Friday, January 31, 2014

C is for Cold and the Cailleach

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While browsing Facebook recently, I came across an article listing the 20 coldest big cities in America.  I've spent my life in two cities that both reached the top 10; where I'm living now apparently has an average of 143 days of subfreezing temperatures a year (it's okay, in the summer the average is a toasty 90 degrees).  I know a little something about winter.

And oh, how I hate it.  I know, I know - as a Pagan I'm supposed to love all parts of nature, but I just can't love the cold.  The snow is pretty from indoors, but having to shovel sidewalks or drive in the stuff is a huge pain.  The cold sneaks in the windows and the wind roars like a living thing, cutting with tiny shards of ice.  Before my daughter started school, there were weeks I didn't leave the house.  But the cold is part of this land, and since I am part of this land, it is also a part of me.  The cold fights, it perseveres, and it makes those who endure it stronger.

There are different schools of thought on what exactly the Cailleach is.  Is She the mother of the Fomorians, ancient foes of the children of Danu?  Is she a Jotun-like figure, completely hostile to humanity?  Or could She be called a Goddess, both because of Her obvious divine power and the seeming obligation of the people to offer Her shelter?  According to Frazer's The Golden Bough, the last farmer in a village to finish that year's harvest would be the one awarded the questionable honor of sheltering and feeding the Cailleach through the winter.

This year, I have been forming a relationship with Her, and I'm still not sure of Her true nature, or that She can be classified at all.  I feel similarly about Her as I do the winter that many say She personifies: I'm not overly fond of Her, we're not friends.  But She makes me stronger.  I give offerings to propitiate Her when I hear a cold front or a storm is coming through, and sometimes the storms come and sometimes they don't.  Sometimes it's a pain in the ass, and sometimes we'll lose power for a few hours (or rarely, a few days).  The cold and the snow are in Her nature.  She is part of this land, and I am part of this land, and for that I honor Her.  The animals and the plants of my home have evolved to endure Her, and some of them could not live or reproduce without Her.

As I strive to become more in-tune with the Earth, more adapted to the land around me, I realize that being a part of nature doesn't mean liking it.  I don't know if the mouse creeping in the prairie grass near my home feels appreciation for the beauty around him; but I'm almost certain he does not acknowledge the majesty of the hawk as she swoops down and captures him in her talons.  The winter is.  There's no reason to feel any particular way about it, only to realize and accept its existence.  So it is with the Cailleach.  I do not worship Her as I might other deities who bring more welcome gifts; but I acknowledge Her.  She is dangerous, ancient and wild, and though like those old farmers I may not wish to be the one to welcome Her in, welcoming Her is the way of things on the prairie.

Source: Bride and the Cailleach

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