Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The Red Bull and the Morrigan

I see a huge red bull, with long silky hair. I know that he is the focus of an ancient battle.
    I see the warriors of two rival armies clashing together - kilted men swinging killing irons.
    Riding through the field of battle comes an immense dark figure, standing proudly erect in a chariot. She is three women in one. Their bodies are joined. Her chariot is not drawn by horses but races forward, powered by the intention of the War Goddess. Its great wheels are armed with scything blades, that mow down the fighting men like tall grass.
     As the bodies of the slain lie in heaps on the ground, the Morrigan divides into three huge black birds. They soar into the air, then swoop down on the fallen, picking out the eyes, stripping the flesh from the bones. They are separating what rots from what endures.
    When their work is done, they come together and the Goddess shows herself as a single being - a ripe, naked woman wearing deer antlers.
     In this form, she rises above the earth. She glides at tremendous speed from the site of the battle to a mountain whose name is Slievnamun. She shows herself here in yet another form - as a lovely young woman who sits above a natural cauldron, a bubbling spring among the rocks. Here and only here (I am informed) can the dread Morrigan be approached in beneficent human form.

This dawn vision, arising spontaneously in the liminal space between sleep and awake, has been with me since I led a retreat on a sacred mountain twelve years ago. I am posting it now because of my dream of the Scáthach last night. Here is the new report:

Sound of the Scáthach
SCAW-thach. The pronunciation is insistent, and the word is repeated. I know what it means. The Scáthach is the fierce warrior woman who trains the Irish hero Cúchulainn in the arts of war. I have heard her name said differently by contemporary Gaelic speakers (more like "Scath-ath"). Is my dream putting me on the trail of ancient usage, or simply incorporating the accent of whoever was urging me to think about a woman who was deadlier than most of the men around her?    Either way, I've been given a fresh research assignment, the kind that my dreams often give me. I go back to the Red Branch of the Ulster Cycle of Irish mythology and learn that her name means "Shadowy" and that her home on the Isle of Skye was known as the Fortress of Shadows. Her father may have come from Scythia. She becomes a Celtic goddess of the dead, guiding the way for those killed in battle to the desirable Otherworld of Tír na nÓg.

Graphic: Louis le Brocquy, The Morrígan, 1969, lithograph. Illustration for Thomas Kinsella's translation of The Táin.

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