Badb: A Goddess of the Morrigan
In the aftermath of ancient battles, black birds would often descend on the battlefield. Shrieking and cawing as they fed on dead flesh, crows and ravens were almost synonymous with casualties.
Sometimes, though, these birds would appear before the battle had even begun. In Ireland, the crow that foretold death and disaster was Badb, an aspect of the Morrigan.
The three war goddesses who made up the collective Morrigan were often interchangeable or poorly-attested. Badb is one of the most often mentioned, though, and her particular skill was in causing panic and fear in the midst of battle.
The forms she took to frighten Irish warriors allowed Badb to live on after the pagan era ended. In later Irish folklore, Badb inspired a figure that continued to foretell doom throughout the Celtic world.
In Irish mythology, Badb is one of the three goddesses collectively known as the Morrigna. The Morrigan, as this collective is usually called in English, can be seen as both a trio of goddesses or as a single being.
Modern scholars sometimes compare the tripartite nature of the Morrigan to the Catholic doctrine of the Holy Trinity. Like this group, the Morrigan is a collection of individual beings that create a singular whole.
To add to the confusion over the Morrigan’s nature, the name is sometimes used for one member of the trio. The three goddesses are most often identified as the Morrigan, Badb, and Macha.
All three are associated with war and death, but Badb most often appears as a portent of future slaughter. In the form of a crow, the animal with which she shares her name, Badb frequently appears on the eve of a battle to presage the bloodshed that is to follow.
At times, she takes on an even more frightening role. In one legend, Badb is named as the goddess who appears as a hag on the day before a battle to foretell the death of High King Conaire Mor.
Badb could also use her powers to sew confusion in battle and spread chaos among troops. Against Queen Medb, for instance, Badb created such a panic that many of the queen’s men fell on their own weapons in a rush to flee.
While she often flew over a battle as a screaming crow or raven, in one particularly chilling episode she screamed from the battlefield itself. Babd cried out from within the dead bodies to strike fear into the surviving troops.
When Badb and her sisters worked together with the full power of the Morrigna, they could do more than cause mortal opponents to flee.
In the battle against the Fir Bolg, the three goddesses of the Morrigan used their magic to make heavy clouds and a rain of fire encompass their enemies. The magic lasted for three days and nights so even those who were not killed by the rain of fire were prevented from resting.
Badb is often associated with, or conflated with, another goddess who is sometimes named as one of the Morrigna. Nemain, the goddess of frenzy, is another Morrigan goddess who is, like Badb, married to the war god Neit.
While Badb is most often the battle crow, or Badb Catha, at certain times she can also be a goddess of victory and peace. After the Tuatha De Dannan’s defeat against the Fomorians, for example, the Morrigan changed their song to one foretelling prosperity for the victorious gods.
Badb is usually translated as the Irish word for a crow, the animal that the goddess often appears as. It can also be related to a word for war, such as the Old Norse boð, suggesting that battle and black birds were virtually synonymous in ancient Europe.
Crows and ravens were associated with war and disaster in many ancient cultures. They often fed from the bodies of the dead and were known to circle over battlefields as blood was shed.
They are also exceptionally intelligent birds, which may have led to their association with prophecy.
Some historians believe that crows and ravens learned to recognize the signs of an impending battle, such as the sight of soldiers assembling in formation or the smells associated with war camps. This allowed them to start gathering before the battle actually began, making it seem as though they could see the future.
The physical appearance of Badb also connected her to prophecy.
While all of the Morrigan goddesses were shapeshifters, Badb was more often named as the goddess in the form of an old woman. This type of figure is a common portrayal of a seeress or goddess of fate.
The Morrigan is often interpreted as an example of the Maiden, Mother, and Crone archetype of goddess trios. In this, Badb is the Crone, the aspect of the collective goddess that symbolizes decay and the inevitability of death.
The associations between both old age and the crow led to the appearance of Badb in later Irish and Celtic folklore.
Badb is usually considered to be the origin of the bean sidhe, or banshee.
Many stories of Badb in Irish mythology feature her screaming, often in the rasping voice of a crow, either before a battle or during it.
This evolved into the shrieking bean sidhe whose screams foretell doom and disaster. Although no longer specifically connected to battle, the bean sidhe’s cry usually portends a death.
In most traditions, the bean sidhe also appears as a shrunken crone, similar to the elderly guise Badb took when foretelling the death of Conaire Mor.
Belief in the Tuatha De Dannan and the old gods was, under Christianity, reduced to folk stories involving mischievous fairies and kings of the past. As the bean sidhe, however, Badb and the Morrigan retained the power to instill fear and panic through their omens of death.
Badb, whose name means “Crow,” was a war goddess of Irish mythology. She was one aspect of the tripartite goddess known as the Morrigan.
As one of the Morrigan, Badb both presided over battle and foretold the fates of those who fought. She sometimes appeared as a crow or old crone to prophecize specific deaths or general destruction.
She also appeared on the battlefield to sew chaos and fear. She caused enemy forces to flee in a panic with her magic and screams.
Badb was inspired by the crows and ravens that were virtually ubiquitous in the aftermath of ancient battles. They were so common at sites of bloodshed, and so skilled at learning the signs of an impending battle, that they sometimes appeared as omens before fighting actually began.
This reputation for foretelling doom through her screams allowed Badb to live on, in a way, nearly into the modern age. Christian-era folklore used characteristics of Badb and the Morrigan in their portrayal of the bean sidhe, a crone-like fae whose screams were an omen of death and disaster.