Why I Don’t Like Sexy Morrigan Imagery

Go looking for pictures and statues of the Morrigan and you’ll find a wide variety of themes, from regal queens to bold warriors to sexy temptresses – and some that attempt to combine all three. The sexy images have been a topic of debate in various Morrigan groups for some time. I started to comment on one a while back, but soon realized I had more to say than can be contained in a Facebook post.

Some people have raised objections grounded in various political and gender theories. Those are valid, but they’re out of my area of expertise. These are my thoughts and feelings, and it starts with this:

I don’t like sexy Morrigan imagery.

It’s inauthentic

However we conceive of the Gods, They are always more. So any images we make of Them are necessarily incomplete. Some religions use this as a reason to prohibit images of their Gods. Of course, it’s also a way to say “we’re different from those folks,” but that’s another rant for another time.

But when an artist combines what we know of the Gods from history and lore with their own experiences and then channels it through their talents, some amazing and inspiring images can be created. This imagery helps us focus our attention on the Gods in devotion and prayer.

Morrigan 01.23.18

Among today’s Pagans and polytheists, the Morrigan’s primary titles and epithets are Lady of Sovereignty, Battle Raven, Chooser of the Slain, and the Great Queen. This is all in alignment with what is known about Her from history and lore.

And none of those things – particularly those involving combat and its aftermath – are evocative of someone appearing half dressed.

Some imagery from the ancient Mediterranean depicts Goddesses – and Gods – as naked, or very nearly so. That’s appropriate: Greece is a warm place, and Egypt is even warmer. Ireland is not. We have no ancient statues of the Morrigan, but if there were any, it is highly unlikely they would be dressed for a night at a dance club.

Now, if you want to paint a picture of a naked Morrigan standing with one foot on each bank of a river, about to embrace an also-naked Dagda, that’s a different story – that would be an authentic depiction of Her. But much of the imagery I see is extremely inauthentic, and that doesn’t work for me.

I’m the last person who wants to freeze the Gods in the lore. I see Them as living persons who grow and change, as does everything that is alive. A couple years ago Morgan Daimler had an speculative post about how the Gods might appear today called Dressing Old Gods in a New World. The Morrigan is not limited to Iron Age battle garb.

But the essential nature of the Gods does not change. Scantily clad or naked Morrigan images are rarely an authentic depiction of Her.

It’s a distraction

The Morrigan has asked (demanded) that I do many things for Her: make offerings to Her, write about sovereignty and autonomy, tell the stories of Her deeds both ancient and new, prepare for the coming storm that’s now here, relay messages to individuals, and clear the battlefields of carnage. This keeps me quite busy, and Her requirements are only increasing over time.

When I see a sexy image of the Morrigan I find it distracting from the work She has tasked me with. Not debilitating (I’m not a hormone-addled teenage boy and I haven’t been for a very long time), but still, I don’t need distractions.

I have no issues with artistic nudity – it’s a valid form of expression. Erotica has its place, but that place is rather narrow in the realm of religious devotion. And whatever you think of pornography, I don’t want porn in my religion. Much of the Morrigan imagery I see strikes me as pretty close to erotica, and some of it verges on soft porn.

But even in the realm of artistic nudity, I find myself distracted by well-formed bodies of all genders – more from admiration (and a bit of jealousy) than from sexual attraction, but still, a distraction.

Now, I’m perfectly capable of managing distractions – I do it all the time in the ordinary world. But given the seriousness of my work for the Morrigan and my desire to do it as well as I can, I want as few distractions as possible.

Further, it’s one thing to manage a distraction caused by someone dressing in a way they like for their own reasons – that’s part of being a decent person in a free and inclusive society. It’s another thing to choose an image for devotion that I know I’ll find distracting.

Sex-positive is good. Sex-obsessed is not.

Why would someone want a sexy Morrigan statue or painting anyway?

Some people claim She’s a Sex Goddess. As Morgan Daimler has pointed out on numerous occasions, there is one time in the literary record where She had sex, and that’s with someone who may have been Her husband. She made an offer to Cú Chulainn which may or may not have included sex, but in any case was refused. One tryst does not a Sex Goddess make!

One of the roots of modern Paganism is a reaction to the excesses of monotheism and its prudishness concerning sex and the body. We need not be Wiccans to appreciate the Charge of the Goddess with its exhortation to “sing, feast, dance, make music and love” and its reminder that “all acts of love and pleasure are My rituals.”

Removing shame from sex and nudity is a good thing. But for too many Pagans – and for that matter, too many Pagan traditions – the pendulum swung just as far the other way. That created an environment ripe for abuse, and abuse happened: some with pressure to “be more liberated” (i.e. – “you should have sex with me”), some with manipulative sexual initiations, and some with outright assaults.

Even if we eliminate the bad behavior and create a culture of consent (we can and we must), “fertility rites” in an era where birth control is the norm doesn’t make much sense. We’re finally starting to get past gender-binary, heteronormative language and rituals, but we still struggle to be fully welcoming and inclusive to all genders and orientations – including people who are asexual. Paganism is much, much more than healthy attitudes around sex.

If you want your Morrigan imagery to be sexy, ask yourself why. Sex-positive is good. Sex-obsessed is not.

A powerful and complicated image

Morrigan painting on tile by Joanne Van Boozian
Morrigan painting on tile by Joanne Van Boozian

The above picture is from the Morrigan shrine at Trout Lake Abbey. My initial response upon seeing it was complicated.

The scene shows the Morrigan in her role as Battle Raven. It’s a beautiful and powerful image. It’s also inauthentic. I’m no costume historian, but I’m pretty sure no one has ever worn a dress like that on a battlefield, at least not on purpose. The inaccuracy makes it a distraction.

But this isn’t a sexy image. It’s a picture of a strong, mature woman who has chosen to cover only part of Her body, for reasons as mysterious as everything else about Her. When I expressed my misgivings at the shrine, I heard a familiar Voice behind my head: “I’ll wear what I bloody well please.”

Would I put this image in my Morrigan shrine? No. But it seems to be working OK in this shrine.

We do ourselves, our Gods, and our traditions no favors when we attempt to oversimplify complicated issues. And this one is very complicated.

The Gods are whole persons

The Gods are whole persons, therefore They are sexual persons. Their identities, orientations, and preferences are at least as varied as our own and range from hypersexual to asexual. Bowdlerizing Their stories and Their imagery is just as wrong as trying to turn a Battle Goddess into a pinup queen.

But my devotion to the Morrigan and my work for Her has nothing to do with sex, or even with fit and attractive bodies. It has nothing to do with being sex-positive. It’s about the decidedly unsexy work of devotion, of communication, and of dealing with the aftermath of conflict and war.

Sexy Morrigan pictures and statues are mostly inauthentic and they’re a distraction from my work for the Great Queen. And so I avoid them.

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