Macha, ancient, powerful horse goddess of fighting and fertility, is among the most important deities of ancient Ireland. Along with the Badbh and the Morrigan, Macha is among a group of goddesses concerned with Ireland’s prosperity, welfare and safety.
Macha is simultaneously one and three mythic figures:
• Wife of Nemedh, leader of the Third Invasion of Ireland. She died of a broken heart after foreseeing Ireland’s destruction.
• Ireland’s warrior queen, who established Ulster’s pre-Christian political center, Emhain Macha, which means “Macha’s twins.”
• The divine bride of the mortal Ulster widower, Crunnchu.
Macha’s third and most famous incarnation features in a mysterious myth: Crunnchu, a wealthy widower, was very lonely until the day a beautiful woman (Macha) sat down at his hearth. She spent the day performing his household chores without ever saying a word, or at least not that first day. At night she accompanied him to bed and made love with him. She stayed; he prospered; they were happy; she conceived.
All was well until Ulster’s annual assembly loomed, attended by crowds from all over Ireland. Crunnchu wished to go but Macha begged him to stay home. She warned that his departure would lead to tragedy, but he insisted. Finally she agreed with the proviso that he must not say a word about her or their union. He gave his word and left while she stayed home.
The assembly featured a great horse race, which the king’s horses won. Onlookers and sycophants extravagantly praised the horses until finally Crunnchu, just unable to resist, cried out, “My wife runs faster than those two horses!” It may seem like an innocent boast, but the king ordered Crunnchu trussed up and Macha rounded up to race his prize horses. Macha, already in labor, refused to go until told her husband would be killed if she didn’t. Arriving at the scene, she begged the assembled bystanders for help, crying, “Because a mother bore each of you,” but to no avail. She begged the king for a delay until after she gave birth, also to no avail. He insisted she race.
Macha won her race readily, giving birth to twins before the king’s horses even reached the finish line. Suddenly all the men assembled were stricken with weakness as, just before she died, Macha delivered a curse. (A deathbed curse is considered the most lasting and difficult to break.) Her curse applies only to men: whenever danger or oppression strikes, men who did not help her or put the sacred right of motherhood above a king’s pride are doomed to be as vulnerable and helpless as a birthing woman for five days and four nights until the ninth generation. The only warrior exempt from Macha’s curse is Cu Chulain, whose horse is named the Grey of Macha.
An analysis of Macha’s myth is found in Mary Condren’s The Serpent and The God dess (Harper & Row, 1989). Although her myth describes her “death”, Macha is a living goddess who is very beloved by modern Wiccans and Neo-Pagans. She is a fierce spirit of protection, fertility, and righteous ness.
Also known as:
Emhain Macha, Ulster’s ancient capital, was named in her honor, as was Armagh, the county and city in Northern Ireland, whose name derives from the Gaelic Ard Mhacha: “Height of Macha.”
Encyclopedia of Spirits: The Ultimate Guide to the Magic of Fairies, Genies, Demons, Ghosts, Gods & Goddesses– Written by :Judika Illes Copyright © 2009 by Judika Illes.