When he first saw her, she was bathing along the river bank. Long pale limbs, her skin the color of polished bone. Clever hands loosed the nine tresses upon her head, leaving her hair to spill down her back. It was the black of a starless night, with the glossy sheen of a raven’s feathers. She sang softly as she poured the water over her porcelain skin. The song was both somber and joyful, filled with all the pain and ecstasy that was life. Something roused in him at the site. He knew this woman. Some called her Death, others knew her as Battle- but all he could see now was a painful, dangerous beauty that he longed to make his own. He didn’t realize he had moved towards the bank until she was already in his arms. She looked up at him with dark, raven eyes that mirrored his own passion. He laughed to himself, perhaps it seemed odd that the God of life and the Goddess of Death should make such a passionate union together. But as the sun sank and the old year died, he happily died in the ecstasy of her love, knowing with the dawn he would rise again, reborn. The Morrigan may bring death, but Dagda knew her true gift was rebirth.
To many the story of the Morrigan and Dagda’s union on the eve of Samhain is perplexing. They don’t seem at first glance to be two figures who would get along at all, let along come together in the manner that they do. Like most myths there are several ways to look at it, and I find during different times of the year different aspects of the story stand out more than others. On one level Dagda’s union with the Morrigan is a sacred marriage between the king and the Goddess of the land, giving us a glimpse into the Morrigan’s origins as a tutelary earth Goddess. But as Samhain approaches it is the close connection the Celts saw between life and death that stands out to me the most.
At first they seem like an unlikely pair. While the Morrigan is a very complex deity, at Samhain her connection to death comes to the forefront. She is the Washer at the Ford who warns warriors that their deaths are near. She over sees battle, taking pleasure in the bloodshed. Dagda on the other hand is a comical figure in most of his myths. He lives life to its fullest and indulging in all it has to offer whether that be good food or sensual pleasure. He represents fertility, plenty and the bounty of life. It would seem these two have nothing in common. Yet upon seeing one another, they come passionately together, in a perfect union that ushers in the new year and new beginnings.
In today’s culture death and life are suppose to be enemies. We think of these forces as opposites that clash, forces that exist to destroy the other. Yet upon seeing one another, the Goddess who personifies death and the God who embodies life come together in a perfect union. To the Celts life and death worked closely together, rather than being at odds with one another. They recognized death is an unavoidable forces within life, and when we cross its threshold it ushers us into rebirth.
More often than not we concentrate on death during Samhain. After all it is a time to honor the dead and Samhain marks the end of the old year. The veil between the worlds thins and we can more easily connect to those who have passed on and celebrate the lives of our ancestors. But rebirth is also an important part of Samhain. We must remember that life, death and rebirth are intrinsically linked. Where one is present, the other is as well.
So as you prepare for your Samhain celebration, remember that it is also a time of beginnings. A celebration of both life and death. As the new year is born, we can shed the burdens of the past and begin anew. Like Dagda, when we embrace death and welcome Her powers of change, our lives can be transformed, and with the dawn we can be reborn anew.