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Embracing Cailleach's Wild Winds of Winter

b2ap3_thumbnail_Callileach-Lowres.jpgIn the Gaelic language, Cailleach translates as old woman or hag. In Goddess mythology Cailleach is the Celtic Goddess of weather and storms. As a crone Goddess she is associated with the season of Winter, bringing brutal cold, biting winds and snow. She is fierce and, sometimes unforgiving.

The most predominate tale tells of Cailleach capturing the beautiful Maiden Goddess and holding her captive in a mountain cave until the arrival of spring. 

A lesser known, and unknown to me before painting this Goddess of my Muse, is that of the Scottish Cailleach Bheur. Perhaps not quite as fierce, She is a blue-faced crone of winter, aging in reverse from old and ugly to young and beautiful. Which now explains my desire to make her hair blue (if not Her face - as I've mentioned before, the Muse doesn't always give specifics).

I also discovered that She is the ugly hag behind the popular feminist tale of sovereignty. She appears as a hideous old woman (sometimes witch) to the hero, seeking unconditional love. If She is granted the love She desires, She becomes beautiful. In my favorite version, She asks the hero if he would prefer Her to be beautiful by day for all to see, but ugly at night in the privacy of their bed chamber—or beautiful by night for his pleasure, and ugly in the light of day. He tells Her that the choice is not his, but Hers alone. Thus he grants Her sovereignty and the unconditional love She seeks, transforming Her into a beauty at all times.

b2ap3_thumbnail_Snow-caves.jpgIt makes sense that Cailleach would come through in painting my Muse. I spent the last few months of autumn editing a short story, assigned in a Fairytale workshop, that is my reversal on the classic Beauty and the Beast. I live near the Lake Superior Ice Caves. If you didn't catch the news or see photos last winter of the caves that are only accessible in rare years when the temperature dips low enough, for a long enough period to cause the waters of the Great Lake Gitche Gummee to begin solidifying—take the time to view some of the beauty here. My heroine, turned beastly and unlovable by the violence show to her, tragically takes her life by drowning in the waters of the sea caves. Her spirit returns in the lovely blue, amber, rose and gold reflections of the sun on the ice palace caves that winter.

So, even though the Polar Vortex in Canada and the United States has just begun pushing early cold and snow into my realm, Cailleach has been speaking to me for a few months now. She also comes, I suspect, by my own invitation. I have not exactly welcomed Her and the sub-zero winters she brings since I was a young child. Yet, as a practicing Pantheist I have expressed a deep desire and commitment to better know Her. I want to learn not only to appreciate Her presence in the wheel of the year, signaling a time for rest and renewal, but to embrace Her physical manifestations as well.

I think it's beginning to work. I'm not quite thrilled with the two feet of snow already on the ground, nor the below zero, overnight temperatures that normally do not arrive for another six weeks, but when the first big, fluffy snow flakes began falling, swiveling gracefully on the cold but gentle wind, I felt a little spark of excitement. For the first time in many years, I felt like the child I once was, looking out the big picture window, watching the snow fall in a cone of warm light shining down from the streetlamp, and wondering if school would be closed tomorrow so that I could play all day in the snow making angels, building a snowman and carving out a snow fort to snuggle into.

I may be entering my Crone years, but the Maiden still resides inside. Cailleach has not come to imprison me in a mountain cave, but to steal me away from the responsibilities of my life and invite me to come play with Her in the snow.

I wonder if they make snowpants in my size?

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JudithAnn (aka the MAD Goddess) practices the  Old Craft tradition and magical arts of hearth and home.  Through  her writing and art, she encourages women in mid-life and beyond to  embrace their wildest dreams and live the second half of life with  purpose, passion and pizzazz. For those who need a little nudge, she  offers workshops in personal development and life path guidance  using journaling and art for creative self expression.


  • Francesca De Grandis
    Francesca De Grandis Thursday, 20 November 2014

    Lovely painting! I've worked with Cailleach for decades, although only more recently by the name of Cailleach. As I know you understand, often we are not given academic historical "facts" about a goddess in our visions, we just work with her and then later on find documented "facts" identical to those we've known all along. You and I are lucky in that we trust our visions. Your painting resonates with some subtle aspects of Herself that Cailleach has shown me, which makes me feel sisterhood with you in our spiritual quests. Thanks for the article!

  • Lizann Bassham
    Lizann Bassham Thursday, 20 November 2014

    Thank you for your beautiful images. Blessing to you this Winter!

  • JudithAnn
    JudithAnn Friday, 21 November 2014

    Thank you Francesca for taking the time to share your thoughts. It is truly a blessing when any of us connect through the Muse.

    And Lizann - Thank you for your winter blessing. I need all the help I can get. ;-)

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