Review: “Book of the Great Queen” by Morpheus Ravenna
My religious name is Gilbride or “Servant of Brighid,” and so I am. However, I also engage in devotion to Macha, one of the three Morrigna. I first came across Morpheus Ravenna’s Shieldmaiden blog while looking for other devotees of Macha online a few years ago, and I’ve been following it ever since.
In a conversation with a very intellectual Catholic friend, I once argued that all religions have some distinct insight to contribute- not different routes to the same truth but different truths. Knowing me to be a pagan, he asked me what truth my religion had to contribute. I talked about Sovereignty and the goddess of “Sovereignty in action” – the Morrigan. All of my arguments drew on the Shieldmaiden blog.
I’ve been looking forward to reading The Book of the Great Queen ever since I knew it existed, but I wasn’t expecting much new information in the factual sense. As with any other Celtic deity, there is only so much available evidence. Some of the reader reviews I’ve seen were complaining that there was nothing new in the book, nothing you couldn’t find in one of the several other books about the Morrigan out there. Knowing how good the Shieldmaiden blog is, I assumed the reviewer had simply missed the depth of insight Morpheus brings to the available facts. In reality, the statement is just completely untrue. There is a huge amount of new material in this book.
First, Morpheus gives us the complete Old Irish text of every rosc or prophetic poem spoken by the Morrigan, with English translation and commentary. This information is simply not available in one place in any other book I know of.
Second, she gives us rituals and magic workings with text in Old Irish, drawn directly from these same poems. I don’t believe that there’s anything wrong with worshiping the Morrigan or any other Celtic deity in whatever language you happen to speak, but there’s something special about finally being able to do so in Old Irish.
Third, she references a few texts I didn’t even know existed, adding to the available evidence from the lore. Some of these texts are particularly instructive, because they tell us which classical Roman or Greek deities the medieval Irish saw as being similar to the Morrigan. It’s like an Interpretatio Romana from the other direction.
Fourth, she provides dates for all the known texts. It makes a big difference to know that a particular text was written down in the 16th century while another was written down in the 12th. Obviously the later text should be read more cautiously when looking for evidence about pre-Christian belief.
This is a substantial amount of new material, making this the most comprehensive work on the Morrigan to date. It’s hard to see how another work could be more complete unless new evidence comes to light. There are other good books about the Morrigan out there, but if you only plan to read one of them it should definitely be this one.
In addition, the theological commentary is everything I expected it to be. I’ve written a fair bit elsewhere about several points in the Cuchulain story that I found confusing if not upsetting. Morpheus tackles many of the same questions from a different angle, coming to conclusions I would never have come to and answering questions I couldn’t find satisfactory answers to. In ancient times, debate and discussion about myths and sacred texts was a major part of religious practice, and this is a significant contribution to the revival of such a tradition.
“The Book of the Great Queen” is definitely about religion rather than politics, but Morpheus makes compelling arguments for a connection between devotion to the Morrigan and political activism in the modern world. Morpheus never argues that devotees of the Morrigan have to be politically radical, but she does show how radical politics and devotion to the Morrigan make sense together. Agree with the politics or disagree, the connection is clearly argued and internally consistent.
To sum up – this book has a lot of material not available elsewhere, makes many insightful points and is essential reading for anyone who worships the Morrigan or any other Celtic deities. I recommend it without reservations.