The Morrigan goddess: the story of the goddess of death

The seductress of death is one of the most prominent figures from Irish mythology. Here’s everything you need to know about the Morrigan goddess, one of the most terrifying omens in folklore.

The Morrigan Goddess finds her origins in Irish mythology. As a representation of the circle of life, she is sometimes associated with birth. However, most view the Morrigan symbol as an omen of death.

Throughout the centuries, the Morrigan symbol has sparked fear in the hearts of warriors and common folk alike. Powerful and vindictive, her legacy often shadows the tragedy of wars and conflict.

Here is everything you need to know about the Morrigan Goddess and the meaning behind the Morrigan symbol throughout history.

Who is the Morrigan Goddess? – a complex symbol of power and death

The Morrigan goddess of death.
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The Morrigan Goddess is a captivating and prominent character within Irish mythology. Her powerful lust for war and death has given her quite a reputation throughout history and granted her many nicknames.

Several of these nicknames include the Celtic goddess of death, Morrígu, and the Great Queen goddess Morrigan. The spelling of her name also differs throughout history, often being spelt Morrigu, Morgane, and Morrighan.

Ultimately, however, there is no mistaking that the name Morrigan means ‘great queen’ or ‘phantom queen’.

Symbolic representation – the Morrigan symbol

She was often represented as a crow.
Credit: Pixabay / MabelAmber

Folktales describe the Morrigan goddess as seductive, fearsome, and unrelenting. She is primarily associated with war and battle.

The Morrigan symbol is ultimately a symbol of death, often connected to the festival of Samhain. Our modern idea of Halloween today finds its roots in this ancient Irish festival.

Morrigan was an untrustworthy and sly figure, known for shapeshifting to deceive those around her. Primarily, she favoured changing into a crow, which in and of itself was a sign of death on a battlefield.

Interpretations of the Morrigan Goddess – inspired an iconic Irish folklore creature

There are many interpretations of the Morrigan goddess.
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As expressed earlier, folklore and Irish mythology offer many interpretations of the Morrigan goddess throughout millennia.

Often, she was mentioned in battle as an entity who could predict the death of warriors. She would appear as a crow and fly overhead during a war. Many believe she both terrified and inspired men to fight for their lives.

As an omen of death, the Morrigan symbol has transformed over time. Some say that she has served as the inspiration for one of the most iconic creatures in Irish folklore; the banshee.

Many believe the banshee takes the form of a hunched woman whose shrill cries foretell death. Sparking terror in those familiar with Irish folklore, this symbol of death certainly intertwines with the idea of the Morrigan goddess.

Perhaps the most prominent story featuring the Morrigan goddess within Irish mythology involves Cúchulainn, one of the greatest heroes of first-century Ireland.

The story of Cúchulainn – a brutal demonstration of cunning and strength

She has an interesting history with Cúchulainn.
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The story of Cúchulainn has many variations but ultimately characterises the sense of terror that embodies the Morrigan goddess.

The Morrigan goddess ruled over lakes and rivers and often lurked there. Some say that the hero Cúchulainn encountered the Morrigan as she took the form of an old washerwoman at a ford.

Here, she would wash the blood-stained clothes of the dead. At this point, she professed her love to him, but he rejected her advances, not recognising her.

Others say that Cúchulainn encountered the Morrigan goddess as he was herding cattle. She was under the guise of an old woman and was leading a cow away.

He then accused her of theft. Once he realised his mistake, he apologised profusely to her, but it was too late.

Cúchulainn’s demise – one of Ireland’s most famous folktales

Cúchulainn headed to the crafty ways of  the Morrigan goddess.
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In either instance, enraged, she threatened to kill him. Whilst some say she threatened to hinder him on the battlefield by appearing as a crow to him and ultimately killing him, there are other records of a battle ensuing between the two.

In this version of events, Morrigan shapeshifted into various animals to overpower and hinder Cúchulainn in battle, namely as an eel, a wolf, and a cow.

He retaliated by exclaiming that he would break her ribs, take out her eye, and break her leg.

She shapeshifted into an old woman.
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After these grapples occurred, they both escaped heavily injured but alive. Cúchulainn then stumbled upon an older woman who offered him three drinks of milk. Exhausted from the battle, he willingly accepted her gifts and blessed her for each one.

Unfortunately for Cúchulainn, he was too exhausted from battle. So, he didn’t notice the old woman’s broken leg, stooped position, and missing eye.

His blessings healed the Morrigan goddess, and she returned to her original, powerful form.

Meanwhile, Cúchulainn remained weak and was apologetic to Morrigan, knowing of his fate should she show no mercy to him.

Other notable mentions

The Morrigan goddess prophesised the death of Cuchulainn.

Morgan le Fay: Many believe that the Morrigan is the inspiration for Morgan le Fay, the sorceress of Arthurian legend.

Norse legend: Apart from Celtic mythology, many similarities can be seen between the Morrigan and the Valkyries of Old Norse legend.

Queen Medb: The Morrigan foretells the impending death of Cúchulainn. During a battle with Queen Medb’s warriors, her prophecy came true.

Bean Nigheachain: The Morrigan is often compared to the Bean Nigheachain of Scotland, as she also appears as a washerwoman scrubbing the clothes and armour of those who are about to die in battle.

FAQs about the Morrigan goddess

The crow represents her.
Credit: publicdomainpictures.net

Who is the Morrigan in Celtic mythology?

In Irish and Celtic mythology, the Morrigan is known as the Celtic goddess of death.

What is the Morrigan symbol?

As the goddess often appears as a crow, which is sometimes mistaken as a raven, many associate this animal as the symbol that represents her.

Did the Morrigan have sisters?

Her siblings are listed as Ériu, Banba, and Fódla, they make up the triple goddess, representing the sport and sovereignty of Ireland.

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