The Morrigan


The Morrígan ("phantom queen") or Mórrígan ("great queen"), also written as Morrígu or in the plural as Morrígna, and spelt Morríghan or Mór-ríoghain in Modern Irish, is a figure from Irish mythology who appears to have been considered a goddess, although she is not explicitly referred to as such in the texts.

The Morrígan is a goddess of battle, strife, and sovereignty. She sometimes appears in the form of a crow, flying above the warriors, and in the Ulster cycle she also takes the form of an eel, a wolf and a cow. She is generally considered a war deity comparable with the Germanic Valkyries, although her association with a cow may also suggest a role connected with wealth and the land.

She is often depicted as a trio of goddesses, all sisters,[1][2][3] although membership of the triad varies; the most common combinations are Badb, Macha and Nemain,[4] or Badb, Macha and Anand; Anand is also given as an alternate name for Morrigu.[5] Other accounts name Fea, and others.[4]

There is some disagreement over the meaning of the Morrígan's name. Mor may derive from an Indo-European root connoting terror or monstrousness, cognate with the Old English maere (which survives in the modern English word "nightmare") and the Scandinavian mara and the Old Russian "mara" ("nightmare");[6] while rígan translates as 'queen'.[7] This can be reconstructed in Proto-Celtic as *Moro-rīganī-s.[8] Accordingly, Morrígan is often translated as "Phantom Queen". This is the derivation generally favoured in current scholarship.[9]

In the Middle Irish period the name is often spelled Mórrígan with a lengthening diacritic over the 'o', seemingly intended to mean "Great Queen" (Old Irish mór, 'great';[10] this would derive from a hypothetical Proto-Celtic *Māra Rīganī-s). [11] Whitley Stokes believed this latter spelling was a due to a false etymology popular at the time.[12] There have also been attempts by modern writers to link the Morrígan with the Welsh literary figure Morgan le Fay from Arthurian romance, in whose name 'mor' may derive from a Welsh word for 'sea', but the names are derived from different cultures and branches of the Celtic linguistic tree.[13]

The Morrigan


  1. Sjoestedt, Marie-Louise. Celtic Gods and Heroes. Dover Publications. pp. 31–32. ISBN 0-486-41441-8.
  2. O hOgain, Daithi (1991). Myth, Legend and Romance: An Encyclopedia of the Irish Folk Tradition. Oxford: Prentice Hall Press. pp. 307–309. ISBN 0-13-275959-4.
  3. Davidson, Hilda Ellis (1988). Myths and symbols in pagan Europe: early Scandinavian and Celtic religions. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press. pp. 97. ISBN 0-8156-2441-7.
  4. MacKillop, James (1998). Dictionary of Celtic mythology. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 335–336. ISBN 0-19-280120-1.
  5. Lebor Gabála Érenn §62, 64: "Badb and Macha and Anand... were the three daughters of Ernmas the she-farmer." "Badb and Morrigu, whose name was Anand."
  6. Dictionary of the Irish Language p. 468.
  7. DIL p. 507
  8. Proto-Celtic – English wordlist; EtymologyOnline: "nightmare"
  9. Rosalind Clark (1990) The Great Queens: Irish Goddesses from the Morrígan to Cathleen Ní Houlihan (Irish Literary Studies, Book 34) ISBN 0-389-20928-7
  10. Dictionary of the Irish Language (DIL), Compact Edition, Royal
  11. Alexander McBain, An Etymological Dictionary of the Gaelic Language, 1911: mór, ribhinn
  12. Stokes, Whitley (1891) Notes to "The Second Battle of Moytura" in Revue Celtique xii, p. 128.
  13. Dictionary of the Irish Language, "Morrígan".