Deity, Discussion, Pagan, Paganism

On War Deities: Athena and the Morrigan

I’ve been thinking a great deal about deities and their domains, or designations, or whatever you’d like to call them. Part of this was because I worked out a fictional set of religions for my NaNo novel back in November, and I’m still working out what it means for each deity to rule over what they do. I have four deities total, deities of Life, Death, Beauty, and War. Except, those aren’t really all those deities are, or all they mean.

The goddess of Death is also the goddess of mystery, the sea, and inevitability. The goddess of Beauty is also the goddess of compassion, art, and love. The god of War is also the god of protection, justice, and law.

The god of Life gives me the most trouble. He is also the god of the sun, of fire, and of prophecy. I think the association of Life with the sun and fire is an obvious one, as both of these things are life-giving. But prophecy? Why that? For one, because it will serve the story. But that isn’t good enough as the only reason. There must be a genuine connection that makes real sense.  I haven’t made one yet, but I’m sure I will. (Honestly, it could only be that in my mind, I’m associating him with Apollo. Why is Apollo god of both the sun and prophecy? Hmmmm.)

As I thought about these things, about why each deity in my fictional world reigns over what they do and how those things connect, I began to think about our real-world deities, and how their seemingly disparate bailiwicks aren’t really all that disconnected.

Specifically, I thought about the war goddesses Athena, and the Morrigan. This may have been because of a certain blogger’s certain post about the Morrigan from a few months back. No, I won’t link. If you know what I’m talking about, then you don’t need the link. If you don’t, well, said blogger will not be getting any traffic from my blog. (Besides, from what I can tell, he’s mostly been behaving himself recently.) Let’s just say that he said some ill-formed things about the Morrigan that obviously came from someone who knows her only as a war goddess, and obviously has little understanding of nuance.

I thought about these two goddesses in their aspects as war goddesses, but also thought about their other accepted domains, and how those might connect with their associations with war.


Disclaimer: I am neither Hellenist, nor Celtic Recon or Druid. So if I have a rudimentary understanding of these goddesses, please forgive. I still think my thoughts are interesting, even if they may not be wholly correct.

The Morrigan

I am a Tarot reader, and a storyteller, and during the best readings these things merge and I am both, and a good Tarot reading becomes a story about that person and their situation.

The Morrigan is associated with war, but she is also associated with sovereignty. Which is interesting when you merge these two concepts together. Fuse “war goddess” with “sovereignty goddess,” and you might come up with something like a goddess who concerns herself with battles of sovereignty; who is the true king, who is the one with true sovereignty over the land? To me, this translates not as a blood-thirsty goddess who loves war for its own sake, but a goddess who uses war as a tool to see that the right person is crowned to rule the land. And, conversely, to see that the wrong person is deposed. This speaks to me of a goddess who loves her land, her people, and those who would rule over both well and wisely. It is not about war for war’s sake, it is war for a purpose, and one that will be beneficial to the land and all who live in it, once it is done.

To me, this is a more complex reading of the Morrigan’s purpose and concerns, and it’s still only covering two aspects of her associations.

Athena

With Athena, I mostly thought about her aspects of war goddess, and goddess of wisdom. To me, this was even more interesting than the Morrigan and war/sovereignty.

What does it mean that Athena is both the goddess of war, and wisdom?

To me, it says that Athena is not only the goddess of war itself, but of being wise enough to know when war is necessary and when it is not.

War is not always necessary. Yet, sometimes it is; wisdom is knowing which it is at any given time. Wisdom is knowing when and how to negotiate. Wisdom is knowing when to keep fighting, and when to surrender. Wisdom is knowing that sometimes war is the only available solution, but sometimes the costs of war outweigh the benefit (I happen to think the costs always outweigh the benefits, even in a necessary war, but I am not a war or wisdom goddess).

Compare this to Ares, god of war, and representative of all of war’s horrors. Theoi.com describes Ares as “nothing but the personification of bold force and strength, and not so much the god of war as of its tumult, confusion, and horrors” (http://www.theoi.com/Olympios/Ares.html). If I remember correctly, Ares is often depicted as something of a fool, often conquered by higher powers than he (something which contributed a great deal to later portrayals of the character of Ares in Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess). Ares is war without wisdom. Cruel and rash, he is the opposite of Athena, thought they nominally hold dominion over the same territory.


I suppose my point in all of this is that one shouldn’t take one attribute or association of a deity and assume they know everything there is to know about said deity. Trying to do so is dangerously simplistic, and can lead to misunderstanding what a deity is really all about, or what they stand for.

I only looked at two aspects of the goddesses I highlighted in this post, and doing so already gives me a deeper understanding of them both. Imagine what depth could be found looking at the connections and stories between more, or all, of their associations. Some would be more difficult to do; in my research about Yemaya, I have learned that in La Regla Lucumi/Santeria, Yemaya and all the orisha occupy a collection of caminos, or roads, which act to embody everything these divine spirits are or can be; each orisha has their own set of caminos, giving each and every one of them a profundity that is awe-inspiring. I can imagine it is the work of a lifetime to study and fully comprehend the full depth of even one orisha. If truly comprehending them is even possible.

But then, that’s what we’re doing anyway, isn’t it? As polytheistic Pagans, or Polytheists—of whatever tradition, or path—we strive to understand these entities to which we have chosen to tie our lives. As a polytheistic Pagan who does believe in the literal existence and independent agency of the gods, I know that learning the nature of any single deity from any pantheon is a lifetime’s worth of work.

And  I know I’ve only just begun.

—Celestine

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5 thoughts on “On War Deities: Athena and the Morrigan”

  1. My rule of thumb is to think of Them thusly: we’d be pretty boring if we only had 1 thing we did. Look at the people around you. My friend is a polyglot who speaks several languages, married, she loves to cook from scratch, paint, has studied varioys martial arts and mainlines coffee. I am an avid bibliophile, photography enthusiast, mother to two adorable kittens, addicted to all things ginger. The Gods are like us in the sense that They are prismatic ally multifaceted with more than just one thing They are connected to.

    Moreso, my friend may connect to Odin as the God Warrior, but I may connect more to Him as a God scholar, and someone else as Healer or Shaman. All are right.

    For we connect as individuals to Them and in our mortal skins and understandings we are incapable of every truly knowing the vast macrocosm that They are. At best we see glimmers and fragmented microcosms of who They are.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I can’t speak for Morrigan but I can state my thoughts for Athena. Athena is the protector Goddess of civiliser mortals. She represents higher cognition, war strategy (and war magic) but not savagery. She punishes hubris which is defined as violence that goes beyond the need to protect and defend yourself or beyond just winning but humiliating your opponent and depriving him of honor. She represents the embodiment of magnanimity, of the thirst and accomplishment of complete victory but without the thirst of vengeance.

    Liked by 1 person

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