Texte de Stephanie Woodfield , l’auteur du livre « Invoking the Morrigan ». Source.
Nota : toutes les propositions de traduction sont les bienvenues pour les lecteurs non anglophones. Dans l’immédiat je ne peux pas le faire moi-même.
The Morrigan is best known as a goddess of battle. In Irish mythology if there is conflict and strife, chances are you’ll find the black-winged Morrigan there, too. But the Morrigan fills many roles and had many guises, all of which are discussed in detail in my book, Celtic Lore & Spellcraft of the Dark Goddess: Invoking the Morrigan. While we think of her today as a queen of battle, she is more accurately the « Great Queen » and a goddess of sovereignty.
Celtic mythology is filled with powerful, enigmatic queens, both mortal and divine. Some, like Maeve and Rhiannon, began as goddesses but were eventually demoted to mortal queens within their myths. While in most myths the Morrigan’s divine nature remains intact, in some cases, as when she appears in the guise of Macha, her statue is diminished as she appears as a mortal queen. Regardless, the roles of these queens remained constant. They personify power, authority, and strength. They were goddesses of the land, and only through a union with them could kings win the right to rule. To modern seekers they offer the gift of empowerment and self-knowledge. They challenge us to reclaim sovereignty over our lives, and lead us towards wholeness.
But before we can examine what role the goddess of sovereignty can play in our lives today, it is important to understand who she was to those who worshiped her in the past, the Pagans. To the Celts sovereignty was not simply the right to rule over a clan or country; sovereignty was a divine power that was granted by the goddess of the land. The goddess and the land were one and the same, and thus sovereignty took on the guise of a mystical or divine woman. It was only through a union—either a marriage or sexual encounter—with her that the king could rule. By joining with the goddess of the land, he in turn became connected to the land and its people. It was believed that a blemish to a king would manifest in the land; if a king was disfigured in anyway, he could no longer remain king, lest he risk transferring his disfigurement to the land. Thus when the king of the Irish Gods, Nuada, lost his hand in battle he was forced to abdicate the throne.
Because kings had to enter into a symbolic marriage with the goddess of the land, there are many references to goddesses of sovereignty also being queens. The Morrigan is no exception; her name means « Great Queen, » inferring a connection to sovereignty, and as Macha (one of the three goddesses who form the Morrigan) she appeared as a mortal queen who goes to battle to retain the right to rule. Macha’s father had reigned along with two other kings, each taking turns to rule for a span of seven years. When her father died and his allotted time came to rule she demanded to take his place. The other kings refused, not wishing to rule alongside a woman. Macha swiftly went to war against them and won her crown on the battlefield. It is important to notes the other kings could not rule without her. When they reject her, they reject the power of sovereignty she holds. And as they find out on the battlefield, they can not hold onto power without the goddess’s consent.
Like other goddesses of sovereignty, the Morrigan has a strong connection to the land. While we think of her today as a goddess of battle, her name appears in connection to numerous earth works and features of the land, making her origins most likely that of an earth goddess. In County Meath there are a pair of hills called The Dá Chich na Morrigna (The Two Breasts of the Morrigan), in County Louth we find Gort na Morrigna (Morrigan’s Field), and in the Boyne Valley there is the earthwork Mur na Morrigna (Mound of the Morrigan). « The Bed of the Couple » is a depression along the river Unius that marking the spot where Morrigan mated with the god Dagda. The places she makes her home also point toward her connection to the land and sovereignty. Before she made her home in the Cave of Cruachan she was said to dwell at Tara, where Ireland’s high kings were inaugurated. The Cave of Cruachan, also said to be her home, stood not far away from Cruachan, the royal seat of power for the kings and queens of Connacht.
The gift of sovereignty was not shared; instead, it was conveyed from the goddess to the king, who acted as her representative. This relationship was not always permanent; if the king became too old to rule or was unjust the goddess could leave the union and replace him with a younger, more fitting ruler. We can find this theme in the stories of Maeve, Rhiannon, and Guinevere. Although demoted to a mortal queen, Maeve’s abilities and the impossible tasks she performs point to her divine origins. She takes many consorts, replacing them when she sees fit. Despite this Maeve always retains Queenship over Connacht, while the men in her life can only become kings through a union with her. Similarly, it is not until the Morrigan’s union with Dagda, one of the kings of the Túatha De Danann, that the Irish gods could defeat their enemies the Fir Bolg and take over rulership of Ireland. Like other kings, it is not until Dagda engaged in a sexual union or marriage with the goddess of the land that he (and the other Irish gods) could truly rule Ireland.
In Rhiannon’s story we find her willfully leaving an engagement and seeking out a worthier mate, prince Pwyll, who eventually ruled as a just king with Rhiannon at his side. It is also interesting to note that like the Morrigan, Rhiannon’s name also translates to « Great Queen » from a similar root, « rigani, » meaning « queen. » Similarly, in the love triangle between Guinevere, Arthur, and Lancelot we find the sovereign figure (here represented by the mortal queen Guinevere) seeking out a mate more to her liking. Their story is most likely a distorted version of the sovereign goddess’s myth. As a mortal woman she is reduced to a lustful, cheating wife, but when we return her to her original form, seeing her instead as the goddess of sovereignty, she is maintaining her right to choose her lovers and confer sovereignty to a younger, worthier mate. She acts in the best interest of the land, giving the power to rule to someone she feels is better suited to its prosperity and protection.
This same theme is mirrored in the interactions between Morgan Le Fay and her sometimes-lover brother, when she attempts to have her young lover Accolon replace Arthur as king. It is debatable if Morgan Le Fay and the Morrigan are the same, but they share many traits. The character of Morgan Le Fay is derived from the goddess Modron, who is the Morrigan’s Welsh equivalent, suggesting a connection between the two. Certainly they share similar roles as sovereignty figures within Celtic lore.
The goddess of sovereignty, like the Morrigan, was somewhat of a shape-shifter; she could take the form of a young beautiful woman or a monstrous hag. When she appears as the hag it is usually to test the king or to remove him from his position, while as the maiden she grants him her loving support and gifts. At times the two themes are combined and the king must face the hag in order for her to transform into the lovely maiden.
The sovereign-hag usually appears in a story when the king has broken his vows to the goddess in some way. Usually this is after he has violated a taboo, or geis. Kings and heroes often had several geis placed upon them by a goddess or Otherworldly female. Breaking a geis brought bad luck and in most cases caused the hero or king’s death. When the king broke one of his geis, the sovereign-hag would appear, tempting him to break his remaining taboos. This functioned as a sort of divine checks and balances system. If he broke his taboo, he was unworthy and the goddess relinquished the power of sovereignty, which he had abused.
We often find the Morrigan filling the role of the sovereign-hag who brings unworthy kings low. In the The Destruction of Da Derga’s Hostel the Morrigan (here in her guise as Badb) appeared at king Conaire’s door after he had broken several of his taboos. Disguised as a hideous hag she tricked him into breaking his final geis, to never admit a single female into his house after dark, and by the morning Conaire was dead. Conaire could have chosen to not break his taboo, but he willing does so, failing the goddess’s test.
The Morrigan’s interactions with Cúchulain follows a similar pattern, except Cúchulain, unlike Dagda, refuses to acknowledge the goddess’s power. Cúchulain may not have been a king, instead being the champion of Ulster, but by protecting and defending the land against Maeve’s army he acts in much the same way as a king would. The Morrigan, charmed by his prowess in battle, appears to him as a beautiful maiden. She offers him her love, but he rudely turns down her offer. By refusing the goddess’s offer of a sexual union, he in turn is refusing her offer of conferred sovereignty, and fails to acknowledge the power of the goddess who personifies the land. When she offers to aid him in battle instead, he again insults her. Fueled by his ego he believes he does not need her aid to win his battles. Like other kings who the sovereign goddess tests and find unworthy, the Morrigan takes actions against him. She attacks him in the form of a heifer, an eel, and a wolf, hindering him in battle.
Like her interaction with Conaire, she attempts to make the hero break his geis. Before Cúchulain’s final battle she appears as a hag alongside the road cooking dog flesh. She offers him some of the meat, which puts him in a precarious situation. Cúchulain had two taboos, to never eat the flesh of his name sake the dog, and to never refuse food offered to him. No matter what he does, refuse the food or eat it, he will break a geis. He eats the food, and like Conaire, dies shortly after.
In mythology the goddess of sovereignty is a mighty queen; she dispenses justice and aids the worthy, all in service to the land and its people. But how does this figure of the divine queen translate in today’s spirituality? The Great Queen, in all her forms, may not be testing kings in today’s world; instead she offers us a different challenge. As the goddess of sovereignty, the Morrigan challenges us to champion ourselves, to claim the sovereignty of self.
Too often in life we forget to recognize our own power, our right to steer the directions of our lives. Sometimes we hand our power over to others; perhaps we have been learned to rely on other people and not ourselves, or we are afraid to take control of our lives, or maybe we have handed our power over to another out of love. Perhaps we feel too shy to speak our true feelings, or feel like the course of our lives is out of our control. Whether we have relinquished our personal power within a relationship, in our careers, or just in life in general, the Great Queen calls to us to reclaim our sovereignty.
Beverly Moon and Elisabeth Benard relate the world « sovereign » to the Sanskrit sva-raj, which means « self-rule » or « self-ruler. » Another meaning of raj is « luminous » or « radiance, » thus there is a connotation that sovereignty is not only ruling over one’s self but being in the state of « self-luminescence » or letting our inner radiance shine through. When we self-rule our lives we do not leave our fates up to others. Empowered by this aspect of the goddess we can bravely reshape ourselves and our lives into what we desire.
As the sovereign-hag she appears to us when we need to break down the barriers that hold us back in life. She tests our strength, and teaches us to rely on the power within. As the queen she teaches us the necessity of action. If we wish to bring change into our lives, then at times, like Macha, we must go to battle and stand up for what we believe in. When we have learned to call upon our inner strength, she appears as the beautiful maiden, offering us the wealth of the land and the fruits of our hard earned labors.
While the great queens of mythology are often cast as villains, they teach us a vital truth. When we embrace the mysteries of the sovereign queen we embrace our own inner power, letting it shine radiantly into all aspects of our lives. The ancient queens of myth and legend took power into their own hands, and fought fiercely to maintain it. No matter the situations they remained resolutely true to themselves. Through self-rule they shaped the course of their stories, just as we can re-shape our own.
Wisdom of the Black Wing
The Dark Goddess or Dark Mother, embodies the energy we need to become whole, to proceed towards consciousness. Her darkness, much as the earth beneath our feet, the hollowed cave or hallowed mound, speaks of her powers of dissolution, transformation and regeneration. Depending on the circumstance, she appears as a fearsome old crone or a youthful, radiant beauty. As an old crone she is primordial wisdom, ancient beyond conceptuality. She appears in this form when we have been deluding ourselves, thinking that we really understand, when in fact we have been building a illusory castle of intellectuality. Only when we have reached self-knowledge, through commitment and relationship to something or someone beyond ourselves and the gratification of our personal needs, does she reveal her radiant face. This grace filled aspect of the Dark Goddess embodies regenerated spirit freed from illusion and self-limitation.
Through encounters with the Dark Goddess, ordinary ego perceptions are shattered; cracks occur in our well-crafted persona. Through these cracks emerges the possibility of something new. A new self grounded in « being » rather than « doing », an identity based not on the ego but on the soul. This is not an easy thing for the ego consciousness to pursue, because all change presupposes the death of the old. We have a dread of death and a fear of dissolution. We resist change and transformation, even with the knowledge that change is essential to our life and that the fulfillment of that life depends on it.
In the Irish pantheon, recognized forms of this type of Goddess are the Cailleach Bhearra, Aine, and the Morrigú. In this exploration of the Dark Goddess we’ll focus on the Morrigú.
For centuries the Morrigú has been described as a Battle Goddess. It is my belief that this is a grievous over-simplification of a paradoxical and challenging figure. This misrepresentation has two main roots. First, from approaching the myth in a purely intellectual way, ignoring the spiritual and psychological dynamics of what are in essence teaching stories. And secondly, the centuries old reluctance of common era Western cultures to value powerful and less than « nice » female figures.
There is some disagreement among academics as to the true translation of « Morrigú. » Some say it means Great Queen, others say Phantom Queen or in some cases Sea Queen. In legend she is often associated with battle, hence her designation of Battle Goddess/Queen. When exploring the early legends and tales in which we find battle, we must look beneath the more visceral aspects of war to see that these early conflicts were often a matter of Sovereignty and self-determination. If we then consider the terms ‘Great’ and ‘Phantom’ without getting into a linguistic debate, we find that both apply depending on the circumstances.
What does Great Queen mean? Notice that she isn’t considered « a » great queen, she is « The » Great Queen, or in other words, Lady Sovereignty, Goddess of the Land, an earth goddess. As The Great Queen she guards and sustains her chosen people. Currently most earth Goddesses are thought of as being something akin to a « Mother Earth » type figure, rich, fertile, and benevolent. This has not always been the case, nor should it be now. Part of our problem when dealing with figures like the Morrigú is our culturally limited view of the role of the mother. Many of us still yearn for and expect June Cleaver. Even if we know intellectually that this is not reality, this image is still very much the « ideal » in modern society (expect that now she also works full-time and looks like a supermodel). As a powerful influence in our cultural baggage, it is an image we can’t help but project onto our deities. We need to develop a broader understanding of « mother, » one which encompasses both gentle and severe aspects. A good mother not only nurtures and feeds her children, she also instill a strong sense of personal responsibility and accountability. She can’t do this if she only coddles, praises and is endlessly forthcoming.
The Phantom Queen is the Lady of the UnderWorld, a goddess of death and dissolution. As the Old Woman of Knowledge, she champions our search for wholeness, challenging our conceptions of our selves and our environment.
The Morrigú guides and prods us towards personal Sovereignty. The vocation of Sovereign requires awareness, self-control and a strong sense of personal responsibility. In an age when most of us do not bear the responsibility of the welfare of our tribe, its territory and herds of cattle, Sovereignty takes on a more personal meaning. On a personal level it necessitates a strong center, an awareness of our strengths and weaknesses, not for ego-inflation or neurotic obsession but in the wisdom of self-knowledge. Self-knowledge is a tricky thing, from birth we are told repeatedly who and what we are. Add to this the inevitable baggage we gather along the way and the question « Who am I? » takes on stunning complexity. Fortunately much of our self and the reasons for our behavior lies within in our unconscious mind. Enter the realm of the Phantom Queen. The Morrigús’ symbol is not a Cauldron, it is a Cooking Spit. On it we find a piece of raw meat, a piece of cooked meat and a lump of butter. A cooking spit is a sharp piercing rod. We could say that her nature is much the same, she pierces our illusions, transforming us from raw matter into tempered matter which inevitable leads to the remembrance of our inherent spiritual essence.
In many stories these aspects intermingle and shift back and forth. In almost all instances she appears at crucial moments in the protagonist life. These encounters have a quality of sharp incisive challenge to fixated conceptions. They have a grounding, insightful quality that recalcitrant individuals interpret as sharp and wrathful. She is a repository of raw primordial energy, the ego has to have surrendered some of its defenses before confronting such energy. Most often this task is not approached willingly.
In Irish myth, the Morrigú figures prominently in the Ulster cycle and most frequently in the stories of Cuchulain, said to be one of Ireland great « heroes. » His stories take place during the reign of Conchobhar mac Nessa, a mythical King of Ulster from about the first century of the common era. Cuchulain may be many things, a true hero is not one of them. Though fictional or at the very least fictionalized, yet his tales illustrate quite clearly the consequences of choosing an ego driven existence rather than one of embodied spirituality.
Cuchulain, to put it bluntly, was an idiot. This sounds harsh, yet when reading the stories, and there are quite a few of them, we begin to see that he was an egocentric control freak who had little or no respect for anyone save himself. Cuchulain’s foremost priority was personal glory and far reaching fame. The fact that attaining it meant an early, violent death was of little consequence. He would go out in a blaze of glory and be remembered for all time as the greatest warrior/hero that Ulster, if not all of Ireland had ever seen.
Like most people in fiction and in life, he was presented with opportunities to grow beyond his ambitions. Throughout his short life, Cuchulain encounters the Morrigú in various guises. In each instance she attempted to turn him away from self-destruction in pursuit of glory, in each instance he rebuffed her, refused her aid. He could have made his descent, formed a sacred alliance with the Old Woman of Knowledge and attained understanding, wisdom, a deepening of his spirit and a more integrated life. But no, he wanted fame, he craved glory. He wanted to be bigger than life. He did achieve his petty goal, at a terrible cost. In the process he killed countless people, including his best friend, he betrayed his marriage vows, and in an act of utter egotism, knowingly murdered his only son, his only child.
On a heartening note he eventually realized and admitted that the Lady was right, but it was too late for this life’s work, it had gone too far and death approached to claim him. Perhaps on his next turn of the wheel he will welcome the Lady’s counsel and make the necessary sacrifices to become a true hero, dedicated to serving his people not his personal interests.
Such is the guardianship of the Morrigú, she would lead us to self-knowledge. The road is often bumpy, more so if we resist and are dragged kicking and screaming along its course, for we have no choice in the matter, this is the one path we must all travel. We may have all the insights but if we do not incarnate them, they are all in vain. We can, unlike Cuchulain, willingly suffer the loss of those things that stand in our way to freedom.
The Morrigú is fierce because she demands truth, sacrifice and transformation. She is neither subtle, gentle, or all sweetness and light, but she is absolutely fair. Descending into her territory demands the death of a rigidly controlled life, dancing with her means finding a new discipline that allows new life to sprout and grow. As we bring to light treasures from our depths, as we disengage the patterns of our most onerous behaviors, the Morrigú stands besides the Well of Life, handing us, if we dare take it, the Cup of Truth, the Truth of Ourselves.
by Willow Ragan