Queer Folklore: The Morrigan Is A Goddess for Protest

Feature image via Findle Wiki

The Morrigan is my all-time favourite goddess and should be yours too. At first I loved her because when I was fifteen and couldn’t tell my ass from a legitimate historical source, I got a Celtic birth charm that told me she was my patron goddess. She’s super goth and I was very into that. But then later, when I got my hands on some actual sources, I realised that she’s the feminist ass kicking supernatural godmother we all need.

Either the Morrigan is a collection of supernatural women who form a terrifying collective/murderous girl band, or she’s the Queen of the Tuatha De Danaan (Ireland’s not-quite-fully-divine race of supernatural beings) with a pack of deadly sisters/subordinates. Or she’s both of these things at once because the divine doesn’t have to be factual and multiple things can be true at the same time (see all of Egyptian myth for that). She stands for war, death, sovereignty and the protection of the community, and spends her free time starting fights and provoking young men into doing stupid things for her amusement.

She’s also the goddess of corvids.

We’re used to thinking of the war and death gods as evil, and indeed the Morrigan is considered one of the Dark Goddesses in many branches of neopaganism. The thing is, despite the Christian binaries of dark and light which most of us absorb in infancy just from living in the West, dark is not necessarily evil; instead it’s an integral part of life, and the dark goddesses are who you call on during times of personal darkness. More than that, just as we contain multitudes, the Morrigan has all of life and death inside of her and one is dependant on the other.

That doesn’t mean that darkness or the Morrigan are nice, they’re not; and some of her aspects — the chaos and the violence — are distinctly unpalatable to many modern pagans. There’s a tendency to rewrite some of the more frightening beings as soft and fluffy mother figures, to sanitise those parts of them that aggress against our modern sensibilities, but to do that is an injustice to them, our ancestors and ourselves. The Morrigan is wild and she is bloody, she dances on spear tips and drives people to battle frenzy in the name of glory or entertainment. She quite literally is the washer at the ford. But if you don’t piss her off she won’t forsake you. And in the world she comes from, border skirmishes are a daily reality and full blown conflict is always just around the corner. You can’t protect the tuath (the community and the land, which belong to each other) without a mastery of war.

ADVERTISEMENT

This protection of the tuath is the essential part of her that’s so often overlooked, and it’s easy to see why. Not only are the war/death/chaos parts of her the most visible and entertaining, we’re also not used to pairing those concepts with protection or safety, which is ironic when you consider the rhetoric around any given country’s armed forces. While she is a full-blown war goddess, capricious, vicious and in love with the spilling of blood, all of this is congruent with her central role as tutelary guardian and queen (her name literally means Great Queen). She ensures the fertility of the land, the people and their animals so the people will survive, and when they’re threatened by outside forces she keeps the people safe.

Recently in pagan discussion groups there’s a tendency to focus on her aspect as sovereignty goddess. This means two things and both matter, especially now. Historically, Morrigan or her subordinates were the King Makers. Irish Kings were elected out of a pool of royal candidates, but none of them could keep the throne without the goddess’ approval. Different kingdoms had different rituals, but most involved the goddess passing the wannabe king a cup filled with red drink to signify her acceptance, and if this was denied then they’d have to pick again (in fairness we have no record of this happening).

Though current thought is that this was entirely metaphorical because as we all know women in history have never had any power or done anything interesting, I have always believed in the earlier theory that a priestess acting as avatar took on the role of the goddess. After all, passing the king a drink is a very tangible action when various metaphors for land marriage could be used instead. The Morrigan, and quite possibly a priesthood of women, were an essential part of legitimising a king’s rule. While we’ve just seen something similar with Trump and white women voters it’s important to remember that the point of this priesthood was to keep bad kings from taking the throne; the Morrigan is exactly who you want to call on right now to help you push back.

To many modern devotees she’s a goddess of personal sovereignty, of the right to rule yourself and your body as kingdom inviolate. There’s an argument to be made that this isn’t historical, that the Irish didn’t conceptualise sovereignty that way, but honestly it doesn’t matter. The issue isn’t whether an ancient people worshipped in that way but whether the modern concept is in line with what the goddess represents, if it’s something she’d stand for and support. I would say all answers point to yes. The Morrigan and her sisters/subordinates have never taken orders from anyone; when she meets her husband it’s rarely and on her terms, for all that he’s a king. She has sex when and where she chooses, she bore a child when she chose and unlike many goddesses, for all that she is a mother and responsible for fertility, motherhood is not her entire divine identity. Also, and maybe it’s just me projecting, but the Morrigan has always seemed wildly queer to me. The sort of army boot wearing femme-butch blend who uses the word dyke like a clenched fist aimed at the patriarchy.

Right now our tuath is in danger; our bodily autonomy and that of our friends and family is in danger. I’m pretty sure if you’re looking for divine backing to help you stand up against that then The Morrigan is your Lady(ies) of choice.

Siobhan has degrees in information management and medieval history making her lots of fun at parties. She's written for Dirge, Biscuit and Diva and is currently working on a book on the supernatural women of Ireland for Wolfenhowle Press (and if you want to help feed her while she works on it you can check out her patreon here.

Siobhan has written 34 articles for us.

37 Comments

  1. Thanks for this! I clicked b/c that cover picture seemed familiar. Then I remembered- in 2001 I was in an experimental student film. I was so confused at why she (the director) had me in a prom dress with a fake crow tied to my arm standing atop a tower on the science building. Hair blowing madly in the January wind, she’d yell up to me, ‘You’re all powerful; laugh at the doomed mortals!” lol, good times. I think I was supposed to be the Moroccan–so much more sense to me now.

  2. The Morrigan is my Matron, and I was so happy to read this. I admit that I have a bad habit of softening Her, but in all fairness, I am devout, and She can take on a motherly feel after twenty years. Nonetheless She can kick serious ass, and that has included mine from time to time. No nonsense. No excuses.

  3. “Also, and maybe it’s just me projecting, but the Morrigan has always seemed wildly queer to me. The sort of army boot wearing femme-butch blend who uses the word dyke like a clenched fist aimed at the patriarchy.”

    I want to make love to this sentence. That is incredible. :)

    • Oh, you want to make her a dyke to fit your modern sensibilities? She’s hetero A. F. Look into the books and poems about her. Always slept with a dude, never a woman. I fucking hate revisionists. Too blind by their agenda to see what was. Dudes banged chick’s, back in those days. No, “sausage fighting,” no, “donut bumping.” Learn fuckin history, especially if you are of Celt blood.

  4. I worship the Erinyes/Eumenides and have tangentially similar feelings about them. They’re the goddesses who police the rule of justice, especially blood crimes (like murder and genocide). The goddesses are asexual, but in Hellenism, the asexuality of various goddesses is also a statement about their untethered divine authority.

    Awesome post ^____^

  5. ‘… as we all know women in history have never had any power or done anything interesting…’ I see what you did there. :)

    And this …”The sort of army boot wearing femme-butch blend who uses the word dyke like a clenched fist aimed at the patriarchy.” … is perfect. :D

  6. Also wanted to share Ellen Lorenzi Prince’s illustration of the Morrigan from her Dark Goddess Tarot deck. Though I adore this deck, I was always a little miffed at the depiction of this most awesome of goddesses, I wanted her more shadowy, more wild, and with more ravens. But I have a renewed appreciation for this illustration now I’ve read your words on sovereignty.

    • Morgan Daimler has a book on her. There’s also Celt, if you want to read the primary sources http://www.ucc.ie/celt/ which is great for studying Irish myth in general, because physical copies of those myths are often extraordinarily expensive or impossible to get hold of. The Lebor Gabála Érenn and the Táin Bó Cúailnge are good places to start your myth reading on her. If you want the kingship stuff I’ll have to dig out my masters thesis for the bibliography.

  7. I feel like she was my guide through some the physical aspects of puberty I wasn’t coping to well with.
    And I’ve never felt much a whole and unconditional closeness to a goddess figure like I did with her then.
    Creation and Destruction stopped looking like binaries to me and just part of a never ending circle with endless shades so long ago at her side.
    So much is shades rather than absolutes for me, it’s my innate nature that suppression of would have crushed me to dust.

    Took me near a week to boil that down into something not a mini biography.

  8. I love this take, and it mirrors many of my own beliefs. I do believe that women had a much greater role in all matters of life back then, including military. She’s been my go to for strength since November 2016.

  9. This is such rubbish… she is the matron of every Celt who has died in conflict, and escorts their souls to the Summerlands. She is not evil. She nurtures one’s soul, especially if that soul knows conflict. To say she is, “evil,” is to say the sun is evil because of sunburns. Absolute nonsense. Follow her messengers, the ravens, the Crows, and find your own peace in her. She is the inevitability of all of us: or those who choose our end. And, to say she is dark… remember she is part of the triple goddess aspect: maiden, mother, crone, and through history, she has shown her self as all three. Also, it is insulting to say that there were know female warriors: i suggest you research Boudicca, for one. You preach fluffy bunny bullshit, and as a child and Champion of the Morrigan, I call you out.

Contribute to the conversation...

Yay! You've decided to leave a comment. That's fantastic. Please keep in mind that comments are moderated by the guidelines laid out in our comment policy. Let's have a personal and meaningful conversation and thanks for stopping by!