Me, every time I teach a class on The Morrigan: “Badb was known for warning the king when he was screwing up, promising that he and all his men would die if he didn’t change his ways. Do you think he listened?”
Me: “What do you think happens next?”
Students: “They all die!”
Me: “That’s right!”
Badb’s stories are full of stories of powerful people, usually men, ignoring her when she delivers a dire warning. In fact, she is often dismissed and spurned, or seen as a vindictive enemy. But those who ignore Badb are doomed.
In Bruiden Da Choca (“The Destruction of Da Coca’s Hostel”)[i], Badb predicts the violent demise of a king, who has broken many of his sacred taboos. In Celtic Ireland, a king was bound by restrictions which, if violated, were believed to cast him and all of Ireland at risk for devastating consequences. In this myth, Badb is first a “red woman” at a ford washing her chariot, but when she lowered her hands to the water, the river itself became red with blood and gore. She explains, “I wash the horse harness of a king who will perish.” Later in the story, she is described as a “big-mouthed, dark, eager, dusky,” woman, who is lame, squinting with her left eye, wearing a threadbare cloak and covered in soot. Her grey hair falls over her shoulders, her lips are on one side of her head, and she shares a prophecy that there will be more mangled bodies, including “necks without heads.” In the end, the king ignores Badb’s prophecies and is slain. (The following story is an abbreviated version of the longer telling)
Over a lake, an apparition arose….a lone great, stooped, blue-faced, wretched, hunchbacked, grey-toothed, coarse-furred, crooked-nailed, tall, lean, spectral, squinting, watery-eyed, crooked, bent-shanked red hag with shaggy, rough-stranded, garlanded hair rough as heather, red and grey which resembled seaweed with a pile of heads, a load of spoils, and a heap of arms and legs which she scrubbed and firmly washed at the edge of the bank of the lake, so that all the water, its entire course, was full of hair and bloody brains.
When the warriors asked her name, she replied:
“My name is Brónach, meaning Sorrowful, of Burren. and the Tuatha Dé Danann is my noble lineage. This litter is your (men’s) heads, oh noble high king with your (own) head at the very center; for it is not your own, although you wear it. And although you proceed proudly to the site of contention, there is but a short time between you and your misery, for all but a few will be slaughtered.”
When the men tried to attack her, she arose hurriedly with the rush wind and delivered this prophecy of doom: “I tell you, your expedition is lamentable, the course east will bring great calamity.” [ii]
Later in the story, the warriors try to dismiss her as “being just a Badb” before meeting her again, as she washes blood and spoils from armor and fancy, satin clothing. Her warnings went unheeded and the men were slaughtered.
Who are today’s Badbs?
I’m sure you could think of many of them, but the ones that come to mind the most are the climate scientists. It’s said that televised news avoids talk about climate change because ratings drop. References to climate change are banned in some parts of the United States (Florida and South Carolina being two of them), because of fears of property values dropping. Jobs in science are becoming scarce as funding dwindles. Many people in power in numerous countries treat climate scientists as threats to national security or even terrorists. Some scientists are even receiving death threats.
No one wants to hear the words of Badb. But those who dismiss Badb are doomed.
Of course, the news is deeply depressing. It’s made me lose sleep. It’s sent me into depression. It’s made many of my friends wonder if it makes sense to even build a 401K let alone have children. Sometimes we need to take a break and re-binge The Office. But we can’t let that be the constant state of being. Once we catch our breaths, we have to get back into the work.
Remember, Badb doesn’t only relay bad news.
In some stories, she relates great deeds, as she was said to do after the Morrigan announced victory in the Second Battle of Mag Tuired. It’s a reminder not to turn away from the bad news. There is usually hope between the lines if we receive this as a warning and not as a direct fortelling of doom. We don’t want to face apocalypse. It’s preferable to ignore things or even blame the messengers. Perhaps the people in the stories would have not perished if they had heeded the Badb’s warnings and turned away from their mistakes. We can do the same.
Maybe our leaders won’t go far enough, or maybe (like in the USA at the moment), they’ll attack our Badbs. But we can do whatever is possible in our own lives to make the changes that must be made. I have a long way to go, myself. I fly a lot for work and because of my dietary needs, can’t do a vegan diet. But I can walk whenever I am able, avoid fast fashion purchase my food from local sources. Recently, my husband and I let the dandelions grow in our yard to help the local bee population. I counted four species feasting just this week. My methods aren’t a fit for everyone, but there are always things each of us can do.
There are more of us than there are of our leaders and even if they don’t heed the Badbs of our era, we certainly can.
My new book: The Morrigan: Celtic Goddess of Magick and Might is now available for pre-order. However, please order from your local independent bookstore whenever possible.
[i] Translation: Stokes, Whitley. Ed. and trans., ‘Da Choca’s Hostel,’ Revue Celtique, 21. (1900), 157-159.
[ii] Gulermovich Epstein, Angelique. “War Goddess: The Morrigan and her Germano-Celtic Counterparts” (PhD diss., UCLA, 1998), 171