The Morrigan - the Celtic Goddess of Battle and Death – is a powerful feminine archetype: a maker and breaker of kings, a queen who rules in her own right, and mistress of magic. Morgan Daimler, Celtic Reconstructionist and author of a new book called The Morrigan: Meeting the Great Queenssays that the Morrigan is often misunderstood by modern pagans. For a start, she isn’t one goddess, but three – or possibly more.
In ancient Irish tales, Morrigu, Macha and Badb are all called the Morrigan while other deities, including Nemain, Bé Neit, Áine, Grian, and even mother of the gods Danu, have even been given the title. The confusion doesn’t stop there. As Morgan Daimler points out: “Even the Morrigan’s name has many possible meanings... the current leading theory is that it means, roughly, nightmare queen – often given as phantom queen – although others still prefer the once popular “great queen” interpretation.”
Although the subject is convoluted, Morgan Daimler picks through the threads in a way that is easy for a non-academic to follow, but with enough wealth of detail to please anyone keen on accurate historical research. She explains the history of the Morrigan in her various guises by looking at where she is mentioned in source material and the evidence that we have for the ways in which the Morrigan was worshipped in pagan Ireland.
Publisher Moon Books says on its website: "This book is an introduction to the Morrigan and several related goddesses who share the title, including Badb and Macha. It combines solid academic information with personal experience in a way that is intended to dispel the confusion that often surrounds who this goddess was and is."
For many modern pagans, the Morrigan is seen as a dark goddess associated with death, and that can put people off honouring her. Yet death is as much a part of life as happier things such as birth, love and fertility. For the historic people of Ireland, battle and fighting were also important parts of life.
Morgan Daimler says: “I have regularly run across the concept of Dark Gods, usually deities of war, battle, death, or the underworld. The term dark in this case indicates an association between the deity and the aspects of life or the world that people tend to fear; Gods like Kali, Baba Yaga, Odin, Ares, Hecate, and of course the Morrigan are often referred to as being Dark Gods. Some people will advise avoiding such deities altogether while others will say that approaching them requires extra caution and care.”
She goes on to say: “What I have come to realise is that the entire idea of Dark Gods is, in many ways, an illusion. It is based in a focus on the deities associated with things that we, as modern people, fear because we usually are disconnected from them. Most modern people, especially those with no direct experience of battle and war, look at these concepts as negatives to be avoided, and see the Gods associated with them in a similar light, whereas to our ancestors Gods of battle and war had an important place. Death is feared, especially in our culture where death is often portrayed
as an enemy to be fought... Even the underworld of the Dark Gods – home of the dead – is seen by
some as a place to be avoided because to consider the underworld as a good thing is, on some level, to accept the inevitable death of the self. We fear what these Gods represent and so we fear them.”
Pagan Portals - The Morrigan: Meeting the Great Queensis due out in December, but can be ordered via Amazon
For the weeks around Samhain, or Halloween, I'm writing about many different aspects of death, including gods and goddesses of death, burial sites, ghosts and the ways we honour the ancestors.
Links and previous related posts
Pagan Portals - The Morrigan: Meeting the Great Queens