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Irish Myths and Legends

The Morrigan: Phantom Queen and Shape-Shifter


The Morrigan
The Morrigan (also Mórrigan or Morrigu) is one of the most mysterious figures in Irish mythology.

The name Morrigan means 'phantom queen' (or 'great queen') and describes a Goddess from old Ireland that was very associated with war, destiny, fate and death.

She was a shape-shifter and frequently appeared as a black crow, an ominous sign for those who saw her prior to battle. Legend has it that the Morrigan was in fact a triad of sisters, often named as Badb, Macha and Nemain, while the Morrigan is also remembered as the triad of the land Goddesses Ériu, Banba and Fódla.

Such was her influence over the land of Ireland that it is from áariu that the word 'Eire' and 'land' ('Ériu-land'), developed into 'Ireland', in effect naming the country!

The most famous tales of the Morrigan always center around Cuchulainn at the time he defended Ulster from the army of Connaught, led by Queen Maeve.

This famous battle raged for months and cost countless lives. By invoking the right of single combat Cuchulainn was able to defeat warrior after warrior. It is at this point that the Morrigan attempted to seduce Cuchulainn, offering herself to him before battle.

But Cuchulainn refused Morrigan, despite her great beauty.

The Morrigan was outraged and used her shape-shifting powers to transform into an eel, tripping Cuchulainn as he traversed a fjord. The hero recovered though and lashed out at the eel, breaking its ribs. She then transformed into a wolf, scaring cattle and driving them towards Cuchulainn who responded with a sling-shot, blinding the Morrigan in one eye.

Once again the Morrigan transformed!

This time she changed into a heifer leading the stampede towards Cuchulainn. But once again the famed prowess of the greatest mythic figure in Irish history thwarted her evil ambition.

He fired away another slingshot, breaking her leg forcing the Morrigan into a humbling retreat. One that she would never forget.

After his victory in battle Cuchulainn traveled from the battle-site where he encountered an old woman milking a cow. Again the Morrigan had transformed.

The haggard woman was blind in one eye, with damaged ribs and a broken leg but despite having inflicted these wounds Cuchulainn did not recognize her new form. She tricked him by giving him three sips of milk. He blessed her on every occasion and when each had been taken the wounds inflicted on the Morrigan were healed. By Cuchulainn's own blessings!

The Morrigan would again appear before Cuchulainn shortly before his death. On his way to yet another battle he met a woman washing bloody armor, a sure and terrible portent of impending doom.

Sure enough Cuchulainn was finally conquered. Despite being mortally wounded he tied himself to a boulder with his own innards, in the hope that his upright appearance would continue to terrify his enemies. It is only when a black crow finally landed on his shoulder that his death was finally revealed.

The Morrigan also appeared in other mythic adventures.

In the Lebor Gabála Érenn (The Book of the Taking of Ireland) of the twelfth century the Morrigan is named among the Tuatha De Danann as a daughter of daughter of Ernmas, who in turn was a granddaughter of Nuada. In the 'Battle of Mag Tuired' (The Battle of Moytura), the Morrigan is said to have mated with the Daghda, with one foot on each bank of a mighty river and later promised to summon the magicians of Ireland to aide the Tuath De Danann in their battle against the Fomorians.

In the battle itself the Morrigan recited a poem or chant that so terrified the Fomorians that they were driven back into the sea.

The incredible Morrigan! The shape-shifting Phantom Queen.



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