Faces of the Mórrígan – a Perception of Deity
As part of our annual 6 month Intensive Programme, I answer questions from students who want to know more about the Irish Goddess Mórrígan, with whom I have had a solid working relationship for about 15 years now… and the last 13 of them as Her priest.
8 of those years were spent in daily service (and professional employment), managing Her primary sacred site at Rathcroghan, Co. Roscommon, and guiding visitors in (and safely back out) of the cave known as ‘her fit abode’; Uaimh na gCait, Oweynagat – the Cave of the Cats.
I’m going to occasionally share some of those answers through this blog. [Find them tagged with ‘Morrigan’, or ‘Class Questions’]
Marjorie asked: “We all experience our gods differently, to some degree. Some of us experience Her as Many and some of us as One with multiple faces. Do you think one is more accurate than the other or, more importantly, is either perception more respectful than the other? To what extent do you think it matters?”
That’s a really good question, and we will go into some of this in the coursework that’s to follow, but my view is that… I personally deal with the Mórrígan, and the Mórrígan for me is a very distinct entity. I mean distinct as in distinct from Macha or Nemhain or Badbh, and those beings and goddesses seem more like sisters than a part of Her. To me.
Now, I completely agree, we all do experience our gods differently, and I also feel that the gods themselves can do whatever the fuck they like and appear however they like. I think that there is a certain amount of (human relational) shaping that has gone into the Mórrígan. So there is a particular form – or rather formlessness – that she takes with that specific guise that has been interacted with by humans.
My theory on gods is that, well…okay, so to go back a bit: I studied psychology in some depth and particularly Jungian psychology as every feckin’ amateur psychologist pagan has done. The reason for that is because it makes a lot of sense and it makes a lot of sense for our spirituality and Jung had a very kind of tuned-in attitude, certainly for his time, and a lot of the stuff that he was conceptualizing has become common parlance. So we often don’t even recognize how much of a contribution Jung has made to psychology and the study of the human mind and the human spirit as well, I think.
I work a lot with archetypes, and I was called a blasphemer for dealing with archetypal god energies on a panel last year. I was very, very bothered (furious actually) by this at the time, but I really didn’t understand that the American culture that the accusation was coming from had a very different understanding of archetypes than I would’ve had.
To me, an archetype is huge, and it’s complex, and obviously I’m not going to be able to just settle it down in just a few sentences. The crux of it is that there are roots and essential sources that I feel are part of the collective unconscious, as in the unconsciousness that is common to all humanity, and those sources are the archetypes, to a certain extent. Each deity stems in some way from an archetypal form, but it’s like they’re all from the same root, maybe, but when they grow in different cultures with different food sources and different light sources and different energy that’s fed to them and different care and cultivation, they grow into very different deities.
Each of those deities are plants, to use that analogy. Each of those plants or trees or whatever grows from the roots is different from each other, but when you trace them right down to the bottom of those roots, you get to the same source. So that’s a very simplified version of how I have always understood ‘deity.’
I think a good example of this the Mórrígan. Na Mórrigna – that is, all of the Mórrígans – but when you take the Mórrígan Herself and you look at Her as a ‘dark deity’ – again, for want of a better description – and you put that in the context of, say, other ‘dark’ deities like Cerridwen or Kali or Hekate, and, y’know, all of those goddesses I would say stem from the same kind of ‘dark goddess’ root or archetype or source, but they have obviously developed very, very differently in very different cultures, and they’ve all ended up being female. Make of that what you will.
Re gender and form… My experience of the Mórrígan is that she’s kind of nominally female. Her form is formlessness, as I’ve said, and she can take any form and does take any form. I think I coined the phrase ‘gender irrelevant’ in relation to Her – she can and does appear in any of them.
The general physical form that she appears to have in modern culture has become black hair, but actually the only description of her apart from her shapeshifting, the only real description of her – showing her essence, I believe – that we have in the lore is as a warrior woman who is carrying two spears and has red hair and red eyebrows and is wearing a red cloak and has a very strange horse, and kind of a chariot that she’s standing on. (See the Táin Bó Regamna video on YouTube.) That’s her base aspect, as far as I can tell.
But generally she just appears, if she appears to me at all, she appears kind of hooded, and like I said, formless, generally human-shaped unless she’s as a crow. But anyway, sorry, I’m wandering off a little bit. We will examine this in more detail through the course and through the content (and check the — Available Classes — for individual class downloads!).
So, I experience her as one being or entity specifically, with or without a face, and I have always interacted with her as the Great Queen. I don’t feel that that’s specifically more accurate than any other interaction or relationship with her, as long as that’s based on a relationship. I feel that if somebody has put the same amount or similar amount of time and effort into building a relationship with that deity as I have, and their perception is different than my perception, then I’m not going to say that mine is right or more accurate and theirs is wrong. I think, ultimately the gods, and our perception of them is often going to be different because we’re all different, and I don’t think that they have a genuine kind of physical, corporeal form in this world anyway. We are experiencing them through the collective unconscious, through ourselves and our connection to our own subconscious and our own unconscious with the collective unconscious. I know I’m kind of throwing a lot – I’m trying to encapsulate, like, literally years’ worth of theory on my part into a couple of minutes.
“Is either perception more respectful than the other?”
I feel that it’s disrespectful to swap her out, if that makes sense. So if you’re going to be dealing with the Mórrígan, and we will through the course – when we’re talking about the Mórrígan, I’m not talking about Macha, I’m not talking about Badbh, I’m not talking about Nemhain. I’m talking about the Morrígan, the Great Queen – and like I said, YMMV on that, and that’s fine, but when I say ‘the Mórrígan,’ that’s who I mean.
What I don’t think is okay is swapping out the Mórrígan, say in the lore, or in how we’re dealing with her or how we’re working with her, and just slotting in any of them into whatever kind of floats your boat at the time. I think that if she’s dealing with you, you’ll know whether it’s the Great Queen or whether it’s Macha or Badbh or Nemhain or Fea or Anu. Nemhain is a different thing, and Badbh is a different thing again, and Macha is definitely her own thing. But again, that’s my perception.
“To what extent do you think it matters?”
I’ve probably covered that? Build your relationship and you’ll see how much it matters because if you disrespect her… [laughter]
Sorry, that’s probably not very helpful, but that has been my experience.