The Morrígan: Some Historical Context

Badb_Catha_by_JohnMcCambridge

I like to play with mythology in my stories. To compare them and mix them and really dig into the histories of ancient civilizations from across our little world. You find interesting stories. Stories of old gods who had to destroy even older gods because they didn’t like being told what to do or because they wanted more power, or because no entertaining tale would’ve existed to explain our existance if no cosmic battle took place. Much of these stories revolve around the creation of the cosmos, the world, and the origin of man.

In a majority of these cases humans were solely created to serve and worship the gods. In Sumerian mythology, for instance, the god Enki created humans to tend the land because the younger gods refused to keep creation going. Oh, it was much more complex than that, with many more gods involved, but that doesn’t matter right now.

The point is, I love mythology and its richness of history, and I love the similarities among the different cultures. It’s utterly fascinating. There are so many gods and smaller deities and creatures that populate these convoluted stories, finding inspiration is easy.

This is partly why I love history and why I love doing research. I imagine these stories as real and try to interpret (recreate) the ‘true’ nature of the characters by looking at clues found in tales of old, along with whatever my imagination can conjure during the process. If you’ve read The Seals of Abgal then you’d know what I mean. I touched on Norse, Sumerian (pre-Akkadian assimilation), and Hebrew mythologies, all nicely packaged in a modern setting, and each playing a very important role, the importance of which, will become clear later as the tale unfolds to reveal the true madness that defines Sebastian’s existence.

In The Morrígan I looked at Ireland and delved into its ancient folklore. Now for those who don’t know, Wikipedia describes the Morrigan as:

“The Phantom Queen or Mórrígan (“great queen”), also written as Morrígu or in the plural as Morrígna, and spelt Morríghan or Mór-ríoghain in Modern Irish, is a figure from Irish mythology who appears to have been considered a goddess, although she is not explicitly referred to as such in the texts. The Morrígan is also known as a goddess of battle, strife, and sovereignty. She sometimes appears in the form of a crow, flying above the warriors, and in the Ulster cycle she also takes the forms of an eel, a wolf and a cow. She is generally considered a war deity comparable with the Germanic Valkyries, although her association with a cow may also suggest a role connected with wealth and the land.”

I chose this character–or rather, my interpretation of her–because of the connection with Germanic Valkyries. There is an overlap there. Well, that and a few other reasons. You’ll have to read the book to find out why, but it’s an interesting one.

As with all things history, you get conflicting theories, mostly because it’s relative to the interpreter and/or historian (lost in translation?). The Morrígan is sometimes depicted as a “trio of goddess sisters, but depending on which story you read, this is not always consistent. Popular combinations are BadbMacha and Nemain, or Badb, Macha and Anand. Anand is also sometimes called Morrigu, and sometimes it includes Fea (Nemain).

See what I mean?

The image above, created by John McCambridge, has the Morrígan as an old woman with dark wings. I don’t recall reading about her having any wings, only that she had the ability to change into a crow, but this is a beautiful example of how people interpret things, and what you see here is the artist’s vision of Badh Cartha as a member of the Morrígan trio (If you click through to his gallery you’ll find more interpretations of her).

In the tale of  Táin Bó Regamna, the Morrígan meets the hero Cú Chulainn, but he insults her and is about to attack when she transforms into a crow and flies out of his reach. He realizes his mistake, but it’s too late. Later she appears again to him, this time as a young woman offering her love, but he rejects her yet gain. Suffice to say, in the end he dies hard.

Stories and theories about the Morrígan are colorful and somewhat subjective, but the most consistent version, however, has the Morrígan appear alone using the name Badb interchangeably. And here is where it gets really interesting:

“The earliest sources for the Morrígan are glosses in Latin manuscripts, and glossaries (collections of glosses). In a 9th-century manuscript containing the Latin Vulgate translation of the Book of Isaiah, the word Lamia is used to translate the Hebrew Lilith.[14] A gloss explains this as “a monster in female form, that is, a morrígan”. Cormac’s Glossary (also 9th century), and a gloss in the later manuscript H.3.18, both explain the plural word gudemain (“specters”) with the plural form morrígna. The 8th century O’Mulconry’s Glossary says that Macha is one of the three morrígna.”

If you remember Seir’s origin story, then you might recognize the significance of this little connection. See, this is what I love about mythology. If you read deep enough the lore starts to overlap and that is where the gold lies.

As with the Romans and the Greeks and the Norse, the ancient Irish had their own gods. They were called Tuath(aDé Danann, and were considered a race of supernaturally-gifted people in Irish mythology. The theory is that they were the main deities of pre-Christian Gaelic Ireland.

Unfortunately, most, if not all, Irish mythology were recorded by Christian monks and we know how personal and political agendas can influence those in charge of recording history. Thus, some modification did take place, but at this point I don’t know how much, nor, I suspect, does anyone else really. As a result, the Tuath Dé were generally depicted as kings, queens and heroes of old who had supernatural powers, but it’s also accepted they were worshipped as gods in the past (ancient Sumerian legends also speak of god-kings).

You also have the Fomoire (or Fomorians)–a semi-divine race of beings that even preceded Tuatha Dé. The theory is they represented gods of a “proposed” pre-Goidelic population of Ireland, similar to the Titans, maybe. Remember the Titans and the Olympians?

It doesn’t stop here, but I will. The point was not to give a detailed history lesson, but show how fascinating research can be, especially when you start to connect the dots. Then it becomes even more engrossing.

So where are all these gods today? And what have they been up to? Or are they just myths generated by ignorant minds? And, the most important question of all, why am I talking about them?

8 thoughts on “The Morrígan: Some Historical Context

  1. Another lover of mythology! Ooh, what pleasure to read this post 🙂 Almost sent shivers up my spine reading some of those names and stories. I am now so looking forward to a break in my manic reading schedule when I can pick up a copy of your book!

  2. Mythology is one of my favorite subjects, too. This post reminded me that I haven’t delved into it in a while.

    On another note, I think that modern superheros are actually a contemporary mythology.

    1. They could be in a way, though we clearly view them as fictional while in ancient times people accepted them as true gods. Still, I can’t help but think that this is part of our fabric, this need for heroes, so yes, in a roundabout way of answering you, superheroes are the new mythology.

      Unless it’s time for the old ones to reappear…

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