The Cailleach in Her Winter Cave

cailleach in cave

In Irish and Scottish lore, the Cailleach (sounds a bit like Cal-yuk) is Mother Winter. In some myth she is credited with creating this known part of the world by emptying her apron of stones to build these island kingdoms. She is the crone, the aging year. In springtime there is a stand off with the maiden at Imbolc and the struggle between the old and the new life is played out until the vernal equinox, when the maiden clearly ought to be the victor.

This primordial crone has echoes in other cultures goddess myths. I see her in a keening Demeter bereft of her daughter. I see her in Hecate who has the wisdom to help lead the world back to some kind of equilibrium with Persephone restored and the earth renewed and fruitful. Those who have never known food shortages, especially over winter, can barely imagine the desperation that our ancestors must have felt as they implored the earth to provide sustenance and succour. Our Midwinter feasts are based on using up perishable foodstuffs; and then comes time for preserving energy until the new planting season arrives. That’s when our ancestors did take a cue from bears and hibernate to conserve energy and food.

Today’s image is a photo I took when visiting Mother Shipton’s Cave in Knaresborough, North Yorkshire in 2016. Mother Shipton, with her living in the king’s woodland and this cave, with her prophecying, is a more modern embodiment of the crone or cailleach energy. She is a wise woman, as well as the cunning woman. And she is old, old, old.


The Cailleach in Her Cave
 
Deep in her winter cave
the Cailleach sits and croons.
She keeps with her a dog
whose coat is black at pitch.
 
She keeps the dog to have
company. But she has
with her a silver wolf
to keep strangers at bay.
 
Deep in her winter cave
the crone has her own light.
It is not a lantern.
Her right palm is alight.
 
She tosses that fire
like she would her dog’s ball.
She plays with it and it’s
not for warmth or cooking pot.
 
She has other needs. Look!
She watches it play out
bouncing on the walls like
a metronome for tunes.
 
She croons to the shadows.
She croons to winter cold.
She croons to her wolf pal.
She croons to her black dog.
 
She holds a tinderbox
in her other palm. It will
never scorch or cinder burn.
She keeps the need fire.
 
Deep in her winter cave
the Cailleach plays the light
and no matter how small
it shines on winter nights.
 
Copyright© Bee Smith 2018


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