The Crow and the Phantom Queen

I am busy working on two book projects at the moment, and it’s very exciting to see them both approaching publication. As a result, I haven’t had much time for blogging this week, so I thought I’d dust off an older post, for the newer followers who might not have seen it. For those of you who have, walk on by this week, and I promise I’ll have some newness for you next time. Bye for now!


In the gathering of huge trees in the churchyard opposite my house lives a colony of crows. They are noisy and gregarious, and I enjoy their hoarse, wild calls and feathery antics immensely.

Crows are said to be solitary creatures, but my neighbours certainly aren’t. They belong to the Corvus family of birds, ranging from the small jackdaw to the much larger raven.

Perhaps surprisingly, they are considered one of the world’s most intelligent creatures, right up there with the dolphin and the ape. If you don’t believe me, watch this short video… it’s amazing!

In tests, they have been found able to count up to 5, use tools to obtain food, and are even thought to be able to recognise humans by their facial features.

They are omnivorous, and will eat anything. They are  most well known for the damage they cause in fields of crops, hence the ‘scare-crow’, and also for eating carrion. In fact, they have been seen to harass foxes and birds of prey in attempts to steal from them their fresh kills.

It is perhaps for this desire to feast on the flesh of the freshly deceased that the crow and the other members of the Corvus family have been so reviled in the past. Undoubtedly, in ancient times, when our ancestors were more war-like than we are today, the crows would have gathered over the battlefield to take advantage of the dead bodies laid out for their delectation, and this would been observed with dread and abhorrence by survivors.

In Mythology

Around the world, the crow has been associated with war, death, the Otherworld, or as a cunning trickster not to be trusted. Despite this, there has also been a grudging acknowledgement of its intelligence.

In Irish mythology, the crow is seen as a manifestation of the Morrigan (in Irish, Mór-ríoghain), meaning phantom/great Queen. She was seen as a deity signifying ‘battle, strife and sovereignty’, a harbinger of war and death, who spoke of the battlefield as ‘her garden’. It was said that she would often fly above a battle, her cry bringing courage and encouragement to her warriors, whilst simultaneously striking fear into the hearts of the enemy. Sometimes she would join in the battle in her human form.

There seems to be much confusion surrounding this particular deity. For a start, she has many names; the Morrigan,  Badbh (meaning crow), Macha, and Nemain are those most commonly used. Sometimes, the names Anann and Fea appear in conjunction with the others, too.

It is well known that the number 3 was held sacred to the ancient people, and so often she is depicted as three sisters, representing the three different aspects of the Goddess as mentioned above, but also perhaps the maiden, the mother and the crone. In that case, the term ‘the Morrigan’ is likely a title or epithet which could be applied to the threesome collectively.

In the Lebor Gebála Érenn, the tale of the first cycle of Ireland’s mythology, the Morrigan is said to be the daughter of Ernmas, and grand-daughter of King Nuada, who led the Tuatha de Danann into Ireland.

This is interesting, because one of the names given her is Macha, and Macha was actually Nuada’s wife, and mother of his four sons. She fought beside him in the Battles of Moytura, and was slain by Balor of the Fomori, whilst the Morrigan flew overhead in crow form, casting spells which bought forth strange poisonous fog and rains of fire and blood upon the heads of the enemy. She is also credited with various prophecies.

The Morrigan is also mentioned in the Tain Bó Cuailnge, Queen Medb’s famous Cattle Raid of Cooley, where she shape-shifts into the form of an eel, a wolf and a cow, as well as her more habitual crow. She has various interactions with hero Cúchullain, finally showing him an omen of his own death. Mortally wounded, he ties himself to a standing stone so that he can die on his feet,  whereupon she alights on his shoulder in her crow form to show his enemies he is dead.

The Morrigan is remembered in sites around Ireland which are named after her. In Co Tipperary, there is a fullachta fiadh called Fulacht na Mór Ríoghna ( the cooking pit of the Morrigan), and in Co Meath there are two hills known as Dá Chich na Mórrigna (the breasts of the Morrigan).

Finally, here is a poem I wrote about crows; it’s called Carrion.

Carrion

Cold crow,
black crow
sits in the tree.
I’m not afraid of him,
he’s not afraid of me.

He flaps and
he watches
with dark beady eye.
He knows things about me
as I stumble by.

Bold crow,
black crow
feeds on death.
He knows it won’t be long
till I draw my last breath.

Patiently,
he waited,
while the action in the field
overwhelmed me.
Thus my fate was sealed.

Cold crow,
black crow
cares not for human strife.
Our woes and battles
are just the stuff of life.

His voice is hoarse,
his cry sounds
triumphant intent.
I look back with regret
and sorrowful lament.

Bold crow,
black crow,
my soul will be renewed.
For I go now to meet my maker,
my flesh will be your food.


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29 Comments on “The Crow and the Phantom Queen

    • Lol! You know, She (the Goddess Morigan) may have been trying to recruit you by sending the ravens. She was a Goddess of war and conflict, not in the sense of evil and death, but in the sense of standing up and fighting for justice and what you believe in, and not being afraid to do so. Sound like anyone you know? 😊

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  1. The Crow and the Phantom Queen ~ there is a title right there that evokes a vivid feel of battle & sovereignty. A wonderful introduction for me into the history of crows and Ireland ~ and once again I marvel how you bring me into your stories and myths. Growing up in the States, the crow seemed a powerful but misunderstood bird. A description I think you nailed perfectly in your poem, and with a sense of respect with the crow as well. “Cold crow, black crow sits in the tree. I’m not afraid of him, he’s not afraid of me.” And this is the way it should be, perhaps always a bit wary of each other but mainly just fascinated. Wish you a great weekend ahead Ali, and congratulations on your progress with your two books 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Cool post, Ali. I like all the shape-shifting in Irish lore. I think the crow’s symbolism is almost universal and have used the battlefield presence of the bird in my writing too. It’s such a vivid metaphor for death. Congrats on nearing the completion of two books! That’s cause for celebration. Enjoy the weekend and happy editing!

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  3. Smooth runnings for your projects.

    As for crows, they are amazing birds, so clever and reviled understandably I guess in past times. I remember them pecking the eyeballs of dead lambs and sheep in fields when I was younger which was apparently ‘evil’. The damned things were dead lol
    Nice poem too ☺ and the mythology segment, myths are great to read about. I always had an interest in Finn Mcool and his various names as he is my namesake.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I wrote a book based on Finn McCool… in Irish his name is Fionn mac Cumhall, same name as yours, and yes, a cool name! 😁 I’ve lots of posts about him on my blog. He’s a very intriguing character, the myths about him are amazing. Personally, I prefer him to Cuchullain. I like crows too… I wouldn’t like to see them pecking at dead lambs eyeballs, because I am a wimp, but as you say, they’re dead… one thing I love about nature is that no death is wasted. The carcass is stripped clean by carrion eaters, and what’s left is absorbed back into the earth. Its only humans who get obsessed with the shell that’s left behind when we die.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I love the stories of the Morrigan! And I too wrote a little fable about Corvus and his one time white feathers. (which you read). Good luck with your publications Ali!

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  5. This reminded me of The Ravens at The Tower Of London. It’s said that if they ever leave the Tower then both the Monarchy and Britain will fall. I hope I’m not around to ever find out if the myth comes true.

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  6. The old saying goes, ‘if you see a lot of Crows together they are Rooks. if you see a solitary crow, it’s a Rook.’

    And here is a real, and curious, link between the Crow and the Oak, which I think you might like.

    Twelve thousand years ago, as the world warmed up, the ice melted, and the sea rose. Animals and plants from southern Europe moved northwards again colonising lands that were now habitable. In the British Isles it was a race for many living things as to whether they could reach the land before the sea came in an created the islands we have today. That is why there are no snakes in Ireland, they never slithered fast enough.

    Plants could only move as fast as their seeds could travel and Oaks couldn’t move that fast, if left to themselves they would never have reached the English channel before it was flooded (let alone St George’s Channel). And that is where the crows come in. Many species of crow hide acorns in the autumn for food during the winter, they carry a nut to open country and bury it, remembering the location for the following winter. In fact they can remember the location of many hundreds of buried nuts. But of course some will be forgotten, or the crow is eaten by something else and never comes back, and so hundreds or metres in front of the woodland edge, far beyond where a nut might fall, a young sapling grows.

    And so, carried by crows, the oaks spread from their refuge in southern Europe to return to Britain and Ireland.

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  7. I never get comments on my posts. I wonder why that is. in any event, I used to be (in the 90’s) an alternative rock disc jockey and EVERYONE except me saw the film “The Crow.” Well, last week, I finally saw it. It was interesting, to say the least. I liked your poem more than the details and various ancient celt names because that’s not my world, per se. But animals, birds wiser than us. and you wiser than all. I loved
    renewed and food at the end. Each stanza of the poem delighted me more, and it’s a morbid subject of sorts.
    Here’s one of mine. Would you just click it through? It’s From a magazine called “Bipolar Magazine” (original, huh…) a click through from Ireland would make MY day! I’m working my way up to longer content.

    http://www.bphope.com/blog/bipolar-and-disability-theres-hidden-benefits-to-having-benefits/

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    • Hi Alison, I clicked through to the mag and your blog. I don’t know why you’re not getting comments. I guess your content is very specialised, and maybe people feel it’s something they don’t know enough about, and that their comments would not have much to offer. I guess you have to decide who you’re trying to communicate with; other people going through similar experiences to you, or to reach a wider audience and educate them about your condition. They would each take quite a different approach. I noticed you had quite a few comments on your magazine article; to me it felt more light-hearted, and maybe it was this positivity they responded to. That’s intended as an observation, not a criticism, btw! 😄 Glad you enjoyed the poem… yes, it is quite dark, lol! All the best to you! Ali

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  8. We have ospreys nesting near where I live and I go to watch them several times a week. Often there are a bunch of crows sitting on a tree close by and it seems they wait for scraps of fish which fall out of the osprey nest.

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  9. Reblogged this on Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life and commented:
    Crows are highly intelligent as Ali Isaac demonstrates in her post. They can be fascinating and we watched one the other day take a stale crust of bread and float it in the bird bath for a few minutes, checking every so often until it was soft enough to eat.. patience and invention.. we should all be so lucky.. Head over and read Ali’s post.. great video to watch.

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  10. I did not know there was a difference between ravens and crows. But I don’t think thats ignorance, more that I just never thought to question it. Fascinating post. I kept thinking of the film the birds! I love the darkness of Crows. I might have to use one in a story sometime.

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  11. Fascinating, Ali. I don’t see too many crows and no ravens around but a lot of redwing blackbirds. They are beautiful and the size of crows. Love birds. My husband feeds them on our back deck and we get to enjoy all kinds. Thanks for sharing this great post and videos. 😃

    Liked by 1 person

    • I love watching all the birds in the garden too. They are such fun. We had starlings nesting in the air vent for our cooker hood, so we couldn’t use it till the chicks had flown the nest. They were so noisy!

      Liked by 2 people

  12. How interesting to learn about the crow in Mythology, understood as as a manifestation of the Morrigan, the Great Queen…
    I know that ravens and crows are not exactly the same thing … but I could not avoid thinking of Apollo and Coronis… this myth involves white and black ravens… and later on, as a sort of epiphany and immortalization which expression is the constellation called Corvus, the crow.
    Here is a good summary of this tale (First section is fair enough): http://goo.gl/B8U1TI
    Excellent post, dear Ali… thanks for sharing and happy week ahead. Aquileana 😉

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Aquileana, I didn’t know this story of Apollo and Coronis. The Greek tales are so full of tragedy and unrequited love, aren’t they? Ravens and crows aren’t the same thing, but the Morigan is associated with both, depending on which version you read. Usually it is the crowd, though. No white ones in these stories! 😊 Thank you so much for stopping by and reading my stories! Have a lovely week!

      Liked by 1 person

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