In the midst of the drumming, dancing, acrobatics, pyrotechnics and blazing flames of Samhuinn, a tale of a goddess and royalty unfolds as the seasons turn. Our Cailleach, Becky, would like to share the Samhuinn 2014 Court story with you…
The Cailleach, the Crone aspect of the goddess is the bringer of the dark and cold of Winter. She is the storm hag whose journey across the land and to the seas brings the winds and the ice as she washes her white plaid in the waters and covers the mountains with her destructive gift. She brings death to cleanse the land; without the silent purge of winter there is no room for new life to grow. Carrying the seed of summer’s remains, she preserves that which must live on for the Maiden to grow when the Crone’s time is over.
The Cailleach awaits the coming change, breaking from her stony form in which she lay dormant during summers reign. The earth, the mountains, the sea and sky speak to her and rouse her from her rest. The once green and lush vegetation is now tired, the soil baked and the seas swollen with life which threatens to suffocate itself. Animals grow old beyond their physical capacity and weakness creeps in- too long protected and sheltered in Brigid’s light. As the eternal Crone, the Cailleach knows this pain as she strains to reanimate from her sleep as deep and cold as the grave. Her power, her grace and her season will return in full when the time is right- for now she moves slowly through the landscape (represented by her journey through the procession), leaving subtle signs of her ever growing influence. The world will decay without her touch which brings harsh relief from the unrelenting demand and greed of summer. For many it will mean their end. Death is her gift and although veiled, her presence is felt most acutely by those ready for winter’s cull. She moves amongst the herds, watching and waiting; looking for the weakness that if not laid to rest will burden their kin in the coming dark time. Marking the afflicted with a tender caress she takes count of the harsh task ahead of her. Like a shepherd she must protect the collective and often that requires harsh choices to be made in light of winter’s coming. The weak must perish when she dances the storms across the sky and covers the land in white. Only the strong can survive Her time.
As a goddess who’s protected or totemic animal is the deer, it seems strange that she should take a great wolf as her familiar as so many stories describe. Winter is predatory, feral and visceral. The wolf, a well known predator of deer reflects this wild and frightful aspect of the goddess and Her season. He reflects the balance which Winter maintains in the culling of the weak, sick and old prey. Her control over him demonstrates the power and influence the Cailleach exerts over life and death… Her choice.
As the Cailleach moves through the Summer Court, She looks to its King- for none are exempt from her gift, not even he. She acknowledges a strength in him, the wisdom of his years and experience, yet his physical strength dwindles like the Autumn sun. His colours are fading, replaced with the golds and umbers of the change. He does not seem to have noticed his gradual transformation, basking in the delusion of an eternal summer. The memory of his days courting and dancing with the Maiden and the Mother sustain him. Surely their love and power will never leave him if he remains loyal? It is no longer their time however and their light is leaving the land. In the Cailleach’s time of darkness, a strong leader is necessary for his subjects to survive. Just as the weak of the herds are marked, the King, the stag whom they follow through the land must be too. The Cailleach wishes to test his strength to determine whether Summer’s reign is ended. A challenger is required to examine the balance of power at this liminal point in the year; a young buck to lock antlers with the King and potentially displace him, replacing the Hart of Summer with darker presence.
The ego of youth is powerful if influenced, corrupted and fuelled to a purpose. It has the power to tip the balance and the Crown. The Prince has moved through his father’s realm as he journeys to gain a wealth of experience to match that of his fathers. A process of coming of age. He has learnt more than the King’s paternal shelter could offer and far from the revelry and merriment of His court, the Prince can see much more of the changes of the seasons. The wind speaks of Her return and he feels the Cailleach’s distant footsteps grow closer with each day. The distant mountains are already white and the great grey wolf pelt covers the skies as the storms approach. She is moving through lowlands and on meeting the sea, washing her white plaid of ice… silence will fall. The Summer king was blessed with the power of fertility, bounty and the sun’s light by the Goddess. A different and ever growing power influences his son. The Winter Prince with skin touched by the encroaching frost and mind bathed in the ever growing darkness, feels another Goddess’ favour upon him. It drives him to accept the truth; his father is ill prepared for the coming winter and someone with the strength to reign over the harsh Winter kingdom must take the throne before it is too late. He moves upon his father’s court fuelled by the icy resolve of a focused young buck and the subtle influence of the Crone.
The Prince is strong but whether he can match his father in challenges of mind and spirit is yet to be seen. The Cailleach watches over the conflict and must make her choice. Who shall reign and what qualities of the defeated must She gift in bestowing sovereignty, as strength and wisdom must both survive this ordeal.