In Irish mythology, the Badb (Old Irish, pronounced [ˈbaðβ]) or Badhbh (Modern Irish, pronounced [ˈbəiv])—meaning "crow"—is a war goddess who takes the form of a crow, and is thus sometimes known as Badb Catha ("battle crow"). She is known to cause fear and confusion among soldiers in order to move the tide of battle to her favoured side. Badb may also appear prior to a battle to foreshadow the extent of the carnage to come, or to predict the death of a notable person. She would sometimes do this through wailing cries, leading to comparisons with the bean-sídhe (banshee).
Representations in legends
In Irish legends, Badb is associated with war and death, appearing either to foreshadow imminent bloodshed or to participate in battles, where she creats confusion among the soldiers. As a harbinger of doom, she appears in a number of different guises. In Togail Bruidne Dá Derga, she takes the form of an ugly hag who prophesies Conaire Mór's downfall. She appears in a similar guise in Togail Bruidne Dá Choca to foretell the slaying of Cormac Condloinges, as well as taking the form of a "washer at the ford"—a woman washing Cormac's chariot and harness in a ford in what was considered an omen of death. The cries of Badb may also be an ill omen: Cormac's impending death is foreshadowed with the words "The red-mouthed badbs will cry around the house, / For bodies they will be solicitous" and "Pale badbs shall shriek". In this role she has much in common with the bean-sídhe.
She was also regularly depicted as an active participant in warfare; indeed, the battlefield was sometimes referred to as "the garden of the Badb". During the First Battle of Mag Tuired, Badb—along with her sisters, Macha and Morrígan—fights on the side of the Tuatha Dé Danann. Using their magic, the three sisters incite fear and confusion among the Fir Bolg army, conjuring "compact clouds of mist and a furious rain of fire" and allowing their enemies "neither rest nor stay for three days and nights". Badb plays a similar role in the Táin Bó Cúailnge, terrorising and disorienting the forces of Queen Medb and causing many to fall on their own weapons. She would often take the form of a screaming raven or crow, striking fear into those who heard her, and could also be heard as a voice among the corpses on a battlefield.
Following the defeat of the Formorians by the Tuatha Dé Danann in the Second Battle of Mag Tuired, Badb (or the Morrígan daughter of Ernmas) instead of predicting doom, now sings a prophecy celebrating the victory and a time of peace,
Sith co nem. Nem co doman. Doman fo ním, nert hi cach, án
forlann, lan do mil, mid co saith. Sam hi ngam, gai for sciath, sciathhave you?” Peace to the sky, life and land everlasting. Peace.
for durnd. Dunad lonngarg; longait-tromfoíd fod di uí ross forbiur
benna abu airbe imetha. Mess for crannaib, craob do scis scis do áss
saith do mac mac for muin, muinel tairb tarb di arccoin odhb do
crann, crann do ten. Tene a nn-ail. Ail a n-uír uích a mbuaib boinn a
mbru. Brú lafefaid ossglas iaer errach, foghamar forasit etha. Iall do
tir, tir co trachd lafeabrae. Bidruad rossaib síraib rithmár, ‘Nach scel
laut?’ Sith co nemh, bidsirnae .s.
Peace to sky. Sky to earth. Earth under sky, strength in each, a
cup full, full of honey, mead in plenty. Summer in winter, spear over shield, shield
over fist. Fort of spears; a battle-cry, land for sheep, bountiful forests
mountains forever, magic enclosure. Mast on branches, branches heavy, heavy with fruit,
wealth for a son, a gifted son, strong neck of bull, a bull for a poem, a knot on
a tree, wood for fire. Fire from stone. Stone from earth, wealth from cows, belly of
the Brú. Doe cries from mist, stream of deer after spring, corn in autumn, upheld by peace. Warrior band
for the land, prosperous land to the shore. From wooded headlands, waters rushing, “What news
Then she delivers a prophecy of the eventual end of the world, "foretelling every evil that would be therein, and every disease and every vengeance. Wherefore then she sang this lay below.":
I shall not see a world that will be dear to me.
Summer without flowers,
Kine will be without milk,
Women without modesty,
Men without valour,
Captures without a king.
... ... ...
Woods without mast,
Sea without produce,
... ... ...
Wrong judgments of old men,
False precedents of brehons,
Every man a betrayer,
Every boy a reaver.
Son will enter his father's bed,
Father will enter his son's bed,
Everyone will be his brother's brother-in-law.
... ... ...
An evil time!Daughter will deceive her mother.
Son will deceive his father,
Badb is often identified as one of the Morrígna, a trio of Irish war goddesses, although there exist a number of conflicting accounts on this subject. In Lebor Gabála Érenn, Badb, Macha and Morrígan make up the Morrígna trinity and are named as daughters of the farming goddess Ernmas. According to this version, she is also the sister of Ériu, Banba and Fódla, the three matron goddesses of Ireland, who give their names to the land. Other accounts identify the trio as daughters of the druid Cailitin and his wife.
In her role as a terrifying battlefield goddess and harbinger of doom, Badb closely resembles Nemain, and indeed the two may be one and the same. Like Badb, Nemain is identified as a wife of Neit and is sometimes listed as one of the three Morrígna. Writers have sometimes used their names interchangeably, suggesting that they may in fact be a single goddess. On the other hand, W.M. Hennessy notes that Badb and Nemain were said to have different sets of parents, suggesting that they may not be entirely identical figures.
Pointing to variants such as Irish badhbh ‘hoodie crow, a fairy, a scold,’ Early Irish badb, ‘crow, demon,’ Badba, Welsh bod, ‘kite,’ the Gaulish name Bodv-, in Bodvo-gnatus and the Welsh name Bodnod, Macbain (1982) suggests *bodwā- as the Proto-Celtic ancestral form. However, Julius Pokorny (1959:203) suggests *badwā- on the basis of similar data. Both MacBain (1982) and Julius Pokorny (1959:203) correlate the element with Norse böð, genitive boðvar, ‘war,’ and Anglo-Saxon beadu, genitive beadwe, ‘battle,’ suggesting that the word originally denoted ‘battle’ or ‘strife.’ Julius Pokorny (1959:203) presents the element as an extended form of the Proto-Indo-European root *bhedh- ‘pierce, dig.’ To this root Pokorny also links the Sanskrit bádhate, ‘oppress,’ and the Lithuanian bádas, ‘famine’.
W. M. Hennessy argues that the word bodb or badb originally meant rage, fury, or violence, and came to mean a witch, fairy, or goddess, represented in folklore by the scald-crow, or royston-crow. Peter O'Connell's 1819 Irish Dictionary defines the Badb as a "bean-sidhe, a female fairy, phantom, or spectre, supposed to be attached to certain families, and to appear sometimes in the form of squall-crows, or royston-crows" and badb-catha as "Fionog, a royston-crow, a squall crow". Other entries relate to her triple nature: "Macha, i. e. a royston-crow; Morrighain, i. e. the great fairy; Neamhan, i. e. Badb catha nó feannóg; a badb catha, or royston-crow."
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