The Magic of the Morrigan: Badb the Battle Crow
The Morrigan is a Celtic Triple Goddess of many roles who appears in a number of guises. She is not a triple goddess in the Wiccan sense of the word, comprised of maiden, mother, and crone aspects. The triplicity of the Morrigan is referring to three sisters: Macha, Badb, and Anu. Entire books have been written about the Morrigan and only serve as an introduction, so I would never do the sisters justice if I wrote about all three in one article, so I will focus on one sister that is very dear to my heart—the sister that tore away my fears, insecurities, and shame, then cried with me as I mourned the loss of my shadow self: Badb.
Pronounced “BAH-v”, Badb means ‘crow’ or ‘one who boils’. She has also been referred to as Badb Catha, or Cath Badb, meaning “battle crow”. The Morrigan is considered a war goddess by some, but really, she is a Goddess of Sovereignty, and each sister played their part in the attribution or revocation of power. Macha bound and enslaved the leaders of her enemies, and Badb would distract the enemy soldiers. Possibly the source of the Irish legend of the Banshee, or Bean Sidhe, she would transform into a crow and fly over battlefields, inciting chaos with her shrill cries. Disoriented and frightened from hearing her shrieks, the soldiers of the Morrigan’s favor would easily cut them down.
The second translation of Badb, “one who boils”, refers to the cauldron in the Otherworld she presided over. The ancient Celts believed that the soul resided in the head and would refer to severed heads as “Masts of Macha”. They believed that Macha would collect the severed heads of battle and bring them to the otherworld. Macha and Badb both would transform into crows, and feed on the flesh of the fallen, carrying their souls to the Otherworld in their bellies. Once the soul reached the other side, they would encounter Badb as a kindly old crone, bent over a large cauldron. She would ask them if they wanted to be reborn, or if they wanted to dwell in the Otherworlds. Were they to choose to be reborn, they would climb into the cauldron. Badb would peer into the glassy water, and see a woman deliver a new baby, or an animal delivering a litter. Celts believed in transmigration, which is the belief that a soul could be reborn as a human or an animal.
Badb is a Seeress and was cited several times delivering prophecies. She appeared to Donnchadh O’Brian at the battle of Corcomroe Abbey in 1317, warning him of his coming death. She told Queen Maeve to rally her troops because Conchobar’s men would kill her son. She appeared in King Conchobar’s dreams, revealing to the king of Ulster the conflict of the Cattle Raid of Cooley, many years before it began, giving him the opportunity to avoid the devastating war. If you read my hub The Magic of the Morrigan: Mighty Macha, you would know that this is the war in which Macha’s curse on the Ulster men left the entire army incapacitated, allowing the opposing soldiers to slaughter them mercilessly.
Although we don’t have cattle raids or have to worry about neighboring clans stealing your food or livestock or trying to lay claims to your land, the Cath Badb is just as powerful an ally today as she was thousands of years ago. Whether you are actually facing combat, squabbling with a nemesis, or even having issues at work, call upon the Battle Crow. She can show you how to confuse the enemy, or she can help you perform divination seeking the best plan of action.
Washer at the Ford
Badb appeared to many as the Washer at the Ford. She would be seen at river fords, washing bloody clothes belonging to the onlooker, warning him or her of their demise. Her guise as the Washer today has a different goal. She is sometimes shrouded, with bone white skin. When I’ve done journey work with the Washer, her hair is black as night, clinging to her face neck and shoulders in wet matted clumps. Her hands, bone and thin, were elongated, her fingers blackened, curved and sharp like the claws of a bird. She uses those claws to tear into you, revealing your vulnerabilities. She tears away at your hard exterior, ripping and shredding until you collapse into the cool river, bleeding and weak. As the water washes over you, you feel yourself begin to heal, to reshape. When you stand you are stronger, taller, leaner. She removes the parts of yourself that you bury deep. When you pack things so tight, that were it coal it’d become a diamond, it does not go away. It weighs you down and prevents you from moving forward in life. She will rip those parts out of you and will mourn with you as you feel the pains of those traumas all over again. She will wail in heartbreak and you feel the stabs of betrayal all over again. When I first approached the Washer, she was much taller than I, and like I said, had a frightening appearance. When I finally released the horrors of my past, she reached out a hand to help me stand. Instead of the claws that tore at my back a few moments ago, it was a soft tan hand that firmly grasped mine. When I stood, she and I were the same height. She had long, flowing silky black hair, a tan muscular body. Her eyes were almost as black as her hair, but they were warm and sparkling. She flashed a smile with beautiful white teeth that said, “See now, it wasn’t that bad”.
white, red, dark blue
juniper, holly, Solomon's seal
new moon, waning moon
dusk, winter, fall
Badb may be called upon for protection, to teach you about past lives, to see the future, to release bad habits or shameful secrets that are gnawing on your soul. She teaches us about death and destruction, as well as healing and rebirth. The best time to channel her energies is during the new or waning moon, as she can be considered a crone. She and her cauldron are within Avalon, the land of the dead. Avalon means Isle of Apples, so apples are an excellent offering to Badb. To connect to her guise as the Washer, dark red wine—or another drink resembling blood—is one of her favored offerings. As I said in my hub The Magic of the Morrigan: Shedding Light on the Dark Goddess, these are only suggestions and you should communicate with the goddess about what to offer her.
Blood offerings are often provided to Badb. And before you freak out, by blood offering I am referring to a few drops of blood dabbed on a statue of her or dripped into the offering dish. To offer blood is to offer your life source, the essence of yourself. It is an excellent way to show your immense gratitude. If this is something you are considering, please be safe and clean about it. Wash your hands thoroughly, then use an alcohol swab or betadine to clean the area first, then use a lancing device to draw a few drops of blood. They can be purchased at any pharmacy—they are sterile and get the job done. Please do not try to dramatically slice your hand with your blade. You could really hurt yourself and could get an infection because the blade isn’t sterile. After I had my incredibly moving experience with Badb, I offered her a clipping of my hair. Despite being able to give myself stick and poke tattoos, I couldn’t bring myself to get one of those devices to stab my finger. But anyone who knows me knows it is a big deal for me to cut a couple inches of my hair off—even if it was from a part of my head where it would go unnoticed. I probably spend more on hair products than I do on shoes, clothes and other toiletries combined. It’s my best feature, and I love it. To offer her something that I consider to be a part of what makes me me, something that I cherish and something that makes me feel confident, showed her how much I appreciated her help. When it comes to devotional work, it is not so much what you do, but the manner in which you do it.
Chooser of the slain,
ferrier of souls,
Crow Goddess come!
Badb, Badb, Badb!— Stephanie Woodfield -Celtic Lore & Spellcraft of the Dark Goddess (p. 72-73)
Alexander, S. (2018). Find Your Goddess: How to Manifest the Power and Wisdom of the Ancient Goddesses in Your Everyday Life. Avon, MA: Adams Media.
Woodfield, S. (2011). Celtic Lore & Spellcraft of the Dark Goddess: Invoking the Morrigan. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Publications.
Woodfield, S. (2017). Dark Goddess Craft: A Journey Through the Heart of Transformation. Woodbury MN: Llewellyn Publications.
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© 2018 Amanda Wilson