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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Badb, Morrigan of Prophecy

"Delbaeth...has three daughters, the famous war-furies Badb, Macha, and Mórrígu, the latter sometimes called Anand or Danand." (Macalister, 1941).
   The eDIL describes the word Badb as being both the name of a goddess and meaning "scald-crow; deadly; fatal; dangerous; ill-fated; warlike; venomous" (eDIL, n.d.). Scald crow is another name for the hooded crow , or Caróg liath in Irish (corvus cornix) a type of crow that is predominantly gray with black wings and head, giving a hooded appearance. This crow is a form taken by the Morrigan and in particular by Badb. Badb is also spelled Badhbh or Bodb and may be pronounced Bayv or Bibe. I favor pronouncing it Bayv which goes with the Badhbh spelling. She may also be called Badb Catha, or battle crow and some people suggest a connection between her and the Gaulish Cathbodua. 
   In mythology Badb is described both as being the Morrigan and also being the Morrigan's sister. She is the daughter of Delbaeth (alternately Elcmar) and Ernmas, sister to Macha and Morrigu/Anann and is said to have two children, Ferr Doman and Fiamain (Macalister, 1941; Gray, 1983).  In the Banshenchus she is said to be the wife of the Dagda; this might be why people sometimes identify her as the Morrigan who slept with the Dagda on Samhain. Badb is sometimes identified as Be Neit, often translated as the wife of Net, however Gray suggests this might actually be a title meaning "goddess of battle" (Gray, 1983). Badh can appear as a withered hag or as a seductive young woman, as well as taking the form of a crow (Smyth, 1988). She is often associated with the colors black and white in descriptions, the colors of hooded crows, but the red of fresh blood and gore is also connected to her. 
   She appears throughout the Tain Bo Cuilaigne to incite Cu Chulain to fight, and at the very end flies over him signaling his death (Smyth, 1988; Green, 1992). At the battle of Clontarf it is said that Badb appeared, screaming, over the battlefield (Berresford Ellis, 1987). Like the other Morrigans she is able to influence battle; her cries cause confusion, panic, and chaos (Green, 1992). In a battle of 870 CE she was said to appear in great "din and tumult" and incite the armies to slaughter each other (O hOgain, 2006). 
   Badh is often linked to prophecy. In the Cath Maige Tuired, after the battle, it's said that:
  "166. Then after the battle was won and the slaughter had been cleaned away, the Morrigan...proceeded to announce the battle....And that is the reason Badb still relates great deeds. Have you any news?" everyone asked her then." (Gray, 1983) After which she proceeds to prophecy a time of peace followed by a time of trouble. In the Tale of Da Derga's Hostel she is an omen of death, and she also appears in other cases as a washer-at-the-ford, washing the clothes or weapons of doomed warriors (Green, 1992). Before Cu Chulain goes to his final battle he sees Badb as a beautiful young woman washing bloody clothes and keening, and before  a battle between Toirdhealbhach and a Norman army she appeared and predicted doom for the Normans, which came to pass (O hOgain, 2006). 
    To me Badb is most strongly a goddess of prophecy and omens. I often pray to her before doing divination work, whether its reading tarot cards or interpreting omens (although for runes or seidhr I pray to Odin). I associate crows most strongly with her and her altar includes images of crows and a large black feather, symbolic of her in that form. I have also gone to Badb in times of crisis, especially emotional crisis, for strength. When I have encountered her in dreams or journeywork she has an almost detached quality to her and has repeatedly encouraged me to take the long view in situations - to see the forest instead of the trees - and not to obsess over minutiae. I see her as a thinner, pale woman of indeterminate age with tangled black hair, piercing black eyes, and usually accompanied by a crow or three. 

References:
Berresford Ellis, P., (1987). A Dictionary of Irish Mythology
Smyth, D. (1988). A Guide to Irish Mythology
Gray, E., (1983) Cath Maige Tuired
Macalister, R., (1941). Lebor Gabala Erenn part IV
Green, M., (1992). Dictionary of Celtic Myth and Legend
Electronic Dictionary of the Irish Language, eDIL, (n.d.)
O hOgain, D., (2006) The Lore of Ireland

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