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