The Height of Winter and the Cailleach

“Summer of youth in which we have been
I spent with its autumn;
winter of age which overwhelms everyone,
its first months have come to me.” –The Lament of the Old Woman of Beare

It’s finally winter in my area of Ohio; we had some snowfall around Thanksgiving, but most of December was spent in the 40’s and up (it was 60* Jan. 3). Two nights ago, the temperatures plummeted down to the teens, and we had our first real snowstorm move through. While we don’t get as many inches as places up near the Great Lakes, we do usually have a power outage or three every winter that affects not only the rural-er areas, but many of us townies (I hate being a townie). Last year, both my husband and I slid off the icy roads; blessedly, neither of us were injured, though I was eight months pregnant at the time and driving about 60mph, and he almost went down the hillside and tore off the back bumper. But when I talk to people that don’t live or have never lived in Ohio, we aren’t one of the states that comes to mind when the term “extreme weather” is thrown out. Yeah, we don’t really get 18+ inches of accumulation in one night, and we don’t have to deal with hurricane force winds and flooding, but the idea that what experience isn’t “extreme” is completely subjective.

Before modern communication, we had very little means of knowing what was going on in other areas of the country, let alone the world. So when regions discussed contingency plans for what to do when something extreme happened, it was always in relation to the immediate area. Extreme weather, or any sort of extreme circumstances, are situations that largely interrupt the normal course of life and pose serious threat to life and health. And our season of extreme weather just began.

And with the onslaught of winter comes the need to discuss the Cailleach. Seen as a title, a name, or a group of land deities/spirits, most forms of this being point to her sovereignty during the winter months, the season of potentially deadly weather. And unlike many other deities, there doesn’t seem to be a way to get on her good side.

The Cailleach reminds me a little of one of my grandmothers, and my husband’s grandmother. While there is a 20 year difference in their ages, they are both old women (I think of old as more a frame of mind than an age). They are fond of complaining about their ill-health (most of which is self-inflicted), the lack of care they receive from family (neither of them are isolated or abandoned), and their inability to do the things they once did (because they are the only ones who have ever grown old). There is no reasoning with them, and what compassion and empathy you could once muster has been exhausted by the deaf ears and ungrateful hearts it fell upon. But you keep going back, you keep trying, and you keep helping, because they are family, because you love them, and because someday you too will be faced with growing old. And you will have to decide how to take that.

Interacting with the Cailleach is like interacting with these grandmothers; it is a very one-sided relationship (hint: the one side is not in your favor). Unlike most relationships outlined in old Irish culture, there is no reciprocity and no way to get out of this one when the other side doesn’t contribute. You enter in with no expectation of personal reward, you prepare to just give, and you hope to weather the storm. Sometimes, you receive some recognition or personal fulfillment, but it’s always fleeting. You just have to keep giving.

So when making offerings to the Cailleach, you don’t really try to form a relationship or get anything back. You just try to ease through the season, knowing soon enough it will be over.

Reawakening- Reflections on Imbolg

So this winter has been wild. I saw a week or so ago that three cities in Ohio were among the 20 coldest in the US, one of which is our nearest metropolitan center. Early last week, schools and businesses were closing due to the extreme cold, and tonight we’re being told to look for 6-10 inches of snowfall. I don’t know about anyone else, but I definitely feel like the Cailleach has her hands all over us this winter. It has been wild and unpredictable and extreme, yet I do see that coming to an end. It was in the 50’s over this past weekend, I totally felt like Brighid gave us a bit of a respite, a sign that, yes, this winter shall end.

Things have been a bit chaotic in our house, and so we didn’t celebrate Imbolg in any particular way. With having the poultry out at the in-laws, I do try to at least make time for some small rite to ensure their continued health and fertility (that’s my goal for this weekend). We just bought a house (closing next week!) and have been busily packing for our move. That, along with my return to school, E’s busyness at work, and the cabin fever and minor illness that has just lingered through the winter (sniffles, colds, and sinus issues), have just not made for a “good” time for celebrating. Though one could argue that it’s the perfect time to celebrate, we made it through the winter! I’m just not in the mood to be in charge of that celebration, and I think this is a hang-up all solitaries face.

But I have been reflecting on what it means to be pregnant at this time of the year. During my last pregnancy, I spent this time freaking out and going over all of my options (abortion, adoption, carrying to term), and didn’t spend much time thinking about how awesome it is to be pregnant at Imbolg.  We see the first signs of returning life, the first sheep are coming into their milk, soon we can put down our cold weather vegetables, and winter is nearly over! While winter itself is cold, we retreat into the warmth of our homes until we can reemerge into the bright warmth of summer, like a babe emerging from the womb. Due to the circumstances of my son’s birth, it is medically inadvisable for me to carry past my due date. So I know this baby will be here by Earth Day, we will be moved into our new home (hopefully) long before then, and we can take that time to welcome in the fullness of spring and the reawakening of the Earth. But for now, I can feel the baby getting bigger, and I know his time is coming, just like the Earth is awakening and preparing for another year of richness and abundance.

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Happy Solstice!

Happy Solstice!

So the more I grow, the less impact the solstice and equinox holidays have on my spiritual practice. You know; Yule, Ostara, Litha, Mabon. While we have a pretty good indication that’s the solstices and equinoxes were acknowledged in pre-Christian Ireland, we really don’t have any leads as to specific festival practices. So while I do celebrate what I call the Big Four, I associate them with more spiritual/cultural events. The turning of the seasons, however, is more of an acknowledgement to the link between physical nature and the Mythic Realm, regardless of deity or culture. Still important, just not as impactful.

And it really didn’t feel like the beginnings of winter yesterday, what with it reaching 62 degrees and all the snow melting. Bah-humbug.