On the Fourth Day of Christmas, my Goddess gave to me…
four colly birds.
First of all, allow me to clarify – the actual term is colly birds, not calling birds. Somehow the word got messed up over the years, and now people tend to sing the song saying “calling birds” rather than the original colly birds. Just what is a colly bird? It’s a blackbird. In England a coal mine is known as a colliery, and colly is a derivation of this – basically meaning “black as coal.”
Being that I have Celtic blood running through my veins from both sides of the family, it is natural that when I thought of goddesses and blackbirds, what came to mind is…
Oftentimes described as a woman wearing a cloak of black feathers, The Morrigan is probably one of the best known of the Celtic goddesses…and also one of the most complicated. She seems to defy a singular definition – or for that matter, a singular name. She’s also gone by Morrigu, Morrighan, Morrigana, amongst others. For that matter, nobody seems to agree on the exact meaning of her name either. Some translate it to mean “mare queen” while others believe it to mean “phantom queen” or “great queen” or even “queen of terror.”
Some view The Morrigan as being one singular goddess, while others see Her as the collective name for a trio of sisters, or at least one of the three. She is sometimes depicted as being multi-faceted, or as being a Triple Goddess, with three different aspects or faces. Most often the triad consists of Macha, Badb, and Nemain; although other names have also been cited, particularly for the third goddess – who has gone by Nemain, Anand, Modron, Fea, and Morrigan herself.
Regardless, The Morrigan is probably the strongest and most enduring of that race of gods and goddesses known as the Tuatha De Danaan – “Children of the Goddess Danu.” As a member of this Celtic pantheon which once ruled over Ireland, The Morrigan is the goddess of battle, fate, magick, and fertility. She is most associated with sovereignty, prophecy, war, and death on the battlefield. She represents the strength of a woman, and the wisdom that the female gender can bring to both battle and home life. The Morrigan is famously responsible for being a weaver of fate, and she would fetter warriors when it was their time to die – it is She and she alone who determines who is to live or die upon the battlefield of glory. Alternatively the Morrigan can bless her chosen warriors, giving them power in battle through magic that is euphoric and energizing.
The Morrigan often manifests in the form of a raven or a crow. These birds represent the knowledge of death and of battlefields, since as carrion feeders both of these black birds would be plentiful during times of war.
Although much maligned by Christianity, which tried to cast her in the role of a succubus, The Morrigan is not to be taken lightly, or trifled with. One should avoid trying to whitewash her as simply a misunderstood aspect of a love and light goddess…for She is anything but. She is the She-Bitch, the sexually-empowered dominant woman, a Divine Feminine of substance and distinct individuality.
Yet for all her darker aspects, The Morrigan can be a powerful symbol for women of their strength and wisdom – of their ability not only to endure and to survive, but to take flight and flourish in the midst of what may seem like insurmountable circumstances. She may indeed be the goddess of death…but she is also a reminder of the life that can be discovered when one faces their own dark fate and embrace it.