Friday 28 December 2007

Cailleach Bheur

SCOTTISH MYTHOLOGY tells of a blue-faced hag associated with winter – the Cailleach Bheur. According to ancient tradition, she reappears each year at Samhain (Halloween), bringing with her the cold weather and snows of the winter months. The Cailleach Bheur is the ancient Queen of winter – possibly the oldest Goddess of the British Isles. She sits crouching in a cave wrapped in a tattered shawl, peering out of her one good eye, waiting for her reign to begin at Samhain.

Throughout the winter she is the guardian of wild animals including wolves and deer. She carries a magical staff which freezes the ground with each tap. In later legend the Cailleach Bheur has tended to lose some of the more fearsome aspects of her character, and has been linked with the Loathsome Lady of Arthurian and Celtic myth.

The reign of the Cailleach Bheur ends at Beltane (May Day eve) when she is replaced by Brigit, the Goddess who ushers in the spring. On this date, the Cailleach Bheur is said to lay down her staff under a holly or gorse bush and turn to stone.

Illustration: drypoint etching

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