Giving Death Its Life Back
The Cailleach (pronounced Cal-ee-yuk) is a Goddess from Irish (and Scottish & English) mythology. She is most often associated as the Hag or Crone who brings winter. She is frequently portrayed as old and withered, but powerful and fearsome, without compassion or remorse. The bringer of darkness, cold and death. The stealer of warmth and light. In many stories she rules the 6 months of darkness, handing over the reins then to Brigit, the Goddess associated with spring, who takes charge of the 6 months of light.
The Winter Solstice is the Cailleach’s moment. When darkness peaks we find her. And what do we do? We cheer her away. We say good riddance to darkness, bring back the light!
Or atleast some of us do. Not I.
Every year, I greet the darkness and my friend the Cailleach with great celebration. I feel the pull of the long dark in every cell in my body. I burrow into it, deeply. Truthfully, when that winter solstice moment passes I grieve a little bit. I am not ready to let the darkness go.
By the time we reach the new year, with about 25 minutes of extra daylight already in just 11 or so days, I have done my grieving and have somewhat reluctantly accepted the return of the light and the approaching rule of Brigit. But I continue to cherish every remaining moment of darkness in those late winter months of January and February.
You see, it isn’t that the Cailleach was always old and withered, fearsome and devoid of compassion and kindness…we made her that way.
We have turned death into the thing that steals life. We made death fearsome and repulsive. We have forgotten that darkness, cold, rest, and yes, death, are an intrinsic part of life. That there is grace and beauty in endings, and that without endings there is no life for new beginnings. We fuel ourselves and our endless productivity not with energy freed up from the endings of things that have passed but with the false Gods of achievement and acclaim that tell us that we must never stop moving.
And it is costing us dearly.
In olden times, the Cailleach was immense and powerful. There are stories of her leaping across landscapes, running with wolves. She was revered and celebrated. She birthed mountains, loved kings, and shaped nations. She had life and vitality running beneath the surface of her immortal skin.
Our ancestors understood that Life filled Death and Death filled Life, and neither was to be falsely praised over the other, each one seen to be an essential partner for the other in the endless dance of existence.
But we have both vilified and enslaved Death, stealing its power for our own, producing compulsively at a constant cost to the lives of others and the life of the earth herself. We push death from our own shores onto the shores of a distant somewhere or someone else.
We have both glorified and enslaved Life, stealing its power for the sake of the great machine to which we are blindly and unconsciously bound. We value ourselves and each other based on our productive worth. The more and the bigger we birth the better we are. It doesn’t matter that our creations bring death and destruction to people and places elsewhere. Our incredible carbon addiction raises sea levels that are drowning island nations elsewhere. Our boatloads of garbage find their way to far distant shores for other people to suffocate under ('We are going to send this back': Malaysia returning unwanted Canadian plastic | CBC News). The crap we throw away ends up floating in the ocean, filling the bellies and strangling the life out of an estimated 100,000 marine animals each year.
We are enslaved by our distorted relationships with Life and Death. Born into a world that force feeds us a story that compulsive birthing = value and love, we give no space to the importance of rest, darkness, and endings.
Undoubtedly, we have to change our ways. For our own sakes and for the greater whole of all of life.
So yes, the Cailleach is my friend. I welcome the respite she brings, the truth of her message that there is no joy in creation without the solace of darkness and the rest of endings.
Ah, there she is now. The Cailleach. Time to come still and dream a little dream or two, while we gaze out at the cold, dark night together.
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