|“Badb is Macha mét indbais
Morrígan fotla felbais.
indlema ind ága ernmais.
ingena ána Ernmais.”
– Lebor Gabala Erenn
Badb and Macha rich in wealth
Morrigan powerful in sorcery
They encompass iron-death battles
the daughters of Ernmas.
My last blog here was about the value of the Shadow, and that reminded me of my own previous experience with Shadow work, which in turn made me think of a series of blog posts I’d read last October by Lora O’Brien titled ‘Finding My Path‘. Because my choice to do shadow work was what led me directly to honoring and eventually dedicating to the Irish goddess Macha, who is one of the three Morrigans.¹ So, I thought that it might be good now to write about how I first ‘met’ the Morrigan and my experiences with Them early on, and how that eventually grew into my current honoring of Them.
In late 1999, I had been practicing witchcraft for about 8 years and using a Reconstructionist approach for about 5, and I felt that I had plateaued somewhat spiritually. After reflecting a bit, I came up with the idea of doing some group shadow work with several close friends because I felt that I was in a place where I needed to confront and come to terms with my Shadow self. Of course had I known better I may not have chosen to do what I did, which consisted of choosing a particular negative emotion–fear, anger, etc.–each month and directly confronting it using spiritual Journeywork, ritual, and discussion among the group. But, at the time I was young and idealistic enough to think that it was a great idea – and thus commenced six months of gut-wrenching, emotionally agonizing, soul-bearing effort. It was messy, it was painful, and it ruined one friendship and nearly cost me another. I would later liken the experience to putting my entire life in a blender. In the end, I can say it was worthwhile, because I am certainly a stronger person because of it, but I suspect with more experience or guidance the same thing could have been accomplished with less collateral damage. As is often the case, my approach might best be described as a warning of what not to do rather than a shining example of what to do, although it all worked out well enough eventually.
So, how does this relate to the Morrigan you may be asking? When I had this bright idea to do this Shadow work each person in the group chose a specific deity to focus on during the period of the work, to honor and to go to for guidance as well as to connect to during the Journeywork. One might think of this deity as a divine patron in the old sense. Well, for the first years of my practice of paganism my main focus had been on the Good Neighbors and on the Irish Gods more generally; when I did focus on a specific deity it was usually Danu, Brighid, or the Dagda, for the most part, but none of these felt like the right choice for this sort of thing. Not to me anyway. After much deliberation I decided to reach out to the three Morrigans–Macha, Badb, and Morrigu–feeling that goddesses who could bring death, war, strife, madness, and fear made the most sense to go to to learn strength to face those same things.
I certainly did learn how to find the strength to face my deepest fears, but the way that happened was largely by being forced to face them and push through them head on. I also learned that the three Morrigans are not the gentle hand holding sort but rather more like drill instructors in boot camp – if you’ve signed up to do something then you will be pushed to your limits to get that thing done. At least that was my experience. They were challenging. They were intense. They were unyielding. And yet I found a comfort in their firmness that I hadn’t found with the other Irish Gods who were more gentle and kind, and also more distant. There was an immediacy, a palpable presence to the three Morrigans that was reassuring even when they were tearing me apart. This comforting firmness and feeling of immanence, as odd as it was, drew me to keep honoring Them even when the six months of Shadow work was finished² because for the first time with the Irish Gods I didn’t just believe they were there, but I strongly felt their presence around me.
In the late ’90’s, many people thought it was dangerous to honor the Morrigan (even today some people will still say it shouldn’t be done). I won’t say that I think its an entirely safe thing to do, but then again I don’t think anything in life is entirely safe including crossing the street and driving a car. Often risk brings reward — which is what makes taking risks worthwhile. I did what I did back then without truly knowing who They were, only having what hints could be gleaned from the myths I’d read, like the Tain Bo Cuiligne (Kinsella‘s translation if you’re curious) and what hints and tidbits could be found out about Them in the Neopagan books that were available.
None of that prepared me for the reality.
The truth is They are scary, and They are fierce, and like jumping off a cliff into water I found that once my feet left earth there was no changing my mind there was only embracing the experience and waiting to land. I use that analogy not only because the experience shared many of the same emotions as jumping into water from a height, but because it felt like They took me through a transition from earth to air to sea.
And of course it would turn out that that was only the beginning….
- According to Sanas Cormac, for example (back)
- Finished in theory anyway. It actually took years to complete, far beyond the 6 months we’d planned and put into it, but so it goes sometimes with these things. (back)