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Other names: Mebhdh, Mebdh

Location:  Ireland

Notes from Hrana

Goddesses & Heroines text

© print is available

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Hrana's Notes

I painted Maeve in 1992 for Llewellyn's1993 Goddess Calendar. She is included in the Goddess Oracle.

from Goddesses and Heroines
  Exerpt from Goddess & Heroines by Patricia Monaghan
[Used by permission. This text is NOT included in the Goddess Oracle]

Of the great female figures of Ireland, Maeve was probably the most splendid. Originally a goddess of the land's sovereignty and of its mystic center at Tara, she was demoted in myth, as the centuries went on and Irish culture changed under Christian influence, to a mere mortal queen.

But no mortal queen could have been like this one, this "intoxication" or "drunken woman" (variant meanings of her name), who ran faster than horses, slept with innumerable kings whom she then discarded, and wore live birds and animals across her shoulders and arms. If there ever was a woman named Maeve who reigned as queen of Ireland, it is probable that she was the namesake of the goddess; the goddess's legends may have attached themselves to a mortal bearer of her name.

Maeve is the central figure of the most important old Irish epic, the Tain Bo Cuillaigne, or Cattle Raid of Cooley. The story begins with Maeve, ruler of the Connaught wilderness in the Irish west, Iying abed with her current consort, King Aillil. They compare possessions, Aillil attempting to prove he owns more than she does. Point for point, Maeve matches him. Finally, Aillil mentions a magical bull-and wins the argument, for Maeve has no such animal.

But she knows of one, the magic bull of Cooley in northern Eire. And so Maeve gathers her armies to steal it. She rides into battle in an open car, with four chariots surrounding her, for she is glamorously attired and does not wish to muddy her robes. She is a fierce opponent, laying waste the armies of the land, for no man could look on Maeve without falling down in a paroxysm of desire.

The armies of Ulster, stricken with the curse of the goddess Macha, fall down in labor pains upon the arrival of Queen Maeve's army in their land. Only the hero Cuchulain resists, killing Locha, Maeve's handmaiden, as well as many male heroes of Connaught. Maeve tries to buy victory with her "willing thighs," stops the battle whenever she is menstruating, and otherwise shows herself to be an unusual warrior. After much bloodshed, she does indeed win her bull--but it and Aillil's bull fling themselves upon each other, tear each other to bits, and die in the bloodiest anticlimax in world literature.

Back to TOP Text from Patricia Monaghan's The New Book of Goddesses and Heroines
Published by Llewellyn, copyright 1997.   Used by permission of the author.

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