8/09/2008

Goddess of the week - Medb

Name: Medb
Sphere of influence: Fertility, death and dominion
Location: Ireland
Famous portraits: None contemporary

Medb is portrayed in many old Irish sagas as a queen, but the truth is she was to begin with an Irish goddess, refitted to suit medieval, Christian taste. Later scholars have done what they can to reconstruct her original role in Irish-Celtic religion. She seems to have been a goddess of sovereignty and no king was to rule in Tara who had not first slept with her. She is said to have bedded at least nine of these mortal kings, including Ferghus – a man with an enormous appetite for women and who needed seven mortal women, or Medb, to feel satisfied. In all of her relationships, Medb was the dominant partner, a suitable role for a goddess.

Medb is clearly linked with fertility, both of land and man – though the more precise way this was viewed by the men and women who actually worshipped her is not known. But she was also linked with death, being directly involved in the death of several Irish heroes: including Cú Chulainn and Ailill, the latter being murdered on Beltaine.

Other signs of her divinity were her ability to shape-shift between an old hag and a fair maiden, her ability to run very fast and to deprive men of their strength by her mere presence at a scene.

The Irish sagas have her killed in the end, but that is perhaps more to be seen as the end of the queen Medb and not the goddess. In a text from the 11th century it is said that she was killed by her nephew since she in her turn had murdered his mother. She was killed by a sling-shot with a bit of cheese.

Her name is connected to the word ‘mead’ and means ‘she who intoxicates’. She is mentioned in several times in the Ulster Cycle. There are no known contemporary portraits, statues or the like of Medb. The picture in this post is from Tara, Ireland, the location so closely linked to her.

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