When I Am Not Writing I Am Writing

Samhain season is here. The clocks have fallen back in Europe and North America. This is the season of the Cailleach (sounds like call-yuck). She is the Old ‘Un, considered the creatrix of the island of Ireland. The myth says that this Mother Winter piled stone upon stone to create this island in the North Atlantic. While autumn temperatures are still nmild here, and the Virginia creeper was slow to turn crimson, the darkness has crept in. I want to be a bear and sleep in my den. Maybe that has to do with solar flares, or the clock time shifting around, or the darkness that requires artificial light in at least some corners of the house all day. How did they cope before electrification? Most any time of the day requires some extra light for reading or writing or any close work…

While not ascribing to writer’s block, I do believe there are creative lulls. Sometimes it just needs to be pen down. Meanwhile, I have hoked out bag after bag of comfrey root before dibbing in many kilos of narcissus bulbs to naturalise. I also felt an urge to make an effigy of the Cailleach. Tis her season after all! And then I still had some wool and made her a Wyrd Little Sister. Or Maid. Or Assistant in the creation of the world. While the Wyrd Sister has the button face that many folk Bridéogs have had, I really felt that the Cailleach needed a blank face…sort of like Original Face, since she is Origin. I also found a piece of felled tree branch that works as a stick for her to lean on and into the winter gales. She is a giantess and the Wryd Little Sister is considerably smaller even with her bending into the wind. They have stones in their aprons in accordance with some legends and stones at their feet as they empty load upon load. Creation begins…over and over.

Which really does prove that putting tools down and getting away from the screen or the page can fuel your creativity. Sometimes, some other creative activity will fill your well. I play with wool, collage, cook, bake; I specialise in garden demolition work! The words will come eventually, but first I need to shush the mind chatter and emotional whirlwinds. I need the silence. Perhaps silence is the writer’s equivalent tool to an artist using chiaroscuro in a painting. Silence helps delineate the light and shadow.

Onward to the Weekly Poem in its infant form… It arises from a interrogating myself on what do I want and need to myself at this Samhain time.

Silence and Juice

I want more...
silence to quell the deep uncertainty out there beyond
our small sanctuary of green beginning to sleep,
beds caped against frost, for the frost will come,
it will bite, it will bleed the juice from the comfrey
that will wilt and blacken and lie flat
down on the ground, macerating.

I want
some of that juice. Let it flow.
Let it allow something new to grow.
Let it be strong and useful and somehow
even a little bit beautiful.

I need some of that juice from the get go.
Also
deep sleep, like some bear in its winter lair.
I need this darkness
though some may feel despair...

There is the soft heart beat
of seeds waiting for more light, 
for more warmth,
for some water and some wind,
some thing...

I need to just put my ear to the ground
counting earth's twenty-three beats per minute
even in the winter,
even in the dark,
even in the cold.

I want silence for myself, but I need the beat.
I want the beat for myself in the silence.
I need the silence to hear the beat.
I need the beat to soften the silence.

I need to trust the unexpected.
I want to pay the price of all with my all.

If you need a little light in the season of darkness I am going to be conducting some Sunday Zoom reflective writing sessions from the first night of the Festival of Light, Hanukah, until Winter Solstice on 21st December. Because this is a spendy time of year I am only requesting a donation, pay what you are able. Sometimes you just need to have a lighthouse in your living/dining room and beam it out so others don’t run aground. Message me if you are interested in joining.

And then Cailleach Beara Laughed

…at my last post,which implied Spring was a coming in here in Ireland. And it was, pretty much, until the last few days. Then on Thursday we had the most astonishing sunrise. More astonishing still, I was up and at the digital memorialising of it even though the temperatures were sub-zero. Because you know it’s cold when you have to put a hot water bottle on the (outdoor) calor gas drum to coax it to flow so you can have your breakfast porridge!

Red sky in morning, shepherd’s warning and all that… We woke up to a very different dawn, with a barely there light and snow coming down. Only around two inches like, but that is enough for orange snow and ice warnings for the area from MetEireann. My husband fed the birds and I walked the dog before 9:30 am during a lull in the snowfall. The mountain in the sunrise photo was obliterated between heavy cloud and snowfall. The wind, on a yellow warning, did some damage; between the weight of the snow and the wind, a long tear seared the polytunnel’s skin. (Not to worry, since it was scheduled for a re-skinning this spring.) So it has felt as if the Cailleach Beara, or Mother Winter, really was having a laugh at my precipitous statement.

However, it livens up what I am now terming Pandemic Groundhog Day. For those of us who have really stuck to minimising our essential trips (most to the village that is 3km from home) and taking exercise within 5km, it amounted as a major change of scenery to take the general waste to the tip 20 km away. We also needed the nearest health food store 32 km away, last visited the first week in December after Lockdown 2 lifted, for items unobtainable in the village. It felt like visiting Babylon.

And while I have continued my haiku/senryu/tanka a day journal, I really have felt the flame of inspiration sputtering and guttering. At least I know I am not alone in this. Here is my friend and sometime creative colleague, Morag Donald’s, recent blog. (https://moragdonald.wordpress.com/2021/02/05/creative-spark/?fbclid=IwAR3c4coU7wfTGBzWqrKIvamRWrPNRX2Dn0VKL-yaa3Nf3ZlFaK-WsYgSTuE). Brigid’s Day 2020 saw us co-faciliating a day retreat of craft and poetry. I look forward to days when we can co-create in person.

The sheer grind of keeping the household tidy, supplied, hygienic, fed and watered, as well as taking our prescribed thirty minutes of daily outdoor exercise has been energy sapping. It may, in part, be the toll the January injury took, but I am now coming round to the conclusion that there is a chink in my pandemic stoicism. There has been a death from Covid in the next village over from us, according to the local undertaker’s wife. (The things you learn while doing the weekly shop!) And I posted off two Recuperation CARE parcels in the past ten days. This variant is picking off the younger generations and hitting them hard.

Yes, the Cailleach laughed. Winter is not over yet. Even so, I did a panic online shopping spree last Sunday when I saw a report that Brexit has slowed plant and seed supplies into Northern Ireland, where our nearest garden centre is located. A quick online snoop had me ordering willy nilly from various Republic of Ireland sources, alarmed at all the ‘Out of Stock’ labels. Still need to source spuds and yellow onions.

Meanwhile, my friend Morag’s blog post seems to be pointing me in the right direction for digging myself out of my creative funk. My zoom classes and students probably kept the creative flame kindled in 2020. I need to acknowledge that I receive so much from that contact and be grateful for them. It might be time to make contact with those creative colleagues again to keep inspiration’s flame alive. I am thinking that it might be time to recommence the poetry workshops, starting with a two month dive into a handful of poetry forms.

I do have a poem in the works, but it is not fully ‘cooked.’ In the meantime, I am pointing you towards a video show I participated in last Sunday, hosted by my friend John Wilmott of Carrocrory Cottage and Labyrinths. I read four poems at roughly thirty minutes into the show. One poem is in the archive, but the others are probably new to blog followers. (https://youtu.be/sfIofvscCyY).

The poem that is in the works was ‘sparked’ by the theme of that day’s show. Hope you get some inspiration. Meanwhile, renewal is on its way. The snowdrops are blooming and the daffodil shoots are braving it through the snow. I just need to be more like them.

Exit the Cailleach

I am well aware that parts of the earth are gripped in a polar vortex, but here in Ireland the old signs of season’s changes still seem to be holding. I woke before full daylight this morning to let the old dog out to find that all the Cailleach’s beautiful snow and ice had melted. It is Imbolc New Moon and this feels especially auspicious that the frost will now be over and the growing can begin to happen in earnest. Mary Pat Lynch in her WordPress blog I read this morning says this is a particularly good new moon for wishes ( http://www.risingmoonastrology.com/new-moon-in-aquarius-brave-new-world.)

But to poetry practice…oh, and Happy Chinese New Year of the Earth Pig! May all your wishes for new projects, beginnings, and prospects come true!

Imbolc New Moon

Overnight
the Cailleach gave up
Her fight.
The rain melted away
all her will for frost and ice.

Overnight
The maiden insinuated in
Her light.
She shakes her green skirts out
to dry on bare tree branches.


Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved.

Featured Photo by Nikolai Voelcker on Unsplash

Cailleach Conditions

Poetry practice is a bit hurried (and slightly harried) this morning. I have a workshop this morning and need to get out early and set up the space for the poetry reading and storytelling. Meanwhile, overnight, we have had a generous dollop of snow. Just a couple of inches. But that means extra time clearing off the car, warming the engine…stuff that people in Chicago and Philadelphia do as winter time second nature. But it is rare here in Ireland. Except at this time of year, when the Cailleach really does like to bare her winter teeth. But it is a bit freaky in a land without snow tyres. Because who would have them when you only need them for one morning a year?!

Cailleach Conditions

We are both old(er) girls now,
Ellie the dog and I, and we treasure
our bladders. So we see a lot
of morning dark. But even in today's
peach slice of crescent moon,
it's frail light, the snow overnight
is reflecting just enough
illumination. There is no cloud.
Venus is up there all twinkly bright.
So is Jupiter and that little moon.
It is just Ellie, Aphrodite and Zeus
and me here
with the Cailleach's cold
standing in the porch doorway
with rapidly cooling cup of tea.
I softly call Ellie to come back in
out from the snow. Not to linger.
Now we are both old(er)
there is this fascination with
darkness, cold,
the company of starry gods.


Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved.

Featured image Photo by Noah Silliman on Unsplash

Two-faced January

Just as I was rejoicing the gorse being back in bloom yesterday and the coming of spring…we woke up to this.

two-faced January
The Cailleach likes her little jokes…

and you really know why January is named for the two-faced God. We even have a stone idol of Janus in Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark. Obviously, that resonated with typical January weather here. So they erected a god to appease.

Fermanagh Janus in Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark
Fermanagh Janus figure

It’s that typically wet, slushy Irish snow. It won’t last the day. Or most of it won’t down where we live. Up on the mountains it will cling on in the Cailleach’s natural habitat. Then some proper snow begins to drift down, which makes me wonder will it accumulate.

But it was time to get down to poetry practice.

I noodled with some haiku. Watched the birds visit the feeders, which my dear husband replenished first thing. Watched the sky change and change again. Refused to let the cats out to worry the birds. Wondered at how the Cailleach really does like to jerk our chains by throwing sleet and slushy snow at us just as the bulbs are coming up and the days get brighter and we are beginning to come out of our winter hidey holes. Watched how the dreary grey dueled with a feisty bolt of sunshine, which then would retreat. The Maiden Brigid is still flexing up for this fight.

Then this…

Janus


If we could map the sky
from that flash of sun bursting
briefly on the western horizon
and the passing grey plummeting,
its iron curtain in the east.

If we could map the shifting of cloud
the patches of azure blue
that then go sallow all
within the space of an hour,
and less.

But who's marking time
like you would count a stitch?
Change is constant. Time slips.
I watch the morning snow melt
drips from the eaves.

Minutes matter. They are also all for naught.
We think that we can map the sky,
plot our direction and make a path.
But we have no Fate immunity.
Plans cannot out run getting caught.

Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved.

Featured image for the haiku meme today – Photo by Anthony Ievlev on Unsplash

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


Winter is Coming

Have you heard  about the Cailleach? She is well known in Celtic lands. She is not only the bringer of winter, she was the creatrix of this land. She emptied her apron full of stones to make these islands on the fringe of Europe. Like a Pictish warrior she is sometimes imagined with a blue face. She is older than everything and only yields to the maiden Brigid in springtime when it is time for the world to resurrect and grow.  So she is death and endings, before she reinvents herself as the fertile maiden in springtime.

Looking at photos from years past I can tell that winter has advanced by comparison to previous years. The outer is mirroring the inner reality. The weather is matching the world climate.  To make your self feel better you might want to refer to an earlier post inspired by Traci Yorke Freezer Spell.

One must take one’s cheer where one can find it and make it. The Cailleach is a crone. Old women can be dangerous.

Winter is Coming

 

There is a cold wind this morning

and a leaden sky.

I cannot but help to think winter

is coming early.

 

The leaves are being shaken down

piling on the ground.

Early frost has blackened bracken

leaving it face down.

 

The Cailleach once upon a time

built this world of stone,

comes once more with her apron

of stones she will hurl.

 

The Cailleach comes in stone cold rage.

Winter is coming.

Hail stone fists will begin to fly.

Winter is coming.

 

The Cailleach blows, her face gone blue.

Winter is coming.

The Cailleach buries and freezes out.

Winter is coming.

 

The Cailleach comes early this year.

 

 

Copyright © 2018 Bee Smith