One night Queen Meadhbh of Connaught and her husband Ailill lay in bed enjoying their pillow talk. They were comparing their wealth to prove their equality in all possessions. They discovered one exception. Ailill owned the white bull, Finnbhennac and Meadhbh had no such bull. Enraged by this inequality she began a search to discover a bull equal in virility to Ailill’s. She heard of a bull in Ulster named the Dunn Cuailnge and set her sights on acquiring him. Negotiations began peacefully but ended with Meadhbh marching into Ulster with her army for a terrible war that brought about the tragic fight of the two great warriors and friends, Cú Chulainn and Ferdia.
Note : Unlike my other retellings the story below is an abstract exploration of my understanding of the archetype, Queen Meadhbh. I begin at the end. The battle is over. Queen Meadhbh is feeling blamed and ever so slightly entertaining guilt. However, any feelings of remorse don’t survive for long in Meadhbh as her hedonism, promiscuity and guiltlessness are incorruptible; a bit like mother earth herself who can rule with an earthquake or a tsunami, crushing any illusions we may have of living in a person centred world.
Meadhbh: Goddess of the earth, sovereignty and war.
Ailill: King of Connaught, husband to Queen Meadhbh.
Morrigan: Goddess of Battle and Sovereignty, sometimes shapeshifting to a crow.
Manannan: Irish God of the Sea.
Fergus Mac Roich: Formerly King of Ulster; his name means great stallion.
Cú Chulainn: A great Irish warrior who fought against Queen Meadhbh’s army single handedly and killed his best friend Ferdia after a gruelling three day duel.
Ferdia: A great Irish warrior who trained in the arts of combat with Cú Chulainn and who was manipulated into fighting his best friend and killed by him.
Pillow Talk Post War
I had a dream. My Lord Ailill is seated on his throne. My throne is beside. It Is ruffled by me, making the shape of me among the velvets but I am not there. Perched on the high back is a bird sitting staring with her crows eyes as black as night. There is contentment on my lord’s face. It is a face he wears sometimes. Yes, after we have loved he wears it and other times too when he is feeling big. I remember him wearing it that day when he discovered he had the white bull over me. It sneers, contorts into satisfaction, pride at his prowess in satisfying this Queen as if he is greater, superior. He sings with it. I don’t like it. It has not in it, even a flicker that speaks of his love for me. It is a love for himself face. The bird wears an expression too as birds can but only in dreams. It is an expression of blame.
All around him for miles are limbs freshly cut from their torsos swimming in blood, severed heads decorating spears and voices, women wailing in anguish, dying men in agony crying out for their mothers, the howling of terrified dogs, the neighing of horses, even deeper than neighing, breathing out the sound of pain, of spears in their sides, the sound of life leaving them and the bird is squawking, her, always squawking and pulling at my hair and my hair is covering it all, blowing over it all, black as she is, mingling with her wings, mingling with the blood. My hair is writing on the wind that I am to blame for this blood bath. I know this to be true in the dream, as surely as I know that the scent of spring in the air covers me in loveliness when I am the spring.
And then Cú Chulainn sits on the throne. He opens his mouth as if to smile down at me while I am standing amid the slaughtered, sinking in, deeper, deeper. And as his mouth opens she flies out, cackling crow sounds swooping as if she will take my eyes out. Blood is dragging me down into the carnage, pulling at my robes making them heavy. Slurping and sucking at them making me want to take them off, but I know too in this dream, that if I discard them he will win. The great Cú Chulainn will have sunken this Queen in blood attempting to incarcerate me into definition; like he was. That was the intent of it all and I know it like I know the flowers of the earth grow for me, sing for me, whisper in the breeze for me when I am a flower.
So, I must wear these robes through the blood and the limbs, the wailing anguish, the squawking. And though it is a heavy weight I carry, if I can crawl through the blood that is pulling me deeper and deeper into it, then and only then, will my largess survive. I will not be drowned in it, nor let it envelop me. I will emerge as the queen that I am. And I know it as sure as I know that trees shed their gorgeous leaves in autumn making me brilliant, when I am trees in Autumn.
Ailill doesn’t come to liberate me from this sea of blood though he shared in its filling. No, he leaves me there, dragging alone, accusing me as if he is out the other side and I am not. Ailill is above himself if he thinks he has separated himself from this carnage. Is my own husband to join in a chorus of blame. If so he will not live to tell this tale and I know that as deeply as I know a winter sleep refreshes when I am winter sleep.
What does it mean, that he stays on his throne sitting with that face on? That She, that crow, is the voice of Cú Chulainn saying what he did not say, or could not? What would the druids say to this dream. That the war was only mine and his? Maybe it was. That I needed Cú Chulainn to realise myself fully? Maybe I did. To win over that trapped smallness called excellence. Who needs it? I don’t.
What I need is to decide on the quality of levee I will build around myself that makes me Meadhbh of Connaught and no small Queen made up from a new consciousness shaped by reputation. It is best for me as usual to keep my to own countenance. I need no Druid. I am all that can be trusted and the only one to decide what all this means because I am magnificent.
My dream goes on in the manner of dreams. Ailill riding the grey of Macha; one of Cú Chulainn’s horses, whom they say has no equal. Great horse rears up for Ailill who straddles his wildness elegantly with, I might add, a wildness of his own, not characteristic of my Lord. He is most becoming and I might have been taken up, away from myself with excitement as he was splendidly un-tethered, reminding me of my times with the lustful Ferghus Mac Rioch. But just then the sun shines down in a huge interruption, in a shaft between storm clouds, on to Ailill while he holds his sword up toward the sky for the sun to touch. Then everything brightens for the shortest of moments, like that moment before the last battle.
What is this dream of smallness? This great Queen dreaming smallness? Ailill straddled on Cú Chulainn’s horse? It is preposterous to suggest that he would fill that skin? Is this I, buying into this as a defeat? I will not! Is this man’s consciousness infiltrating my enormousness. Man’s perception of my actions as a squabble, influencing me, leaking into me, making me hobble for a short while. But only a for a very short, short as a breath while.
Hear me. This is my epiphany: I had to endure encounters with battle to discover that I need no bull. I need to overcome no champion. All I needed to realise was that I was weakened in myself by all of this engagement with equality designed to diminish me. I see what this dream is now. I am the earth and the sun communes with me through him. Cú Chulainn has been useful to me in my communion with the sun. That is its meaning; I need no Druid. I know that boy was great and Ailill of ordinary talent tries to bask in that but, he is a bit player and I needed to see that I do not, do contest. The Cú was closest to being my equal. Closest to my great self but his definition was his enemy in the end.
It is as good to lose, as it is to win. Losing was a loosing in the end. The loosing is the water passed from my own sacred bladder. I was ready to let it go. I was ahead of them all in the loosing of myself and, if blood had to be shed for my sacred water to flow then so be it.
The natural does not apologise for itself. A storm is a storm. Mananan is Mananan. Am I not closer to myself in my taking than I am in my giving? That is how I intoxicate. If I give plenty, but never so that I fall.
I am. That is all that I have to give which is more than enough. My soul is perfect. It holds the secret scent of earth, breathes it in and out, intoxicates with it. My body is perfect. It encounters what I already am. If I am not complete then no one is complete. My energy will endure. Slights are plenty but I will make them few. I have been violated. Oh yes and they will always go for that lest I not be all. But they violate themselves in the end. They have tried to conquer through anything that might be soft in me. Ah, but I know what is soft in them. I can get any man to do my bidding with a little threat of ridicule or the promise of my scent. And mine is nothing like the threat of Bricru’s poison tongue because he gets caught in it and needs to laugh at them. I don’t need to laugh. I get to weakness for the greater good of the mere moment. I manipulate into the underbelly on behalf of the earth. And that is not to be compared with a trick. I get what I want and what I want changes.
What am I? Something to own? To be equal to? I am so sorry for those who see themselves as owners when I can part what a King might think is his kingdom with a river, my river. What are the animals? They sit with me. They are me and as Cú Chulainn draws his sling to kill the stoat that sits with me he kills his own earth. He shows me his own tragedy. What is life? What is death? Why do I care I don’t need to ponder because I will endure. Slights are plenty. I will make them nothing. I see the way we get what we need. The way we occupy the stories, the land story, the sea story, the smith story, the druid story, and the woman with the babe in arms story, the warrior in my way story, the Queen story? I wont let them make me into such a story. I defy story. Tell the tale but it will not end in definition. I remain a mystery. I remain without apology. I confuse with no account of myself. I defy with losing being my winning.
What happened to my cloak? I don’t need it. Better ask what happened to my stoat, my bird, my blood, my piss and you will see more.
Wisdom knew when she said to me shed tears only for what can take your breath. Bleed in the stew of all you invent and don’t come back until the mix is sacred with your smell. What’s sacred is profound and life is hard but if you return with it, fancy will want it and fancy is him so, bargain, bribe, run, shout, swim, learn to sin, get it back, create things you like, songs for your life and follow your nose.