Out of the many mythical characters in Irish folklore, the Morrigan is arguably one of the best known.
The Morrigan is one of the many prominent figures to feature in Irish mythology and is primarily associated with war / battle, fate and death.
She is a gifted shape shifter and is known to favour changing into the crow. The Morrigan was one of the Tuatha De Danann, who were the folk of the Goddess Danu.
We were frequently told stories about the mysterious Morrigan Celtic queen as kids growing up in Ireland. Like all stories from Irish and Celtic Folklore, the tales were colourful, magical and, in this case, featured many a battle.
The Phantom Queen/Morrigan mythology is one of the most popular there is, which is likely due to the incredible stories that revolve around her.
It’s said that the name ‘Morrigan’ roughly translates to ‘The Phantom Queen’. Like the Puca, she was a shape shifter yet, unlike the Puca, she was associated with war, death and destiny.
Who is the Morrigan in Celtic mythology?
If you’re not familiar with the warrior queen, she was one of three war Goddesses that featured in Irish mythology. The other two Goddesses were Macha and Neman.
Although the name by which she is called tends to change depending on who is telling the story, she often referred to by several different names:
- The Morrigan Goddess
- The Celtic Goddess of Death
- The Celtic Goddess Morrigan
- Great Queen Goddess Morrigan
- The Morrighan
- The Great Queen
- The Queen of the Triple Goddesses
What is Morrigan the goddess of?
The Morrigan is also known as what’s called a ‘Triple Goddess’. At times, she appears alongside her two sisters (Badb and Macha).
She is primarily known as the Goddess of war. In a book from 1870 called ‘The Ancient Irish Goddess of War’, the Morrigan is described as being able to predict the death of warriors in battle, which she used to influence the outcome of war.
According to legend, she delivered this message after she appeared as a crow (often mistaken for a raven) and flew overhead during a war. It’s said that her appearance would either terrify those fighting or inspire them to fight for their life.
The Celtic Goddess Morrígan and Cuchulainn
One of the stories about the Morrigan that I recall being told as a child was about an encounter with the mighty warrior Cu Chulainn.
The Goddess Morrigan first appeared to encounter Cu Chulainn while he was defending the province of Ulster from Queen Maeve and her army.
The story goes that the Morrigan fell in love with Cuchulainn and that she tried to seduce him one day before he entered battle, but for one reason or another, he said no, despite the Goddesses immense beauty.
And then, a mighty battle began
Outraged, the Morrigan used her ability to shape shift to transform from a woman into an eel. This allowed her to swim up to Cu Chulainn as he made his way through a fjord and trip him.
He punched at the eel and managed to hurt it, though just temporarily. It then managed to transform itself into a huge wolf. The wolf ran at a herd of cattle and drove them at Cu Chulainn.
He managed to grab his famous sling-shot in time and used it to fire a stone into the eye of the Morrigan, who was temporarily blinded.
The Goddess quickly transformed again, this time taking the appearance of a cow. The cow riled up the others in the herd and managed to get them to stampede towards Cu Chulainn.
However, he managed to dodge the herd of cows and hit the Goddess Morrigan with a stone that broke her leg and forced her to accept defeat.
The old woman, the Goddess Morrigan and the cow
Cu Chullain made his way back to his base after winning the battle. Along the way, he met an elderly lady sat on a little stool milking a cow.
Now, Cu Chullain was weary from battle and he wasn’t paying enough attention. If he was, he would have noticed that this woman was blind in one eye and that her leg was recently injured.
Not sensing the danger that he was in, Cu Chullain stopped to speak to the old woman. Apparently thankful for his company, the old woman offered him a drink of milk.
After finishing his drink, he blessed the woman, not realising that, upon doing so, he cured the Morrigan of all of her injuries and restored the Goddess to her full strength.
However, the Morrigan did not attempt to engage Cu Chullain in battle – she had already outsmarted him and tricked him into healing her.
The Crow and the death of Cuchulainn
The Goddess Morrigan and Cu Chulainn met once before the great warrior’s death. Cu Chulainn was en route to another great battle when he encountered a woman scrubbing battle armour covered in blood.
This was seen as a very bad omen to encounter before entering battle. Cuchulainn passed the woman and continued to confront his enemy.
It was during this battle that he was mortally wounded. With his last bit of energy, he used some sturdy twine to tie himself upright to a nearby boulder, in an attempt to frighten off any other enemies closeby.
Then a crow landed on his shoulder and he is said to have finally drifted off to sleep for good. Now, the Morrigan was known to transform into a crow… was it her that had the final laugh? Who knows!
The Morrigan Symbol
The Morrigan was a shape-shifter and thus tends to be associated with a number of symbols and creatures.
She is most notably associated with the crow, but you’ll also see her associated with ravens, too.
If you enjoyed this story, dive into our section on Irish culture (you’ll find everything from beer to tales from ancient Ireland.