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Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Morrigan is Not My Mother and Other Personal Truths

  This idea for this blog was actually started in a conversation about the Morrigan as a mother goddess and I want to say right at the off that I have nothing against people who believe that she is. Modern worshipers see the Morrigan in diverse ways that are often deeply significant for each individual and I am in no way trying to argue against those views. You can have whatever personal relationship with any deity you feel that you have, and don't worry about whether or not  those views are shared. It may not be my cuppa, but such is life - and likewise my views and how I relate to her shouldn't get your knickers in a twist if they don't agree with your own.
   So, getting to it.
   The Morrigan is not my mother. I don't see her as a mother goddess, for several reasons. First of all, from a purely mythological standpoint the evidence for her having children is complicated. She is said to have a son named Meiche - but he had to be killed because he had three serpents in his heart who would have grown and destroyed Ireland. The Lebor Gabala Erenn names her as the mother of a trio of sons, but that may be a case of conflating her with another goddess in an attempt to homogenize the folklore when the stories where written down. She is also said to have 52 children who were warriors in the Silva Gadelica, but in context it seems likely they were actually people dedicated to her and not physical children. So there's not much solid evidence for her as a physical mother of children and certainly not in the prodigious way of, say, Flidais who one can easily argue does fit the image of a mother goddess. That isn't the sort of thing that bothers some people but as those of you who read my blog may have noticed the mythology is a pretty big deal to me, so having absolutely no mythic precedence is a big factor for me.
   Secondly from a more Jungian viewpoint (hey I do have a psych degree after all) she doesn't fit the archetypal pattern of the Mother very well either. The Mother, as an archetype*, is gentle, nurturing, caring, loving, and supportive, because she represents the idealized qualities of the concept of a mother. The Morrigan is many, many awesome and inspiring things but when I think of words to describe her "nurturing" and "gentle" don't exactly spring immediately to my mind. Not to say she can't be those things if she is in the mood to be - blackthorn can make a safe refuge for small birds avoiding predators, but that doesn't mean my first thought when it's mentioned is "cuddly" (seriously have you seen those thorns?). My point here - no pun intended, mostly - is that while I do think the Morrigan can be caring and supportive to those who honor her, I don't think occasionally acting that way or taking on that role under specific circumstances makes her the embodiment of the Mother in an archetypal way. I do think that its a very interesting thing that so very many neopagans seem to be seeking out a Mother in the goddesses they honor, to the point of seeing that Mother and the qualities of mothering in goddesses who far more easily could be said to embody the Anti-Mother or Negative Mother.
   The Morrigan to me, if I were going to describe her in a personal sense, is a force of incitment and empowerment. She can be supportive, but she also pushes me to achieve. She can be caring, but she doesn't let me slack or give excuses. She can be gentle, but she can also be brutal, harsh, and push me past what I thought was my limit so that I realize that I am stronger and braver than I realized. She can be nurturing, but she nurtures my potential by driving me to achieve and pushing me to excel. She will stand up and defend me only until the moment I can do it for myself, and she will be urging me the entire time to stand up. She does not chase away my nightmares, but teaches me to face them. That is who she is to me.
   For myself, my own viewpoint is both simpler and in a way more complex. She just doesn't resonate with me as a mother goddess, nor as a deity, quite frankly, of sex, nor of fertility** although these are all popular views of her. I don't see her as a goddess of rebirth or birth either - although I'll repeat here that if you do, that's fine, I'm not trying to attack anyone else's opinions, just to share my own thoughts. To me a mother Goddess is about more than fiercely protecting your children or family - after all isn't that what most warriors are doing? Wasn't that why the pleas of Cu Chulain's father, Súaltaim, during the Tain Bo Cuiligne to arouse the Ulstermen to fight include saying "your wives and sons and children are taken"? I feel like being fiercely protective speaks more to her warrior side than anything else, to the desire and ability to fight for what needs to be fought for. People say she is a goddess of sex, but why? Because she has sex once with the Dagda who is, by the account of several sources her husband? Because she propositions Cu Chulain in one late version of the Tain Bo Cuiligne? That seems like thin evidence to me, when we could far more easily argue for the Dagda as a god of sex since he's getting it on with a variety of beings in multiple stories. Why does she have to be a goddess of sex to be a strong female figure? Can't she be strong and independent without having to be blatantly sexual? What makes her a goddess of fertility? Being female and connected to sex? If anyone would like to discuss this one I'm open to it, but so far no one has been able to offer an actual explanation beyond a tenuous argument that as Anu if she's connected to the earth she is by default a fertility goddess, to which I would ask everyone to consider - what defines a fertility goddess? For me personally a fertility deity is someone I pray to for physical fertility of myself, my animals, and my crops and while I may ask the Morrigan to increase my cattle via successful raiding she just isn't who I would go to for physical fertility (which again isn't to say she might not answer someone for that if she felt like it, she's a goddess she can influence whatever she wants to). No mythic associations, no folklore, so just not something I see as her bailiwick. The same arguments hold true for re-birth and birth.
     I'll emphasize again - and again and again - though that just because a deity is generally most strongly associated with something doesn't mean that they are limited to those things. The Morrigan can be a goddess of war, battle, and death but may also choose to relate to an individual in a unique way, just as a person can specialize in a skill but also be able to do other things they have no training in, to use a rough analogy. I think where it starts to get messy is when someone has a personal association with a deity and then associates that outwards into a generalization for everyone. Also I know some people really dislike the idea of a deity being the "goddess of ----" because they find it limiting to that deity, but its pretty clear looking at both ancient pagan religions and modern ones that deities have always specialized. If you look at Hinduism, Santeria, any tribal religion, Egyptian paganism, Hellenismos, Shinto, and so on some gods were always worshiped for certain things and other gods for other things - the idea of any one deity doing it all is very uncommon. I might even venture to say that the idea of an interactive, all-powerful, all-influential, all-encompassing deity in a polytheistic sense is very post-modern but I'm sure someone will find an example to contradict me.
   I'm not always very good at binary thinking, and this is an example of where my perspective varies because I just don't see the Morrigan as defined, in any significant way, by her vagina. Yes, she's a goddess. Yes, she's female. Yes, she in many ways exemplifies female empowerment. But I just can't bring myself to see her as defined by those features which make her female - her ability to give birth, her ability to have sex, her ability to mother - these are all part of her but only in a modern context have they become aspects which we focus on and emphasize. And in some cases, in some contexts I have seen them emphasized in ways that reduce her to just another overly-sexualized woman in a culture that doesn't respect women very much. I've seen male devotees talk about her as if she was their girlfriend or some sort of anime fantasy, emphasizing only her sex and fertility aspects; and that does make me uncomfortable and more than a bit offended. I've seen female devotees talk about her as if she was nothing but gentle and loving kindness, the perfect mother fulfilling that fantasy for them. And maybe she is those things to those people, because maybe that's what they need, or maybe she isn't and they just see what they want to see, I have no idea, and I honestly its between Her and them. But I just can't see Her in those ways. To me she will always be powerful and awesome - awe inspiring - not because she is female but because she is Herself.

* A Jungian archetype that is - the word gets tossed around a lot in neopaganism but I honestly don't understand how its being used about half the time. In Jungian psychology as I understand it, an archetype is an unconscious, inherited idea of the ideal pattern or type of a thing that humans get form the collective unconscious and which is shared across cultures. So hence the archetypal Hero, Mother, and Trickster. Archetypes aren't decided by individuals but are dictated by the sum total of human experience and cultural inheritance.
** Macha, however, is arguably a fertility goddess something I discuss in my article "Macha, Horses, and Sovereignty" which will be in the forthcoming anthology "Grey Mare on the Hill" due out in december 2015. 


  1. Hello! Thank you for sharing. I also do not see the Morrigan as the Mother, though I honor that aspect of her anyway (as part of the maiden, mother, crone life cycle of the feminine. I do see her as a life cycle goddess embodying death, life, and the transformative power of crossing between the two), though there are some people in my tradition that do see her this way. I see her more as an older sister/Aunt type. She wants to help you but she might also mess you up either because she thinks it will be for your own good or because she wants to see how you will react. But, Goddess help anyone else who messes with you!

    I do honor her as a Goddess of sex but not in the fashion of a coquette waiting to take it from any comer or dying to give it away and ready to go at a moments notice. To me, she embodies sexual empowerment not just because she has been seen to chose to have sex when she wants with who she wants -propriety be damned! - but also for all the times she does not have sex. She is the one with the power and control in these situations. She seems to only choose people who can rival her strength and power. Her sexual power is in her discretion and her ability to be more than a dripping fluffy bunny waiting to hop on whoever wants her. For lack of a better analogy, she is like a slightly sexy, deeply sexual dominatrix (not the TV kind in spandex and in-your-face cleavage but the inconspicuous kind in the shadows whispering your darkest fantasies but refusing to touch you if she finds you weak in any way). You'll never forget it and always want it if she brings you to her sexual power but you'll probably be afraid to see it again. ;)

  2. I honor all Goddesses as Mothers (and Gods as Fathers), because it is the duty of a Mother not only to be loving, nurturing and supportive, but also to train and strengthen us in myriad ways. My Matron Goddess is Brigid, who teaches me to be hard-working, creative, and promote healing. I also consider Morrigan another Matron Goddess because as you said, She pushes me to grow and challenge everything and demand justice and sovereignty. My physical mother did some of those things for me, and I thank her for it. I thank Them all for helping me, every day. Consider expanding your definition of what a Mother and Father do. Hugs and blessings! <3