An Morrígan: War Goddess and More

My need to write this survey comes from the fact that I was trying to write a prayer to An Morrígan and found myself at a loss.  I know what she means to me, I know my thoughts about her and who she is but am I correct in my assessment?  I didn’t want to offend her so I decided to hit the books again and see what I could gather about her.  I was lucky.  I found a dissertation written by Angelique Gulermovich Epstein.  I had downloaded it from archives.org as her site, (the one she put the dissertation up on), is no longer on the Internet it seems.  She has done most of the hard work for me by listing almost all the places in the Irish myths that An Morrígan was mentioned in.

Sources Used:

Prose Glossaries:

–      Sans Cormaic (Cormac’s Glossary): It is thought to be written by Cormac mac Cuilennáin, a bishop and King of Munster who died in 908.  It appears in the Yellow Book of Lecan (14th century) and Book of Leinster (12th century).  It appears to be older than the manuscripts it is found in, it could be from the time of Cormac or a century or two after.

–      O’Mulconry’s Glossary: It appears in the Yellow Book of Lecan and it is thought to belong to at least the 13th or 14th century or even older.

–      O’Davoren’s Glossary: It appears in Egerton (18th century) and H.2.15 thought to date to the 16th century.

–      Michael O’Cleary’s Glossary: He was a member of one of the great literary families of medieval Ireland, and one of the “Four Masters”.

–      Séamus O’Bron’s Glossary: It is contained in Egerton, written in Cork in 18th century and its goal is to exhibit the vocabulary current among the Gaels of Alba.

–      Peter O’Connell’s Glossary: The author of this glossary died in 1810.

Metric Glossaries:

–      Forus Focal: It appears in 4 manuscripts, the oldest of which is the Book of Leinster.  It is attributed to John O’Duvegan but this is doubted.

–      Derbhshuir Glossary: This glossary is thought to be older than 1643.

–      Metric Glossary edited by Stokes: It was found in a fragmented copy of Egerton 90, it dated to before 1416 and it could even be older than 1300.

Myths and Lore:

–      The Lebor Gabála Érinn (The Book of the Takings of Ireland): A myth that talks about the pseudo-history of Ireland going back to before Noah’s Flood.

–      The Banshenchas: This is Lore that catalogues the important women in Irish mythology.  Funny enough they are catalogued via their husbands, brothers or fathers.

–      The Dindsenchas: This is the Lore of places.  It tells how places in Ireland got their names.

–      Cath Muige Tuired Cunga (The First Battle of Moytura): This is the story of the battle between the Tuatha De Danann and the Fir Bolg.

–      Cath Muige Tuired (The Second Battle of Moytura): This is the story of the battle between the Tuatha De Danann and the Fomoire.

–      Táin Bó Cúailnge: The center piece of the Ulster Cycle.  Revolves around a cattle raid that Medb leads into Ulster, and Cú Chulainn, who single-handedly defends the province.

–      And many of the Ulster cycle myths.

Conclusions:

From reading all the texts and the analysis provided by the author of the dissertation, I got the following:

  1. An Morrígan appears as a single being or a class of beings, with different interchangeable names like Macha, Morrígan, Badb, Nemain, Fea and Danu or Anu.
  2. She is associated with death and woe.
  3. She can be a shape-shifter, she is known in the texts to shift into a cow, crow, raven, eel and wolf.
  4. Her areas of “expertise” are prophecy, incitement to war, direct assault either physically or magically, joy in the carnage of battle, she is capable of making so much noise that the enemy either dies of freight or runs away, and she proclaims victory.  She is also considered a satirist and a sorceress.

It should be noted that because of all of these things she is designated as a WAR GODDESS, because when taken as a whole everything we know about her from the myths and the lore corresponds to what Celtic martial practices were like, but that is not all she is.  She is also a sovereignty goddess as evidenced through some of her transactions in some of the myths.  She is a mother, though her children appear to be made up of either dangerous poisonous children or warriors that help her in combat.

In essence An Morrígan is a very complex goddess just like all the other Celtic deities that don’t quite fit into one specific mold.

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Celtic Goddesses by Miranda Jane Aldhouse-Green

The author’s main aim for this book is to present a picture of a Celtic religion in which goddesses played a central role.  She uses both archeological and literary evidence to explore the role of divine females.

Anytime you have a presentation of data in which you only present one side of the story it is not a good idea.  While I agree that the Celtic goddesses were important to the Celtic religion they are by no means the only ones that are central to it.  I could make the same case for the Gods if I just spoke about them alone.

While I don’t agree with her interpretations of the data presented, the data itself is very interesting to read.  She talks about the roles of some of the more known Celtic goddesses and she does show that their roles are not limited to the “womanly” pursuits and that they were often very complex when it comes to role definition.

I do agree though with one of her conclusions in chapter one.  It is not a good idea to make a significant correlation between the prominence of Celtic goddesses and the status of women in Celtic society.  That is not to say though that there weren’t any high status women in the Celtic society when compared to their counterparts in the Mediterranean.

I did enjoy the information presented and the way it was presented in the book even if her conclusions and interpretations bothered me.  It was a good book to read just don’t take it as the gospel truth (the same goes for any book really).