The goddess of war, whose name appears to mean scald-crow. She is depicted as a raven or a hooded crow.
Bird-shaped, red mouthed and with a sharp countenance, the Badhbh was one aspect of the triad goddess the Morrighan, her other aspects being Macha and Nemhain.
There are countless triple goddesses in Celtic and other pagan systems.
Some authorities consider them as three aspects of the same thing, such as the waxing, fullness and waning of the moon, or as youth, maturity and old age, but more commonly they are seen as agricultural deities whose aspects reflect the sowing, ripening and reaping of crops.
In common with her sisters, the other aspects of the Morrighan, the Badb sometimes appeared as a foul hag, sometimes as an alluring maiden, but most commonly as a bird.
She was often to be seen on the battlefield near those she had selected to die, for it was her duty to preside over the battlefield. Before a battle the Badb would usually be encountered beside a stream in which she was washing the armour and weapons of those who were about to die.
The Badhbh not only selected those to die in battle, but could also, by the use of powerful magic, alter the course of a battle to suit her own ends. This is a trait she shared with her sisters.
Other shared traits were an affinity with water, an ability to alter her form at will and an insatiable lust for both men and gods.
Story of Cu Chulainn and Badb
Cu Chulainn once encountered the Badhbh as a red woman wrapped in a red cloak riding in a chariot drawn by a one legged red horse.
The pole connecting the horse to the chariot passed through the animal and emerged from its forehead, where it was fixed with a wooden peg. The Badhbh was accompanied by a man who drove a cow using a forked hazel switch.
Cu Chulainn asked their names, a question that the Badhbh answered in a series of riddles.
Infuriated by this, Cu Chulainn leapt onto the chariot, which immediately disappeared, leaving the hero sprawling on the ground. Above him the Badhbh circled in the form of a carrion crow.
In combination with her sisters, the Badhbh became one of the most fearsome of all Celtic deities.
There was no known protection against her charms, andonce selected, all that the chosen one could hope for was a quick and painless death.
In the Tam Bé Cuainge, Cu Chulainn single handedly protected Ulster from the armies of Ailill and Medhbha but came into conflict with the powers of the Morrighan, whom he failed to recognize.
He was forced into a situation whereby he ate the flesh of a dog, an act that broke his geis and immediately weakened his previously invincible skills and energy.
Overcome by the magic powers of his enemies, he tied himself to a pillar so that he might die honourably while still erect.
When his enemies saw three hooded crows land on Cu Chulainn’s shoulders, they recognized the presence of the Morrighan in her three aspects and calmly walked up to Cu Chulainn and cut off his head.
Badb hides the arrival of the Tuatha Dé Danann
The Tuatha Dé Danann landed in a dense cloud upon the coast of Ireland on the mystic first of May without having been opposed, or even noticed by the “Fir Bolgs”, the people that inhabited Ireland until then.
That those might still be ignorant of their coming, the Morrigu, helped by Badb and Macha, made use of the magic they had learned in Findias, Gorias, Murias, and Falias (4 mythical cities of the Tuatha Dé Danann).
They spread druidically formed showers and fog-sustaining shower-clouds over the country, and caused the air to pour down fire and blood upon the Fir Bolgs, so that they were obliged to shelter themselves for three days and three nights. But the Fir Bolgs had druids of their own, and, in the end, they put a stop to these enchantments by counter-spells, and the air grew clear again.
Badb as a prophet
After defeating the Fomors at the Second and Final Battle of Mag Tuired , the Morrigu and Badb went up on to the summits of all the high mountains of Ireland, and proclaimed the victory. All the lesser gods who had not been in the battle came round and heard the news. And Badb sang a song which began:
Peace mounts to the heavens,
The heavens descend to earth,
Earth lies under the heavens,
Everyone is strong . . .
But the rest of it has been lost and forgotten.
Then she added a prophecy in which she foretold the approaching end of the divine age, and the beginning of a new one in which summers would be flowerless and cows milkless and women shameless and men strengthless, in which there would be trees without fruit and seas without fish, when old men would give false judgments and legislators make unjust laws, when warriors would betray one another, and men would be thieves, and there would be no more virtue left in the world.
Of what Badb had in mind when she uttered this prophecy we have no record. But it was true.
The twilight of the Irish gods was at hand. A new race was coming across the sea to dispute the ownership of Ireland with the people of the goddess Danu.
And these new-comers were not divinities like themselves, but men like ourselves, ancestors of the Gaels.
Morrighan and Badb as goddess of both death and fertility
Although essentially a goddess of death, the Morrighan, an aspect of the triple goddess of which Badb was a part of, was also a consummate fertility goddess, who is commemorated in a range of low hills known as the Paps of the Morrigghan.
The combination of a goddess of death and one of fertility is illustrated in the story of the Daghdha, who met with the Morrighan shortly before the Second Battle of Mag Tuired.
The Daghdha came across the terrible goddess on the eve of the feast of Sanhaim as she stood astride the River Unius washing the bloody corpses and armour of those foredoomed to die in the coming battle.
The two had intercourse in this uncomfortable position, such a ritual mating signifying that, although many were to die, many would ultimately be born to take their place.