Words from our Cailleach: Water

Our Samhuinn 2016 Cailleach, Diana, has been musing on the element of water and would like to share her thoughts with you…

Words from our Cailleach: Water

As I’ve been imagining myself more and more into the role of Cailleach in recent weeks, I’ve been intrigued to notice that I’ve become preoccupied with thoughts and images of water. As if somehow the Cailleach is drawing me particularly to consider that element.

I’ve noticed especially that my lifelong love of visiting the coast, of the calming breathing-out I experience when I look out to sea from a sandy or rocky shore, has been especially much in my heart and mind so for our first relaxed several hours together the weekend before last I suggested to the Summer King and Winter King that we go to the coast South of Edinburgh, on an uncommonly warm yet definitely Autumnal day.

We wandered along the shore barefoot in bath-warm shallow water, discussing our roles for Samhuinn, co-creating the beginnings of shared ritual imagery for the night itself and pausing every few minutes to share a delight with each other in the small matters of tiny fish scooting away from our feet, the structure and patterning of an empty seashell, how seedling seaweeds anchor to a tiny shell. It felt like a re-connecting with Nature, more easily forgotten in town.

We made an impromptu joint decision to swim in the deeper sea when we’d reached a particularly beautiful smaller beach and while strangers a wee way away started a fire and looked timeless in sillhouette against the top of a sand dune, we dared each other into the colder deeper water and shouted with the intensity of it.

I thought of my personal Cailleach story: of her bringing the Winter, that can be the time when our demons are especially likely to come up to be seen and felt, and I dared myself into deeper water than I usually would, past the point where my feet would land easily on the bottom if my legs and arms got too tired to splash about keeping me afloat, and dared myself to feel that fear of the depth and be curious about it. To face it and trust that my beautiful lungs full of air would keep me afloat and my miraculous human limbs would do what they needed to to help. And I remembered one of the stories of the Corryvreckan whirlpool off the West coast of Scotland – the third largest whirlpool in the world so I’ve read – and how the Cailleach would wash her plaid in it until the wool turned pure white, and then she’d lay it over the mountains and so bring the first snows on Winter.

And this touched for me on my very personal memories of the times in my life when the things that get called depression and anxiety and panic disorder and agoraphobia and such have had me tight in their grip and my thinking mind was not clear enough to know how to even sort through clothing and bed linens to choose which could be washed together best, and how since those times the activity of laundering has become a personal ritual that acts as a familiar way to give myself a grounding. If I can have clean and fresh clothes and linens – a trusty washing machine – a sturdy clothes drying pulley of the right size in a convenient place, then something within my power can be right with my world even if I’m feeling a sense of inner or outer chaos. And… I can honour the hands of the people who made my clothing – some of which are several generations old – the skill and the necessity to knit and sew and mend, in the case of the older items often by hand, in order to bring the warmth and comfort of clothes essential to the Scottish climate.

And I look forward to hand-laundering the precious items of costuming that have been gifted to me from their wearers in previous Samhuinn festivals, and the squares of fabric already finding their way to me from my recent invitation; to honouring those previous wearers and the many caring hands who helped create their pieces and the creators of the squares – and in that honouring also make them my own.

And looking forward, I’m determined to visit Corryvreckan, as close as I can anyway – apparently at the start of Winter the crashing of the whirlpool can sometimes be heard twenty miles away -and perhaps even challenge my almost total lack of sealegs into a boat to get a look at it close up and dare those depths to face me again.

The Samhuinn Fire Festival 2016 is at 9pm on Monday 31st October on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile. Find out all about it here.

Photograph by Tanya Simpson

One thought on “Words from our Cailleach: Water

  1. Great to hear your insights. The Cailleach of course is said to renew herself in water every one hundred years. – before any sound of the day – insect hum or bird song. There completely submerged she renews herself in the primal spiritual cosmology that water offers.


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