The Morrigan is a figure in Irish Celtic mythology who is associated with fate and prophecy. Stories about the Morrigan crop up in several mythological cycles, and her history and precise function are actually a bit confused. In some stories, she is depicted as a vengeance goddess, for example, while in others, she is more closely associated with fertility. In most stories, she is a figure to be feared, reflecting ancient beliefs in Ireland about the power of women.
In some stories, the Morrigan is depicted as a triple goddess, usually with some combination of her sisters Macha, Nemain, or Badb. The Morrigan may also be depicted alone, and she is a shapeshifter. She can appear as a human woman, but she may also appear in the form of a crow or a cow. Crows are associated with death, since they often hover around battlefields, while cows are associated with fertility and farming. These different forms illustrate the many ways in which the Morrigan is viewed.
In most stories, the Morrigan is associated with prophecy and fate. It is implied that the Morrigan has the ability to shape or dictate fate, whether at the battlefield or on the farm. Some researchers have suggested that the Morrigan is actually a goddess of sovereignty, which could explain her conflicting roles in mythology, as she must sometimes go to war to protect the sovereignty of her people. Various versions of the Morrigan were also historically used by separatist groups in Ireland as figures to worship and rally around, supporting this interpretation of the goddess.
The Morrigan's name is also a topic of some interest. It may translate as “Great Queen,” but it could also be “Nightmare Queen” or “Phantom Queen,” depending on which diacritical markings are used on her name. “Phantom Queen” appears to be the truest translation of the early forms of her name, suggesting that she was viewed with awe and fear in the earliest stories about her. Other historians suggest that her name really translates as “Mare Queen,” indicating that she is one of the Horse Goddesses of Irish mythology.
This mythological figure plays a prominent role in the Ulster Cycle, influencing the outcome of events and eventually causing the death of the story's hero, Cúchulainn. She also shows up in several collections of myths from later periods, including Cath Maige Tuireadh and Lebor Gabala Erenn, part of the Mythological Cycle, a collection of Pagan myths from Ireland which includes stories, histories, poems, and songs.