Badb Catha — RJ Barker & Paul Watson


There have always been crows in my life and I have always loved them.

Britain was once a place of forests. You will find our dreams and nightmares among the trees with the crows. We think of crows as strictly carrion eaters, but it’s a mistake. They’re omnivores — fierce and intelligent opportunists. They’ll take what they can, where they can: seeds, mice, baby birds, dead meat.

We, as a species, have a talent for feeding crows.

The Badb Catha is a figure we really know little about–that’s not to say there isn’t a lot written about her, but actual first hand sources are few and far between. She is as opaque as the parts of the beloved forests that scared me as a child. You’ll find her called a goddess but more accurately she’s a fairy, a member of the Tuatha-de-Danann. We can’t even be sure if the badb is one person or three. Is she a figure in her own right, an aspect, or even all, of the tripartite Morrigan? Is she the killer or the trickster? Is she a bringer of violence or a celebrant of peace? Is she a reveller in death or spirit of mourning?

Does it even matter?

She is a creature we paint and twist into the images that suit us. But what we know for certain is that she is associated with those black corvids familiar to us, and we dress her in the same black plumage. Badb Catha: trickster, soul-thief, warrior spirit.


There have always been crows in my life and we have always loved them.

There’s this kid: let’s call him Pete, let’s call him Andy, let’s call him Dan. Anyway, you knew him. You look back now and realise his home life must have been pretty awful. He never looked clean; you don’t mean his clothing. His clothes were always new: tick-scar insignia, best quality cheap sportswear — but his skin? His skin looked strange, as if it had been folded and creased around his eyes and like he had a Mediterranean tan even in the depths of winter — though he was all EN-GER-LAND! — and you knew his family couldn’t afford holidays abroad. Sometimes he was bruised, but that was because he got in a lot of fights, right?


You look back now and you realise.

Look, you avoid Pete? Andy? Dan? because you don’t know what he’ll do and he scares you. Sometimes he’s friendly, y’know, sometimes he’s alright, like he can’t believe you’re giving him your time but he still makes you nervous.

You’re nervous around him because he is often cruel.

Remember that day?

That hot summer day near the fields when he saw you and started running; and you knew, you knew, this wouldn’t end well. He caught you, of course. You were never athletic and he was all wiry strength and runner’s stamina — starved looking. He took a swing and you ducked, surprised by the speed of your own reactions, and then he jumped back because he didn’t expect that, not of you. But he’s still here, you’re still caught. Then you’re faking an asthma attack — making like the hot, still air is solid, falling to the floor and choking as he backs away. He’s scared. You made him scared.

‘I’m sorry,’ he says, ‘I’m sorry.’ Then he ran away and you were left shivering with adrenalin and laughing because somehow, no matter how unlikely it seemed, you had won.

On the gatepost to the field is a crow. Black-eyed and shiver-winged. Caw-caw-caw, he says. He’s laughing with you. Caw-caw-caw.


There have always been crows in my life and we have always loved them.

Put yourself in a field, incoherent with exhaustion after hours of battle — screaming into the face of another man: pushing against your shield with all your might. Feeling the weight and heat of your fellows behind you: thrusting the spear, hearing men die. Walk into that still field later, blood like dew on the grass, and stagger through the bodies, hear the Badb Catha take on souls in the deafening quiet of a thousand lifting wings.

Maybe you’ve never been near to death or never really thought about it — so you don’t realise that the fight you’re most likely to be involved in is one with illness. It’s not the pain that will get you; that’s a reminder of life. It’s the tiredness: a slow drift toward a place where it seems easier to accept an end than to carry on. Eventually, you find yourself in a place where you would welcome an end. It’s entirely natural — probably the way we’re designed; to slowly slip away. You see worry as a darkness in the eyes of those that love you. The young may have the energy to rage, but then again, they have energy for such a lot.

You, though?

You’re curled up on the floor wishing the pain to go away, begging for just one night of uninterrupted sleep. You wait for Badb Catha at your door, all in black plumage. But when she comes there is nothing but fierce love and life in the dark of her eyes.

So you fight.

You. Fight.

There have always been crows in my life and we have always loved them.

Standing in a rookery the moment a thousand birds take to the air: a supernatural experience, instantaneous communication. They rehearse it first — a chorus of caws and then a bough will shudder, shedding black leaves that take to the sky before gyring round and returning. Sometimes they repeat this behaviour, sometimes they don’t do it at all. Then without warning or preamble there is a sudden defoliation of corvids. A twilight of birds flowing widdershins through the air: the overwhelming noise isn’t the cawing or their chirrups, it’s the whirr of wings. It is an otherwordly sound, it is unlike any other I know, managing to be both quiet and to fill the air. It is like a pillow over your face, blocking out the echoes of the normal world. You are transported to somewhere other.

My son is called Rook. A rook is not a crow or a raven, but like life before and after becoming a parent, it’s similar enough to seem the same while being totally different. They’re a relatively recent arrival: social and boisterous, preferring fields and open land to our old and dense forests. Odds are, unless you’re a fellow obsessive, then whenever you think you’re seeing a crow or a raven — in a field, flying high, roosting or nailed to a farmer’s fence — it’s most likely going to be a rook; though they appear largely interchangeable. My son was born soon after illness brought me within reach of death. I don’t know which of us named him, I think it was my wife, also ever clad in black plumage. She thinks it was me, but regardless of who came up with it there was a sudden instantaneous communication — a simple, warm, moment of knowing.

We never considered any other name.

There have always been crows in our lives and we have always loved them.

RJ Barker (text) dreams of warm nights, clear skies, and stars. @dedbutdrmng

Paul Watson (images) is a Brighton based artist and owner of the Lazarus Corporation website. He works in various media including drawing, printmaking, and photography, and is currently publishing a book of his artwork. Usually found on Twitter as @lazcorp

All images including header panel by Paul Watson

Badb Catha (2)
Linocut Print, 2013

Badb Catha (8)
Photograph, 2013

Badb Catha Drawing 2
Charcoal & Chalk on Cartridge Paper, 2013

Badb Catha (2)
Photograph, 2013