For Meán Fómhair, I have a tradition.
The ritual is always the same, whether I celebrate with others or in solitude. We (or I) paint ourselves with symbols and dance with weapons in honor of the Morrigan.
Her name has been rendered as “Great Queen” and “Phantom Queen”; both are true. In some respects, she is the Irish Kali Ma, the death-bringer and devourer, the dancer at the funeral ground, the slayer of cocky heroes, the carrion crow. Sometimes, she is considered the same as Badb (“bahv,” the battle crow), Anu, the horse and sovereignty goddess Macha (whom I worship separately, and not as part of the Morrigan), and Nemain, who is associated with battle-frenzy and panic, but who may have originally been the protector-goddess of groves, Nemetona.
My personal relationship to the Morrigan is … conflicted, which is appropriate, one imagines, for a goddess of conflict. It would be easy to adopt the Christian stance and say such as goddess must be evil, the same stance of the lily-white Westerner viewing an image of Kali garlanded with severed heads and belted with severed arms. Violence, death, war — are these not evils?
And what is evil, indeed? The common quip is that it’s “live” spelled backward. Dictionary.com lists its proto-Indo-European root as upelo, meaning “overreaching bounds,” in the sense of uppity folks. Evil is that which crosses boundaries, turning the order of the world — what the Vedic Indians called rta and the Irish (according to Aedh Rua) an fhírinne, the Cosmic Law — into chaos.
And the Morrigan is, in many senses, the bringer of chaos — the Red Woman who tricks you into breaking your geasa,or vows, ensuring your destruction. But in a sense, you bring that chaos on yourself by being uppity, overreaching bounds — what the Greeks would call hubris, which means “insolence.”
Her chaos and death-bringing do more than destroy heroes. She is the force that defeats the Fomhoire, the elder gods from the sea, giving the victory to the Tuatha De Danann. She chants a prophecy describing a golden age of prosperity followed by the inevitable end of the world, when the social and natural order breaks down into chaos, suffering, dissolution. As translated by Whitley Stokes:
On the surface, the devolution into chaos seems like the very definition of evil. But it’s also a part of the natural cycle, akin to the plants breaking down in the compost bin, providing fertilizer for the next round of life. And so, I think of the Morrigan as the dancer of chaos, breaking apart order through death, pain and challenge. I associate her not only with order-disrupting violence and war, but with more mundane processes: digestion and excretion (yes, shit), decay, compost. She’s the Divine Composter, and I don’t mean that in a sacrilegious sense.
She is a force to be reckoned with, and not avoided; avoiding her just makes the situation worse for you, ultimately. In ogham terms, she is h’uath, terror, the teeth of the wolf, the surgeon’s blade. And so, each year I swallow my ambivalence and show her my respect. Love is more difficult, but I’m working on that — and am honest about my deficiency in that quarter. We’ll start with respect and the seed of understanding, and work from there.