And now for something slightly different…
There is a popular belief that the Morrígan is a war-goddess and not much more than that, but like any other deity, things are never as simple as they might seem. Aside from her associations with war and magic there are some intriguing references in popular lore and the medieval manuscripts that associate her with the Fulacht na Morrighna, or ‘The Spit of the Morrígan’, often simply referred to as the ‘Cooking Hearth of the Great Queen’ (or variations thereof…).
One of the Irish Triads tells us: “Three things that constitute a blacksmith, Neithin’s spit, the cooking pit of the Morrígan, the Dagda’s anvil,” and the following excerpt from Petrie’s ‘On the History and Antiquities of Tara Hill’ explores these connections in more detail, with another excerpt to come in the next post as well. Petrie here has been describing (at great length) the supposed layout of Tech Miodhchuarta, the legendary banqueting hall of Tara, the main political centre of the high kings of Ireland and a highly important ceremonial site. There are some obscure words that Petrie has been unable to translate, so just bear with it:
It appears from notices found in other MSS. that the spit at Tara was known by another name, partly derived from that of its inventor, namely, Bir Nechin, or Dechin, the spit of Dechin, who, according to these authorities, was the chief smith of Tara in the time of the Tuatha-De-Dananns; as in the following passage from the Leabhar Buidhe, H. 2. 16, col. 245.
The usual inneoin of the Daghda here.
Bir Nechin here: Nechin was the chief smith of Temur. He was the first smith who went into Teach Midchuarta, so that he sunk the spot where a fire should rise, and he made a spit with motion that it might reach the fire, and that it might coil into it durunn another time.
This spit, as well as one of another description, called Inneoin an Daghdha, or the spit of the Daghdha, is thus noticed in another ancient MS. in the same library, H. 3. 18, p. 433.
Inneoin of the Daghdha. There is no fixed situation for it, but it used to lie with the cinders and rise with the flame; and its leadhh used to be on the back of each man on the next day.
It was Goivnenn [Goibniu] that made the Bir Deichen. It was Drinne, the son of Luchair, who made the
Inneoin of the Daghdha; and it was thus: a stick at each end of it, and its axle was wood, and its wheel was wood, and its body was iron; and there were twice nine wheels on its axle, that it might turn the faster, and there were thirty spits out of it, and thirty hooks, and thirty spindles, and it was as rapid as the rapidity of a stream in turning: and thrice nine spits, and thrice nine cavities (or pots,) and one spit for roasting, and one wing used to set it in motion.
These cooking instruments, together with a third called Fulacht na Mor-righna, or the spit, or cooker, of the great queen, are also noticed in a fragment of the Brehon Laws in the same MS., and on the same page.
This is the druine dana which is due to the smith when his full remuneration is given him; viz. Bir Deichen, and Fulacht na Mor-righna, and the Inneoin of the Daghdha. Bir Deichen, i. e. a spit which belonged to Deichen, a smith who was at Temur; and it reached from the roof to the fire, in Teach Midchuarta, and the airigithe* of Teach Midchuarta used to be warmed on it, and it used to return into its purse on the next day.
Fulacht na Mor-righna. Three kinds of victuals on it, i.e. dressed victuals, and raw victuals, and butter; and the dressed food was not burned, and the raw food was dressed, and the butter was not dissolved, but as was proper.
The Fulacht na Mor-righna is also noticed in the MS., H. 2. 16, col. 245, as follows:
Fulacht na Mor-righna here, i.e. a piece of raw meat and another of dressed meat, and a bit of butter on it; and the butter did not melt, the raw was dressed, and the dressed was not burned, even though the three were together on the spit.
There went to her [i. e. Mor-righain] on one occasion nine persons, to request that an Inneoin
would be made for them, for they were outlaws, i.e. an Inneoin with nine ribs in it, and each of them carried his own rib in his hand wherever he went, until night, and they joined them all together on its posts when they met at the close of the day; and it used to be raised to the height of a man when it was desirable, and it was not higher over the fire at another time than a fist on the same posts, without breaking without diminishing: the reason was because its material was iron.
George Petrie, On the History and Antiquities of Tara Hill in Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy Volume XVIII, 1839, p213-214.
The subject of fulachta (the plural form) is a complicated one, and in archaeology they refer to what are otherwise known as ‘burnt mounds,’ since that’s generally all that’s left of them. Most of them date to around the Bronze Age, but nobody is exactly sure what they were for. At the least they usually consist of a pit and an amount of burnt stones and charcoal, and as the name ‘fulacht’ implies, the most common theory is that they were outdoor cooking pits.
It’s notable that the last paragraph in the excerpt above specifically mentions outlaws approaching the Morrígan, since the fulacht themselves are generally found in places that are not associated with settlements; they are commonly called fulacht fiadh, the latter word meaning ‘wild’, possibly referring to the location of them, or else the wild meats (such as deer) that were cooked and then consumed in them. Outlaws were usually young men who left their tuatha to live outside of normal society (and therefore the law and protections that such status within the tuath brought with it), and made their living as hunters and warriors for hire (or brigandage).
Many of the fulachta that have been found are large and could have been filled with hot water, which would then have been able to cook meat and any other ingredients added, and provide the perfect setting for a hungry band of hunters, warriors, or whoever else might have had the need to dine al fresco. The stones could have been heated in a fire and put in the water in order to heat it up and then maintain the right temperature as the stew cooked.
Other theories for these burnt mounds, however, suggests the possibility that they may have been used for brewing light ales (a theory which has been successfully tried out), or for dyeing cloth, for leather-working, or for bathing. If these fulachta were used for bathing, it may suggest a ritual/healing function akin to the use of sweatlodges (Tigh ‘n Alluis) in rural Ireland.