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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Morrigan The Dagda, and Unions

If there is one story in Irish mythology relating to the Morrigan that the most people are familiar with it is probably the scene in the Cath Maige Tuired where the Morrigan and the Dagda meet at a river, join, and then plan strategy for the coming battle with the Fomorians. There are several interpretations of this incident but possibly the most common are that it shows the Morrigan as a goddess of sex and that it is a case of the Dagda trading sex for victory. 
  Probably not surprisingly to anyone who has read my blog, particularly my previous blog on the story of Dian Cecht and Miach, I have a different opinion. First let's look at the actual story:
"Boi tegdus den Dagdae a nGlionn Etin antuaith. Bai dno bandal forsin Dagdae dia bliadnae imon samain an catha oc Glind Edind. Gongair an Unius la Connachta frioa andes. Conaca an mnai a n-Unnes a Corand, og nige, indarna cos di fri Allod Echae .i. Echumech, fri husci andes, alole fri Loscondoib, fri husce antuaith. Noi trillsi taitbechtai fora ciond. Agoillis an Dagdae hi & dogniad oentaith. Lige ina Lanomhnou a ainm an baile osin. Is hi an Morrigan an uhen sin isberur sunn."

Itbert* si iarum frisin Dagdae deraghdis an Fomore a tir .i. a Maug Scetne, & aragarudh an Dagdae oes danu Erionn arocendsi for Ádh Unsen, & noragad si hi Scetne do admillid rig na Fomore .i. Indech mac Dei Domnann a ainm, & douhéradh si crú a cride & airned a gailie uad. Dobert-si didiu a dí bois den cru sin deno sluagaib batar oconn idnaidhe for Adh Unsen. Bai Ath Admillte iarum a ainm ond admillid sin an riog.
~ Cath Maige Tuired

not in Ireland

"The Dagda had a house at Glenn Etin in the north. The Dagda was to meet a woman on a day, yearly, about Samain of the battle at Glen Etin. The Unish of Connacht calls by the south. The woman was at the Unish of Corand washing her genitals, one of her two feet by Allod Echae, that is Echumech, by water at the south, her other by Loscondoib, by water at the north. Nine plaits of hair undone upon her head. The Dagda speaks to her and they make a union. Laying down of the married couple was the name of that place from then. She is the Morrigan, the woman mentioned particularly here.

Afterwards she commands the Dagda to strip his land, that is Mag Scetne, against the Fomorians, and told the Dagda to call together the aes dana of Ireland to meet at the Ford of Unsen and she would go to Scetne and injure with magic the king of the Fomorians, that is Indech mac De Domnann is his name, and she would take the blood of his heart and kidneys of his battle-ardor from him. Because of that she will give to the gathered hosts the blood in her two palms, striking, groaning, warlike by the Ford of Unsen. Ford of Utter Destruction was its name afterwards because of the magical injury done to the king." (translation mine)
 Now it has been argued that she does this because he slept with her, in a sort of trade, but lets take a closer look at a few things. Firstly this meeting is said to be "dia bliadnae" or on a day yearly, which implies that the two meet every year about that time. We have hints from other material that the Morrigan may be the Dagda's wife, specifically the Metrical Dindshenchas: 
"ben in Dagda,
ba samla día sóach. Mórrígan mórda,
ba slóg-dírmach sámda."
- Metrical Dindshenchas: Odras

the wife of the Dagda
a phantom was the shapeshifting goddess
...the mighty Morrigan
whose ease is trooping hosts"

One might note that the same word "ben" is used in both the Dindshenchas and Cath Maige Tuired passages. Whether or not we give that any weight, we should at least consider that the two do have a connection outside this single story. So we see a yearly meeting with two deities who are associated with each other outside of this story as well. The two meet at a pre-arraigned location where the Dagda finds the Morrigan straddling a river washing her genitals. The Dagda says something to her - about what we don't know. After making this union - one may assume having sex, although the word oentaith can mean either a physical union or a pact or agreement - the Morrigan tells the Dagda to strip his land, a common military ploy, in the place the Fomorians will be and to gather the armies of the Tuatha De Danann, and then promises to go out herself and destroy one of the Fomorian kings with magic, which she subsequently does, bringing back two handfuls of blood as proof. At no point does the story explicitly state that a deal is made between them, or that the Morrigan's actions are in any way a response to or payment for the Dagda's. We can say with certainty that she never makes an offer to him, although we do not know what he says to her when he first sees her. 
   My personal take on this is simple. The Dagda and the Morrigan meet every year and this particular year their meeting falls just before a major battle. After having sex the Morrigan tells the Dagda exactly what he is to do and what she herself will be doing until he gathers the armies. Anyone who is married or in a long term relationship should appreciate the interpersonal dynamics going on here.
  Is the Morrigan a goddess of sex? I don't think so, and certainly not based on this incident. It would be easier to argue for the Dagda as a God of sex, given the frequency with which he engages in the activity in stories...
  Did the Morrigan grant her aid to the Tuatha De Danann in trade for the Dagda's attention? There's really no indication of that either in the text. The Morrigan is a member of the Tuatha De Danann, daughter of Ernmas and Delbeath according to the Lebor Gabala Erenn, and had every reason to assist the Tuatha De without payment. We also need to keep in mind that before this meeting the Morrigan had already gone to Lugh and chanted a battle incitement to encourage him to rise up and fight, so she herself was clearly both in favor of the battle and already encouraging it and acting for the Tuatha De.
   It's an interesting passage and full of important information about both Gods, but I think we need to be cautious in rushing to interpret it, especially through a modern lens. Instead I think we need to look at what's actually going on and being said, and what happens, and let the story speak for itself.    

* I'm translating itbert, which is a form of as-beir, as commands, although it has nuanced meanings. It can mean says or speaks, but in a sense of orders which I believe is what the Morrigan is giving here it means commands. It can also mean singing or chanting

Copyright Morgan Daimler


  1. Thank you for your post and the work you have done putting it together.

  2. Thanks for sharing this. I'm glad I'm not the only one who doesn't see The Morrighan as a sex goddess.

  3. I agree with this interpretation. If anything, it seems more like a strategy session by a war goddess and her paramour.

  4. The morrígan is actually the goddess of war and magic. So it definitely makes sense that she chose to help him in battle. This is an awesome telling of the story though!

  5. I just started learning about the Morrigan and Dagda, and this was a really interesting read. Thanks!

  6. Thank you for your texts abou this subject. Very interesting points.