TO THE EARLY CELTS, DARKNESS WAS ASSOCIATED WITH NEW BEGINNINGS, THE POTENTIAL OF THE SEED BELOW THE GROUND, AND IN CELTIC MYTHOLOGY, THE WISDOM OF DARKNESS IS OFTEN EXPRESSED BY POWERFUL GODDESS FIGURES. A DARK GODDESS OF NATURE, PARTICULARLY IN SCOTLAND, IS THE" CAILLEACH". SHE IS THE ANCIENT EARTH HERSELF. THE BARE EARTH COVERED WITH SNOW AND FROST. SHE IS THE DEATH GODDESS, WHO LETS DIE WHAT IS NO LONGER NEEDED.
"SAMHAIN" USHERS IN THE REIGN OF THE "CAILLEACH BHEUR," THE BLUE-FACED HAG QUEEN WHO RULES OVER THE THREE MONTHS OF THE WINTER SEASON. HER NAME MEANS THE "VEILED ONE..."ONE WHO BELONGS TO THE HIDDEN WORLDS." BHEUR "MEANS "SHARP" OR "SHRILL"; HENCE,SHE PERSONIFIED THE CUTTING WINDS AND HARSHNESS OF THE NORTHERN WINTER. SHE IS REBORN ON EVERY "SAMHAIN WHEN" THE EARTH IS BEGINNING TO DIE; SHE IS THE PERSONIFICATION OF WINTER. IT IS THE "CAILLEACH" WHO RULES THE TIME BETWEEN THE LAST HARVEST AND THE BEGINNING OF SPRING WHEN HER REIGN IS BROKEN BY THE APPEARANCE OF BRIGID AND THE SACRED FIRES AT IMBOLC. SHE IS TYPICALLY DEPICTED AS A ONE-EYED OLD WOMAN WITH BAD TEETH AND MATTED HAIR.
SHE LIVES IN A CAVE BELOW THE 'MOUNTAIN OF SNOWS' AND CARRIES A MAGICAL STAFF, AND WHEN SHE STRIKES THE GRASS, IT TURNS INTO BLADES OF ICE; AND THEN, ON "BELTANE" EVE, SHE TOSSES HER STAFF UNDER A HOLLY TREE AND RETURNS TO EARTH IN THE FORM OF A GREY STONE. THE ANCESTORS SAY THAT THIS IS WHY GRASS DOES NOT GROW UNDER THE HOLLY TREES. SOME ACCOUNTS SAY THAT SHE TURNS INTO A BEAUTIFUL MAIDEN INSTEAD. SHE WAS ALSO GUARDIAN TO ANIMALS THROUGHOUT THE WINTER. THE PROTECTOR OF WOLVES AND DEER, SHE IS HONORED BY HUNTERS LOOKING TO FEED ON FRESH MEAT DURING THE DARKNESS OF THE YEAR. HER SACRED TREES ARE THE HOLLY AND THE GORSE BUSH. IN CELTIC MYTH AND LEGEND, THE HAG IS OFTEN EQUATED WITH THE SOVEREIGNTY OF THE LAND. IN A FESTIVAL KNOWN AS "REIGN OF THE OLD WOMAN", THE "CAILLEACH" IS CELEBRATED ON THIS DAY.
"THE OLD WOMAN OF BEARE.
Ebb tide to me!
My life drifts downward with the drifting sea
Old age has caught and compassed me about,
The tides of time run out.
"THE " HAG OF BEARE!"
'Tis thus I hear the young girls jeer and mock
Yet I, who in these cast-off clouts appear,
Once donned a queenly smock.
"YE LOVE BUT SELF,"
Ye churls! to-day ye worship pelf!
But in the days I lived we sought for men,
We loved our lovers then!
"AH! SWIFTLY WHEN"
Their splendid chariots coursed upon the plain,
I checked their pace, for me they flew amain,
Held in by curb and rein.
"I ENVY NOT THE OLD,"
Whom gold adorns, whom richest robes enfold,
But ah! the girls, who pass my cell at morn,
While I am shorn!
"ON SWEET MAY-MORN"
Their ringing laughter on the breeze is borne,
While I, who shake with ague and with age,
In Litanies engage.
"AMEN! AND WOE IS ME!"
I lie here rotting like a broken tree
Each acorn has its day and needs must fall,
Time makes an end of all!
"I HAD MY DAY WITH KINGS!"
We drank the brimming mead, the ruddy wine,
Where now I drink whey-water; for company more fine
Than shrivelled hags, hag though I am, I pine.
"THE FLOOD-TIDE THINE!"
Mine but the low down-curling ebb-tide's flow,
My youth, my hope, are carried from my hand,
Thy flood-tide foams to land.
"MY BODY DROPS"
Slowly but sure towards the abode we know
When God's High Son takes from me all my props
It will be time to go!
"BONY MY ARMS AND BARE"
Could you but see them 'neath the mantle's flap.
Wizened and worn, that once were round and fair,
When kings lay in my lap.
"'TIS, "O MY GOD" WITH ME,"
Many prayers said, yet more prayers left undone
If I could spread my garment in the sun
I'd say them, every one.
"THE SEA-WAVE TALKS,"
Athwart the frozen earth grim winter stalks
Young Fermod, son of Mugh, ne'er said me nay,
Yet he comes not to-day.
"HOW STILL THEY ROW,"
Oar dipped by oar the wavering reeds among,
To Alma's shore they press, a ghostly throng,
Deeply they sleep and long.
"NO LIGHTSOME LAUGH"
Disturbs my fireside's stillness; shadows fall,
And quiet forms are gathering round my hearth,
Yet lies the hand of silence on them all.
"I DO NOT DEEM IT ILL"
That a nun's veil should rest upon my head
But finer far my feast-robe's various hue
To me, when all is said.
"MY VERY CLOAK GROWS OLD"
Grey its tint, its woof is frayed and thin
I seem to feel grey hairs within its fold,
Or are they on my skin
"O.HAPPY ISLE OF OCEAN,"
Thy flood-tide leaps to meet eddying wave
Lifting it up and onward. Till the grave
The sea-wave comes not after ebb for me.
"I FIND THEM NOT"
Those sunny sands I knew so well of yore
Only the surf's sad roar sounds up to me,
My tide will turn no more."--ELEANOR HULL-- "
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