Macha

Macha

“Macha, that is a crow; or it is one of the three Morigna, that is Mach and Badb and Morrigan. Whence Mesrad Machae, Macha’s mast, that is the heads of men after their slaughter. As Dub Ruise said: there are rough places yonder, where men cut off Macha’s mast; where they drive young calves into the fold; where the raven-women instigate battle…”

     — (Trinity H.3.18)

The name “Macha” can be translated as Pasture, Field or Plain, which clearly link this particular guise of the Morrigan to the land as well as giving possible associations to Horse Goddesses, such as Epona and Rhiannon. Macha is a strong woman who is an early champion for the freedom and power of the female species, clearly showing her own superiority to the male of the species when she is challenged to do so. The Celts believed that the soul of a person resided in their heads, thus they would cut the heads of men slaughtered in battle and parade them atop of long poles to show their victory over their enemies. Macha instigates war, she uses words and sounds to encourage the battle and also claims her dues, being the heads of the best warriors, when the fighting is done.

Like Badb, Macha is in herself also seen as a triple Goddess. She is described as having three different forms when she manifests in semi-divine form to mortals. She is Nemedh (The Sacred One) when she appears as the prophetess foretelling the destruction of the country, which would be wrought in the Tain conflict. Her husband named a plain after her when she died of a broken heart having foreseen the terrible devastation, which would be wrought there in future.

She is also the divine, yet mortal bride of Crunnchu, a wealth farmer. When they marry she brings him great prosperity and fertility for his crops. She does warn him to never boast about her to anyone, but of course Crunnchu disobeys this warning and boasts that his wife could easily outrun the King’s horses. Upon hearing about this the King has Crunnchu locked up in prison and the only way for Macha to save her husband is to race against the King’s horses at the race during the great Ulster Assembly. This she does whilst being pregnant, having first begged all concerned to let her first deliver her children with the words “a mother bore each one of you”. When she is forced to run she warns them that she would curse Ulster for what they were doing to her. She wins the race, giving birth to twins as she does so, also dying in childbirth. With her dying breath she cursed the Ulstermen with the “ces noinden” making them as weak and helpless as a woman in childbirth for five days and four nights whenever their strength was needed most, a curse which would last for nine generations.

This race against horses further suggests that she might have been seen as a Horse Goddess, especially when combined with other bits of lore. For example Cu Chulainn’s horse was called “The Grey of Macha”.

Macha is also depicted as “Macha Mongruad” (Macha of the Red Tresses) in the founding tale of Emain Macha (The twins of Macha). In this she again shows her dominion over men who sought to deny the sovereign right of women guarding the land. Being challenged by the five sons of Dithorba, she visits them disguised as a leper whilst they were feasting following a hunt. Even though she appeared in this unbecoming guise, each of the men desired her. Macha Mongruad slept with each of the men in turn, turning them into her slaves and forcing them to build a stronghold which was named after her.

The Prophecy
“Peace to the sky, sky to the earth,
earth to the sky, strength in each;
a cup very full, full of honey,
honour enough, summer in winter;
spear supported by shield,
shields supported by forts,
forts fierce eager for battle,
fleece from sheep, woods full of stags,
forever destructions have departed,
mast of trees, a branch drooping down,
drooping from growth
wealth for a son, a son very learned
neck of bull in yoke, a bull from a song
knots in woods, wood for a fire
fire as wanted
palisades new and bright
salmon their victory, the Boyne their hostel
hostel with an excellence of size
new growth after spring
in autumn horses increase
the land held secure
land recounted with excellence of word
Be might to the eternal much excellent woods
peace to sky be this nine times eternal.”

“I shall not see a world that will be dear to me.
Summer without flowers, cows without milk,
Women without modesty, men not brave,
Conquests without a king.
Woods without mast, fishless seas,
Bad judgments by old men,
False precedents of the lawgivers.
Every man a betrayer, each son a robber,
The son will enter his father’s bed
The father also in the bed of the son,
A brother becomes his own brother-in-law!
None will look for a woman outside his own house.
O evil time, deception, deception.
~~Cath Maige Tuired.

Crow
“Who is stronger than hope? Death.
Who is stronger than the will? Death.
Stronger than love? Death.
Stronger than life? Death.
But who is stronger than death? Me, evidently.
Pass, Crow.”
~~Ted Hughes


 

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