Other Names/Spellings: Morrígu, The Morrigan, The Mórrígan, Mór-Ríoghain, potentially Anand or Danand (or Anu or Danu)
Associations: battle, shape-shifting, crow or raven, heifer, wolf, eel, cow, magic, death, victory, strategy, sovereignty, prophecy, poetry, washer at the ford, fulacht fiadh or “wild hearth”
Land Specific Associations: whirlpool of Corryveckan / Morrigan’s Cauldron, Bed of the Couple, Gort na Morrigna / Field of the Morrigan, Fulacht na Morrigna / Morrigan’s Hearth, Mur na Morrigna / Mound of the Morrigan, Da Chich na Morrigna / Paps of the Morrigan, cave of Cruachan / Uaimh na gCait / Oweynagat / Cave of Cats
Known and Suspected Family: mother Ernmas, father Delbaeth, sister Badb, sister Macha, sister Banba, sister Fotla, sister Eriu, husband the Dagda (?), daughter Adair, son Meche, son Glon, son Gaim, son Coscar, son Brian, son Iucharba, son Iuchair
Etymology: depending on how you write “mor/mór”, the name means either “Phantom Queen” or “Great Queen.”
- Lebor Gabála Érenn / The Book of the Takings of Ireland / The Book of Invasions
- Cath Maige Tuired Cunga / First Battle of Moytura
- Cath Maige Tuired / Second Battle of Moytura
- The Book of Fermoy
- The Book of Lecan
- Táin Bó Cuailnge
- Da Derga’s Hostel
- Cattle Raid of Regmna
Let’s begin with her name, as there are debates about some that I have listed as “other.” We get her name as “Anand or Danand (Anu or Danu)” thanks to the Lebor Gabála Érenn: The Book of the Taking of Ireland. But as Morgan Daimler is quick to point out:
“[…] it should be noted that in multiple sources including the Cath Maige Tuired, Morrigan and Danand are listed separately; making it unlikely that Danu or Dananad is one of the Morrigans. Indeed Danand is the daughter of the Goddess Flidais according to one version of the LeBór Gabala Erenn, not a child of Ernmas.” (page 6.)
The Morrígan is often paired with the Dagda in terms of marriage. Morpheus Ravenna points out: “In almost all case where the Morrígan by name is given a husband, it is the Dagda.” There is indeed a lot of similarities to the two that support this conclusion, such as both their names being titles: “the Great Queen” and “The Good God.” In the lore, they are both the few to be called deities outright.
Other relationships include that to her mother Ernmas, which is attested in several pieces of written lore. Along with Ernmas as her mother, she had two sisters as well: Badb and Macha. Meanwhile, who her father was is more ambiguous, though Delbáeth is given as a possible suggestion.
While there are a lot of comments to the Morrígan’s children, only one really stands out: Méche, though to bring destruction to all of Ireland and the world. Otherwise, there are other small mentions to the Morrígan’s children. One such suggestion is that she mothered three sons Brian, Iucharba, and Iuchair with her own father Delbaeth, but Morpheus Ravenna remarks: “This is, however, the same text in which she is conflated with Danann, so this is likely an error. Most other sources list another Goddess as the mother of these sons (in some cases, Brigid.)” (page 72.) Ravenna also is quick to point out that, though she is deemed a mother in the strict sense, she is far from a “Mother Goddess” as her children are always linked to war and destruction.
The Morrígan is involved in a lot of battles throughout Irish myth. In The First Battle of Moytura, she–along with her sisters Badb and Macha–use magic to thwart the Fir Bolg. Then in The Second Battle of Moytura, after having a sexual union with the Dadge, she once again uses magic to overwhelm the Fomorian soldiers and aid the Túatha Dé Danann in battle. One could also attribute the entire Táin Bó Cuailnge as her doing, as she is who unites the two bulls that produce the calf the entire Táin is fighting over. It is also in the Táin that the Morrígan incites both sides of the battle to fight.
Speaking to her involvement in battles, Morpheus Ravenna writes to the personality of the Morrígan :
“On the most direct and surface level, she seems to instigate and escalate warfare. On a deeper level, she is also taking part in a larger cycle and fulfilling a predetermined role within it. […] Yet her relationship to warfare appears to be personal, too. There is a persistent sense in the literature that the Morrígan is not only active in war as part of her ordained divine function, but in fact actually enjoys it.” (pages 61-62.)
As well as being involved in battle, the Morrígan is known to also recite poetry in whatever story she is present. These poems range from being prophesies to battle cries to enchantments. For example at the end of The Second Battle of Moytura, she recites poetry that prophesies the future for the land of Ireland. Another example is her foretelling–or perhaps dooming?–Cú Chulainn’s death in Cattle Raid of Regamna.
Speaking of Cú Chulainn, in the Táin the Morrígan makes famous her ability to shape-shift. Cú Chulainn insults the Morrígan, so she threatens to come at him in the shape of an eel, a wolf, and a heifer to hinder his battle against the army of Connacht. And then she does just that. In other stories she appears as a red woman, a young woman, an old woman (a hag), raven, crow, or simply black bird.
The Morrígan is also known as “The Washer at the Ford.” This is a description of how in myth she would appear washing clothes belonging to warriors yet to die. This imagery is also a superstition warriors had for centuries: that to have a vision of a woman washing one’s bloody clothing at the ford was prophesying doom.
Much of what the Morrígan does in text seems to heavily support her role as a sovereignty goddess. Both how she makes a sexual union with the Dagda to ensure battle for the Túatha Dé Danann and how she offers Cú Chulainn victory if he too made a sexual union mirror what is known as a “sacred kingship”; where the king would ritually mate or marry the land in order to secure his rights over it.
Morpheus Ravenna writes to a lesser-known attribute of the Morrígan:
“A minor and often-overlooked aspect of the Morrígan is her connection to the hearth, cooking, and hospitality. The primary expression of this is found in the fulacht fiadh, or “wild hearth”. Often called “burnt mounds” by archaeologists, these sites (dating from late Neolithic to early Iron Age) are found throughout Ireland and typically include a trough where water was boiled using fire-heated stones, and the used fire-blacked stones tossed into a midden, forming the “burnt mound”. Theories as to what these outdoor hearths were used for include cooking game and curing hides from hunting expeditions, brewing beer, and heating sweat -houses or primitive saunas–and there may have been multiple uses.” (page 67.)
Larger cites were often given the name fulacht na Morrígna or “hearth of the Morrígan.” It is at one of these fulacht fiadh that Cú Chulainn–in one version of the tale–has to accept the Morrígan’s offer of dog-meat, thus ensuring his death in the upcoming battle due to his geis. In other folklore, bands of warriors come to the Morrígan’s hearth for hospitality and food. Ravenna points out that since these hearths involved often warriors, that this explains her involvement with a rather domestic role.
Daimler, Morgan. The Morrigan: Meeting the Great Queens. N.p.: Moon, 2014. Print.
Ravenna, Morpheus. The Book of the Great Queen. Richmond CA: Concrescent, 2015. Print.