain Bo Cuiligne the Morrigan is said to appear 'in the form of a bird' and one may perhaps assume the bird here was meant to be understood as a hooded crow or raven. In the Sanas Cormaic they are called the 'three Morrigans' and later 'raven women'. In one version of the Aided Conculaind we are told "And then came the battle goddess Morrigu and her sisters in the form of scald-crows and sat on his shoulder". The names Badb and Macha are also words in Irish that mean crows or hooded crows, reinforcing the connection between the Morrigan(s) and the color black as well as grey. 

By Zeynel Cebeci (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
For the curious a quick summary of the color meanings in old Irish, beyond the actual colors. 
Black had connotations of dark, dire, melancholy, and was used to express intensity, something like the word 'very' in english. 
White represented purity, brightness, holiness, truth but also bloodlessness and was sometimes used to describe corpses. It was also a color in combination with red that was often used to describe Otherworldly animals.
Red* was used to describe things that were bloody, passionate, fiery, fierce, proud, guilty (think red cheeks) also used as an intensive.
Grey usually represents age, in the plural the word for the color means 'veterans'

So we can see that when color is mentioned in association with the Morrigan it is usually red or black, and slightly less often white or grey, and rarely blueish-green. I might suggest that people who associate red, black, and white with her are either consciously or subconsciously picking up on these patterns from her stories, particularly of the colors of her animal forms when contesting with Cu Chulain in the Tain Bo Cuilinge which are black (eel), red (wolf), and white (cow), although the red/black/white pattern is not limited to that. Badb and Macha share these color associations in different ways, indicating that it is not the Morrigan as a singular being for which these colors are important but rather that all three Morrigans relate to them. 

*there are actually multiple words for the color red in Old Irish; I am using 'derg' here which is the one most often used in the texts to describe the Morrigans, et al, however it is not the only red used so that should be kept in mind.