Samhain – The Tale of Morrigan (Origin of All Hallows Eve)

The hides have been hid and tanned,
the bones have been stacked in a mass,
the night of Samhain has come
when the future is seen through dark glass.

All the fires have been quenched;
time for one last lusty pursuit.
His fire has moved to his loins;
my womb will bear that fruit.

Tonight I see with my “other” eye
and I know that my son will be crowned.
Tonight before dead men can move
my husband must walk around

set burning bonfires of the bones.
His reward that he’ll rule my land.
I’m daughter of the goddess Danu;
my sons will have upper-hand,

will rise to cast off oppressors
in this dreamworld of the damned.
My daughter will straddle the world
when my time of seeing ends.

My mother’s gifts are in a chest
that was built to sail cold seas
A cauldron, A harp, and a spear
For me to use however I please.

I have the skill and the craft
that I once learned from her.
There’s one gift I can bestow
if he needs it, I will know.

The spirits fly through the trees
black birds that bend and bow
I can change to one of these
flying through fires to waters flow.

I am woman of the crow
in the lands of Conmaicne Mara.
From the heavens of faeries and gods
come the tribes of Tuatha de Danaan

Tonight the dead will walk–
the living will hear their sorrow.
Tonight the fires will burn
And I will be human tomorrow.

© Gay Reiser Cannon * 2011

NB – the bones are not of men but stacked up after the slaughter of livestock.  The event was held after the first frost so the meat would last all winter.  The hides were tanned and used for making leather goods.  The crops had been harvested and on the night of samhain the family fires would be put out and dead wood would be set fire in big bonfires to burn all the debris and the bones.

Morrigan (goddess of darkness, shapeshifter)  mated with Dagda (god of light) whom I refer to here. It is unclear from myths just who was married to whom as different myths have different partners. It is consistent that Dagda (sometimes Dhagda) was the father of Bridget.

Advertisements

32 thoughts on “Samhain – The Tale of Morrigan (Origin of All Hallows Eve)

  1. hey – if i wouldn’t know what a lovely woman you are i would be a bit scared after reading this…smiles… never really heard about this tale – halloween isn’t so big over here as it seems to be in the states…so i’ve learned something new and in your poetic voice which makes it a perfect treat…thanks gay

  2. Oh it’s not about me – it’s that “other” thing. I wonder if she was a pre-cursor to Morgana Le Fay in the Arthurian tales. She was a goddess that became Queen of the clan. Whether she married the chieftain or not is unclear but she had magical powers and it was from these tales that many of the customs of Halloween were created. It seemed like good stuff for a poem. Thanks Claudia.

  3. Samhain is still practiced by Wicca or Pagan isn’t it? I think there is so much more to these very ancient rituals than any organised religions stole. Not so sure about sacrifice and such but, as far as being in touch and in tuned with Mother Earth and thankful for her bounty and offerings and such, I go along with all that.
    This is a wonderful piece of work.

  4. Read this recently–a huge myth to take on, Gay. You give an old bardic feel to the rhyming quatrains (is it a pure ballad? feels ballad-y) and some striking images. I’m glad I already have my Samhain sestina mostly done, so you’ll be able to know we were thinking on very similar lines in a few places before I read this. Yours, of course, is much less dark than mine. 😉 I love the final two stanzas most–such magic in the namings. A perfect Halloween appetizer.

    • It is huge. How did you research it? On the web it’s all broken up. I’ve been reading it in bits and pieces all week. Eager to see your sestina.

      I think I wanted it to be a ballad kind of thing. I wrote it between 2 and 4:30 today grabbing time as I can. It’s not polished and I haven’t even looked at meter but it seemed to have some beat as I read it. Thank you.

      • I did most of the research online– and yes there are millions of different sites– a lot of Wiccan ones, some nice Celtic history ones, and the ubiquitous wikipedia. But I recently got my hands on a real book of Celtic Myth (T.W. Rolleston) and am slavering to read it all in one place.

        I think it’s definitely got a ballad feel to it, between the subject and the reinforcing rhyme.

  5. @Daydreamertoo – yes I believe there were four seasonal holidays as things progressed but originally only two–Samhain means Summer Sunset and comes at end of summer and Beltane or Mayday – the lusty month of May as we know from Camelot which may still be celebrated. It is thought in the UK (British Isles) the year was cut in two as those were the most distinct seasons. I believe the Wicca still honor them in the manner you suggest as praising the goodness derived from Earth.

  6. So good, Gay. I’m studying mythology and just recently learned about Danu…now you’ve added to my knowledge with a well-penned poem. It amazes me how many traditions Catholicism adopted from the Celts and how often it seems that all understanding, in the end, merges. Nice lyricism.

    • So much of our Christian information was filtered through those traditions, Victoria. The first translations that ultimately became the King James version were done by Irish Monks who spent their entire lives deciphering pieces of scripture in ancient languages. When they were unclear about meanings or when there were missing parts, it’s now thought, they wove in myths that were part of their own heritage that were similar in thought or story and that way filled in the “holes”.

  7. wow…do you want to come tell tales by the campfire and scare the soul out of all of us…haha..very nicely done gay…you are finding freedom in that other eh? smiles. you capture many very nice details in this…i think i need to go read now…

    sneaks out rubbing arms to get rid of the goose bumps…smiles.

  8. What a great story you tell, the first stanza almost invokes with its intensity. I agree with Brian I would like to have heard this told round the campfire when you know the chill is in the air and your heart. A wonderful step toward Samhain while we here are in the midst of a snowstorm. Your poem made me feel like bundling up and listening close. Joy will get a kick out of this too – I’ve played Morrigan in the RPG Dragon Age (where her powers allow her to shape shifts into animals) so she is alive in the mythic imagination still.

  9. Amazing how you let your mind just free up and take you there… take us there….. Awesome journey into the other side…… where goddess women turn into crows and bear children to mortals……. Where once a year a third eye opens and future can be see through dark glass…….. what an intense tale you tell here Gay…… It’s totally captivating….. I really liked this one, especially how you changed the rhyming scheme through out…. I think mixing it up like that really improves a poem dramatically..

  10. I’ll sit around the campfire with you any time, Gay, and listen to your stories.. altho, this scared the marshmellows off the branch poking in the fire. Good pre-Halloween fare!

  11. You have captured the voice of ancient legend and brought the ‘old one’ into our hearts and mind. I sometimes wonder if we carry strands of memory in our DNA – this is one of those times.

  12. You’ve done your research well and sung it forward with renewing power. I’m fascinated too by the tradition of passing between two fires at Samhain (after every bonfire was lit in a chain, unifying all the clans), as if the Maker’s fire was tandem, had Beltane and Samhain faces. So many female deities enclose in this Morrigan — she who drank the blood of battle — but also Maid Marian of the greenwood marraige and, yes, Mograna la Fay. The power of the feminine was what amped those crossquarter festivals, all of them an exempla of the Goddess in the year’s great round. Lot of fine crannies loaded with impregnate power. I especially liked:

    …. My mother’s gifts are in a chest
    that was built to sail cold seas
    A cauldron, A harp, and a spear
    For me to use however I please…

    But finest is the alms offered for a husband’s well-being; this is reaching way back in order to fare forward: my absolute fave trope. Great job, Gay. – Brendan

  13. I love the Morrigan, so I really enjoyed this.

    I am Wiccan, and we celebrate 8 seasonal festivals these days, including Samhain (which has been corrupted as Halloween). But where I live, in the Southern Hemisphere, it’s Beltane that approaches now.

    I think you have done a fine job of re-telling this legend.

  14. Lovely, lovely, Gay. This mythology IS huge…..and from “The Battle of the Trees, to Cu Chullainn, to Emer, to Lug, to the different tribes. Warriors and Queens…you got a full study!

    This was exciting and scary! Which it should be. Perfect time of the year!

    Tonight the dead will walk–
    the living will hear their sorrow.
    Tonight the fires will burn
    And I will be human tomorrow.

    I was taken back by your words…there is a story telling ritual in Japan, of ghost stories, where these very words appear..mostly. Funny, cultures all embrace that which we can not see, but feel.

    Lady Nyo

    • Wow. I never knew that, but I felt I was channeling “something” as I wrote it. I sometimes have that eerie feeling but I often ignore it as my own superstition or oddity. Reading your comment gave it to me again…I scare myself sometimes. 🙂

  15. from the Tuatha de Danaan ~ shapeshifting ~ and when my time comes
    ‘My mother’s gifts are in a chest
    that was built to sail cold seas
    A cauldron, A harp, and a spear
    For me to use however I please.

    I have the skill and the craft
    that I once learned from her.
    There’s one gift I can bestow
    if he needs it, I will know. ~
    lovely re telling Gay but I also sensed a gathering of energies and empowerment ~ I loved it ~
    Bright Blessing
    Lib x

  16. You’ve done your research well and sung it forward with renewing power. I’m fascinated too by the tradition of passing between two fires at Samhain (after every bonfire was lit in a chain, unifying all the clans), as if the Maker’s fire was tandem, had Beltane and Samhain faces. So many female deities enclose in this Morrigan — she who drank the blood of battle — but also Maid Marian of the greenwood marraige and, yes, Mograna la Fay. The power of the feminine was what amped those crossquarter festivals, all of them an exempla of the Goddess in the year’s great round. Lot of fine crannies loaded with impregnate power. I especially liked:
    +1

  17. very nice poem-myth of Gaelic origins.
    this piece is rich in myth and archetypal figures, that lend to the overall poem its authenticity.
    I love it. good story, good poem, good job.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s