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Is the Mórrígan Recruiting?

Mórrígan's Army

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’]

Iníon Preacháin asked: “Why do you feel She is showing such an interest in “recruiting” devotees (for lack of better terms) at this time?”

 

Okay, well, the short answer to that is: look around. The world needs Mórrígan devotees, or people who are doing the work for humanity and for communities.

The longer answer is, that it isn’t just at this time. She has been doing this for a long time, and she’s been preparing for a long time, and again, that’s my experience of it, but it also plays out in the lore.

Everybody talks about the Mórrígan as a battle goddess, and she absolutely is involved in battles because battles shape history and battles shape communities and wars are fought, the outcome of which is part of a much bigger picture, and it’s the bigger picture stuff that the Mórrígan is in charge of. In my experience.

And I think, though that is my experience, the lore plays that out, and her role as a prophet or goddess of prophecy is very much an integral part of that, but also her… I was gonna say ‘meddling,’ meddling is the wrong word, but her involvement in seemingly small things and small stories which end up playing a very big role in battles to come or in the outcome of certain battles or wars that are being fought, and changes.

She is a goddess of change.

At this time, we need somebody who knows what’s going on, absolutely, and she needs people on the ground doing the work that – y’know, she can lead the horse to water, but she can’t directly interfere with… I mean, she does directly interfere with people, with individuals, but she can’t shape things on a bigger scale herself. She has to do it through individuals. And I think that’s where the recruitment drive is coming from, but actually the recruitment drive has been going on for a long time. I think that it has become global, now, but this is not new.

This poem, it was one of my first calls from her. (Click to Read Poem)

It was written at Bealtaine of 2004. It’s from the Irish Witchcraft book, which was my first book, but actually she had been calling for a long time before that. I was tattooed with crows, for example, before this poem was written or that book was written. She’s been calling since, I would say, since the turn of the millennium. Since about 2000, there has been a very specific gathering of the forces in Ireland, on the ground in Ireland, around her sites, and the work that she has had me doing here has been to disseminate real information and education because that wasn’t happening back then. At all.

All through the 90s, there was a lot of shite about Irish traditions and Irish culture specifically, and very little that was real. Everybody was shit-scared of her, but really very little about her and certainly nothing of value about her was available to the general public – there wasn’t even the interest and the understanding that the source lore and the literature we have is so important to us now as modern pagans working with her. I mean, that just wasn’t there in the 90s.

Your average pagan now is, believe it or not, much better read and much more versed in the lore than your average pagan was back then. Just from the sheer availability, I think of it, with the coming of the Internet and the raised standards in publishing – and yes, they are raised, believe it or not again, you might not appreciate just how bad things used to be. There was a huge gap between academic research and the access that people could have to academia. Scholarship was very much far removed from the standard pagan community, except in small pockets and some individuals. And that was the teachers, never mind students.

So the work that she’s had me doing since she got her hooks in me is to try and bring some of that to the wider communities, and to teach people the importance of it. Now I’m not academic, I mean, I’ve studied psychology, but that was me going back as a mature student. The only other college learning I have is in art college, so that’s fuck-all useful to anybody, unless you’re artistic, which I am, or was at least, but…yes, so, I’m not an academic, but one of the things that she had me do was get my head around the literature and try and find ways to translate it. I don’t mean translate it from Old Irish – thankfully that work is being done but that is not my work, thank the gods, I’ve never had to learn Old Irish. Morgan Daimler is doing excellent work in that, poor Morgan, we’ll have her worked to death before she has the entire Ulster Cycle translated by the time I’m finished with her. And Isolde Carmody, who is one half of the Story Archaeology team, who you will hear lots and lots and lots about from me, has been doing sterling translation work too.

None of that work was being done at the time though, and the recruitment that we’re seeing now is just a step above that. It’s just where that has reached a kind of a critical mass where it’s spilling over into the wider world and really my feeling is that she was consolidating her base ground for the last decade and in the last five or so years things have kind of stepped up and moved on from that.

As ever, I’m wary of projecting my own stuff because that above has been very much my experience, but then as I started to travel away from my beloved isle and get out and about in the world, rather than everybody coming to me at the Cave and through Rathcroghan Heritage Centre – which is lovely and I much prefer, I have to say, I hate leaving Ireland, moan moan whine whine… Since I’ve started getting out and about in the world, I have noticed there is a mirroring of many people’s experience in that it’s not just my experience, it’s that now is the time.

There’s been a couple of organizations started up in recent years. The Coru Priesthood, for example, and I know some of our course members have started priesthoods in Texas and Connecticut, and eventually I will have to start one here in Ireland. I don’t want to be doing any of this work, to be honest. If I could get away with doing none of this work I would be totally getting away with that and living a much easier life, but my next project is going to be is a priesthood here in Ireland and I’m not sure what that’s going to look like, yet, but before of that I have a serious initiation I have to do, which again, I’ve been putting off because it’s scary.

A lot of that is going on here, and it is very much mirrored out in the world, and I think that the answer to it, to the question ‘why do I feel that there’s such an interest’, is because she’s so concerned with the bigger picture, and the bigger picture is fucked right now. Absolutely fucked.

Anybody in class (or reading this blog) who is not aware of just how fucked the bigger picture is on so many different levels – if you’re going to be on my Facebook, so you’ll find out very quickly if you’re not aware already… and awareness is the first key. It’s through educating ourselves that we understand the work that needs to be done on a big scale, but also on our doorstep and on ourselves.

Part of taking this course, I hope, is doing that work on yourself so that you’re ready then to do whatever work is needed of you out in the world.

 

[Author’s Note: this class was recorded pre Brexit, and pre Trump. And before Ireland had begun to step up and lead the free world with such fantastic examples of social justice and people power as the Marriage Equality Referendum, the Transgender Identity Bill, and our Referendum to Repeal the 8th Amendment. FYI.]

 


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The Mórrígan and Her Sisters

Red Haired Woman in a Crowd

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’]

Iníon Preacháin asked: “Of Badb, Macha, Anu/Anand, Nemain, Fea, and some list Danu as well… do you feel they are all aspects of the Morrigna?”

 

Okay, so, ‘the Morrigna’ represents the plural, so yes, they are all aspects of Na Morrigna, as in the Great Queens – that’s what Morrigna written like that means.  I always make a distinction between na Morrigna, as in the plural, or the Mórrígan, ‘an Morrighan,’ the Great Queen, so that would be my feeling on it.

Like I said — in a previous blog post, see it here — aspects is not a term that I would use specifically.  I would see them as sisters, and some more closely related than others. In my experience.

Macha is, I feel, is the closest to her, and I have an interest and kind of perspective, I suppose, in Mórrígan and Medb, that’s — Queen Medb of Connacht —, and working with both of those very, very powerful figures at Rathcroghan for so many years. They very much work together in my experience and both of them feed into the sovereignty of Connacht, of the western province, in Ireland.

Macha is the sovereignty of, or represents the sovereignty of, the Ulster province in the north of Ireland, and Connacht and Ulster have a somewhat troubled relationship in the mythology. I mean, anybody who’s read the — Tain Bó Cúailnge —, “The Cattle Raid of Cooley,” will be aware, Ulster and Connacht have been enemies for a very long time.  So there’s kind of a lot going on there, and of all of those sisters Macha, to me, has alwas been the most, kind of fully formed and distinct from the Morrígan.  

Nemain, I think, is an ancestor, and I think that all of those deities that are there… and again, we will look at this in more detail over the course, but all of those deities, in a sense they may be aspects in the literal understanding of that word. BUT, they are all beings and deities in their own right as well.  So them being aspects of the Great Queen, I think that kind of feeds together and weaves together, but I think they’re working on different levels, if that makes sense.

So you’ve got this kind of top tier of being able to interact with all of those beings individually. You go down a little bit deeper into the root system and they start to blend a little bit closer together and you don’t get those kind of distinctive, individual personalities.  You go down deeper and they’re all kind of part of that same root, and then you go deeper again and you’re still in the ‘Irish zone’ at that level… but then the level below that would be the universal archetypal level, the level of the collective unconscious common to all humanity, that kind of ‘dark goddess’ level.

All of the names which we connect to the Mórrígan, under the banner of ‘Great Queen’, are connected at a deep level so, but we can (and do) also interact with them individually in the day to day. I definitely wouldn’t be a fan of – or allowed to, I’d get my arse kicked – lump them all together or just swap out one for another.

Yeah, don’t try that one at home kids.


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The Curse of Macha

Macha pregnant-beach-sunset-mother

Sometimes a Goddess fancies a change.

Immortality can get awful boring after a time.

So it was with the Goddess Macha. She decided she wanted a home, friends of her own, a family… and that’s how she ended up on the doorstep of a wealthy merchant in the mountains of Mourne.

She knocked, asked to speak to him in person, and when he arrived down to greet her she made her proposal. She would bring wealth, prosperity, and abundance to his household (being a Goddess definitely has its perks), but in return she wanted a quiet life – to live out her days undisturbed, as a mortal. So he had to promise her privacy, and secrecy, and respect, and the love would come later, she was sure. And so he did.

She turned thrice sun-ways on his step to seal the deal, and stepped into his life as a mortal wife.

The years trundled on and his household prospered, as she had promised it would. She brought abundance and wealth to his life, as she had promised she would.

Love even bloomed, and she became pregnant, as is wont to happen at times, when a man and a woman are in love and doing the things that people in love might do.

The merchant rose in status, and he began to receive invitations for them both to attend all the feasts, and all the fairs – invitations which she always declined, but he attended. Unfortunately, his appetites grew right along with his status, and he began to feast and fair too much, eating and drinking until the wee small hours, and sometimes not even bothering to go home between events.

Macha didn’t mind too much; she kept herself busy, and was delighted when the physician told her she was carrying not one baby, but two – twins!

One month, near the end of her pregnancy, her husband was off again at one of his fairs. This was a big one: the Samhain festival at the court of the King. The merchant paid his tributes and tithes, ate his fill (and more) in the camp kitchens, and contented himself with wandering around the fair grounds, chatting to people he knew, looking through stalls and market tents, watching the competitive events, gaming for profit or loss… and of course drinking. Lots of drinking.

He sat eventually, content to watch the horse racing, and soon there was a cackling crowd, placing wagers on which would win. After a heavy loss, perhaps to salvage some part of pride perceived lost, the wine-soaked sot began to boast that as fast as those horses were, his own wife could out-run any one of them. Even the horses of the King himself, which were known to be the best of the best.

Now, it didn’t take long for this boast to reach the ears of the King himself: for his horses represented his rightful rule, and any slight on them was a slight on his very kingship. He insisted the woman be fetched, and made to race against the best horse of his stable.

Warriors went out, Macha was made travel, and told she would race the next day (as it was a three day festival). She bawled and cursed her husband – and his drunken, pounding, head – all through the night, but it was no use.

She was stood in front of king and crowd first thing in the morning, with the horse lined up next to her. She sweated and swore, for the pressure was doing strange things to her heavily pregnant body, and it looked like mother and babies were in serious distress, to anyone with eyes to see.

The king held firm, and she was made to race – but before she did, she cursed every single man of Ulster, to nine generations on, with a spell that gave each and every one of them the pains of labour and childbirth, to strike them whenever Ulster was under attack.

Macha raced that day, and indeed she won, but the exertion brought on the birth and she died there at the finish. Screaming her curse to the last breath.

This is why Ulster men were in bed each time their province needed them; but sure, they are all stories for another day.


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What Do I Put on a Mórrígan Altar?

So, as part of our 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’]

Bec Dunn asked: “I want to set up an altar whilst I do this work to connect with Her, are there things to include or definitely not put on?”

Altars are so personal. The short answer is, you can put whatever you want on there.

Me, personally, I always have a real flame on it. That’s not tied to any lore of Hers or anything, it’s just…I don’t know whether that’s a cultural thing for me, or a magical thing, but…I don’t know. It kind of feels like She gets a bit cold sometimes and I like to have a little flame for Her.

It also kind of reminds Her that we’re human and this is what humans do and it’s not necessarily Her nature to want fire or to want a flame, but it is ours. I think that’s always kind of served me well. So, there’s always candles, and when I want to definitely ‘check in with her, the candles are lit and it brings a very clear focus.

And, y’know, obviously, I pick up crow feathers everywhere I go, so there’s lot of different crow feathers from different sites. I’m big on stones and bits of dirt and all the rest of it too, so that’s all good, that’s all on my altar.

I would advise not putting sexualized, male-gaze statues of the Mórrígan on your altar, but again, that’s down to personal taste. Just in case you’re not aware, there has been a lot of backlash (and rightly so) in Facebook Mórrígan groups over deity representation and misogyny,  and particularly representations of the Morrígan for the male gaze, basically where she is holding a sword without the arm strength to do so, and she looks like she’s ready to drop it on her foot. All those kinds of things.

Personally, a lot of the statuary and artwork that’s commercially available at the moment is… well, it really doesn’t do it for me, to be honest.

Image-wise, for the altar then – I’ve always been drawn to images of crows, particularly, and that seems to me to be a good kind of catch-all, particularly if you’re starting out… you can’t really go wrong with those.

There’s some really, really gorgeous ones out there and it’s not going to piss anybody off. I don’t think it’s healthy for us to necessarily put our own interpretations of her, on her. She’s very much a shapeshifter, and her form is formless.

A crow is symbolic of her. A raven, if that’s your thing, but crows specifically are connected to her here in Ireland, rather than ravens. There is one raven reference in the lore, as far as I’m aware, but generally it’s crows. If there’s a choice between a raven and a crow, I would definitely go for the crow.

(thanks to Marjorie for the transcription service from class, much appreciated!)


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At Caiseal Manannán

Aerial photograph of Cashelmanannan from the west (After Waddell et al. 2009, fig 6.7). Note the two 'annexes' attached to the main enclosure.

A clash of metal rang out over the training grounds, followed by a muffled grunt of exertion, and the wooden thud of shield engaging shield.

“Put yer backs into it little wormies! Domhnall, keep that shield up, yer shoulder is wide open. Aoife, thrust and slice, stop that bloody hacking!”

Her attention caught by the familiar morning sights and sounds of Corbhall putting the young warriors through their paces, she couldn’t help but smile as he met her eye with a wolfish grin. The benevolent smile faded somewhat as she observed him raise his leg and let rip a loud fart in her general direction. She sighed a little, observing him grab up a large wooden waster and stride off towards the hapless Domhnall, who was about to get a very practical lesson in what happens when a person leaves their shoulder exposed in a battle situation. Well, at least he was using a wooden training sword this time, and not his own fierce blade. Phuic’s latest ‘little chat’ with him must have done some good.

As she turned to go inside, movement through the hawthorn boundary stirred her curiosity, and she stepped towards it for a clearer view. As her home was situated with the School to the east and the Procession Ways to the west, she gained a clear view of the latter direction by moving through a small gap in the boundary with her back to the morning sun.

A tall, graceful figure was moving softly over the grass, and Leila recognised her immediately. Alone, as usual, the girl Saille made her careful way to a point exactly between the two raised banks, placing herself at the start of the ritual procession route. Pale arms seemed to glow in the bright morning light as she raised them in salute, the loose sleeves of her robe falling back lightly, and fluttering as she turned to face the newly risen sun. Eyes closed, she did not notice that she had an audience. Opening her mouth, her voice poured forth – the strong beginning note sounding pure in the morning air. Respectfully, Leila turned back, not wanting to disturb the solitary girl’s rituals, or embarrass her with observation. Besides, it was time to make her way to the School, classes would begin shortly.

Gathering her things from inside, she shut the door on her way out and walked a brisk pace around the training grounds, out to the horse fields. If she didn’t collect little Anande every day that child would never set foot in the classroom. Leila doubted she would ever do anything that didn’t involve those horses, unless someone cajoled, begged or forced her to do it. It had been the very same since she had arrived for fostering at the age of 2 – she was already grooming and working with horses by then. 8 years on, the obsession had only grown deeper. Her own breeding pair were her pride and joy, a fine white stallion she had called Tír na nÓg, and a proud dark mare who went by the (somewhat risky, Leila had often felt) name of Mórrioghan.

Indeed, her hard work and dedication had already paid off, with their offspring highly sought after – holding top position in many races each year, all over the land. Anande’s talents had come to the notice of the Queen herself, and it was known that she would have the option of a place in the royal household when she came of age. Although knowing that girl, she would probably never venture much beyond the stables and the horse fields, once she didn’t have to.

With the Óenach just around the corner, Leila braced herself for the frustrated tirade she knew was imminent. Sure enough, as soon as she came into view, Anande was upon her, demanding to know the news – would she be allowed to compete her own horses this year? Every other year she had been judged too young, even though her skill was equal to any grown man or woman. Privately, Leila supposed that the judges were listening too much to the whispers of their friends – friends whose whispers were fuelled mainly by fear of being beaten by a 10 year old girl. At these large community fairs, pride was everything; Anande represented too much of a threat to the long established egos.

“I am sorry mo leanbh, I have not heard a decision yet. But it would not do to get your hopes too high. You are young yet, and there is plenty of time to compete. This year again, the children of your horses will run, and be shown, and all will see and know your gifts with these creatures. Your time will come.”

Leila waited patiently while the girl cleared up and said goodbye to her friends, preparing herself for another day away from them. Hearing a grumpy ‘harrumph’ from the mare, she turned to find a large hairy hound loping across the open ground towards them, tongue lolling with exertion from the run. Greeting him with a smile, she spent the remaining wait for the child stroking Phuic’s sleek black head, and scratching his soft furry back. When Anande was ready to leave, they set out together, Phuic still in his hound form leading the way to the School.

When Leila had first arrived at Caiseal Manannan, it had taken her a while to get used to the Shifters.

Nervous at first, she had avoided their company, keeping largely to herself, as much as possible. But she had soon realised it was impossible not to like Phuic, with his easy going nature and boundless energy. The rest had taken her longer to get to know, with Corbhall being the last and latest. That one still made her slightly uneasy at times – the singular nature of the warrior wolf a contrast to Phuic’s flexible changing. The man did a great job training the young warriors though, she had to give him that. It made up for some of the noisy body functions and harshly practical and abrupt personality, at least.

Approaching the School, the trio made their way up by the stone wall of the first enclosure, over the ditch and in through the largest, central enclosure. Beyond the next ditch was the third enclosure, where her classroom was situated. Opening the door wide to catch the early breeze, she decided that today was a day for outdoor learning; perhaps a walk to identify some new plant species, and a lesson in the afternoon regarding the medicinal and magical properties of their new found flora. Phuic was already settling into his shift mode – which she still, despite her best efforts, found difficult to watch – for he would need human hands again to complete his daily tasks. It was not easy to maintain the armoury or practise sword forms with the hooves of a goat or the talons of a raven. Anande picked the broom from the yard, making her way to the classroom door to begin the morning sweep. Leila was close on her heels, and they both stopped short when they encountered the man seated inside. Uncurling from the chair, he rose and followed them as they backed out into the open. Phuic looked up in surprise at the unexpected visitor, but when he identified who had joined them, he quickly took his leave. Anande too, found somewhere else she urgently needed to be. Left with a polite smile glued to her face, Leila barely suppressed the flutter of panic in her breast. The man watched Phuic enter the main enclosure and disappear into the armoury, waiting for the last longing look that inevitably reached Leila as he left, and nodding with seeming satisfaction as it arrived right on cue. Leila failed to notice either man’s actions, her eyes on the ground.

“Sit with me.”

The command was not harsh, but it brooked no argument, so Leila sat at his feet. As she looked up into eyes that gave their colour to the seas, she felt nervous tension drain from her shoulders, and took a deep breath. This refreshed her. However apprehensive his unexpected presence had made her, they shared a trust carefully built with years of respectful interaction. She closed her eyes, and allowed his voice to transport her…

“You are floating. Dark seas all around you, and you sit in a currach, calm amid the storms. The motion is gentle, soothing, a contrast to the turbulence that surrounds you. As the boat moves, the serenity moves with you. You focus on that still centre, and look outward as you journey.

An island. People, music, fire. A confusing jumble of strange activity, odd clothing, incomprehensible speech. You move on, away, seeking forward on your journey.

Another island. Large structures, fast moving objects. You move on. Another, a large procession, giant green hats and banners, standards and crests unrecognisable. You move on. Faster and faster you move by the islands, none are right for you to see. Metal monsters that roar and speed faster than you can follow. Houses and keeps taller than any tree, taller even than the mountains. Music and sounds so loud they hurt the ear. Plants and animals so alien to your eyes. Colours and lights brighter than the stars, than flames, brighter than the summer sun. People of so many tribes, in garments and materials the like of which you have never dreamed. Doing things you can make no sense of. Your boat skims onwards, forwards on your journey.

And stops. This island seems empty, the shoreline clean and unbroken by habitat. Your currach washes up, bow softly kissing the sand. You disembark, sandy shingle quickly giving way to smoothened rocks as you make your way up the beach, then to wiry scrub, and finally to grassy land. There are trees you know, some small plants that are recognisable. Familiar forest noises, soothing after the strangeness. Then human sounds, voices in the distance. No discernible language, but shouts and laughter that seem to indicate contented playfulness. Continuing in that direction, you keep to the cover of the trees as you come to an open space, a clearing, in which a family are at rest. Not wanting to disturb them, you simply see.

A young boy, about 6 or 7 years old – shouting and whooping as he runs through the long grass. He is broad shouldered for one so young, sturdy and healthy looking. His sisters chase him, laughing carefree girls of early puberty, maybe 11 or 12; there’s not much between them in age. The younger girl is fit and strong, whooping with sheer pleasure, filled with energy and raw power. The older is graceful and willowy, more reserved than her siblings, joining in as she wants to but deliberately curbing her enthusiasm, and often distracted by some small detail, mesmerised in her own world until a shout or a poke brings her back into the game.

The grownups sit and watch, at ease with each other and comfortably familiar. He is a young old man, whose countenance seems to shed a light all his own; a bright, happy soul who cannot help but show his adoration for the family, and a deep self-satisfaction with the situation in which he finds himself. Fit, with a warrior’s movements and the innocence of youth. And she, she is dark of hair and light of skin, taller than a woman should be, but striking. There is a… presence about her, something that is hard to describe, a power that lies smooth under the surface. As you observe her, puzzling, she turns and looks directly at you. With no surprise, she smiles, and nods hello, and you return the courtesy. With that recognition, you know it is time to leave this happy family, to return through the trees, to the beach, and climb in to seat yourself in the currach.

The sea swells gently to carry you back, away from the island and back out across the waves. As you return, you think of this family, the knowing smile of that mother, safe in her home surrounded by her loved ones, and you can’t help but smile again.

You are floating again. Dark seas all around you, and you sit in the currach, calm amid the storms. The motion is gentle, soothing, a contrast to the turbulence that surrounds you. As the boat moves, the serenity moves with you. You focus on that still centre, and hear my voice. You remember those people. Their spirits are familiar, you have met and known them already, and will remember and love them again. Keep that calm centre within you as you travel your outward journey, and when you are ready, just open your eyes…”

And she did.

***

This piece grew from a character banter/brainstorm with the kids in the car on the way to school one morning. I write the following when I returned home, and the rest came later.

Saille: Priestess in training. Mystery figure who refuses to engage with anyone. Age undetermined.
Anande: 10 year old horse breeder/trainer. Not allowed to compete her horses in the óenach, too young! But there’s men of 50 who aren’t ¼ as good as she is. She keeps a mare and a stallion who’s offspring regularly win the races, breeds horses for the king and the queen themselves.
Corbhall: 19 year old warrior who farts a lot! Trains all the child warriors at the school, and can shape shift into a wolf.
Leila: Teacher in Caiseal Manannan.
Phuic: Shape shifts – black dog, black stallion, black bird. Young warrior knight.

All that aside, Manannan is a fascinating figure in Irish Gaelic tales. In his essay, Dr. Charles McQuarrie describes:

“Manannan mac Lir, the sometime god of the Irish Sea and lord of the Otherworld, who appears most often as a beneficent Otherworld-god-in-disguise. In some tales, especially the earlier ones, Manannan appears disguised as a noble mortal king, but in later tales, as in a number of 15th century sources, he appears in bizarre, horrible, and even comical disguise.”

The late, great, Prof. Dáithí O hÓgáin described him as “Otherworld lord and mythical mariner”, who rode over the waves on a horse named Enbharr (‘water-foam’), and the professor tells of the waves being called ‘the locks of Manannan’s wife’.

This son of the sea is associated with stone remains lying South West of Rathcroghan mound. Caiseal Manannan was a multivallate stone fort, made up of three concentric stone walls, with ditches between each – a site which may originally have incorporated a roofed structure. The inner enclosure is 40 metres in diameter, and the walls are approx. 1.5 metres thick. There is reference to a ‘Druidic school’ in the area, and Caiseal Manannan (the stone fort of Manannan) is a likely site for that.

Learning journeys to the Otherworld, teaching the secrets of safe travel, the mysteries of warrior training and initiation, and the priestly arts… it all had to happen somewhere, right?

[Excerpt from ‘Rathcroghan: A Journey’, eBook by Lora O’Brien. For more in the story series, see Tales of Old Ireland – Retold]

Daily Practice as a Morrigan Priestess

Person in Trees

So, as part of our 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’]

Shannon Duerden Thompson asked: “I’m wondering about what daily practices you’ve found to be the most valuable?”

Listening, to be perfectly honest.

My relationship with Herself is very much about…well, that – the relationship – and building that relationship to a point where there is, I feel, a pretty free flow of communication between us.

How that looks changes, y’know, I’m going to talk a lot about personal gnosis, and you’ll also hear me talk about imbas, which is a knowledge, basically, that I would receive directly from Her.

The daily practices that I found most valuable have been to take some time every single day to be quiet, and to listen, and to be aware of Her and Her presence in my life, and to take instruction from Her directly. Thankfully that (direct instruction) doesn’t happen every day, and when it does happen it’s usually a kick – and it’s not always through the daily practices, it’s often kind of a bolt from the blue.

Or, a kick up the hole. That happens a lot.

So the daily practice I feel keeps me in tune with Her. I do try and sit on some grass – now you may or may not have grass where you are, but you probably have some form of a tree, or something similar. I would suggest finding a spot that feels like Her to you.

There’s a simple technique that I’ve developed to Journey in the Irish Otherworld, and that’s often a part of my daily practice.

And as I’ve moved around, particular since I’ve moved away from Roscommon where I lived and worked for fifteen years, dealing with Her on a daily basis, I’ve had to find new ways and new places to connect to Her.

I have found one here that’s local to me (I’m down the south of Ireland in Munster now), but it is about exploring your local area and finding somewhere that feels like Her to you. That might change over time, and that might be different even on a daily or a weekly basis, or it might change and evolve as you get to know Her a bit better and start to hear Her more clearly.

I say ‘hear’ as in not necessarily physically hearing Her, just an awareness of Her. Making time and making space for Her to communicate… and even if she doesn’t communicate back every single day, I’m there. I show up.

A huge part of all this Irish Pagan stuff – and something that you’ll hear me say many, many times, over and over, until you’re fucking sick of the sound of it – is that you need to show up and you need to do the work.

Part of that is with the daily practice of just taking some time. And by some time I mean – it could be anything from ten minutes to an hour.  Generally it’s in the morning time, for me, before the house wakes up. I have three kids so obviously over the last twenty years of doing this (Pagan, generally) work I have had times when things are quite chaotic in the household.

Everybody is busy – shut up now with them excuses. There’s always something you can do. I’m just gonna be perfectly blunt here, and overshare with the world – there was a time when my children were small, that my daily practice was I would literally have to make sure the kids were safe and entertained, and then lock the bathroom door for five or ten minutes so nobody in the house could get in, to take some time on the toilet. That was my quiet connection time and my sanity – though it wasn’t always uninterrupted even at that!

But anyway, the point is that you can find some regular space in your day, even with mad work commitments, family responsibilities, a small baby… even with crazy stuff going on around you, you can find five minutes, ten minutes, every single day to make space for Her and to show up for Her, and to see if She does have any work that She needs you to do.

And sometimes you just showing up….I mean, obviously this can feed into daily meditation practice and all other kinds of good stuff that we know is necessary for our mental health, but usually put on the bottom of our priority list.

Are there other, more exciting and dramatic things that I do as a Priestess of the Mórrígan, as part of my daily practice? Sure there are! But if you’re looking to build a relationship with this Irish Goddess, start here, and prove yourself to Her this way first.

Taking that quiet time to connect is doing the work, it’s as simple and as complicated as that. It’s part of any warrior training, and it’s part of priesthood training as well, so sometimes that’s the first (and even the only) work that She needs you to do today.

And that’s okay.

(thanks to Marjorie for the transcription service from class, much appreciated!)


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Queen Maedbh (Maeve) Cheat Sheet

Queen Maev by J. C. Leyendecker

Here we’ll look at the basics on Maedbh, the ‘Celtic’ warrior queen of Connacht (yes, that’s the correct spelling – ‘Connaught’ is the later anglicised version) – her home, family life, relationships, ruling from Rathcroghan, burial, and the cultural inspiration she has become.

“How do you spell that?!”

It depends on which version of Gaeilge, the Irish language, you are using.

Medb (the Old Irish spelling) – in Middle Irish: Meḋḃ, Meaḋḃ; in early modern Irish: Meadhbh; in reformed modern Irish Méabh, Maedbh, Medbh; sometimes anglicised Maeve, Maev, Meave or Maive (all modern versions are pronounced May-v).

I’m going to stick to using the modern Irish name Maedbh for this article, except for direct quotes from the manuscripts.

Who was Queen Maedbh?

Most notably, the warrior priestess queen of Connacht, the western province of Ireland.

It is said that her father gifted her with Connacht, and no king could rule here unless they were married to Queen Maedbh.  She had many husbands, and ruled for many years.

Maeve appears in much of the literature of the Ulster saga tales, and our most famous epic literary tale, the Táin Bó Cuailnge (Cattle Raid of Cooley) features her strongly as the protagonist.  Or is that the antagonist…?

Historically, she would have lived sometime around the years 0 – 100AD, if she existed as a real flesh and blood queen.  And that is the question – was she real?

A queen, or a Goddess of the land?  A priestess of a sovereignty Goddess, who rose to power?  An archetypal figure, representing… what?  These are some of the riddles of Queen Maedbh.

Queen Maedbh’s Family Tree

Meadb of Cruachan, daughter of Eochaid Feidleach, another of Conchobar’s wives, mother of Amalgad, Conchobar’s son, so that Conchobar was Meadb’s first husband, and Meadb forsook Conchobar through pride of mind, and went to Tara, where was the High-King of Ireland.

The reason that the High-King of Ireland gave these daughters to Conchobar was that it was by Eochaid Feidleach that Fachtna Fathach had fallen in the battle of Lettir-ruad in the Corann, so that it was as his eric these were given to him, together with the forcible seizure of the kingship of Ulster, over Clan Rudraidhe: and the first cause of the stirring up of the Cattle-raid of Cuailnge was the desertion of Conchobar by Meadb against his will.

Excerpt from Medb’s Men, or, The Battle of the Boyne
Yellow Book of Lecan, 351b-353a 

PARENTS

Eochaid Feidleach, Father, High King of Ireland at Tara

Crochen Crobh-Derg, Mother, Handmaid to Etain

  MAEDBH

HERSELF

CHILDREN

Maine Athramail
Maine Máthramail
Maine Andoe
Maine Taí
Maine Mórgor
Maine Mílscothach
Maine Móepirt
Findabair

Eh… why were all her sons called Maine?

Well, they weren’t, not originally, but Maedbh and Ailill did end up with seven sons, all called Maine.

Back when they all had other names, Maedbh asked a druid which of her sons would kill Conchobar (king of Ulster), and he replied, “Maine”.  A little bit concerned that she didn’t have a son called Maine, she decided to rename all her sons as follows:

  • Fedlimid became Maine Athramail (“like his father”)
  • Cairbre became Maine Máthramail (“like his mother”)
  • Eochaid became Maine Andoe (“the swift”)
  • Fergus became Maine Taí (“the silent”)
  • Cet became Maine Mórgor (“of great duty”)
  • Sin became Maine Mílscothach (“honey-speech”)
  • Dáire became Maine Móepirt (“beyond description”)

The prophecy was fulfilled when Maine Andoe went on to kill Conchobar, son of Arthur, son of Bruide — not Conchobar, son of Fachtna Fathach, as Maedbh had assumed the druid meant.

Maedbh and Ailill also had a daughter, Findabair.  She got to keep her own name, but was offered around as a prize during the Táin – Maedbh was bribing Connacht warriors with marriage to the fine Findabair if they’d go against the Ulster warrior CúChulainn in single combat.

 

Maedbh’s Mammy

Cruachú Crobh-Dearg (the spelling varies, as ever in our wonderful collection of tales) is remembered as a handmaiden of Etain, appearing in the love story of Etain & Midir.

She may have an older, sovereignty or tribal Goddess function, which is being remembered and carried through the later legends.

Some of her story, and associations with Cruachan (Rath Cruachan, or modern Rathcroghan, in Co. Roscommon) remains in the text quoted as follows…

Listen, ye warriors about Cruachu!
with its barrow for every noble couple:
O host whence springs lasting fame of laws!
O royal line of the men of Connacht!
O host of the true, long-remembered exploits,
with number of pleasant companies and of brave kings!
O people, quickest in havoc
to whom Erin has pledged various produce!
Manly in battle-rout multitudinous
is the seed of noble Brian, with their strong fleets:
in express submission to them have been sent
hostages from all Europe to Cruachu.
If we stay to recount its fame for every power,
we shall not be able to pour out the lore of noble science

for Cruachu, holy without austerity,
whose foemen are not few.
Known to me by smooth-spoken eulogy
is the designation of powerful Cruachu:
not slight the din, the uproar,
whence it got its name and fame for bright achievement.

Eochaid Airem — high career!
when the fierce, generous man was at Fremu,
the man who cherished feats of skill,
holding a meeting for horse-fights,
There came to them noble Midir
(he was no favourite with the gentle prince)
to carry off Etain in dreadful wise,
whence came lamentation of many tribes.
Ill-favoured was the man who bore off
Etain and hardy Crochen
the queen and her handmaid,
who was right lowly, yet ever-famous.
Westward Midir bore the fair captives
after boldly seizing them as booty,
to Sid Sinche of the ancient hosts,
because it was noble Midir’s hereditary possession.
Till three days were out he stayed
in the radiant noisy Sid:
after fruitful enterprise it is custom
to boast at board and banquet.
Then said strong Crochen
What fine house is this where we have halted?
O Midir of the splendid feats,
is this thy spacious dwelling?”
The answer of the famous man of arts
to Crochen blood-red of hue:
‘ Nearer to the sun, to its warmth,
is my bright and fruitful home.”

Said Cruachu the lovely,
in presence of the spacious tribes,
“O Midir, yet unconquered,
shall my name be on this Sid?”
He gave the fine dwelling as reward for her journey
to Crochen, a fair recompense:
by Midir, report says, northward at his home,
by him her name was given to it as ye hear.
Hence men say Cruachu,
(it is not hidden from kindly tribes,)
since Midir brought (clear without falsehood)
his wife to Sinech of the Side.
As for Midir, he was no sluggard thereafter,
he went to Bri Leith maic Celtchair:
he carried with him the bright indolent lady, whitely radiant,
whom he bore off by force from Fremu.
Eochaid at the head of the numerous ranks
of his brave troop,

…was on the track of Midir, the great champion.
Said his druid to Eochaid,
“Thou shalt not be fortunate all thy life long:
lamentation for evil has come upon thee
for the loss of Etain of the golden tresses:”

“Come from the judgment-seat of Fotla
without warning, without royal proclamation;
bring with thee thereafter to Bri Leith
thy host — no cowards they — to sack it.”
“There shalt thou find thy wife
in noble beauty, beyond denial:
be not faint-hearted for long, O warrior;
bring her with thee by consent or by force.”

This is a beginning, with famous perils,
for the proud Wooing of Etain,
though it be a pithy tale to hear,
the tale when men came to Cruachu to listen to it.
It was Crochen of pure Cruachu
who was mother of Medb great of valour:
she was in Cruachu — it was an open reproach-
awhile with Etain’s spouse.

Corpus of Electronic Texts Edition
The Metrical Dindshenchas (Author: [unknown]) poem 63 – Rath Cruachan

Maedbh and her Lovers

Ok, well, how long have you got? Yes, there were a serious amount of men who were getting it on with the Queen. She was a woman of large appetites.

There’s a whole Irish text devoted to this very topic called ‘Medb’s man-share’ (Ferchuitred Medba). The text was also called ‘Medb’s husband allowance’, ‘Medb’s men’, or Cath Boinde (the Battle of the Boyne), and you can find the translated version HERE. It originally comes from the Yellow Book of Lecan manuscript.

In the Tain Bó Cuailnge, we can see how she offers her own favours to the owner of the Brown Bull of Cooley, King Daire, to sweeten the deal… before she heads to an all out murderating war raid. It’s hardly her fault he refused and forced her hand, now is it?

“Go there, Mac Roth,” orders Medb. “Ask Daire to lend me Donn Cuailnge for a year. At the end of the year he can have fifty yearling heifers in payment for the loan, and the Brown Bull of Cuailnge back. And you can offer him this too, Mac Roth, if the people of the country think badly of losing their fine jewel, the Donn Cuailnge: if Daire himself comes with the bull I’ll give him a portion of the fine Plain of Ai equal to his own lands, and a chariot worth thrice seven bondmaids, and my own friendly thighs on top of that.”

 

Queen Maedbh and Her Lovers… the Book!

For a really interesting examination of Maedbh as a Lover, Initiator, and Intoxicator, you won’t go far wrong with this book.

The author is a Jungian Psychoanalyst, looking at the Maedbh myth in the context of her modern practice, which is a fascinating angle that makes for exploration of Queen Maedbh in directions we’d never thought of.

Publisher: Nicolas-Hays; 1 edition (October 2001) – it’s still available on Amazon HERE. (affiliate link)

 

Queen Maedbh – Dead and Buried

Awww, she’s Dead? How?!

In her later years, Maedbh often went to bathe in a pool on Inchcleraun (Inis Cloithreann), an island on Lough Ree, near Knockcroghery in County Roscommon. Furbaide, who’s mother she had killed (so it is said), sought revenge, and set about planning her demise. He was quite dedicated about it. But I suppose it’s the type of thing that you’d really want to get right.

First, he took a rope and measured the distance between the pool and the shore, and practiced with his sling until he could hit an apple on top of a stake Maedbh’s height, from that distance. The next time he saw Maedbh bathing he put his practice to good use and killed her with a piece of cheese.

Yes cheese. Queen Maedbh was killed by cheese. Her son, Maine Athramail (he who was originally Cairbre, and most ‘like his mother’, ascended to the throne of Connacht in her place.

But buried in Sligo, right?

Well, not exactly. Maybe. ‘Maedbh’s Cairn’ in Co. Sligo, is the best known burial site of Queen Maedbh, but it is one of three possible sites. According to some legends, she is indeed buried in the 40ft (12m) high stone cairn on the summit of Knocknarea (Cnoc na Rí in Irish, Hill of the King/Queen) in County Sligo. The story goes that she is buried upright, facing her enemies in Ulster.

In Bronze or Iron Age burials though, it would be common enough to hack an important dead person apart and bury bits of them along different boundaries, for protection and guardianship. Another story goes that she is buried in the hill of Knockma (Cnoc Medb in Irish, Hill of Maeve), near Belclare in Co. Galway, which is also where Fionnbharr, King of the Connacht Sidhe, holds court. The Fairy connection is an interesting one, and maybe related to her later associations with Mab, the English Fairy Queen? The boundary theory holds here too though, as the views from the top of Knockma are spectacular. Very convenient for a guardianship position, I’d say.

Her home in Rathcroghan, County Roscommon is the third, and most likely burial site, with a long low slab named Misgaun Medb being given as the probable location. In the ‘she got chopped up in bitty bits and buried’ theory, this is where her soul (most likely to be contained in her head, according to thinking of the time) would be.

Or possibly her heart. Whatever bit of her was deemed the most important part would have stayed at home, with other bits spreading out at lesser sites along the boundaries.


Meeting Queen Medb (Maeve)

Medb of Connacht is an ancient Irish Initiator, Brehon and Sovereign Queen. (Two Classes)

Enroll in Course

Poem for the Morrigan

Lora Light

The Mórrígan

She Stands
Silent, hooded, darkened countenance
shifting, muted, inescapably There.

Her Face
Unknowable, terrible, hidden
She is Everything and Nothing.

Two Spears
Weapons of truth, Imperative
Thrusting knowledge and awareness

Slaying
All that we must leave behind
Forcing
All that we must discover

Darkness and Strength
Power and Insight
Fear and Finding

She Stands
Connected, terrified, thrilled
Facing the Great Queen

Back into her own,
coming home.

 

Lora O’Brien, Roscommon, Bealtaine 2004.


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Part 9 – Dearg Corra – Who’s Who of Irish Mythology Series

Who's Who of Irish Mythology

Part 9 – Dearg Corra

I found a Book Proposal from 13 years ago, that I had agreed to write before life took a different turn for me – a ‘Who’s Who of Irish Mythology & How to Work with Them’.

I may or may not turn it into a book at some stage…?! But for now it may as well be out in world as sitting on my computer.

WARNING: It’s an unedited old photo of my thoughts and practice 13 years ago. So, be aware.

 

[Check Part 8 Here…]

 

Dearg Corra

Placement ~ Fenian Cycle

Pronunciation:  Jee-arr-g Korr-ah.  Also called Derg Corra.

Dearg Corra will usually only be referred to as a servant of Fionn Mac Cumhaill.  This is due to the somewhat strange story about him from an 8th Century text, which seems to be a survival of (or a way of collecting) older stories/references concerning the character.

The story goes that he was Fionn’s servant, and was propositioned by a lover of Fionn’s who had taken a liking to him.  When Dearg Corra rejected the woman, she went to the Fenian leader with a story of being raped, and the servant was banished.  While hunting in a forest, Fionn later came across “a man on the top of a tree with a blackbird on his right shoulder, and a bright bronze vessel in his left hand, in which was a leaping trout; and a stag was at the foot of the tree.”  Fionn didn’t recognise the man as he had hidden himself in a Féth Fiadha (pron. Fay Fee-ah), which is a magical ‘cloak of concealment’, but he could see that the stag was sharing apples with him, the blackbird was sharing nuts with him, and the trout was sharing water from the bronze vessel with him.  Fionn then placed his thumb in his mouth to access his own magical seeing ability, and proclaimed the following: “It is Dearg Corra, son of Daighre’s descendant, who is in the tree!”  These quotes were given by Kuno Meyer in the Revue Celtique 25.

Alwyn and Brinley Rees “merely mention” the character of Dearg in the context of an enemy of Fionn, who is perhaps a supernatural malevolent burner.  They use the fact that he is said to have jumped “to and fro across the cooking hearth” to support this.  Dáithí Ó hÓgáin goes into the whole thing in far more detail.  His take on the story is that the only way to explain the supernatural elements contained within it, is to view it as a survival of a “cult of some divinity”.  He links Dearg Corra to a fire God, giving the word Dearg (which means ‘Red’) as a common enough name for a God in Early Ireland, along with the connection to his ancestor Daighre (pron. Dar-ah, meaning ‘flame’) and attributes his aforementioned fire leaping as symbolic of the flames cooking food.  He links the deity to a possible Irish representation of the horned animal God whom the Continental Celts referred to as Cernunnos; a name which will be at least familiar to most modern Witches, Wiccans, and Pagans.  The evidence for this is, admittedly, circumstantial.  Dearg Corra symbolising the provision of sustenance (his role as a servant, his connection to the cooking of food), his role as protector and sustainer of wild animals as the hunters quarry, his skill at concealing himself from your average prying eye (even Fionn with his Seer’s abilities had a bit of a job in identifying him), and the best surviving example of the Cernunnos figure in all his glory (seen on the inner plates of the Gundestrup Cauldron, now housed in the National Museum, Copenhagen, Denmark) shows him surrounded by animals such as the stag and the fish, among others  – all of this does seem to point to the true role of Dearg Corra being more than it initially may appear.  Ó hÓgáin also further connects the character (or at least the name) of Dearg with aspects of the God of death, Donn, and with the Dagda; seemingly in the context of more violent deaths and slaughter.

Though there is little concrete evidence for the death connection, it makes sense to me that a God of life would also have a flip side concerned with death, and that a protector of animals who also works for or with a hunter figure such as Fionn, would preside too over the violence and death of the kill.  If nothing else, he could make sure it was done right.  And as the prevalent horned animal God figure, referred to as Cernunnos by archaeologists, appears to have been quite widespread among the Continental Celts – and indeed, Proinsias MacCana even makes connections with an Indian God form appearing on a seal found at Mohenjodaro; who may be a prototype of Shiva in his aspect as Pashupati, ‘Lord of the Beasts’ – I am not sure it is too far fetched to conclude that there quite possibly was an Irish God who represented the same values and concerns, at some stage in our history.  There is certainly, in my experience, a native Irish Being who responds quite happily to the evocation and invocation of Cernunnos or the ‘Horned God’, which I  have experienced while working in the Irish landscape.

From a modern magical perspective, Dearg Corra can be seen to be  primarily concerned with, or representative of, the following:

  • Fire; for cooking, and sustenance.
  • Forestry, and forest dwelling wildlife.
  • Protection of, and continual provision for, the hunted.
  • Concealment, especially from those who have no business with seeing.
  • Right conduct of the hunter, honour and respect in the kill.

If you choose to work with Dearg Corra, or indeed, he chooses to work with you, a forest setting would be particularly appropriate.  Look for him in the trees, and by the camp fire or cooking pit.  The wildlife he sustains could be your guide: especially look to the stag, the blackbird, or the trout to direct you to him.  Whether you visit his dwelling places in this world or through connection to the Otherworld, be watchful.  Trust in your own ability to see and your power to connect, as Fionn did.

 

This is the End of This Book Proposal! Thanks for Following the Series  🙂


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Part 8 – Flidhais – Who’s Who of Irish Mythology Series

Who's Who of Irish Mythology

Part 8 – Flidhais

I found a Book Proposal from 13 years ago, that I had agreed to write before life took a different turn for me – a ‘Who’s Who of Irish Mythology & How to Work with Them’.

I may or may not turn it into a book at some stage…?! But for now it may as well be out in world as sitting on my computer.

WARNING: It’s an unedited old photo of my thoughts and practice 13 years ago. So, be aware.

 

[Check Part 7 Here…]

 

 

Flidhais

Placement ~ Ulster Cycle

Pronunciation:  Flee-ash.  Also called Fliodhais, Flidais.

 

If she is known at all, it is as a Goddess of cattle or deer.  The main surviving tale we have concerning her from original source material is “Táin Bó Flidais”, which has two versions.  A short version appears first in Lebor na hUidhre, The Book of the Dun Cow, an 11th Century text.  A similar short version can be seen in the Book of Leinster, from the 12th Century, and also in a manuscript from the 15th Century called the Egerton manuscript.  But perhaps a more interesting version, for it’s additional esoteric elements, appears in the 15th Century Glenmason manuscript. “Táin Bó Flidais” is one of the Remscéla or ‘Fore-tales’ which precede, and explain, the happenings of the epic Táin Bó Cuailgne, the ‘Cattle Raid of Cooley’.

Flidhais is said to be a woman of the Sidhe, who crosses to this world.  She brings with her a herd of wonderful cattle, the most amazing being a cow they call the Maol Flidais, the Bald or ‘Horn-less’ cow of Flidhais.  This creature could feed over three hundred men, and their families, in one night from a single milking.  The Fairy woman marries a man from Connaught, Aillil Fionn, a neighbour of Queen Meadbh and her husband Aillil.  On a visit to Maedbh’s court, Flidhais meets and falls in love with the exiled Ulster warrior Feargus Mac Roich.  A man of powerful sexual appetites, usually it took seven women to satisfy him; but Flidhais was a match for him on her own.  She puts him under a geis (pron. gesh), an ancient obligation or prohibition, to take her away from her husband.  A bloody battle ensues, the upshot of which is that Feargus brings her the severed head of her late husband.  The Maol Flidais, not as enamoured of Feargus as her mistress, mourns the death of her former master – who had fought bravely against odds that were vastly stacked against him, as Feargus had attacked him with the help and support of Queen Maedbh’s forces.  This amazing animal was only convinced to go and join the Connaught herds by the reminder that there she would have the companionship of her beloved Flidhais, and would also become the fitting consort of the fantastic White-Horned Bull.

Some versions of the tale then say that Flidhais remained the wife of Feargus until she died, a long time after, in Ulster.  But the longer version states that she was sorry for the killing of her husband, and that she is “rescued” on the way back to Maedbh’s court.  Flidhais “returns to the west” (i.e. the Otherworld lands from whence she came) along with her fabulous Maol Flidais.

Proinsias MacCana, in his “Celtic Mythology”, only briefly refers to this Lady as the Irish Goddess “who ruled over the beasts of the forests and whose cattle were the wild deer”.  Alwyn and Brinley Rees make no discernible mention of her at all, but the popular fictional writer Caiseal Mór does bring her name into his “Well Spring Trilogy” as a Goddess of the Hunt.  Dáithí Ó hÓgáin makes correlations between the more recent Mayo folk story of Dónall Dualbhuí and Muinchinn to the tale of Flidhais and her maligned husband, Feargus still being cast as the warrior who defeats him by treacherous means.  He says her name was likely to have originally referred to liquid, most particularly to milk, and that her epithet of Foltchaoin (pron. Fult-queen) means ‘soft-haired’.

There are accounts of Flidhais from the earlier Mythological cycle, which place her as the mother of a king, Nia Seaghamain, whose name has been translated to mean ‘warrior of deer-treasure’, as during his reign the “cows and does were milked together every day”.  It was his mother with her herd of both wild and domesticated animals, deer and cattle, who had made this benefit of the king’s reign possible.  Dáithí Ó hÓgáin goes on to deem her to be an original mother-Goddess figure.

From a modern magical perspective, Flidhais can be seen to be  primarily concerned with, or representative of, the following:

  • Provision of sustenance.
  • The flow of milk – breastfeeding, lactation generally.
  • Sexual appetite and satisfaction.
  • Cattle; farming, keeping, tending of herds.
  • Co-operation with wilder animals, especially Deer.

 


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