Other Spellings: Nemain, Nemon, Neman, Nemhain
Associations: terror, frenzy, venomous
Known and Suspected Family: husband Néit, father Elcmar, sister Fea, husband Nuada
Etymology: nem refers to “sky, heaven”; ném refers to “luster, radiance”; probably relates to Indo-European word nemed that refers to “sacred, consecrated, privileged.”
- Lebor Gabála Érenn / The Book of the Takings of Ireland / The Book of Invasions
- Táin Bó Cúailnge
The etymology behind Némain is rather interesting. Morpheus Ravenna traces parts of the etymology to the word neim, which can mean “poison, venom” or broadly “baneful or malefic power”, also related to “virulence, fierceness, intensity”–all words the mirror Némain’s lore. But where it gets interesting is that nem also means “heaven”, which seems at odds with the previous listing of words. Not quite. Morpheus Ravenna writes:
“It is possible that both groups derive from a common, ancient concept of numinous, powerful sacredness that was recognized as both separate from ordinary reality, and also possessed of a power so potent that it was dangerous and deadly to encounter. […] Constructed sanctuaries across Ireland, Britain and Gaul were consistently accompanied by apotropaic systems of protection build specifically so as to contain and to protect the outside world from the power within. The nemed status in Irish thought, exeplified in the person of the king, was accompanied by binding taboos, or gessi, again reflective of the belief that sacred power carried with it a potentially destructive force.” (page 112.)
Némain predominately comes into myth during different versions of the Táin. In the Táin we see Némain use her terrifying voice to confuse and terrorize the armies. This shrilling noise she makes can be so terrifying that people fall dead upon hearing it. Another note of her terrifying scream is that it usually precedes a warrior’s “trance-speech” or búadris.
Néit is often paired with this goddess, without fail. Whenever Néit is mentioned to have a wife or two, Némain is always included in the pair.
Ravenna, Morpheus. The Book of the Great Queen. Richmond CA: Concrescent, 2015. Print.
- “The Morrigan” by Coru Cathubodua