Badb was the death-bringer, a Celtic goddess of war and death, and creator of confusion in Irish mythology. She was a member of the fearsome Morrígan, the triple goddess of death and prophecy. Often, Badb took the form of an old woman.
Badb was the Old Irish embodiment of her name, which in Modern Gaelic means “Crow.” Alternately she was known as Badb Catha, meaning “battle crow.” This can be derived from the Proto-Celtic *bodwā-, however some scholars have even connected it to an older word root from the Germanic languages. For example, the Old Norse boðvar means “war.” Perhaps Badb’s name was derived from the crows that feast on the battlefield.
Babd was presented as an old woman more consistently than her sisters, which has lead many scholars to believe that she was the crone form of the Morrígan, although she occasionally took the image of a young woman.
A fearsome presence on the battlefield, she caused mass confusion through prophecy and madness. Despite this, she was not entirely evil. From time to time, she gave a positive forecast.
Like her sisters, Babd was connected to ravens and crows. She was associated with the modern banshee, or bean sidhe, meaning fairy woman. The cries of the banshee signified an important death, much in the way that Badb’s appearance on a battlefield inspired terror and chaos.
Badb’s most important family members were her sisters who joined her as members of the Morrígan, a list that variously included Macha, Nemain, and Anand. Alternately, her sisters were listed as Ériu, Banba, and Fódla, matron goddesses of sovereignty in Ireland. Her mother was Ernmas, a goddess of agriculture, and some accounts list her father as the druid, Cailitin, whose wife was mortal.
Her husband was Neit, god of war, whom she shared with her sister, Nemain. Sometimes, she was listed as the wife of the Fomorian king, Tethra. With her sisters, she was also married to the Dagda.
Badb appeared often with her sisters, but was featured primarily in Cath Maige Tuired. She surfaced elsewhere in the tale of Togail Bruidne Dá Derga as an old woman, washing the hero Cormac Condloinges’s chariot and harness, an omen of his impending death.
Cath Maige Tuired
Peace up to heaven.
Heaven down to earth.
Earth beneath heaven,
Strength in each,
A cup very full,
Full of honey;
Mead in abundance.
Summer in winter…
-Elizabeth A. Gray, Cath Maige Tuired
In prehistoric Ireland, the fearsome Fomorian and invading Tuatha dé Danann fought for control of the Emerald Isle. Throughout this struggle, there was a smaller conflict between the Children of Danu and the earlier inhabitants, the Fir Bolg, which was resolved at the First Battle of Moytura. Badb and her sisters appeared there, causing a mist to rise. They spread terror among the Fir Bolg, resulting in the Tuatha dé Danann’s victory.
Before the second battle against the Fomorians, the Dagda sought out the Morrígan on Samhain and received from them a prophecy foretelling the Tuatha dé Danann’s victory. The battle lines at the Second Battle of Moytura were drawn, and once again the Morrígan took the field on their side, causing mass confusion by screaming terrifying prophecies at the Fomorians and driving them into the sea. At the battle’s conclusion, Badb prophesied once more, predicting the success of the Tuatha dé Danann, future of Ireland, and the end of the world.
Some researchers have connected Badb to the Cailleach, an older crone figure who was a trickster, but also a sovereignty goddess related to winter. Badb’s myth was, most likely, a version of the Gaelic Catubodua, a crow goddess of battle whose traits mirrored her own.
Badb appears with her sisters by name in several pieces of pop culture, including:
Badb, along with her sisters, appeared in Charles Moore’s A Dirty Job;
In one of the works in the Conan the Barbarian stories by Robert E. Howard, The Phoenix on the Sword, Badb was mentioned;
In the Secrets of the Immortal Nicolas Flamel by Michael Scott, she was part of the Crow Goddess with her sisters, a single body inhabited by three minds.
In the comic series The Wicked + The Divine, Badb was the angry, violent form of the Morrigan, of the three faces of the goddess, she dislikes wearing this face the most.
Gray, Elizabeth A., translator. Cath Maige Tuired. Internet Sacred Text Archive. Accessed June 24, 2019. https://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/cmt/cmteng.htm.
Stokes, Whitley, translator. The Destruction of Dá Derga’s Hostel. WikiSource. Accessed June 25, 2019. https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Destruction_of_D%C3%A1_Derga%E2%80%99s_Hostel.