Also: Morrígu, Mórrígu
Ir.: Originally mor rígain--late folk etymology gives this as "mare queen", but later defined as mór rígain "great queen".
The Irish goddess of war, but also of fate, deciding who lives and who dies on the battlefield. Is either one of a triplet of sisters, or is the name of the triplets as a collective group; a function of the Triple Goddess in Celtic mythology.
Then the Morrigu, daughter of Ernmass, came, and heartened the Tuatha De to fight the battle fiercely and fervently. Thereafter the battle became a rout, and the Fomorians were beaten back to the sea. --The Second Battle of Magh Turedh
Morrigan is one of the most complex figures in Irish mythology, not the least due to her genealogy. In the earliest copies of the Lebor Gabála Érenn, there are listed three sisters, named Badb, Macha, and Anann.1 In the Book of Leinster version, Anann is identified with Morrigu, while in the Book of Fermoy version, Macha is identified with Morrigan.
We also learn that the three sisters Badb, Macha, and Morrigu are also sisters to the three goddesses of the land, Eriu, Fotla, and Banba.2 However, in one text, Anann--here called Ana--is listed as the seventh daughter, identified as the one "of whom are called the Paps of Ana in Urluachair"--the two mountains south of Killarny called "The Breasts of Anu". In a yet a different version of the second redaction, Anann is again identified as Morrigan, and for her the mountains are named.
In the third redaction, her genealogy is given as such:
"The Morrigu, daughter of Delbaeth, was the mother of the other sons of Delbaeth, Brian, Iucharba, and Iuchair: and it is from her additional name "Danann" the Paps of Ana in Luachair are called, as well as the Tuatha De Danann."
Now we have Morrigan identified with Danu
, mother of the gods, and with Anann, the goddess of the Paps of Ana. This originates in the identification of Anann with Anu and Anu with Danu. Anu, according to Cormac's Glossary
, was mother of the Irish gods; while Danu was originally the goddess of the Danube
(Lat. Danuvius). Finally, in The Second Battle of Magh Turedh
, the Morrigan is identified with Badb, "crow" or "boiling", the first sister of the trio.
What is most evident is that from the texts, "Morrigan" or "Morrigu" is a title applied to different women who for the most part seem to be sisters or related in some manner, or sometimes it is the same woman with slightly differing names in different manuscripts and redactions. We see that Morrigan is identified with Badb, Macha, Anann, and Danann. The first is usually identified with the raven and battle, the second usually identified with the archetypical Celtic horse goddess, the third with the land goddess, and the forth with a mother goddess (though linguistically perhaps with the Danube River of Europe, and thus to the archetypical Celtic river goddess, like Boann).
What do we make of this? The Morrigan--the Mare Queen and the Great Queen--is the goddess of war and sovereignty, the goddess of the land and its rivers and its animals. Only through appealing to her can a warrior become king or an army succeed. Only through her intercession can Ireland be taken by one tribe or another. She is sister of Eriu, but perhaps in an earlier version may have even been identified with Eriu, thus completing her role as the Goddess of Sovereignty. When we add her role as the Washer at the Ford, a war goddess--who with her sisters/other selves are called "springs of craftiness/sources of bitter fighting"3, we must then look to the later figure of Medb, whose name means mead and who, like Morrigan, does war against Ulster.
Now, we see that the name "Morrigan" is applied to all three sisters--Badb, Macha, and Anann--at some point. Badb is the goddess of war, Macha is the goddess of sovereignty, and Anann is the mother of the gods. Thus, the Morrigan, like Brigit, also contains the three functions of Indo-European society: the first function of sovereignty, the second function of the warrior, and the third function of fertility.
Now, if we can agree that Morrigan--whoever she is--is the goddess of sovereignty, her following actions become clear. In The Second Battle of Magh Turedh, she meets the Dagda at the river Unis in Connacht, where they copulate on Samhain, ensuring the Tuatha De Danann's success over the Fomorians; again, she cheers the TDD to victory over the Fomorians. In the Tain Bo Cuailnge, she offers Cu Chulainn her aid, but when he rebukes it, he is sowing the seeds of his own eventual death.4 To refuse Morrigan is to reject the land and the gods.
And so it is best to classify Morrigan with those other pan-functional deities, Lugh and Brigit, as examples of deities who encompass the entire world of divine function and motive in Irish mythology.
1 Anann: in LL, it is Anand. The final "n" is often replaced with a "d" in many names--Cu Chulainn becomes Cu Chulaind, Boann becomes Boand.
2 Also, Badb and Neman (identified in Cormac's Glossary as a war goddess) are the wives of a war god named Net. Neman, alternately Nemain, is sometimes given in modern texts as another name for Morrigan. As for Net, there is some speculation that it may be a variation on Nuada, who in his British varient of Nodens, is equated with Mars; and then there is Nemed, who is also married to Macha, who battled the Fomorians, much like the later King Nuada.
3 In one poem in the LGE:
Badb and Macha, greatness of wealth, Morrigu--
springs of craftiness,
sources of bitter fighting
were the three daughters of Ernmas.
4 In one incarnation, Macha is married to Nuada, just as she is married to Net. Also interesting to note is that in the third incarnation of Macha, she curses the men of Ulster with birth-pangs, while the Morrigan curses Cu Chulainn, the Ulster champion.
Lebor Gabála Érenn: The Book of the Taking of Ireland, Part IV. ed. & trans. R.A. Stewart MacAlister. Irish Texts Society, Vol. XLI. Dublin: The Irish Texts Society, 1941.
"The Second Battle of Magh Turedh". Ancient Irish Tales. ed. and trans. Tom P. Cross and Harris Slover. Dublin: 1936.
Kinsella, Thomas. The Tain. Oxford University Press, 2002.
Mac Cuilennan, Cormac. "Sanas Cormaic." ed. and trans. Whitley Stokes. Three Irish Glossaries. London: Williams and Norgate, 1862.
Maier, Berhard. Dictionary of Celtic Religion and Culture. trans. Cyril Edwards. Rochester, NY: Boydell, 1997.