"Badb and Macha, greatness of wealth, Morrigu
springs of craftiness,
sources of bitter fighting
were the three daughters of Ernmas." ( Macalister, 1941).
The meaning of the name Morrigan is somewhat disputed, but the current leading theory is that it means, roughly, nightmare queen - often given as phantom queen - although others still prefer the great queen interpretation (eDIL, n.d.). The name is a title, and also appears as Morrigu, Morrigna, and Morrighan; it is applied not only to a specific singular goddess but also to that deity's sisters, Badb and Macha, and later to the goddesses Fea and Nemain. In the Lebor Gabala Erenn we are told "Delbaeth...has three daughters, the famous war-furies Badb, Macha, and Mórrígu, the latter sometimes called Anand or Danand." (Macalister, 1941). She is the daughter of Ernmas according to the Lebor Gabala Erenn: "Ernmas had other daughters, Badb, and Macha, and Morrigu, whose name was Anand" (MacAlister, 1941). This reinforces that Morrigan's name could actually be Anand or Danand, or Anu or Danu, and indeed both are given as her name in various portions of the Lebor Gabala Erenn (Gray, 1983). For example, in verse 62, she is listed as one of the sisters with Badb and Macha: "Badb and Macha and Anand, of whom are the Paps of Anu in Luachar, were the three daughters of Ernmas the she-farmer." (Macalister, 1941). When the Anu connection is accepted some people further relate her to Aine (Berresford Ellis, 1987; Jones, 2009). The connection to Danu is based on the idea that Anu and Danu are the same goddess; This would make her the ultimate progenitor or matriarch of the Tuatha de Danann. A single portion of the Lebor Gabala Erenn says "The Morrigu, daughter of Delbaeth, was the mother of the other sons of Delbaeth, Brian, Iucharba, and Iuchair: and it is from her addtional name "Danann" the Paps of Ana in Luachair are called, as well as the Tuatha De Danann." (Macalister, 1941). Anu herself is an obscure goddess; the Sanas Cormaic says that she, Anand, is the mother of the Irish gods (Jones, 2009).
She is sometimes said to be the wife of the Dagda, and has one son, Meche, by an unnamed father; Meche had three serpents in his heart which could have destroyed all of Ireland so he was killed (Gray, 1983). She is also said to have had a daughter, Adair, by the Dagda, and in some sources 26 daughters and 26 sons who were all warriors (Gray, 1983). The goddesses Fea and Nemain are also sometimes called Morrigan, and can be interchanged with the previous named Morrigan to form the different Morrigan triplicities. Personally I favor viewing the three Morrignae as Badb, Macha, and Morrigu and I am tentatively willing to accept Anand as the name of the Morrigan.
On Samhain the Morrigan met with the Dagda and they united before she promised to aid the Tuatha de Danann in the Cath Maige Tuired: "The Dagda had a house in Glen Edin in the north, and he had arranged to meet a woman in Glen Edin a year from that day, near the All Hallows of the battle. The Unshin of Connacht roars to the south of it. He saw the woman at the Unshin in Corann, washing, with one of her feet at Allod Echae (that is, Aghanagh) south of the water and the other at Lisconny north of the water. There were nine loosened tresses on her head. The Dagda spoke with her, and they united. 'The Bed of the Couple' was the name of that place from that time on. (The woman mentioned here is the Morrígan.)
Then she told the Dagda that the Fomoire would land at Mag Céidne, and that he should summon the áes dána of Ireland to meet her at the Ford of the Unshin, and she would go into Scétne to destroy Indech mac Dé Domnann, the king of the Fomoire, and would take from him the blood of his heart and the kidneys of his valour. Later she gave two handfuls of that blood to the hosts that were waiting at the Ford of the Unshin. Its name became 'The Ford of Destruction' because of that destruction of the king." http://www.ucc.ie/celt/online/T300010.html
The Morrigan has many guises. She often appears as a crow or raven (Berresford Ellis, 1987). In the Tain, and possibly the story of Da Derga's Hostel, she appears as a heifer, and in many myths she is associated with stealing cattle. She can be a young woman or an old hag, a bird, a wolf, an eel, or a hornless red cow (Green, 1992). She appears in the air, on land, and in the water.
In mythology the Morrigan aids the Tuatha de Danann in fighting against both the Fir Bolg and the the Fomorians and uses magic to shower fire, blood and fog upon the enemy (Gray, 1983; O hOgain, 2006). Indeed in these battles she uses both magic and physical battle to defeat the enemy of the Tuatha de Danann. The second battle of Mag Tuired lists the three Morrigan as ban-draoithe, or Druids (Gray, 1983). When Lugh asks her what she will contribute to the fight she replies: "‘Not hard to say,’ ... ‘I have stood fast; I shall pursue what was watched; I will be able to kill; I will be able to destroy those who might be subdued.’" (Gray, 1983). In the second battle of Magh Tuired it was said: "Then the Morrigu, daughter of Ernmass, came, and heartened the Tuatha De to fight the battle fiercely and fervently. Thereafter the battle became a rout, and the Fomorians were beaten back to the sea." (Cross & Slover, 1936). In the Tain Bo Cuiligne Cu Chulain spurns her amorous advances and she sets herself against him; the two fight and he deals her three wounds which she later tricks him in to healing. In the Cath Maige Tuired she unites with the Dagda and after lying with him promises to fight alongside the Tuatha de Danann in the coming battle. She appeared before the battle of Mag Rath as a thin, gray haired old woman who flew over the battlefield and lept from spear point to shield rim of the soldiers who would win the battle during the fight (Smyth, 1988).
The Morrigan is associated with war, battle, and death, certainly, but also with victory, strategy, magic, sex, and possibly sovereignty. She can give courage or take it away. She is a goddess of glory in battle and the cleverness of the cattle raid, which was an essential aspect of early Irish society. Several authors posit that her connection to cattle relates to her role as a sovereignty goddess. O hOgain goes the furthest in suggesting she is a land goddess and a mother goddess through her possible connection to Danu (O hOgain, 2006). She often appears near or in connection with rivers which might also support that, although it is largely based on an etymological guess connecting the names Danu and Anu. Her strongest associations are clearly with warfare and also with fate so that some people have connected her to the Norse Valkyries (Jones, 2009).
Several locations are named for the Morrigan including the whirlpool of Corryveckan which is sometimes called the Morrigan's Cauldron. The river ford known as the "Bed of the Couple" is named for her Samhain tryst with the Dagda. Gort na Morrigna, field of the Morrigan in county Louth is hers as is Fulacht na Morrigna, Morrigan's Hearth, in county Tipperary (Smyth, 1988). In the Boyne valley Mur na Morrigna, mound of the Morrigan, is also hers as well as Da Chich na Morrigna, the Paps of the Morrigan (Smyth, 1988; O hOgain, 2006). The cave of Cruachan is also especially associated with her, and is the site of another of her cattle stealing episodes.
Personally I have had a long standing connection to Macha and have been honoring Badhbh for several years, but am only just beginning to reach out to Morrigu. More than a decade ago I briefly honored the three Morrignae together as part of a process to overcome my own fear, anger, and anxiety; the experience was heart wrenching, intense, painful, and ultimately meant letting go of far more than I had intended, but made me a much stronger person. When it was over I sacrificed a sword to them. Honoring Morrigu now will mean honoring all three regularly not as a group but as individuals and I feel a sense of completion with this.
I believe that she respects physical and martial skill and so am seeking to honor her in those ways as best I can; as part of this I am planning to attend a weekend retreat for pagan women that is focused on self defense training and basic martial arts. I created a small shrine to her that includes images of her animal forms and have been meditating on what each one represents, as well as the connection between her and war, death, battle, victory, strategy, magic, sex, and sovereignty. I think it is possible that Anand may be connected to some aspect of mothering but I see her as the defensive and protective aspects of mothering not the nurturing ones; she is the snarling wolf willing to rip the throat out of anything to protect her puppies. And as we can see from her stories she is a goddess who expects a price to be paid for her blessing.
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
Cross, T., and Slover. H., (1936). Ancient Irish Tales
Jones, M., (2009). Anu. Retrieved from http://www.maryjones.us/jce/anu.html