The Morrighan

Raven in Tree
The raven is well-known in Celtic mythology as a symbol of the Morrighan. Nigel Killeen / Getty Images

In Celtic mythology, the Morrighan is known as a goddess of battle and war. However, there's a bit more to her than this. Also referred to as Morrígu, Morríghan, or Mor-Ríoghain, she is called the "washer at the ford," because if a warrior saw her washing his armor in the stream, it meant he was to die that day. She is the goddess who determines whether or not you walk off the field of battle, or are carried off upon your shield.

In later Irish folklore, this role would be delegated to the bain sidhe, who foresaw the death of members of a specific family or clan.

She appears to date from around the Copper Age, based on archaeological findings. Stone stelae have been discovered in the British Isles, France, and Portugal, that are from approximately 3000 b.c.e. 

The Morrighan often appears in the form of a crow or raven, or is seen accompanied by a group of them. In the stories of the Ulster cycle, she is shown as a cow and a wolf as well. The connection with these two animals suggest that in some areas, she may have been connected to fertility and land.

In some legends, the Morrighan is considered a triune, or triple goddess, but there are a lot of inconsistencies to this. She often appears as a sister to the Badb and Macha. In some Neopagan traditions, she is portrayed in her role as destroyer, representing the Crone aspect of the Maiden/Mother/Crone cycle, but this seems to be incorrect when one looks at her original Irish history.

Some scholars point out that war specifically is not a primary aspect of the Morrighan, and that her connection to cattle presents her as a goddess of sovereignty. The theory is that she can be seen as a deity who guides or protects a king.

Mary Jones of the Celtic Literature Collective says, "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 BadbMacha, and Anann. In the Book of Leinster version, Anann is identified with Morrigu, while in the Book of Fermoy version, Macha is identified with Morrigan... 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 fo[u]rth with a mother goddess."

In modern literature, there has been some linking of the Morrighan to the character of Morgan Le Fay in the Arthurian legend. It appears, though, that this is more fanciful thinking than anything else. Although Morgan le Fay appears in the Vita Merlini in the twelfth century, a narrative of the life of Merlin by Geoffrey of Monmouth, it's unlikely that there's a connection to the Morrighan.

Scholars point out that the name "Morgan" is Welsh, and derived from root words connected to the sea. "Morrighan" is Irish, and is rooted in words that are associated with "terror" or "greatness." In other words, the names sound similar, but the relationship ends there.

Today, many Pagans do work with the Morrighan, although many of them describe their relationship with her as being somewhat reluctant at first. John Beckett over at Patheos describes a ritual in which the Morrighan was invoked, and says, "She wasn’t threatening but She was very clearly in command – I think She knew the respect we have for Her and that She didn’t have to convince anybody who She is. She seemed pleased that we were honoring Her and attempting to answer Her call... I want to encourage Pagans to listen for the call of Morrigan.

She’s a complex goddess. She can be blunt, rough, and violent. She is the Battle Raven and is not to be trifled with. But she has a message I believe is critical for our future as Pagans, as humans, and as creatures of the Earth. A storm is coming. Gather your tribe. Reclaim your sovereignty."


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Wigington, Patti. "The Morrighan." ThoughtCo, Aug. 17, 2017, Wigington, Patti. (2017, August 17). The Morrighan. Retrieved from Wigington, Patti. "The Morrighan." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 18, 2018).