Badb

Pronunciation: BADH-uv, baiv

Other Names/Spellings: Badhbh, Badb Catha, Bodb, Cath-Bhadhbh, Badhbh Chatha

Associations: battle, prophecy, omens, dangerous, hag, hooded crows, black birds in general

Known and Suspected Family: sister the Morrígan, sister Macha, mother Ernmas, father Delbaeth, child Ferr Doman, child Fiamain, husband the Dagda (?), husband Indui (?), husband Net (?), husband Tetra (?)

Etymology: “The name Badb is from the Irish word badb, generally translated as ‘crow’, though its meaning and usage in ancient times with reference to birds was generally less specific and could indicate any carrion bird (crow, raven, or vulture), or occasionally even a bird of prey.” (Ravenna, 75.)

Notable Myths:

  • 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
  • Wasting Sickness of Cú Chulainn
  • The Book of Fermoy
  • The Book of Lecan
  • Táin Bó Cuailnge
  • Dá Derga’s Hostel
  • Dá Choca’s Hostel
  • Cattle Raid of Regmna
  • Wooing of Emer
  • Courtship of Ferb
  • Battle of Mag Lena

About:

Like the Morrígan, the name “Badb” poses a problem as it can be both a name, a title, and a description. Morgan Daimler writes, “While she [Badb] appears, especially in the older invasion texts, as an individual being, Badb is also used as a title which is applied to other Goddesses including Macha and Nemain.” (page 24.)

Depending on how the name situation worked, it was either the Morrígan or Badb who makes a sexual union with the Dagda at the ford before the Second Battle of Moytura. Otherwise, Badb’s ancestry is not described unless she’s being described along side the Morrígan or Macha. The husbands listed are passing comments, rather than having any literature that tells about the coupling. In regards to this, Morpheus Ravenna theorizes:

“We might wonder whether this solitariness is a reflection of her ancient, primal identity as a divine personification of war and warrior fury. Whereas several of the other Morrígna, most especially the Morrígan and Macha, have substantial sovereignty, land, wealth, and related functions, Badb seems to live on the battlefield alone, and perhaps this is the reason that her family ties are at best fragmentary.” (page 86.)

One way Badb is associated with crows is through the characterization of her voice. Morpheus Ravenna writes,

“In many cases where Badb appears, and particularly when associated with the battlefield, it is her voice that is first characterized, and sometimes it is her only described feature. It is not always clear whether or not a given instance of Badb’s voice is meant to be read as the intelligible voice of a Goddess or simply the screaming of carrion crows; this ambiguity suggests that in the mind of the ancient Irish the two were equivalent, and indeed, as we will see, the voices of corvid were treated in some instances as oracular.” (page 76-77)

This voice is heard by Cú Chulainn as he walks past a battlefield, where he hears “the Badb” from a pile of corpses inciting him with taunts.

Another way Badb is linked with crows is through the epithet, Baidbi béldergi or “red-mouthed war Goddess.” Like the birds on a battle field, Badb has a mouth full of blood from the corpses of those deceased.

Perhaps because this link to carrion crows, Badb is associated heavily with the carnage of war. Ravenna writes, “She is said to hunger for slaughtered bodies, feast and revel among them, and to be thankful for the carnage.” (page 77.)

Like most of the Morrígans, Badb is related to heroes but in a special way–her association lies more with heroic fury or battle frenzy, popularized in the myths by such heroes as Cú Chulainn. In addition to appearing to change shape, a hero would appear to have a pillar of light rising from their forehead which was named “torches of the Badb.” This phenomenon is also marked by a bird, usually identified as Badb, appearing over head or on the breath of the hero in battle fury mode.

Morpheus Ravenna details another instance where Badb appears, which is in a group of spirits she calls “the battle spirits.” These spirits raise cries to insight a warrior to battle. Ravenna writes, “Incitement to violence, howling for blood, terrifying warriors, comparing the valor and strength of armies, and prophesying victory and death are all functions ascribed to the shrieking and screaming of the battle spirits.” (page 80.)

Like other Morrígans, Badb is known for spectacular magic. With the Morrígans, Badb is usually part of the triad’s deadly magic. Alone, however, we see that Badb uses prophecy to push forward curses onto targets. When making such curses, Badb usually appears in the form of a hag.

More than the other entities associated with the Morrígan, Badb is known for prophesy and omens. Whereas the Morrígan is more structured in her prophesies, Badb gives chaotic, shrilling prophesies. There are cases where Badb is more formal, such as after the Second Battle of Moytura.

Works Cited

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.

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