Tag Archives: cailleach

M is for Metaphor

Metaphor! I love metaphor. I love the thought of the year as a turning wheel, moving through the festivals. As previously mentioned, the knowledge that summer and sunlight will appear again is a balm in the winter months when my Seasonal Affective Disorder casts a bleak shadow over me.

Before I was Pagan, I used to read Wintersmith by Terry Pratchett for my source of summer/winter metaphor. This year I joyfully celebrated Imbolc as Brigid’s emergence, bringing fire and light into the cold, winter-struck world. Brigid and the Cailleach, carrying each other through the wheel in perpetual motion.

What’s joyful for me is that the seasons are both the result of the spin of the world and the elliptical orbit around the sun, and also the spin of Brigid and the Cailleach, the wheel, the festivals. The metaphor is where my faith lives. I mean, the fact that the earth turns and the sun shines is beautiful and a reason for joy anyway.

It’s kind of how I got into faith. I read Life of Pi and considered the two tales and admired the levels of meaning in the metaphor. I was relieved to learn that I could have faith, that it could be my choice, that it was something for me. It was also quite a relief to realise that I didn’t have to abandon my knowledge of science, and that each could have its place for different purposes. I didn’t actually have to squee-harsh all my joy at the spirituality of the world!

Metaphor is my favourite. ❤

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J is for Jackdaws

jackdaw

Jackdaw

Jackdaws (corvus monedula) are “a small, black, sociable crow. They’re handsome birds with a silvery sheen and pale eye” (RSPB). “Jackdaws partner up in their first spring as adult birds and stay faithful to each other all their lives” (Wildlife Garden).

My relationship with jackdaws started when I was around eight years old. When I was that age I had bright hair and frequently wore shiny alice bands, both of which attracted the attention of next door’s pet jackdaw. I was minding my own business, and the next thing I knew I could feel claws in my scalp and felt the light weight of a bird on my head. Aged eight, I was completely terrified! I slowly walked to my back door, knocked quietly to try to get my dad’s attention, and was relieved when he finally came out and the bird flew off.

Later that year, on holiday, I was eyeing some jackdaws nervously. I looked away for a second, and felt the touch of claws on my head again! I had learned from the last time and waved my arms around and it flew off. A few years later I was in a beautiful park with my grandmother and I was telling her the story of the previous two jackdaws that had landed on my head. We were laughing, and the next thing I knew? JACKDAW ON MY HEAD. AGAIN.

From then until a couple of years ago, I was terrified of jackdaws. I would freak out when they were near me. Gradually I’ve started to think of them more affectionately, and now I’m actually quite fond of them. For whatever reasons they were attracted to my hair or just wanted to land on me, I have build a connection with them into my personal history.

My name is Hare, and three jackdaws have landed on my head in my life so far. I think that’s why I like this painting so much:

A hare and a jackdaw contemplate each other

By Hannah Giffard

I don’t know quite how they fit into my spirituality, not quite yet, but I love seeing them. Maybe the hare is Brigid and the jackdaw is the Cailleach? I’m looking forward to figuring it out.

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G is for Gratitude

My lady Brigid

Fire and comfort

Inspiration

I am grateful for strength and wisdom, for courage, for the ability to reflect and to think about my own actions. I’ve been able to think about my own behaviour and actions, to meditate, to pray. I think it has made me a more generous person both to myself and to others. I’ve learned more about the people closest to me – about their complicated inner lives, triumphs and struggles from their personal history – and from that I’ve become a kinder person towards them.

The reason for this greater reflection and kinder behaviour is all to do with the greater calm I’ve found through my spirituality. I am very grateful to Brigid and to the Cailleach. I have learned more than I’d expected; I’ve grown; I’ve started going to the gym (!); I feel calmer, warmer, safer and more loved. I feel wiser.

I am so grateful to my lady.

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Breakthroughs

I am feeling delightfully happy. I finally told my partner about aspects of my faith – about Brigid and the Cailleach, about winter and summer, and how it helps my Seasonal Affective Disorder. I compared this past winter with the one before, compared my coping levels and my happiness. And my scientific, faith-skeptic partner said he was happy for me – whatever I need to help me.

And I think the Cthulu jokes might die down a little.

I can be happier and more open with my beliefs in my own home, alongside respect and love for my partner, and that is really wonderful. Love for my deities, love for my partner, happiness for myself.

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D is for Decisions

I had to make a decision this week between two jobs. (I am incredibly fortunate to be in such a position! Unfortunately, I have anxiety problems so I struggle with these situations.) I asked my parents; I asked my friends; I asked my partner; I even asked someone offering free tarot readings (when I struggle I tend to flip a coin, and then check my feelings; I was hoping for a similar outcome).

I was no clearer. I gently asked Brigid and the Cailleach for advice. They both shook their heads and told me it was my decision to make.

It’s as if the Gods do not work like magic eight balls. *wry*

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C is for Cailleach and Crones

Some tales portray [the Cailleach] as a benevolent and primal giantess from the dawn of time who shaped the land and controlled the forces of nature, others as the harsh spirit of winter

Rankine and d’Este (2008)

The Cailleach (pronunciation almost as variable as that of Brigid; I have settled on CAL-y-ACH with the ‘ch’ like ‘loch’) is described as “the goddess of the harsh winter months” (Rankine and d’Este 2008), known for her giant size and for dropping rocks to shape the landscape. The name Cailleach has several meanings, including old woman, hag, crone, nun and veiled one (R&E 2008). She is most associated with shaping the landscape, her giant size, her vast age, associations with water, guardianship of specific animals (deer, cows), and her ability to shapeshift (R&E 2008).

UPG

She is of the wild, of the cold harsh days of the year, of icy water, elemental stuff. I strongly associate her with winter, and with power over the weather and the earth.

I felt myself calling out to her over winter, as my seasonal affective disorder threatened to drag me into [more] depressive places, and as I struggled with the lack of light. I turned to a being of great expanse and great age, who represents the thing I fear the most – the lack of sunlight. And I found warmth, and wisdom, and another, different kind of beauty in the winter months. I found things to admire and to love, not simply to fear.

Part of depression (for me) is acceptance. I learn to accept the bleakness as part of life, rather than struggling against it, and it makes it easier for the warmer times to come back round. If I have patience the spring and summer will return, and I needn’t spend all winter fighting against the unchangeable. (I reiterate: this is something that I personally have found helpful; I am not for a second suggesting that if other people with depression ‘do what I do’ then they’ll get better. It’s simply something that works for me some/most of the time.)

I haven’t been through a year with my newly-found pagan beliefs yet (I am most definitely a tiny!Pagan), so I think any relationship between the Cailleach and Brigid will become clearer as the wheel turns. I’ll keep revisiting old posts throughout the year, and if my beliefs significantly alter I will post an update.

Archetypes

I sometimes wonder about age and deities. I have been a child, and an adult, but not yet an old woman, so I haven’t had to think about how age is represented (because I’ve occupied the favoured ages). I do notice that it tends to be female deities who are categories into “maiden, mother and crone”, which makes me uncomfortable for many reasons, but briefly:

  1. The definition of my existence is not related to whether I’ve mushed genitals with another human being.
  2. Not all women have vaginas; not all people-with-vaginas are women. Most people I know live outside of that conceptual framework, so maiden-mother-crone are irrelevant categories.
  3. It insinuates that women’s purpose and function is entirely and completely relational to her reproductive abilities. Just… ew.

I do not think that way of women, and I am not about to start regarding deities by those standards. I mean, can you imagine?

“Ok, Cailleach, so you’re a several-thousand year old shapeshifting land deity of winter. Whatever. Now! Can we talk about the shape and function of your genitals?”

At this point, I image the Cailleach would drop a mountain on the speaker’s head. 😉

Source:

Rankine, David and Sorita d’Este (2008) Visions of the Cailleach – Exploring the Myths, Folklore and Legends of the Pre-eminent Hag Goddess Avalonia Books: London

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B is for Brigid

Variously known as: Brigid, Brighid, Brigit, Bride…

Goddess of healers, poets, smiths, childbirth and inspiration, fire and hearth. Goddess of healing, smithcraft and poetry, useful and inspired wisdom. Goddess of the land and the wheel, sun and moon; green cloak spread across the land.

“Brighid’s fire is the fire at the heart of creation.”

Brighid.org.uk

About

Brigid is a goddess, described as a goddess of healers, poets, smiths, childbirth, inspiration, fire, hearth, wisdom, the land, the wheel, the sun, the moon (brighid.org.uk); triple fire goddess (orderwhitemoon.org); ‘a feminine concept of the divine in the broadest sense’, energy of light and fire, of love and healing, of artistic inspiration and of peace and justice (C.S. Thompson); is represented by awen /|\, created Ogham (Anna Franklin). Brigid is also associated with many animals: cow, ewe, snake, wolf, swan, lark, linnet and oyster catcher. (Brighid.org.uk)

I haven’t seen Franklin’s assertion that Brigid created Ogham shared by any other pagans [EDIT: but there are others who associate her with Ogham]. I also haven’t seen the link between Brigid and the moon repeated very often, as she is mostly associated with the sun (because of her existing link with fire). However, both are included here to give an idea of the breadth of inspiration and symbols associated with Brigid.

The name of the goddess is frequently mixed with that of an Irish Saint, Brigid of Kildare (link, link), who was a keeper of the flame, associated with a cross made of rushes and with a mantle or cloak. It is sometimes stated that goddess Brigid is not a triple goddess, but three sisters all named Brigid, all of whom are goddesses with different specialisations.

Celebration

Brigid is best known as a goddess of the fire and hearth. I live in modern house so I don’t have a hearth, and I am not allowed to have fires because I am clumsy dyspraxic and nearly set myself on fire once. There’s a burn in the carpet to attest to this incident, and my partner gently (but firmly) took my lighter away. So how does one venerate a fire goddess when not allowed to replicate her element?

Brigid is the goddess of creativity, of inspiration, of poets and wisdom. When I feel inspired and creative (like now, when writing words in her honour!) I am venerating Brigid. When I paint, draw, write, knit, sing, play instruments – I am inspired by Brigid.

I painted a truly terrible piece for her earlier this week, complete with flame imagery (that looked more like a vulva Sauron), a swan (that looked like a sausage with a wine gum stuck to its face; apparently I cannot draw beaks), and some splodgy triangle thing that was supposed to be a large cloak. It had all the skill of a – well, very unskilled person – and could not in any respect be considered an adequate gift for Brigid. I’d hoped it could go on my altar, but it would have looked preposterous. However! I like to think that it was the effort that counted. She is the inspiration, not the arbiter of style. 😉 After drawing it I went outside, and saw four white Bewick swans flying overhead. I will take that as a sign.

Brigid and the Cailleach

In some stories, Brigid – in her association with the sun, perhaps – rules over the lighter six months of the year, while the Cailleach rules the darker months. Sometimes they are two faces of the same goddess; sometimes Brigid is imprisoned by the Cailleach; sometimes it is a battle, and other times more of a graceful dance between two different deities. I like to think of the wheel of the year as a peaceful, gradual event, not fighting and battles. That’s because I’m a fluffy bunny, or at least a fluffy hare.

I like this metaphor because it reminds me of my depression. When I treated it as a battle, it did me no good. I couldn’t fight against something that was as powerful as me; it fed off the power I gave it. You cannot force summer to appear in the midst of winter, no matter how hard you wish. All you can do is accept. I accepted its existence and stopped fighting, which meant it got a lot easier. So, as metaphors go, this is one I have made for myself – the summer and winter – both with positives and negatives, fitting around each other. Neither can ever triumph, and nor would we want them to: they exist with each other.

I also have seasonal affective disorder, so in the depths of winter it is very encouraging to have a strong part of my own faith given to a deity of fire and light. I’m also learning to appreciate the winter, the Cailleach, though that’s for another blog post.

Personal Experience

I was out walking and called to her, and felt a presence walking beside me –  a woman of light. (Oh, my goodness. Four years ago, in the summer, I was feeling very low and I was comforted by a figure made of light – that was where my faith all began. I wonder if that was Brigid, too.) The figure from a week ago was gentle, bright, bare-footed, and had her hair covered, at least at the top. I think the rest fell down her back, loose. It was a really comforting, warming experience.

I have felt the urge to cover my hair since around the time of my first faith-based experience back in 2009, but – again! – that’s probably for another blog post. It might turn out to be linked to Brigid, or maybe the Cailleach: ‘veiled one’.

Oddly enough, as well as the call to cover my hair, I’ve also been really strongly prodded to take better care of my hair, specifically by brushing it every night. (I have curls, so I was a once-a-week brusher before.) And you know what? It’s looking and feeling great, and it’s easier to manage, and the act of brushing it making my life easier. It’s really nice to do this thing specifically for her. I think she’s reminding me to take better care of myself.

I think Brigid meshes with me so well because I strongly associate with all her symbols, especially “the fire at the heart of creation.” She is fire, passion and inspiration, but not just the more creative, introspective arts. She’s also active: she’s smithing and healing, getting out and looking after people. As a care worker, that’s precisely what I do: actively getting out there and trying to make people’s lives a little easier and better. She’s also associated with childbirth, fertility, and the fire at the heart of the home. My home is where my partner is, and has been ever since we’ve been together. We plan to try for a child within three years, so fertility and homes play quite heavily on my mind at the moment. I look forward to working with Brigid as I move into this new sector of my life.

Imbolc

The coming of spring, the Imbolc festival on February 1st, is Brigid’s festival. She is associated with plants that bloom at this time of the year (snowdrops, crocuses), and animals that emerge from hibernation at this time (snakes, hedgehogs) and cattle (maybe because of the lambing season). As I no longer live in a city, I’m better placed to observe nature first hand, to go on walks in the countryside, and – hopefully – to see wildlife.

It’ll be Imbolc soon – my first since following Brigid – and I’m really looking forward to it. February is a month of grief and loss for me and my family, so to have something positive and joyful in amongst the sorrow will be really wonderful.

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