Search This Blog

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Misinformation and Truths about the Morrigan

There seems to have been a recent uptick in interest in the Morrigan again and I'm seeing a lot of misinformation floating around, so I thought it would be helpful to offer clarification on some things. These aren't personal opinions so much as facts from the Irish language and mythology. Keep in mind, however, that everyone makes mistakes when it comes to things coming from other languages and everyone can fall prey to bad information being shared around, especially if they haven't read or aren't very familiar with the source material. So this is meant as a helpful resource to correct some of the most common mistakes and misinformation that I see floating around. 

One thing that I've seen repeated both online and in at least one book is the assertion that the Morrigan is never called a Goddess in Irish mythology or sources. 

This is untrue, the Morrigan is called a Goddess at least twice that I can think of off hand. 
In the Metrical Dindshenchas, poem 49 Odras, which says: 
dosrocht ben in Dagda; 
ba samla día sóach Mórrígan mórda,
ba slóg-dírmach sámda
"[then] the wife of the Dagda came,
a phantom the shape-shifting Goddess.
...the mighty Mórrígan,
whose ease was a host of troops."
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”: día in the first example and bandee in the second. Don't let anyone tell you different.

Another thing that I've been seeing off and on is people spelling the Morrigan's name 'Mhorrigan' or 'Mhorrigu'. Outside of some very specific circumstances* when writing in Irish the Morrigan's name is NOT spelled with an initial 'Mh'. Unless you are an Irish speaker writing in Irish in the case that calls for lenition, please don't do this. Its grammatically incorrect and it looks really weird. Also it would then be pronounced Worrigan (or Vorrigan I suppose, depending on dialect). Which is how I read it every time I see it.

On a related note, there's also something of a trend to spell her name 'Morrighan'. I think this may be a version from the middle Irish that somehow mainstreamed, so it is a legitimate spelling. But as with the example above the pronunciation would be different, closer to 'MORE-ree-(gh)uhn', with the gh a sound that's swallowed at the back of the throat. The modern Irish is Mór-ríoghain, pronounced like 'MORE-ree-uhn' with the g lost entirely. If all of that looks like either too much effort or too hard to process then stick with the Anglicized Morrigan (MORE-rig-ann) or the Old Irish Morrigan (MORE-rih-gahn). 
If this all seems like a huge pain in the butt, well, sorry, but this is the deal when you are honoring a goddess from a foreign culture and another language. Spelling matters. Pronunciation matters, in relation to the spelling you are using. 

Speaking of names, the Morrigan is always referred to with the definitive 'the' before her name, unless she's being directly addressed like in a prayer. I've been seeing a tendency for people to drop this recently, and its worth keeping in mind that in Irish culture and mythology she's always referred to as the Morrigan. It may help to keep in mind that her name translates to a title - either Great Queen or Phantom Queen, so try thinking that you are saying that. Does it feel weird in English to say "I honor Great Queen" or "My goddess is Great Queen"? Exactly. Which is why we say the Morrigan, the Great Queen.  

The idea that the Morrigan is associated with falcons and rebirth: not in the mythology or Irish folklore. I've traced this one back to an online article from 2005 which as far as I can tell is the source for the belief, as well as the idea that she is a Goddess of rebirth (also not something from mythology). The article was one person's thoughts and opinions and was not in any way based on mythology, but rather the person's intuition which the author was very upfront about. 

The Morrigan and the Dagda's union at Samhain is another thing I often hear misinformation about. Basically I hear people repeating the idea that the Dagda sought out the Morrigan before Samhain, before a big battle, and had sex with her in exchange for her promise to help fight in the battle and/or for battle advice. I've actually written a whole blog just about this subject, but the bullet points are:
- the Dagda didn't seek her out, it was a yearly pre-arranged meeting at that location
- we have no idea what they discussed before having sex, only that they talked
- yes, they had sex, but according to Dindshechas they were married, and also in the text of the Cath Maige Tuired where we find this particular story it refers to the location this happened at as 'the bed of the married couple'. I realize most translations give it as Bed of the Couple but the exact word used, Lanamhou, is a version of a term for one of the legal states of marriage in Irish law. 
- yes the Morrigan did give the Dagda battle advice right after the sex and did aid the Tuatha Dé Danann by promising to weaken one of the opposing kings, but she had already been aiding them, specifically by singing an incitement to Lugh to encourage him to fight and prepare for the battle. So since she'd already acted on her own to help them before this it doesn't make sense to see this meeting between a married couple at a yearly tryst as some kind of pay-off for her to help her own people.  
Basically what we have is a yearly meeting of a married couple at a specific location, some marital sex, some martial advice, and some battle magic against a common enemy. 

The Morrigan and Cu Chulainn probably deserve a blog of their own, but again some quick bullet points addressing misinformation:
- The Morrigan loved Cu Chulainn: Well, no, not in a romantic way, not that we have any proof of although she certainly had an interest in him. There is one story (which does not appear in every version of the Táin Bó Cuiligne but only a few later ones) where she appears to him in disguise as a king's daughter, and she does tell him that she fell in love with him 'upon hearing of' his fame. However this is highly suspicious for multiple reasons. Firstly she's in disguise for a reason, because they two of them had previously met and had a rather dramatic disagreement with each other (see the Táin Bó Regamna). You would think if she really loved him she'd show up as her Goddess-y self and offer that. Secondly she's showing up at a point where he's already refused one king's daughter (Ailill and Medb's) and is filthy and starving. There's really nothing going on there to make anyone feel romantic. He tells her he's in a bad way and not in a position to meet a woman; she replies that she will help him; and he says he isn't guarding the ford to earn a woman's arse. At which point she threatens him. Now if she was actually in love with him, as a goddess of battle, wouldn't she be pleased that he was putting honor and duty before pleasure? On the other hand if the whole point was to trick him or anger him she certainly achieves that.** She's also shown in her previous encounter with him in the Táin Bó Regamna that she' quite willing to lie to him as well as annoy the crap out of him, so this has much more of the feel of that to it than of any genuine profession of emotion. 
- The Morrigan offered Cu Chulainn sovereignty and he refused it/she denied it to him because he refused her:  Again from the same king's daughter story in the Táin Bó Cuiligne. Let's be clear - she never offers him sovereignty. She also never offers to have sex with him, although that is implied by his responses. What she actually says is that she has fallen in love with him because of his fame and that she has brought her treasures and her cattle. Nothing about making him a king or anything like that. Could someone argue it's implied? Perhaps, however Cu Chulainn was not a candidate for kingship which the Morrigan would have known. According to the Lebor Gabala Erenn it was Cu Chulainn who broke the Lia Fal*** because it did not cry out under him or his foster son. And when the stone that cries out under the next king, the stone that is an Otherworldly treasure, is silent under someone they are really, really not sovereign material. I'd also quickly point out that when Irish Goddesses show up as Sovereignty to offer kingship to people they generally do so disguised as withered old hags asking for a kiss or sex, to test the person's fitness to rule, not as gorgeous princesses offering their possessions. 
- the Morrigan and Cu Chulainn had sex/had a child: definitely not in the existing mythology.

So that's just touching on a handful of the most common bits of misinformation or errors that I tend to see. There are sure to be more, of course, but I hope this helped to clear some things up for people. 

* For example in the vocative case, but that doesn't apply in the vast majority of cases where I've seen people using this spelling in English
**there's also been some supposition by scholars that this entire scene was added later to explain her coming at him in three animal forms in the next scene, for those unfamiliar with her promise to do so in the Tain Bo Regamna. It is certainly odd that she threatens to do so in the TBR, then appears as Buan's daughter in the TBC only to make the exact same threat again, however this would make sense if it were a case of scribes duplicating a scene or trying to re-explain something, or even integrating material from a different oral source (all things that aren't uncommon).  ***after it didn't cry out under him Cu Chulainn struck the stone and it has remained silent ever since. 


  1. Thank you for this! There were some suppositions here that I had been aware of but unable to verify and you clarified them for me very well. Not being a speaker of the original language, it is difficult for me to peel back layers in the manner you have here. I have passed this along to others I think it may benefit!

  2. Thank you for this. It all makes so much more sense to me than what I've seen floating around.

  3. There is a round Tarot deck -- "Celtic Wisdom" or something like that -- that describes the Morrigan as a sex and fertility goddess. I facepalmed really hard when my friend showed me the card description containing that, but if you could address that at some point -- if there is a need for a Round Two of this post -- that would be great, because the terrible Tarot isn't the only place I've seen that nonsense, and I shudder to think of some woman reading that and then praying to the Morrigan for a baby.

  4. I get frustrated that she is also called an Irish Goddess. More accurately she is a Goddess of the Gaels. That includes Scotland and yes Isle of Man.