Friday, 12 September 2014

Morrigan, Mor-rioghain, Morrigu...

It would appear my research into Celtic mythology on 'The Morrigan' is the ancestor of Irish mythology (with many many names!) and as a result I've found myself delving into the Emerald Isle's history. I've been doing some research and as is the case with looking up mythology there is an absolute spiders web of information hinting as to the characteristics of this figure and their origins. I'm going to pick out of my research some of the more interesting characteristics that pose potentially creative pathways.

The Research

Morrigan is mostly considered the Goddess of battle and strife. However she has been associated with sovereignty, but also fertility and the land. She has been seen both as an individual or as part of a triad of deity's. (Which I'll shed some light on later.)

As an individual she is most commonly associated with imminent violent death, but also the outcome of war. She would often be seen near battle in several different forms, what with being a shapeshifter. She has been known to be a beautiful woman, but more commonly known to take the form of a Crow, but also a Raven. As a Crow she could survey the battle, either urging the side she favoured or terrifying the side she didn't. In that form she would also symbolise the end of a battle, landing on the shoulder of the dead leader of the losing side.

She would also take the form of a hag by a stream and be seen washing the bloody uniform of warriors about to go into battle. A sure death omen for the owners of the uniform. The washer woman form is otherwise known as Bean-Nighe.

She could foretell the outcomes of battles but sometimes would intervene herself so that the her favourites were victorious. This particular characteristic is comparable to the Norse 'Valkyrie's'- female figures who would choose who would live and die in battle. They would then take the souls of the dead to Valhalla and Odin. Taken from my research it appears that though Morrigan would interfere in battle on occasion she would never quite do it directly... 
"The function of the goddess[the Morrigan] here, it may be noted, is not to attack the hero with weapons, but to render him helpless at a crucial point in battle"

The etymology of her name broken down into 'Mor' and 'Rigan' indicate that 'Mor', in several old languages to be derived from our word 'Nightmare'. (The Old English- Maere. The Old Russian (and Scandanavian)- Mara). Meanwhile 'Rigan' translates to mean 'Queen'. However the scholars consider 'Phantom Queen' to be the best translation from the Celtic descriptions.

Returning to the concept of 'The Morrigan' in fact being a triad of deity's or even sisters. There are many names that have been placed in the triad. However the most commonly occurring are Badb Catha, Macha and Nemain or Fea

Badb Catha, translates into battle crow. This particular deity is seen as the omen of a battle to come, but it is a scavenger bird and will feed on the victims of the war. (Not too dissimilar to the Valkyries harvesting the souls of the dead.)

The name Macha derives from the old Irish for Plain or Field. This deity is directly linked to the land and extending from that, wealth, fertility and queenship.

Nemain, has disputed translation but each revolves around the concept of terror and frenzy. But the other form of Fea is known to be the worse incarnation. Connected to frenzy, terror, fearful sound and madness. She is said to terrorise men through a shriek so awful they died of fright instantly.

So- time to do something with the information.... 

I still like the idea of shape-shipting between the different forms of young beauty, to a hag to a crow. I'd like to slip in some fluid transitions like paper folding, paper cutouts sliding across to reveal or hide elements and alter the scene. Or creating diorama's for depth. 

Moving into the story. I could perhaps create one around the inciting of a war by the Morrigan herself. (She seems to predict these things a little too well) And then her subsequent interfering. I could hint at the idea of the trio of sisters. Multiplying and causing trouble of their own. But I think it more likely I will stick with the individual version of Morrigan.

I would like the creative freedom of creating my own story, but there has been frequent mention of a particular Hero named Cu Chulainn and Morrigans part in his death. The story is well described in a wikipedia article under the subheading 'Ulster Cycle'. And is a potential candidate for adaptation. (The above statue pictured is a representation of Cu Chulainn carrying the body of his friend)

My Sources of Reading


1 comment:

  1. Hi Emily, one really interesting approach to opening up stories out of folklore is to think in a revisionist way - i.e. you take a character and then you try a more sympathetic approach - for example, what they do in Wicked in terms of the witch witch of the west, or with Malicifent in the new Disney film. In terms of finding a story out of your Morrigan character, maybe you could think about telling a story about what it's like to be her, or what it's like for Morrigan if she wished she could turn, not into a crow, but into a white dove of peace (for example). Revisionism is often a neat way of getting to the character-based meat of a story idea. Ask yourself this simple question: what would it feel like to be this woman, burdened with particular behaviours she cannot change; like all of us, perhaps she wishes her choices/role in life could be different...