A beautiful but fearsome goddess of war, the Morrigan has the power to take the form of any living creature, and tales of her shapeshifting feats have been told all over Ireland throughout the centuries. She is widely believed to be three sister goddesses or a triple-goddess, three being a sacred number and the triple aspect of gods being a common theme in Celtic mythology.
In many old Irish tales, Celtic goddesses Badb, Macha, and Nemain are named as the three sisters who can take shape individually as well as appear as one single, independent being, the ‘great queen’ or ‘phantom queen’, the Morrigan. There are legends featuring the Morrigan in the form of an old crone, a beautiful young woman, a crow or raven, a wolf, a cow, and many other creatures.
The Morrigan is associated first and foremost with war and destruction, the celts of years ago believing that not only could she foretell the death of warriors, but she could also revive the fallen to fight again. She is predominantly known for her connection with crows and ravens, and her appearance as one of these black birds during battle was thought to forewarn soldiers of impending deaths and losses on the battlefield. After a battle, in the Ireland of long ago, the battlefield would be deserted as the ground was considered sacred, but the remains of the fallen warriors were left behind so that their souls could be collected by the Morrigan, or in some accounts by one of the three sister goddesses, Macha. This was referred to as ‘The Feast of Macha.’
There may also be some connection between the Morrigan and how stories of the banshee came about. Years ago, terrifying tales were told about two of the three sister goddesses, Badb and Nemain. They are said to have flown over battlefields shrieking so fearsomely that many soldiers dropped dead from the fright of hearing the screams. These tales are similar to stories of the Morrigan screeching on battlefields to warn of the losses to come. The cries of the Morrigan were seen as a terrible omen that meant death would soon follow.
We see close associations with the festival of Samhain in the legends of the Morrigan. This festival would end one year and begin the next year anew for the ancient celts, marking the end of their harvest. The Morrigan was believed to have been married to or have had a relationship with the Dagda, a warrior king of the Tuatha De Danann, and it was said that if the Morrigan and the Dagda came together at Samhain, their coupling would ensure a great harvest for the year to come.