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The Morrigan and Herbalism

Gut instinct says that this is worth promoting from the comments in the previous post, as to get a broader scope of input from the community.

It has been postulated that the Morrigan can be connected with herbalism, and kathhazel and I have been discussing this with the former asserting the positive and I the negative. So as not to misconstrue anyone's intention or meaning, I'm not making any sweeping editorial parsing past the initial statements. I'd really like to see what evidence others can find in the lore (or traditions, for that matter) either supporting or refuting the postulate. There's probably a significant amount of material with which I'm unfamiliar or which is simply beyond my ken- I'm decidedly not the scholar to whom I'd aspire to be.
To keep the threads clear, I'll offset my comments with doubled dashes.

--Where in the lore is An Mhòr Righan connected to herbalism?
1) The Book of Leinster clearly states:

"Ernmas had other daughters, Babd and Macha and Morrigu (Morrighan), whose name was Anand." verse 64, R.A.S. MacAllister, Lebor Gabala Erren (Dublin: Irish Texts Society, 1956)

"Morrighan, contrary to later tales, enters the myths as a goddess of the earth and of the land, which is not surprising for a daughter of a fertile mother goddess and a sister of three goddesses of Irish sovereignty."

2) "She uses magic to confuse the battle-hardened, making her allies thick with battle frenzy."

(above quotes and citation from: Goddess Alive! Inviting Celtic and Norse Goddesses into your life.)

As a goddess of the Earth and fertility, her realm would naturally have included plants, although she is better known in the later tales for her herd of Otherworldly cattle. (The book of Leinster being the earliest to be set down and sections of it (by language analysis) date back to the 5th century.)

As a Goddess of Magic, herbs in their magical form would have been associated with her. The healing herbs fell to Brighid, however, with the triple nature of the early Irish Goddesses and the changing of names in the later tales, they may well be two aspects of the same goddess.

--As a goddess of the Earth and fertility, her realm would naturally have included plants, although she is better known in the later tales for her herd of Otherworldly cattle.

--I'd contest that An Mhór Righan fits the Dumézilian archetypes of Sovreignty, the warrior caste, and the magical one; but don't see any real connection with the fourth function- aside from the association with cattle, which really is more a manifestation of the power of ownership, and thus an indication of sovreignty.

--Where is the lore indicative of Her associations as "a goddess of the earth and of the land," or where have reputable Celtic Studies scholars accorded these to her- not to impugn Michelle Skye, but her approach is definitely Wiccan-influenced (by her own admission) and she does not appear to have any particular qualification as an authority on Celtic Studies.

"The manner of naming places for deities, moreover, is also significant. In the case of the Morrigan, an equation seems to be made between the body of the goddess and the contours of the earth (cf. Figure 11.1). That the female is implicatedin landscape formation is further suggested by the identification of two of the areas hills as 'Comb and Casket of the Dagda's wife' (Stokes 1894:292-3). The indications are, therefore, that the Morrigan is identified with the feminized earth. Furthermore, we find that other Irish place names are designated by their nomenclature as her property or place of frequentation (see Hennessy1870:54-5; Hogan 1910: 448,493). Thus, the 'Great Queen' of the supernatural world appears to have the attributes of a goddess of the land." The concept of the Goddess by Sandra Billington, Miranda Green.

Being influenced by Wicca does not make anyone a bad authority on mythology, folklore and legend.....

Dr. Green, on the other hand, is a well respected academic who specialises in the role of women in Celtic society, myth and religion.

--OK, now we're getting somewhere, and are approaching solid discussion. Thank you.

--We have from the Lebor Gabála Érenn:
--"Badb and Macha and Anand, of whom are the Paps of Anu in Luachar were the three daughters of Ernmas the she-farmer."
--and again, later in the LGE:
--"Badb and Macha, greatness of wealth, Morrigu--
--springs of craftiness,
--sources of bitter fighting
--were the three daughters of Ernmas"

--so we can 'close the loop' and draw the conclusion that Anand and the Morrigu are the same entity, so Dhá Chíoche Dhanann- the Paps of Anand- follow logically, but these structures aren't (at least entirely) natural- they're funerary cairns, as are Dá Cích na Mórrígna near Newgrange. Then we have the cave of Cruachain- which is clearly a transitionary area to the Otherworld (a sidhe-door, anyone?).

--I guess what I'm getting at, really, is that when there is a connection with the earth, it's in the context of Sovreignty, or the after-life/Tír na nÓg, or the Otherworld.

--I still don't see a connection with herbalism. What am I missing in the lore?


( 21 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 12th, 2009 12:25 pm (UTC)
As for me, I cannot see the connection of Morrigan and herbalism either.
Sep. 12th, 2009 12:54 pm (UTC)
I don't see that you're missing anything. I think that the connection with herbalism is a modern projection onto Her, made by people uncomfortable with Her fundamental nature, or by people who want to practice a conventional sort of herbs-and-crystals neo-paganism, but who also want the "OOOH! Spooky/Scary!" effect of claiming the Morrigan as a patron.

In the more than thirty years since I first came into contact with Her, She has never evidenced the least concern with herbs.
Sep. 12th, 2009 03:24 pm (UTC)
Sep. 12th, 2009 03:45 pm (UTC)
In my limited experiences I also agree. Your reading selection seems to validate that, what about hers?
Sep. 15th, 2009 01:57 am (UTC)
Most of those quotes were mine if you check the original post.
"As a goddess of the Earth and fertility (etc.)"
"The manner of naming places for deities(etc.)"

...and by the last comment is missing also.

If a discussion is to be started, should it not start out with people being quoted correctly?

I don't think that the modern historical re-examining of the Morrigan is in any way detrimental, in fact, considering that the original texts were laid down by male monks trying to vilify female pagan deities (the various gods and heros could simply be absorbed) , it can only bring a fuller and more accurate view to the proceedings.

It is quite clear that Ernmas' daughters all sprang from the land, their mother, so I really don't see why there is an issue here......unless you want to stick to the masculinised, Christian 'view' of all things Pagan....?

I come from a family with Celtic ancestry (both Scottish and Irish), in an unbroken line for as long as the village I was brought up in had existed, and although the Morrigan was primarily warlike, her magical side was always taught as including herbs. This may be peculiar to my line alone, it may not.....whichever, there is always more than one viewpoint to a subject ;)
Sep. 15th, 2009 03:22 am (UTC)
I am certainly not uncomfortable with Her nature, nor am I a practitioner of 'herbs-and-crystals neo-paganism', I follow a 'Native British' matriarchal family tradition, with a mixed pantheon of what are now seen as Irish, Scottish and 'pre-Roman invasion Celtic' deities [I have also had dealings with Egyptian and Norse deities on occassion] :)

I use 'Native British' as a term because the terms Celt, Pict etc. are not the original names, but those given at later dates by various historians from the Roman invasion of Britain onwards. Even 'Britain' is a Roman mistranslation of 'Pritain', but that would just end up confusing everyone ;)

The use of herbs in my tradition is paramount. I started learning what plants, herbal and other, I could and could not safely touch in my Grandmothers garden as soon as I started to walk, possibly before, as I don't remember a time when I couldn't identify them all. Herbal and other traditional uses were taught, passed from Grand-mother to Grand-daughter for as long as anyone could remember.

Local quartz/ite was often used for charms and decoration (naturally forming into 'dog tooths'), being in abundance in the landscape and easily available, so the use of plants and native stones is no new thing, sorry to disappoint.
Sep. 12th, 2009 01:57 pm (UTC)
Can I have the titles of the works you've referenced please by Stokes and Hogan? Id like to add them to my reading list.
Sep. 15th, 2009 02:02 am (UTC)
I don't have a copy of the book to hand to check (I borrowed it and it has been returned), but I think the references will be found in the Irish Texts Society in Dublin. They would certainly be a good place to start.

Hope this helps :)
Sep. 15th, 2009 12:02 pm (UTC)
Is that a website or will I have to go across the water myself?
Sep. 30th, 2009 08:27 pm (UTC)
You could try google?

Sorry I'm in the middle of dealing with a large family and swine flu, so don't have time to look things up.
Sep. 12th, 2009 06:26 pm (UTC)
Hi, i work with both herbs and chrystals and see nothing strange with adding that into my devotion and rituals to Her honor. I mean c´mon herbs have always been their, of course they old ancient celts used it in food medicine for trance. Even if they didn´t´, who knows? I feel that the herbal magic and making my own herbal medicine is very ancient.
Sep. 12th, 2009 07:35 pm (UTC)
of course they old ancient celts used it in food medicine for trance.

And you know this precisely how? Given that we have exactly NO contemporaneous written records from Celtic sources, almost all of what we know of the details of Celtic society consists of contemporaneous comments from non-disinterested outsiders mixed with a great deal of educated guesswork.

There's naught wrong with adding the use of herbs and crystals to your devotional work, if you find that it enhances your relationship with Her. Just as long as you never lose sight of the fact that it IS a modern addition, and not something reflected in the limited historical record.
Sep. 12th, 2009 07:47 pm (UTC)
I agree, but if there aren´t any texts about how can be so sure they didn´t use it, and why on earth would the ancient celts tell outsiders about it. I don´t get it, why is it so important what is saying in the history which isn´t written by the celts but by outsiders. And The Morrigan has said She likes some kinds of herbs like cinnamon, roses, vervain and I use it as offering to Her with a few drops of my own blood. I do what I wanna do, use what I want which isn´t from animal kingdom, no matter what happened in the history, sorry.
Sep. 12th, 2009 09:45 pm (UTC)
And The Morrigan has said She likes some kinds of herbs like cinnamon, roses, vervain and I use it as offering to Her with a few drops of my own blood. I do what I wanna do, use what I want which isn´t from animal kingdom, no matter what happened in the history, sorry.

No one's saying that you shouldn't do that to which you feel called, but the discussion is about what the lore and traditions document.

Obviously, it's not possible to prove a negative, but that hasn't ever been the intent. We have some documented cases where herb-craft is attributed- Airmid, for instance, has a distinct connection to healing through use of herbs. We've yet to see any substantiated connection with the Morrigan.
Sep. 15th, 2009 02:48 am (UTC)
It is true we have no contemporary celtic records, because they had an oral tradition. Emphasis was put on memory and accumulation of knowledge. Nothing was written down before the Romans turned up (with the possible exception of the odd name in ogham)and the majority of the acknowledged writings are of Christian origin, so how can you argue that these are correct?

Woad is easily absorbed by the skin and can be used as a carrier for other substances which have various effects, as well as being used as an astringent in its unprocessed, non-indigo, form. {sorry can't remember the colour}

Modern scholars are taking a fresh look at the material and some are altering their viewpoints on much of it. By comparing how Christianity has maligned every native faith it comes across, and applying the same patterns to accepted interpretations/monastic writings, it is possible to reconstruct a model which is likely to be closer to the truth than that written down by the monks.

There is not a culture out there (to my knowledge) which has not used plants and herbs for both healing and magical purposes throughout their history and they are often one and the same drug. Today we use 'spiritual' instead of magical in many cases, but the use is often still the same as it has been over the millenia. (incense, charms etc.)

I think it is naive to think that our ancestors did not use every means at their disposal to aid them, and knowing the human prediliction for all things intoxicating throughout our written and oral histories do you not think you may be missing something?
Sep. 15th, 2009 04:40 am (UTC)
I agree that it's logical to infer that the Pagan Celts made use of herbs in the way that you describe. We know too that they understood fermentation enough to make beer and mead. It's not a great leap to go from flavoring beer to discovering that eating those mushrooms will make you have visions.

But I challenge you to show me anything in the textual material we DO have that explicitly associates An Mhor Riogain with herbalism. I don't think it's there. And anytime your chain of reasoning has more than one "if," in it, your hypothesis needs more work.

There's nothing wrong with deliberate, considered attempts to reconstruct practices that were possible for the pre-Roman Britons and Irish, as long as we do not try to pretend that these attempts are not modern. Saying that "The old Irish could very well have done this in this way" is a far cry from asserting that "we're doing this in precisely the same way our pagan ancestors did it." The former is supportable, the latter is not. And whether or not you intend it, the attitude that your responses convey is more of the latter than the former.

I am Wiccan by training, and An Mhor Rhiogain is not one of the deities Whom I look to on a regular basis. But I was a soldier for more than 24 years, and for more than 30 years I have had Her leave to call upon Her if I felt there was need. She has been a presence in my life since well before I consciously knew myself to be pagan. Based on my own experiences, I believe that one, if not several, of your premises is seriously flawed. But that's the problem with experience gained by personal gnosis, isn't it: it cannot be easily shared.

Sep. 30th, 2009 08:51 pm (UTC)
we're doing this in precisely the same way our pagan ancestors did it.

...the thing is, some people still are. There are many isolated comunities that have a very thin veneer of Christianity, but the practices are the old ways. I am not trying to claim that they are identical, far from it, however no lasting belief system is truly static, even though the changes may be very slow and very slight over the years.

I come from such a family and was simply giving the viewpoint of my experiences.

I have trained in Gardnerian Wicca, but have also worked with Alexandrian and Eclectic mixed covens and although they all spring from the same roots, there are many differences as well as many similarities. There are also similarities with Freemasonry and Druidry, but this is hardly surprising as the founding mothers and fathers of these groups were familiar with each others work and were all influenced by ideas prevailing at the time of their formations.

I have seen many faces of the Goddess, not just the Morrigan, who was Morgain or Morgana to the mainland Celts (as Bride/Brigid was to Brigantia) and from speaking to many people have found that our personal interpretations of our meetings with our Gods and Goddesses can differ greatly. It is a fascinating area to study if you have the time, patience and open-mindedness required for the task.

Conclusions have ranged from simple to highly complex, dependant upon many things, the main factor being 'degree of enlightenment' or how far upon your personal path you are.

I have found that we are often chosen by our major deities, rather than the other way around and that the Deity shows the 'face' that we will best respond to. I have not needed Morgain in her warlike form, but I have needed her strength of Sovereignty, her magical prowess, her cunning and her direct knowledge of the land of which she is Sovereign Lady. This is why I accept that she has a link with herbs, as she has shown me how to work with them on several occasions. Yes, personal Gnosis is dificult to communicate adequately on many levels.

I have not had time to go hunting for references and shit, I have had my family down with swine flu and haven't had the time.
Sep. 15th, 2009 12:09 pm (UTC)
We may not have textual evidence that the Celts used botanical medicine, and that for religious worship, but it seems that if we have evidence from Neolithic peoples before them, and Anglo Saxons after them, it would be strange if they didn't heal themselves with pharmacopaea. Isolated groups in the Celtic world used herbal knowlege; Irish immigrants to the Adirondack mountains, near me in Cape Breton and on South Uist in Scotland.
Sep. 15th, 2009 05:10 pm (UTC)
Again, I agree that it's reasonable to expect the use of herbal preparations among the Celts. What is not reasonable is to assert that a specific Irish deity was the patron deity of such practices absent any evidence dupporting the assertion.

There's nothing wrong, either, with stating that modern pagan religious practice suggests that herbs abd herbal preparations can be successfully included in the worship of that deity, as long as no attempt is made to obscure the fact that this is a modern construct. But that modern usage cannot be used to "prove" that the ancient Irish did it that way.
Sep. 30th, 2009 09:22 pm (UTC)
The ancient irish were only one seventh of the celtic peoples.....the others are:

Scottish, British, Manx, Welsh, Cornish and Breton(gauls), although the British are normally left off the list due to there being so little evidence left.

...and I was not trying to prove anything, just giving an opinion originally, until it was given it's own thread......

It is interesting to note that the final comment I put on the original post was not included, I will re-state it briefly...

"Badb and Macha, greatness of wealth, Morrigu--
springs of craftiness,
sources of bitter fighting
were the three daughters of Ernmas"

In this sense 'springs' are physical landscape features. Goddesses have been associated with particular wells/springs and watersources for millenia, some even retain a form of their original(or near original) names. The Morrigan, along with her sisters, is refered to in this fashion for a reason, a Goddess could not be Sovereign of the land without being a part of the land.
Sep. 13th, 2009 03:37 pm (UTC)
I have nothing to add other than this is a very interesting question and I look forward to reading more commentary here about it.

Thank you for bringing this up!
( 21 comments — Leave a comment )


an Mhor Rioghain :: The Morrigan

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