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Monday, April 27, 2015

Book Review: Feast of the Morrigan


I’m doing this book review for Christopher Penzcak's Feast of the Morrigan a little bit differently. This is a book that is often brought up and that people really like, and it has its good points for modern practice. The author is very clear that his own approach, and that of the rituals and meditations he provides, is based in Wicca and neopagan witchcraft and for people utilizing that style I’m sure what he offers is quite valid. However there are some important issues with the book, specifically inaccuracies in the mythology, that make it problematic. It also badly needed an editor, preferably one familiar with Irish, but I’ll leave that aside as well, except to say that there are numerous spelling errors throughout. It’s the details from the myths I want to discuss here, with the understanding that the book’s sections on practice and modern experience are not at issue. My approach will be to first offer the passage or comment that is inaccurate and then the correct material with citation.

Chapter 1, page 17 – The author states that the Morrigan is never explicitly called a Goddess in the mythology.
Reality: The Morrigan is called a Goddess at least twice that I am aware of. In the Metrical Dindshenchas, poem 49 which can be found here: http://www.ucc.ie/celt/published/G106500D/
Which says: “dosrocht ben in Dagda;ba samla día sóach” (Arrived the wife of the Dagda; a phantom is the youthful/shapechanging Goddess)  In the Tochmarch Emire we also have this: "‘H-i Ross Bodbo .i. na Morrighno, ar iss ed a ross-side Crich Roiss& iss i an bodb catha h-i & is fria id-beurur bee Neid .i. bandee incatæ, uair is inann be Neid & dia cathæ’. ("In the Wood of Badb, that is of the Morrigu, therefore her proven-wood the land of Ross, and she is the Battle-Crow and is also called the woman of Neit, that is Goddess of Battle,because Neit is also a God of Battle.")  I have quoted them in the original language to illustrate that the word used in is fact “goddess” (dia/dee), however both are also available in English translations, and one of the sources that Penczak has in his bibliography is a dissertation by Gulermovich-Epstein that I know includes the fact that the Morrigan is referred to as a Goddess in the Irish material.


Chapter 1, page 21 – the author states that Tuatha De Danann literally means “Children of Danu”
Reality – Tuatha De Danann most likely means People of Danann (aka Danu) but may mean People of skill as well. Either way the word Tuatha does not mean children.


Chapter 1, page 22 – the author states that the Morrigan had to be petitioned to gain her advice and aid in the second battle of Moytura
Reality – although a very common belief there is nothing in the actual mythology which states this.


Chapter 1, page 23 – the author says that during the Cath Maige Tuired the Dagda sought out the Morrigan and found her washing her clothes with her red hair in 9 tresses. He connects the clothes washing to washer at the ford type activity. 
Reality – In the story, which can be found in English here http://www.ucc.ie/celt/published/T300011.html  the Dagda and Morrigan have an arraignment to meet on the same day every year - Bai dno bandal forsin Dagdae dia bliadnae imon samain an catha oc Glind Edind. (The Dagda was to meet a woman on a day,yearly, about Samain of the battle at Glen Etin.) So he did not seek her out,rather it was a prearranged meeting. She was not washing her clothes but rather was washing her genitals and her hair color is never mentioned.


Chapter 1, page 23 – further on discussing the same story the author says that the Morrigan promised to take“the heart’s blood and testicles” from a Fomorian king – this is repeated in Chapter 6, page 111
Reality – I suspect this confusion comes from a source used by the author, but since none are cited I can only guess. The passage actually says “crú a cride ocus airned a gailie” she will take the blood of his heart and kidneys of his battle-ardor. The crux of this confusion is the word airned which means kidneys, but is used in an idiom for testicles with toile, which means among other things will power and sexual desire (so airned toile, literally sexual kidneys). However, the passage does not say airned toile, just airned – so kidneys is what it means, not testicles.


Chapter 1, page 23 – continuing with the same story, the author states that the daughter of the Fomorian king is name is Boand.
Reality – the Fomorian king’s daughter is never named in the passage in the Cath Maige Tuired.


Chapter 1, page 24 – the author states that the Tuatha De Danann arrived in Ireland as a flock of blackbirds;this is repeated in Chapter 7 page 125
Reality – this is found in the Cath Maige Tuired Cunga here http://www.maryjones.us/ctexts/1maghtured.html it was a vision of a Fir Bolg king, not an actual occurrence: “He told his wizard, Cesard, that he had seen, a vision. ‘What was the vision?’ asked Cesard. ‘I saw a great flock of black birds,’ said the king, ‘coming from the depths of the Ocean.” This vision is then interpreted as an omen of invasion.


Chapter 2, page 36 – the author states that Badb spread the news of the Gods’ victory after the battle with the Fomorians in the form of a crow
Reality – again from the Cath MaigeTuired http://www.ucc.ie/celt/published/T300011.html
there is no indication of this. Badb is mentioned in relation to spreading the news after the battle, but there is no mention of her doing so in the form of a crow


Chapter 2, page 36 – the author states that badb is also a term for sacrificial victims
Reality – I have never heard of this before and cannot verify it any Irish or Old Irish dictionary.


Chapter 2, page 38 – the author mentions that the lines towards the end of the Morrigan’s final prophecy seem like a “possible admonition against homosexuality”
Reality – again this is less an issue with the author specifically but rather of the translation being misunderstood. The passage says “Ragaid mac i lligie a athar. Ragaid athair alligi a meic.” (The son will go lay down instead of his father. The father will go lay down instead of his son.) Grey gives this however as “the son will enter into his father’s bed. The father will enter into his son’s bed”. The passage is not condemning homosexuality however, which the Irish did not seem overly concerned with, but rather condemning incest. The next lines are:  Climain cach a brathar. Ní sia nech mnai assatigh. (In-law each to his own kinsman. A person will not seek women out of his house.)

Chapter 2, page 40 - the author states that term "molmacha" means a flock of crows.
Reality - I have thus far been unable to find this "term" in any Irish dictionary. There is an entry in O'Clery's glossary which mentions "mol macha" however it is not a term for a flock of crows. Mol means a heap, lump, or rounded mass in Sengoidelc, and a heap or multitude in modern Irish. The full entry in the glossary is: Macha .i. badhb, no feannóg . mol macha .i. cruinniughadh badhb, no feannóg 
(Macha, that is a crow or hooded crow, the heap of Macha that is a collection of a crow or a hooded crow.) 
While on the surface it may appear that you could read this as saying a multitude of Macha is a gathering of crows it simply can't be translated that way because crow and hooded crow are always in the singular throughout the entry. It would have to be "multitude of Macha that is gathering a crow or a hooded crow" which should obviously make no sense. Also note that the "heap of Macha" as a gathering or collection (the word used is a verb by the way) is described in the exact same way - as "a crow or hooded crow" as Macha herself is at the beginning of the entry. 

Chapter 2, page 43 – the author expounds on Macha’s acorn crop and its possible connection to druids, oaks, and ritual sacrifice.
Reality – Possibly a quibble on my part. Again this is a language issue. There are several words for acorn in Old Irish -  daurgne, dercu, and mesóc,however the phrase the author is discussing – mesrad Machae – is talking about mesrad which is a word that means any nut or tree-produce – although it can and does apply to acorns it is not exclusive to that type of nut and the phrase,which is found in the Sanas Cormac is using mesrad as part of analogy “mesrad Machæ .i. cendæ doine iarna n-airlech” (Macha’s crop, that is men’s heads after the slaughter). It is usually given in English as “mast” but I have seen it translated as acorn, however that is like taking the word nut and saying it means acorn, if you follow what I’m saying.


Chapter 3, page 53 – The author states that the names Morrigan and Morgan sound similar, which supports a connection between the Irish Morrigan and Welsh Morgana le Fey
Reality – the modern Anglecized version of these names do sound somewhat alike. However the names in the original languages do not. I recommend this article for clarification“Concerning the Names
Morgan, Morgana, Morgaine,Muirghein, Morrigan, and the Like” by Heather Rose Jones http://medievalscotland.org/problem/names/morgan.shtml
The short version would be that in the original languages Morgan was pronounced mor-GANT while Morrigan was pronounced MORE-ih-guhn


Chapter 3, page 57 – the author states that the Tuatha De Danann retreated beneath the land rather than risk it’s destruction in a battle with the Milesians
Reality – when the Milesians arrived they fought an epic battle against the Gods before winning the right to live in Ireland. This story can be found in the Lebor Gabala Erenn, volume 5 which can be read online here http://sejh.pagesperso-orange.fr/keltia/leborgab/milesians-r3.html


Chapter 4, page 66 – the author states that the flag of Connacht has a griffon on it
Reality – the flag of Connacht has an eagle on it http://history-ireland.blogspot.com/2012/12/connacht-flag.html


Chapter 4, page 69 – the author states that the “goddess of the land” meets and marries the invading Gaels
Reality – Again from the Lebor Gabala Erenn, volume 5 which can be read online herehttp://sejh.pagesperso-orange.fr/keltia/leborgab/milesians-r3.html
 when the Milesians first arrive they do encounter each of the three sovereignty goddesses in turn and make agreements with them – but there is no marriage involved.


Chapter 4, page 75 – the author states that Connacht has no physical locations associated with the Morrigan
Reality – Uaimh na gCat is located in Connacht and is one of the most well-known sites associated with the Morrigan. http://storyarchaeology.com/uaimh-na-gcait-oweynagat/


Chapter 5, page 86 – the author states that our knowledge of the animals associated with the Morrigan comes mostly from the Morrigan’s stories and says that justifies looking to other cultures to understand these animals
Reality – we have a fairly rich amount of animal lore from and Irish and Celtic perspective surrounding crows,ravens, wolves, cows, horses, and somewhat less about eels. These animals appear in many myths and stories separate from the Morrigan. Glynn Anderson has a book on Irish birds in myth and folklore and Miranda Green wrote book about animals in Celtic myth, for two examples.

Chapter 6, page 89 – the author states that the Morrigan appears to Cu Chulain as a three teated cow that he drinks from
Reality – in the Tain Bo Cuiligne the Morrigan appears as an old woman with such a cow, but she is not the cow herself.


Chapter 6, page 114 – the author states that in an interaction between the Morrigan and Cu Chulain where she appears with a cow, he challenges her and she disappears but leaves behind a crow
Reality – in that story, the Tain Bo Regamna, the Morrigan transforms into the crow and continues trading insults and incitements with Cu Chulain.  The story an be read here http://lairbhan.blogspot.com/2015/03/tain-bo-regamna.html


Chapter 6, page 114 – the author states that the Morrigan attacks Cu Chulain as a wolf who causes a stampede of cows to attack him.
Reality – this occurs in the Tain Bo Cuiligne, but conflates two different events. The Morrigan attacks Cu Chulainin the form of a wolf and injures his arm, and then returns in the form of a cow and causes a stampede. there is a version of the Tain by Dunn which does mention cows stampeding when she attacks him as a wolf, but nonetheless it is the wolf biting him that is the actual attack even in that version, not the wolf driving the cows against him. In the majority of versions I have read the wolf comes against him alone and the cows are a separate event entirely. 


Chapter 7, page 122 – the author states that he cannot find anything in Irish myth about the Morrigan having a son with three hearts filled with serpents that must be killed
Reality – this story appears in the Rennes Dindshenchas under entry 13 Berbas which can be found here http://www.ucd.ie/tlh/trans/ws.rc.15.001.t.text.html


Chapter 7, page 122 – the author states that Badb and Nemain have no children
Reality – Badb has at least two children according to the Lebor Gabala Erenn: Ferr Doman and Fiamain


Chapter 7, page 130 – author states that Bres ruled for 7 years until Nuada’s arm was replaced with one of silver
Reality – although somewhat ambiguous in the Cath Maige Tuired it seems that Nuada’s arm was replaced with a silver arm early. He resumed kingship after the silver arm was replaced with the original, healed, arm.


Chapter 7, page 130 – the author states that the Dagda is not a king
Reality – the Dagda was one of the kings of the Tuatha De Danann and is listed as such in the Lebor Gabala Erenn: "Now Eochaid Ollathair, the great Dagda, son of Elada, was eighty years in the kingship of Ireland." http://sejh.pagesperso-orange.fr/keltia/leborgab/dedana-R2-msD.html


Chapter 7, page 133 – the author states, and repeats, that Lugh’s mother is the Fomorian goddess Tailtiu
Reality – Lugh’s mother is the Fomorian goddess Ethniu. Tailtiu, who is listed among the Fir Bolg, was Lugh’s foster-mother.This information is found in the Lebor Gabala Erenn. From the source: "Taillte daughter of Mag Mor king of Spain, queen of the Fir Bolg... and Cian son of Dian Cecht, otherwise called Scal Balb, gave her his son in fosterage, Lug to wit. Eithne daughter of Balar was his mother."  http://sejh.pagesperso-orange.fr/keltia/leborgab/dedana-R2-msD.html


Glossary, page 183 – Banba is said to be a goddess who is one of the Morrigan or called Morrigan
Reality – Banba is part of a triplicity of sovereignty goddesses with her sisters Eriu and Fotla. She is a sister to the Morrigan but is never, herself, called Morrigan.


So it should be clear from this that there are many issues with the mythology as presented in this book. There were also some other small points which I did not get into as they may be more issues of interpretation, however I think the ones that are discussed here seriously compromise the value of the book. Sadly I am all too aware that many people will never read the original myths and stories and instead rely on secondary sources such as this book, and I believe it is very important because of that for books like this to strive to be accurate in what they present. These are not, for the most part, issues in how one looks at the stories or what one takes away from them but are problems with the myths and other information being wrong. Inarguably, factually, wrong. We can do better than this, moving forward as Irish pagans. The rituals and modern practical material may very well be fine and speak to many people, but it is vital that we get the mythology and facts correct to go along with them.

Copyright Morgan Daimler

4 comments:

  1. Yeah, if you are going to draw conclusions from texts, then it is important to get the information from the texts correct.

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  2. Absolutely agree with faoladh and have recommended your review on Google+. Thank you for writing this.

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  3. I concur with Jane B above plus I get very annoyed with ignorant people who write utter rubbish about Celtic Mythology and Ireland.

    ReplyDelete