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Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Imcallaim na Morrigan: the Morrigan, Cu Chulainn, and love?

 There is perhaps no other scene from Irish mythology that causes more confusion than the imcallam na Morrigna or so-called 'Buan's Daughter' section of the Táin Bó Cuailgne [TBC]. This is the scene where the Morrigan in disguise as the daughter of a king named Buan [literally 'lasting' or 'enduring'] goes to Cu Chulainn and first tries to tempt him then threatens him. 

This is the Faraday translation of the passage:
"Cuchulainn saw a young woman coming towards him, with a dress of every colour on, and her form very excellent.
' Who are you? ' said Cuchulainn.
'Daughter of Buan the king,' said she. 'I have come to you; I have loved you for your reputation, and I have brought my treasures and my cattle with me.'
'The time at which you have come to us is not good. For our condition is evil, through hunger. It is not easy to me to meet a woman, while I am in this strife.'
'I will be a help to you
[edited out from Faraday the original text is Cu Chulainn's response "It is not for a woman's arse I have come."]
.. I shall be more troublesome to you,' said she, 'when I come against you when you are in combat against the men. I will come in the form of an eel about your feet in the ford, so that you shall fall.'
'I think that likelier than the daughter of a king. I will take you,' said he, 'between my toes, till your ribs are broken, and you will be in this condition till a doom of blessing comes (?) on you.'
'I will drive the cattle on the ford to you, in the form of a grey she-wolf.'
'I will throw a stone at you from my sling, so that it shall break your eye in your head; and you will be in that state till a doom of blessing comes on you.'
' I will come to you in the form of a hornless red heifer before the cattle. They will rush on you on the plains (?), and on the fords, and on the pools, and you will not see me before you.'
' I will throw a stone at you,' said he, 'so that your leg shall break under you, and you will be in this state till a doom of blessing comes on you.'
Therewith she goes from him

The text following the edited portion is nearly a duplicate of the final back and forth between the Morrigan and Cu Chulainn in the TBR where she threatens to come at him in the three forms to make his combat with an equally matched warrior unfair in order to ensure that he is killed. This is the culmination in the TBR to a contentious meeting between the two and which ultimately results in a prediction of the TBC.

Looking at the misunderstandings of the Buan's Daughter passage there's two layers to the confusion, so let's start with the widespread assertion that this shows that the Morrigan loved Cu Chulainn and that she turned against him when he spurned her. If we actually read the text of the passage its not nearly that clear. He doesn't actually refuse her initially, he tells her it isn't a good time for him to "meet a woman" and only when she then offers to explicitly aid him in his efforts does he say that it isn't for sex that he's defending the border; this may be a reference to other occasions on which there are attempts to bribe him away from Ulster by offering him a woman, including Medb's own daughter. The Morrigan is also in disguise, having put on a richt or assumed form because he has of course already seen her in what may be her true form* in the Táin Bó Regamna [TBR] and in both the Buan's daughter encounter and subsequent 'Healing of the Morrigan' passage we see her appearing to him in very different disguises. Why is this? Because the two of them have an established and contentious relationship with each other, albeit one that is far more complex than simply adversarial. In the TBR for example when he realizes the woman he has been speaking to is the Morrigan he tells her that had he known the whole time they would have had a different encounter, implying he would not have parted so amicably from her. Similarly in the Healing of the Morrigan passage of the TBC when he realizes that he has healed the Morrigan he says that if he had known it was her he would not have done so. So why then is she coming to him at all? It is certainly odd given their previous interactions for her to suddenly go to him and declare her love while offering to help him in battle. One interpretation is that the scene isn't about seduction but is a test of Cu Chulainn's dedication to defending Ulster. From this view then the Morrigan isn't trying to actually proclaim her love but rather is seeing if he can be led into abandoning his post with the lure of a beautiful woman. He refuses and the two instead engage in battle, or at least she attempts to further test him by attacking him while he is battling the warrior Loch. I will note in fairness that some scholars do accept a romantic tone to this passage which leads us into the next point, which is the validity of the passage itself.

Although often treated as if it were ubiquitous to the TBC now, in fact this encounter is not found in other versions of the text, which more clearly and directly relate the Morrigan's attacks on Cu Chulainn to the TBR. For example this is from Dunn's version based on a text that doesn't include the Buan's Daughter incident but instead references back to the remscél of the Táin Bó Regamna:
"Then it was that the Morrigan daughter of Ernmas came from the fairy dwellings to destroy Cuchulain. For she had threatened on the Cattle-raid of Regomaina that she would come to undo Cuchulain what time he would be in sore distress when engaged in battle and combat with a goodly warrior, with Loch, in the course of the Cattle-spoil of Cualnge." 
This has led some scholars, including Baumgarten in Éiru volume 34, to suggest that the insertion of the Buan' Daughter passage in that version of the TBC was a later one by scribes trying to explain the reason the Morrigan attacked Cu Chulainn in the story. This may reflect scribes who were unfamiliar with the remscél or, as Baumgarten further suggests, were trying to reconcile a misreading of one line within the TBR. This pivotal line is a comment by the Morrigan to Cu Chulainn (Yellow Book of Lecan version), "Is oc diten do baissiu atusa ocus biad" [I am and shall be guarding your death] which Baumgarten argues was a misrendering of "Is oc dídin do báis-siu atáu-sa ocus bia" that is "I am and shall be bringing about your death" (Baumgarten, 1983). In previous translations the error was forwarded that the word was a form of ditiu, which means protecting or guarding, despite that not fitting the context of the TBR passage which is clearly threatening and not protective in nature; Baumgarten instead suggests the correct term is díden meaning to lead to or bring about. 
Baumgarten's view has been accepted widely enough that it is given in the eDIL as an example of the word díden, in contrast to the older interpretations that rely on connecting the word to dítiu, however unlikely that seems in context. In this view the romantic overtones of the Buan's Daughter passage were created based on the assumption that the Morrigan had promised to protect Cu Chulainn in some sense and was appearing to fulfill that role, only becoming antagonistic when he refused her aid (Baumgarten, 1983). Even in this I might argue that there is less of romance at play and more a sense of guardianship, albeit one created through a linguistic misunderstanding.

The Buan's Daughter section has resulted in some modern readers and people interested in Irish mythology assuming that the Morrigan was in love with Cu Chulainn** and became his enemy only after he rejected her. I do not believe the text itself supports that assertion or that the wider interactions between those two figures can justify such a view, and think that there is ample evidence that the passage was indeed a later insertion to explain a misreading of the TBR. While this doesn't, obviously, negate the existence of the Buan's Daughter passage it should be taken into account when trying to understand the wider dynamic at play between the Morrigan and Cu Chulainn so that excessive weight isn't given to that single encounter and so that it may be understood within a wider context.

End Notes
*its uncertain but as his encounter with her in the TBR is unexpected and does not seem to be one she prearranged the 'red headed woman' is the best candidate for the Morrigan's true humanoid form, in my opinion. She is of course a shapeshifter so most often when she appears in stories she is described as being in a certain form.
**I am perhaps understating this, as I have seen some extreme claims based on this passage including that the Morrigan was desperate to bear Cu Chulainn's child or was deeply heartbroken after his 'rejection'. Neither of these or the other outré claims sprung from them are supported in mythology or folklore but all seem to be rooted back in this single passage.  

Baumgarten, R. (1983). Varia III. A Note on Táin Bó Regamna. Ériu, 34, 189-193. Retrieved from 
Daimler, M., (2015) Táin Bó Regamna. Retrieved from
Dunn, J., (1914) Táin Bó Cualgn
eDIL (n.d.) electronic Dictionary of the Irish Language. retrieved from
Faraday, L., (1904) The Cattle Raid of Cualgne

Cuchulainn's death, by Stephen Reid 1904

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Are The Irish Gods, Gods?

  Every cultural type of paganism has its own unique little issues, things that go around within that particular community. Usually these are not things based in facts, but are a kind of urban legend, a statement made at a some point that was then repeated and taken as fact and slowly takes on a life of its own until it gains a kind of truth of its own, no matter how disconnected it may be from the actual root culture, historic fact, or myth. In Heathenry you see this with the [false] idea people constantly repeat that only those who die in battle go to Valhalla or that Valhalla is a universal goal, a kind of heaven, while Hel is a terrible place to be avoided. In Irish paganism what I see going around fairly often is the assertion that the Irish Gods were not, in fact, Gods at all. 

 This argument is put forth on several assertions. Firstly it's claimed that we have nothing recorded or written by the pagan Irish themselves therefore we have no idea who or what they considered Gods. The second assertion is that none of the Tuatha Dé Danann are ever referred to as Gods in any of the existing material, and that this is because they were never seen as being Gods at all just fictional characters. Both of these arguments are used, sometimes by people within the Celtic pagan community, for a variety of reasons. Sometimes, as with the "we know nothing about Druids" line its simply an excuse to justify someone tossing out the historical material and making up whatever they like. Sometimes its an attempt to disparage Irish paganism. The responses to being told the Irish Gods aren't Gods are often sincere but emotional, so lets try a different approach here. 

   To address the assertion that we have nothing from the pre-Christian pagan Irish so therefore we don't know anything about their Gods, I honestly find that argument disingenuous. That statement is generally true of cultures like the Picts and neolithic Irish, but while we do not have any primary sources for the pagan Irish we have an abundance of secondary sources. We have mythology preserved by early scribes during and immediately after the conversion period and we have later folklore which preserved the memory of deities in certain areas. These secondary sources can be cross checked in some cases against other Indo-European cultures, both other Celtic language cultures and other closely related I-E ones because we know that I-E cultures had not only certain patterns of deities but also certain deities who can be found across cultures. Nuada is an excellent Irish example of that: a mythic figure, found among the Irish Tuatha Dé Danann who fits a wider pattern of the wounded king God seen in related cultures and who has clear cognates among the Welsh, British, and Gaulish. Archaeology is a significant tool as well, as studying  archaeological sites can tell us where ritual centers were and whether areas from myth and folklore did have ritual significance. We know from these sites that the Gods honored there were worshiped with offerings, and stories like "The Taking of the Sidhe" imply that such offerings were necessary for the people to receive blessing and abundance. We can also study place names and the way that folklore around specific deities focuses at a location. The different Tuatha De Danann had their own sacred places and real world sites that belonged to them. Like putting together pieces of a puzzle no single piece gives us an answer but when we put them all together we see the bigger picture. 
    Speaking of secondary sources, the second argument claims that nowhere are the Irish Gods, that is the Tuatha De Danann, called Gods. This is simply untrue. Some examples from the source material with the word for god or goddess in bold: 
  •     "ben in Dagda…día sóach(Gwynn, 1906). 
    the Dagda's wife…the shapeshifting goddess. 
  •    "‘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 in catæ, uair is inann be Neid & dia cathæ’.
    "In the Wood of Badb, i.e. of the Morrigu, for that is her wood, viz. the land of Ross, and she is the Battle-Crow and is called the Wife of Neit, i.e. the Goddess of Battle, for Neit is the same as God of Battle.’" (Meyers, 1910)
  •  "Brigit .i. banfile.... bandea no adratis filid," (Sanas Cormac, n.d.) 
    Brighid, that is a poetess...a Goddess poets used to worship" 
  •   "Manannan Mac Lir... inde Scoti et Britónes eum deum maris uocauerunt..." (Sanas Cormac, n.d.)  
    Manannan Mac Lir...
    the Irish and British called him the God of the sea 
  • Dagda .i. dagh .i. día soinemhail ag na geintíbh é, ar do adhradháis Tuatha Dé Danann dó, ar bá día talmhan dóibh é ar mhét a chumachta (Stokes & Windisch, 1897)
    Dagda that is a good god that is an excellent god he was of the pagans; because the Tuatha De Danann adored/worshiped him, because he was a god of the world to them, because of the greatness of his power
  This is only a small sample but it makes it clear that while each and every one of the Tuatha De Danann may not have been called Gods explicitly several of them were. It would seem very illogical for the people recording this information to retroactively promote fictional characters to deities during a period that was still in transition from one religion to another, when the populace would still remember the older beliefs. When the different iterations of the myths are studied I believe a pattern can be seen wherein the Gods are slowly demoted over time, so that the Morrigan is clearly a goddess in the oldest versions of the material but by the later period has become a spectral figure. Similarly Áine is clearly originally a goddess who slowly devolves into a fairy woman and then mortal girl. This pattern would not seem to fit with the idea that the Gods were never divine, but only a Christian literary device. 
   Were the Irish Gods understood to be Gods historically? It seems clear that they were. They have sacred sites, they have myths and folklore, they have cognates and related deities in other Celtic cultures, they are called Gods in the older texts. 
 Are the Irish Gods, Gods? Yes.
Gwynn, E., (1906). Metrical Dindshenchas
Meyer, K., (1910). The Wooing of Emer
Sanas Cormac (n.d.)
Stokes, W., and Windisch, E., (1897) Irische Texte

Copyright Morgan Daimler

Thursday, April 8, 2021

The Power in a Name

 There is a lot of power in names and naming, so today I want to look at the way we see that played out in mythology and folklore. I thought this would be a good topic to discuss in particular because of the confusion I sometimes see around the idea of True Names and magical names within modern paganism. So let's look at what True Names and magical names are, and the difference between them, with some examples from mythology and folklore.

A True Name is the name that resonates with a being's soul or otherwise identifies that being on the deepest level. This is not necessarily the name you are given by your parents at birth, although we'll look at the power that your birth name can have later. Your True Name is a deeper metaphysical thing, something that you may or may not ever find if you are human, and something that you guard as more precious than your life. Knowing a being's True Name gives you power over that being and allows you a level of control of them. In the Cath Maige Tuired we see this when the Dagda encounters a Fomorian princess who demands he carry her on his back; he refuses until after asking him his name three times* he is forced to reveal his True Name, and knowing it she repeats the request using it and he is forced to comply. In the familiar story of Rumplestilskin we see knowledge of a True Name as the only way for a woman to get out of a contract she has made with a dwarf. This motif and variations of it are found throughout Europe, with either the firstborn child or the woman herself as the agreed upon pay for the Otherworldly being unless the Name can be discovered. Knowing a True Name means knowing the true nature of a being which allows that being to be commanded against their will, and this is exactly why knowledge of a True Name was hidden.

As I mentioned, your birth name does also have power over you. Perhaps anyone who has ever experienced an angry parent yelling their full name at them is already aware of this. Seriously though, even though your birth name is something given to you by others it has the power of blood and kinship bound up in it, and it is tied to your soul all the same, although not as strongly as your True Name. In most folklore it was understood as unwise to give your name to Otherworldly beings, because knowledge of your birth name gave them knowledge of you to some degree. We see examples of this in stories such as 'Maggy Moulach' where a fairy (in that case a Brownie) tragically loves a mortal; when he had asked her name, she told him it was 'Mise Fein' [Me Myself]. The young woman eventually is forced to throw boiling water on the amorous fairy, mortally wounding him, and when he was later asked who had harmed him he answered 'Me Myself' preventing his mother from seeking revenge against the girl. Names have power, even the ones our parents have given us.

As adults we can choose our own names. We can assume nicknames, or we can even (in most countries as far as I know) legally change our names. There is a long and deep seated tradition of adults changing names to shed the name they were given at birth and assume a new name as an adult, usually to better reflect who the person was. We see this in mythology with Setanta becoming Cu Chulainn; Gwion Bach becoming Taleisin; Deimne becoming Fionn Mac Cumhaill. There is power in naming ourselves, but we should choose wisely as well, because just like birth names the names we give ourselves hold power over us and create connections. Cu Chulainn taking his name also meant taking a gies against eating dog meat, and it his fate was bound up in that taboo.

It is from the power that your name has, I believe, that we see magical names coming in, particularly in ceremonial magic. A magical name was originally meant as a pseudonym, a way to keep your identity hidden from spirits and likely to act as a layer of magical defense from unfriendly people, witches and non-witches. Or perhaps we might say more aptly it was used to create a specific alternate identity for dealing with them. Magical names, like any good persona, were about creating an ideal image for the self, rather than a true reflection of the self. So, for example someone's True Name might be Echaire [horse-keeper] but they may take a magical name that is much grander and more impressive sounding like 'Storm Raven' or 'Ocean Rider'. People also often use the names of deities, mythic heroes, famous magicians of the past, and powerful animals for their magical names. Magical names did build power with use, but could also be shed and remade as needed. Think of them a bit like clothes or armor. Even with this though there was historically usually a layer of secrecy between a person's magical name and real name, an attempt to keep the two separate and distinct, so that in ritual or with fellow practitioners no other name would be used except the magical, and outside of those contexts no name except the birth name would be used.

At some point in the modern era I think the ideas of True Names and magical names were confused somehow, so that people began to think that a magical name was supposed to be a true reflection of self rather than a projection of power and confidence. From this we start to see two things happening, firstly magical names that are intended to reflect as much of a person's soul as possible, and secondly the public use of magical names in non-magical contexts. Or basically the entire concept of magical names became less about esoteric spirit work naming and more of a tribal assuming-a-new-name-with-a-new-community process. One is not better or worse than the other, but they need to be understood as distinctly different things. A public name that you use because you feel it fits you better than the one your parents gave you, isn't a magical name. And it isn't your true name either, or I hope it isn't if your sharing it around so publicly.

Names have power. We can take control of that power by choosing what we want people to call us, by naming ourselves. Even assuming a nickname is an act of power. We can use magical names. We can even seek, and sometimes find, our True Name But we shouldn't forget the lessons that mythology and fairy tales have taught us about the value of the power of the names and the need to guard the names that mean the most to us. Not all names are meant to be shared.

* there is also significance to the repetition of the number three, and of asking a question three times.