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Thursday, October 8, 2015

Fulacht na Morrigna

   One of the mysterious things that the Morrigan is associated with is called the "fulacht na Morrigna" literally the Morrigan's cooking hearth. A fulacht is a type of outdoor cooking hearth or pit; the smaller ones were named for the Fíanna but the larger ones for the Morrigan (RIA, 1870). These fulachta were associated both with large outdoor stone cooking hearths and with cooking spits, so interchangeably in the texts and academic material that one might assume the two were parts of a single whole. Specific types of wood were associated with the fulacht, particularly in the law texts with the fulacht fían, and these included holly and rowan (Ó Néill, 2003). One might note that one of Cu Chulain's geasa was not to eat at a fulacht, and this is exactly what he ended up doing after encountering the three crones cooking on rowan spits at a fulacht who offered him hospitality - which he also had a geis not to refuse (Ó Néill, 2003).
      We are given descriptions of the Morrigan's fulachts in the Yellow Book of Lecan:
"fulacht na Morrigna in so .i. blogh di feoil huim ocus araili di ḟeoil ḟonaithi ocus mir n-immi irse ocus ni legad a n-im ocus ba fonaithi a n-om ocus ni ba loiscthi an bruithi ocus moale nobitis a triur for in mbir" - Yellow Book of Lecan
(The cooking hearth of the Morrigan is thus that is a portion of raw meat and enjoined of cooked meat and a small portion buttered and nothing melting from the raw flesh and nothing of it burnt by the cooking and at the same time together the trio on the spit.)
And also in a very early Scottish text (utilizing Old Irish) which describes both the Morrigan's fulacht and the Dagda's anvil excerpted here:
Fulacht na Morrigna, and so .i. crand a roth ocus crand a mol edtir teine ocus uisci ocus iarand a corp ocus da nai rethlen as an moil sin. Foluath athlam ic impo h-e. Tricha bir dobid ass ocus tricha drol ocus tricha fertas. Seol foai ocus fo h-ingnadh a cruth re luth a drol ocus a retlen. Fulacht na Morrigna doger ur goband do  - Celt. Rev. viii 74
(Cooking pit of the Morrigan is thus that is a wood wheel and wood axle between fire and water and an iron body and two people raise the wheel. Smoothly and quickly it went around. Thirty spits projected from it and thirty bars and thirty stakes. A sail on it, and a wonder its form when its bars and wheels were in motion. The Fulacht of the Morrigan very sharp edge of a smith.)
      The cooking pit appears in a story recounted in the Agallamh Beg:
"Ba hiat fein do rinde both doibh ind oidchi sin, ocus do rinded indeonadh leo, ocus teid Cailte ocus  Findchadh do indlad a lamha cum int srotha.
'Inad fulachta so' ar Findchadh,' ocus is cian o do rinded.'
'Is fir' ar Cailte, 'ocus fulacht na Morrighna so, ocus ni denta  gan uisce.'" (IRA, 1870)
(It was they who made for themselves a shelter there that night, and made a cooking place by them, and Cailte and Findchadh went to wash their hands in the stream.
"There is a cooking pit" said Findchadh, "and it has been long since its making."
"It is true, said Cailte, "and this is a cooking hearth of the Morrigan, and is not built without water.").
    Archaeological evidence supports the existence of these ancient fulachts which are found across Ireland, and some of the larger ones are considered fulachta na Morrigna with one known of at Tara and one in Tipperary (Martin, 1895). Ó Néill suggests that the fulacht was actually only the wooden portion of the cooking spit and that rather than a fire pit as we would imagine one it actually involved the use of heated stones for cooking (Ó Néill, 2003). He uses a description of the Fían utilizing a fulacht in Keating's Foras Feasa ar Eirinn as well as archaeology to support this; in Keating's account the fulacht was used not only for cooking but also to simultaneously heat water for washing after a morning of hunting so that the warriors would be clean before eating (Ó Néill, 2003). This theory is intriguing and fits the evidence well, explaining why the Morrigan's fulacht was said to need both fire and water; the spits would be used for cooking meat over a fire while heated stones were taken and used to make the water suitable for bathing, as well potentially for boiling food. Since the wood and water would obviously be long gone the only hard evidence left behind would be exactly what we do find at the sites of ancient fulachts: cracked stones in pits that may have been dug to reach water* (Ó Néill, 2003).
   So taking all of this evidence we may perhaps tentatively conclude that the Fulacht na Morrigna was a type of multipurpose outdoor cooking pit. Meat would be cooked on spits, possibly on a rotating assembly or wheel, and water might be heated for use. The smaller fulachts were named for the Fíanna but the larger, and apparently more complex, fulachts were named for the Morrigan.
  Edited to add:
The Morrigan's fulacht is also associated with blacksmiths:
"Perhaps because he also forges weapons of death, the blacksmith is sometimes thought to possess supernatural powers. As we have seen the author of an 8th century hymn asks God for protection from the spells of blacksmiths. The supernatural aspect of this craft is indicated further by the special treatment of the blacksmith in the list of prefessions in Bretha Nemed toísech. In the case of other craftsmen, three necessary skills are listed, but in the case of the blacksmith, the author draws on pagan mythology: 'three things which confer status on a blacksmith" the cooking spit of Nethin, the cooking pit of the Morrigan, the anvil of the Dagda."(Kelly, 2005, page 63)

It may be in this case that it is the skill to create these items which is the measure of the smith's worth, but it is uncertain. 

Royal Irish Academy (1870). Proeedings of the Royal Irish Academy
Martin, W., (1895). Pagan Ireland an Archaeological Sketch
Ó Néill, J., (2003). Lapidibus in igne calefactis coquebatur: The Historical Burnt Mound 'Tradition'
Kelly, F., (2005). A Guide to Early Irish Law

*it is worth noting here that O Néill concludes based on the date of the archaeological fulachts that they significantly predate the written accounts and therefore that the fulachts were likely mere cooking pits; however this leaves open the question of how evidence supports the pyrolithic use of fulachts and medieval texts also hint at this use if there is in actuality no connection. 


  1. Wonderful, where is the part about the smiths? LOL

    1. I must admit I was wrong :) funny how research sometimes supports our ideas and other times totally disproves them....although I am left unsure how the fulacht na Morrigna connects to the smiths craft as one of the three signs of a smith's skill....unless it was perhaps not the possession of a fulacht but the skill to build which case that would make sense, wouldn't it?