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Irish Goddess, the Mórrígan

When we look at Irish mythology, it is the Morrigan whose name appears most often… but she is also perhaps the most misunderstood of the ‘Celtic’ Gods and Goddesses. She is of the Tuatha Dé Danann, a supernatural race most often said to be the people or tribe of the Goddess Danú, although older references to them as Tuatha Dé could translate as ‘tribe of the gods’.

People who may not be overly familiar with the actual lore about the Irish Goddess Morrigan certainly love a bit of titillation (and even demonisation) on the subject, referencing her as “the fiercest Goddess in Irish myth”, and “a fearsome Celtic deity… Irish goddess of death and battle”. 

I mean, it might get you to the top of the google rankings lads, but it’s not exactly the full picture on her now, is it? There is so much more to this Goddess (or, these Goddesses collectively, rather, because there’s more than one), which we’ll get to below.

So, settle in and let a native Irish Draoí (druid) and Priestess of the Mórrígan lead you through the real information we do have available about working with the Goddess Morrigan, as well as sharing some personal insights and experience along the way. (Article by Lora O’Brien)

The Morrigan’s Name

We always refer to her as The Morrigan, or An Mórrígan in my own preferred Irish-English mix. This is because it’s her personal name, but also used as a title, and a proper noun. It is considered rude in Irish Pagan culture to drop the ‘The’, when referring to her.

Different Spellings

Spelling variations in the manuscript lore on this singular form of her name include Morrigan, Morrígan, Mórrígan, Morigain, Mórrigan, Morrígu, Mórrigu, Morrigu, and Morrighan.

In modern Irish we might see the name as Mór-Ríoghain, Mór-Ríoghan, or Mór-Ríon (ríon still means queen; queenly, noble, lady; fair maiden.)

My personal preference is The Mórrígan, which I have been using for many years while working with the Goddess Morrigan (though I do notice others in the Pagan community have started to pick up this spelling now too). Examples of this variant appear in texts such as Lebor na hUidre, which is the earliest Irish manuscript in existence today that’s written almost entirely in Irish. 

I use this version of the Mórrígan’s name because she has always introduced herself to me as ‘the Great Queen’, when speaking English, which would require the fada (accent) on the o as we’ll see shortly. The fada on the i fits for me too, with my modern Irish speaker’s pronunciation.

When referring to the collective of Goddesses who also sometimes come under the title or proper noun use of ‘The Morrigan’, we use the plural forms which include Na Morrigna, Morrígna, Mórrígna, Morrignae

Please note that Mórrígu is a singular form, not plural, as this is a common mistake!

The Etymology

With regard to the etymology (the origins), or meaning of her name, there is some academic debate still. 

Mor has been linked to the Proto Indo-European *meis– (which is the source of words such as the Old Irish mor ‘great’, Welsh mawr ‘great’, Greek –moros ‘great’), perhaps from a root *me– ‘big’. The Electronic Dictionary of the Irish Language now just references Mor as Mór or Már, meaning ‘great; big; esteemed’. This gives us the ‘Great Queen’ translation, as the second part of the name remains translated as ‘queen’ as standard.

In Old Irish sources the first part of the Morrigan’s name may or may not include the fada (accent which elongates the vowel), and without a fada the translation could go more towards the ‘terror’, or ‘monstrousness’ cognate with the Old English maere (which survives in the modern English word ‘nightmare’), the Scandinavian mara, and the Old East Slavic mara ‘nightmare’. This would give us the commonly used ‘Phantom Queen’ translation.

Gulermovich Epstein (1998) posited the theory that Mor is related to the Indo-European word móros (‘death’), which might give us the translation ‘queen of the dead’, or ‘queen of the slain’. 

As I mentioned already, my own preference and experience is for ‘The Great Queen’ while I’ve been working with the Goddess Morrigan, but none of them can be proven incorrect, so go with whichever fits best to your personal experience of her. 

Who is Morrigan in Celtic Mythology?

First of all, there isn’t really any such thing as ‘Celtic Mythology’. The term Celtic can be somewhat useful in an academic context to identify similarities between the language, art, stories and customs of those individual cultures which are currently classified as ‘Celtic’: Ireland, Scotland, The Isle of Man, Wales, Cornwall, and Brittany.

So, to call the Morrigan Celtic is incorrect.

In the current context especially, it only really serves to confuse the issue of the Morrigan, who is specifically an Irish Goddess not a general Celtic Goddess. Although there are some similarities between her mythology and folklore, and that of some female figures from other cultures, they are not the same, or interchangeable. 

In Irish mythology, stories of the Morrigan appear in all of our primary mythological cycles and great tales through the ages, even lasting into more modern Irish folklore.

She is one of the few among the Tuatha Dé Danann who are specifically named as Gods and Goddesses in the Medieval manuscripts, which were written after the coming of Christianity. Even then, her power remained. 

The Morrigan is one of the most important goddesses of the Tuatha Dé Danann, certainly. She is associated with death, battle, warfare, magic, change, prophecy and fate. She can also be worked with as a Sovereignty Goddess, especially when we view her in an active role as a guardian of the territory and its people.

She played an active role in many battles or wars too, for example in the second battle of Mag Tuired (Moytura) we see:

“Then the Morrigu, daughter of Ernmas, came, and heartened the Tuatha Dé to fight the battle fiercely and fervently. Thereafter the battle became a rout, and the Fomorians were beaten back to the sea.”

The Morrigan Lore: Sisters or Aspects?

She is not a triple goddess. 

The Morrigan does not have a ‘Maiden, Mother, and Crone’ aspect or function. This is a notion which comes from modern Wicca and is not a part of the Irish Pagan tradition. So if people could stop saying it, that would be just great. 

The other Irish Goddesses which are sometimes referred to when using the Morrigan as a title, or even a noun (to describe a person, place, or thing), are the Badb, Macha, Nemain, and Anand. 

These may be sisters or counterparts of the Morrigan or Morrigu, who is a Tuatha Dé goddess in her own right, but some believe them to be aspects or facets of this deity.

Personally, I have always met them as individuals and will always treat them autonomously. 

I believe it is most useful to view their connections to ‘The Morrigan’ as a function of the title – a mark of respectfully naming a Great Queen (or even a Nightmare/Phantom Queen).

Badb Catha

The Badb (or in Modern Irish Badhbh) is a war goddess who often takes the form of a crow, indeed, in some Irish manuscripts her name is directly defined as a type of crow, the Hooded Crow (Royston Crow, Scald Crow). She is thus sometimes known as Badb Catha which means ‘battle crow’.

She is (arguably) the only one of Na Mórrígna who has a clear counterpart from a broader Celtic religion – the Gaulish Cathubodua, and possibly even functions similarly to the Valkyries of Norse/Germanic culture.

In the stories that have survived, she is shown directly causing fear and confusion among soldiers to move the tide of battle to her favoured side. She is seen as an omen of war, because she flies above the battlefield shrieking prophecies of doom and victory for her allies and destruction for her foes. Her cry is often heard during battles and skirmishes, foretelling the outcome.

The Badb is a prominent figure throughout our manuscript tradition, with the name sometimes being slotted in to denote any battle Goddess, or even a demon of the air.

She is sometimes seen as ‘The Washer at the Ford’, by a river washing the bloody armour and garments of those who will die in battle.

This name is associated most with the Mórrígan’s appearances in bird shape. In some traditions, it is believed that the black bird we hear tell of in the stories is a raven, while others say it is a crow. There is evidence of both through various of the Irish texts, though more so of the crow. In either case, they are birds of prey that fly above battles and feast on the dead.

In contemporary Paganism she has been portrayed as a ravenous vulture, swooping down upon her enemies and picking out the best bits to eat. However, the vulture is not native to Ireland, so is likely not a true form of the Badb.


The name of Nemain (also, Nemon, Neman, Nemhain, Némainn) is difficult to translate – though it came to represent such concepts as battle-fury, warlike frenzy, strife, murder, and malice within the manuscript tradition. Scholars have suggested roots such as ‘twisted’, ‘venemous’, ‘wrath’ or ‘frenzy’. 

She is seen as the wife of Net (also Neit), a God of battle (who may also have been married to the Badb, according to some sources). Another source associates Neit with a seemingly different Goddess, Fea, who may actually be one and the same as Nemain.

However, this partnership with a martial God can be taken either symbolically or literally – as a warrior, a changer, destroyer and decider of fates herself, Nemain may have been symbolically ‘married to battle’. 

Her stories show that she has the power to rain terror and confusion down on whole armies, causing them to die of fear and trembling. Her battle cry alone could kill 100 men.


The ancient Irish goddess Macha is named after the Old Irish term for an open plain, or possibly an enclosure for milking cows, a milking-yard, or a field. This etymology could indicate a more direct ‘earth Goddess’ function, not specifically seen in her other sisters. She is especially connected to the Sovereignty and the political protection of Ulster, through her surviving mythology.

In the Ulster province, the sacred royal site of Navan Fort (Eamhain Mhacha) and the county of Armagh (Ard Mhacha) are both named after her.

In addition to being a Sovereign queen, Macha is a warrior goddess. The ‘mast of Macha’ or harvest of Macha is said to refer to the severed heads of her enemies on the battlefield. 

She also has a connection to motherhood, childbirth, and horses, thus it is through her associations that the Morrigan herself is sometimes referred to as a fertility Goddess. 

Within the texts we can find no less than four references to Macha:

  • Macha wife of Nemed,
  • Queen Macha wife of Cimbáeth,
  • Macha wife of Crunnchu (who curses the Ulstermen in a tale that is a prequel to the Táin Bó Cuailgne),
  • Macha Mong Ruad.


Also known as Anú, Ana, or Anann, this figure may be a Tuatha Dé Goddess in her own right, an alternative name for Danú (who the Tuatha Dé Danann are named for), or even a personal name for the Mórrígan herself in her true form.

Her source material seems to refer to a couple of (possibly) different female figures, similar to the many Machas mentioned above.

For example, her entry in Sanas Cormaic (Cormac’s Glossary) from the 9th Century says that Ana is the mother of the Irish gods.

While in Lebor Gabála Érenn (the Book of the Taking of Ireland, the Book of Invasions) which appeared in multiple manuscripts through the ages, Anand is given as another name for the Morrígan.

The Lebor Gabála Érenn is also one of the sources where they are named collectively as ‘Daughters of Ernmas’.

There are earth Goddess and sovereignty associations with Anand through the Paps of Anú (Dá Chích Anann or ‘the breasts of Anu’); mountains in County Kerry, in the province of Munster.

Of all the sisters or aspects, I feel her connection to the Morrigan may simply be through the titular aspect of the Goddess – as a ‘Great Queen’, named Mór Rioghain as a mark of respect.

What Does the Morrigan Look Like?

As a shape-shifter, the Morrigan’s appearance is fluid, and changeable.

In the Morrigan lore, she appears to Cú Chulainn as a beautiful woman, once, and her offering of aid in that story (while appearing in a desirable form) is often said to indicate that she is a Goddess of sexuality. 

She also appears in female form to her husband, the Dagda, when they meet near Samhain time at the river Unshin. He meets her at this pre-ordained time and place, while she is straddling the water and washing herself, with her hair unbound from nine plaits.

The two are united there, and it is named ‘the bed of the married couple’, where she gives him advice and support for an upcoming battle. This too is used as ‘proof’ of her role as a sex or fertility Goddess… a union with her husband?!

The Morrigan is not a sex Goddess, so please stop saying that too. Also, if we could be done with the waif or nymph like depictions of her in Neo Pagan statues and artwork, which seem to be designed purely to titillate the male gaze and absolutely would not be able to swing a sword or a spear in battle… that would be super great too. We’d all appreciate it.

We see her multiple times in animal form in the Morrigan lore – she appears as a wolf, an eel, or a hornless heifer in the Táin, while acting as an adversary to Cú Chulainn. She also appears to the Boy as a hag, and a black bird, in various stories, and again as a thin, gray haired old woman before the battle of Mag Rath – leaping from spear point to shield rim of the soldiers who would win the forthcoming battle.

Her true form, if she has one, can perhaps be seen most clearly in Táin Bó Regamna, where she meets Cú Chulainn:

“A red-haired woman with red eyebrows was in the chariot with a red cloak around her shoulders; the cloak hung down at the back of the chariot and dragged on the ground behind her.”

(Translation: Morgan Daimler)

Who is The Morrigan Today?

Although perhaps best known for being a Goddess of war, death and battle, it is important to remember the Morrigan has other roles and functions, and to bring her into a modern context today (while remaining faithful to her roles and mythology in Irish period literature).

When working with the Goddess Morrigan in contemporary Paganism, we may find that she is a powerful protector of women and children. She is a Goddess of Sovereignty, and therefore of freedom and independence. She can teach us about the importance of protecting ourselves, our families, and our communities. She is a Goddess who inspires warriors everywhere, both men and women.

It is absolutely essential to familiarise yourself with the Morrigan lore we have available, and use that as a baseline and foundation for your relationship with this Irish Goddess.

She is not an easy Goddess to work with; she is not a nurturing, hand-holding, safe harbour providing protector. Oftentimes the change she instigates in the lives of those who contract with her will be brutal, as she shows no mercy in bringing down the old, outworn, and hindering props which we cling too when we fear new (or inevitable) things.  

The Morrigan can help us to be prepared for coming change, to strategise, to make active use of divination and prophesy and magic to ensure that we can defend ourselves if needed.

She will aid us when we meet her at agreed upon times and places, when we show up regularly, ready to do the work that needs doing.

In her name we honour all those who have fought for their own sovereignty, or that of others. We celebrate the strength of people in every culture, and the courage they have shown to fight against oppression.

The Great Queen guides us from afar at every step, no matter how sharp or treacherous the way through may seem, ready to spread fear and confusion among our enemies so we may gain victory.

Beir Bua! 

How to Continue Working with the Goddess Morrigan?

If you think that the Morrigan is interesting, and might even be something you’d like to explore further, you can always:

Visit the Irish Pagan School YouTube Channel

Take a Class about the Mórrígan

Or… Take a Free Class to Learn More about Irish Paganism!

If you’d like know more about the Morrigan (and developing a practice), I have a free 5 Day Challenge that will support you through some learning of her lore, along with daily prayers and reflections.

>>> Click Here to Join the Challenge

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13 thoughts on “The Morrigan

  1. Not a Wiccan myself but I wanted to comment as I am writing a dissertation on the Morrígan and I am impressed by your exploration of her character and lack of time for sensationalist ideas about her based upon non-native wicca traditions, I am glad to have found and read this as it really is the best non-academic study of her i’ve read thats not behind a paywall. I recommend that people who wish to know more about the Morrígan and dont have access to academic articles start here

  2. Thank you .. Sorry for my english….
    Es posible que el alma o espíritu de un familiar se vaya del cuerpo y entre otro espíritu en el mismo cuerpo en vida? Morrigan será eso lo sucedido con mi madre?

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