Harbingers of Death: the Badb

(image above, British Library MS Royal 2 B vii, fol. 130)

The names, ‘the Morrígan’, ‘the Badb’ or ‘Nemain’ (‘Frenzy’), are three names for the same entity, sometimes refering to one tripartite goddess and at other times, to a trio of goddesses. Seeming to delight in the incitement, perpetration and unending death, this goddess is held responsible for bloodshed and violence on the battlefield.  Scholar Lisa Bitel contended that in Irish literature and histories the Badb or Morrígan appeared before ‘an impending battle to shriek at warriors, either to fire them for the fray or terrorize them into defeat and death.’

The utilization of the Badb, would have been a strong literary motif, indicative of a fierce, bloody battle and well understood by an early medieval Irish audience. In these literary accounts, she is generally depicted inspiring fear or courage in warriors before a battle or predicting the death of a specific man in the battle to come, like the Banshee. Badb literally translates to raven or crow, an entity synonymous with this shape-shifting goddess of battle. Within the Cogadh, the Badb bore part of the responsibility for the lack of control and the ferocity of the conflict. This goddess is literally the personifcation of this concept of feminization of violence.

To learn more about these mythological female figures of medieval Ireland and about their role in society please check out the Battle of Clontarf website found here.

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