The Mórrígan and Cúchulainn

The Mórrígan and Cúchulainn – watercolor – 7 x 10 inches
Once upon a time, a goddess decided to appear as a crow and alight on the cradle of a warrior. Why, we wonder, do divinities bother to manifest themselves in human or animal forms? There is no answer: They are divine and so they do as they wish. It is left to us to deal with the results.
The Mórrígan is a goddess of war-fury and battle-death, an ominous figure in the world of the ancient Celts. The infant is Cúchulainn. In stories of ancient Ireland, he is the ultimate warrior hero.
During his short life he will encounter her in many forms — most importantly years later when she appears as a lovely girl in a flowery dress and offers herself to him. He ignores her and says he is busy with wars and has no time for “women’s behinds.”
Naturally, she resolves to kill him. “It will be worse for you when I go against you as you are fighting against your enemies. I shall go in the form of an eel under your feet in the ford so that you shall fall… I shall drive cattle over the ford to you while I am in the form of a wild she-wolf… I shall come to you in the guise of a heifer… yet you will not see me in front of you.”
Still he ignores her, too young perhaps to realize that he is no match for her, no matter how powerful he is — or thinks he is.
In his last battle, he ties himself to a pillar stone so he can die standing up. Of her thoughts as she perches on his shoulder to watch him leave this world, we don’t know. Nor his thoughts. So we’re left with our own.
What would happen if we said “yes” to divine beings? Eve says yes to the serpent; Dr. Faustus says yes to Mephistopheles; Job says yes to the angel. What if we said yes to forces greater than ourselves?

As Rainer Maria Rilke ends Der Schauende:

“Winning does not tempt that man.
This is how he grows; by being defeated, decisively,
by constantly greater beings.”

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More images on my website: johnmichaelkeating.com

One thought to “The Mórrígan and Cúchulainn”

  1. Grateful as always for the commentary that widens one’s perception of the painting at hand. Still, but in ways only vague to the viewer, the ominous yet potentially saving power is present in the raven’s oversight of the cradle. There it is, the box we create to make safe and cradle our newborns, the inauspicious presence of the raven. Maybe threatening, maybe protecting. The painting swings on that ambiguity. At least that’s how I see it, feel it.

    Maybe there’s no babe at all in the cradle. Maybe the raven awaits its return. Maybe all is on hold, to be resolved, who knows precisely how or when?

    A painting that asks more questions than it answers. Who could ask for more from art? No pat answers, just questions that keep you coming back, asking questions, enjoying the fulcrum on which art and this painting teeter.

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