Queen of Winter

Cailleach Bheur, the blue crone, Queen of Winter

Amanda Edmiston Botanica fabula: Posted on 05 November 2015 20:06


‘She was needed, Carlin now she became and midwife too, loved and needed by the people in her new home, learning to tend the goats and heal with herbs, many stories can be heard, I hear versions that she held Spring back and brought it forth…that eventually she became one with the hills, known as the Cailleach, but those are stories for you to discover.’

(taken from ‘Enchanted’ (c) Amanda Edmiston  2015)

In ‘Scotland’s Future History’  Stuart McHardy suggests the ‘westray wifie’ or Orkney Venus as she’s also known,  ( a small stone figure found in the excavation of a farmhouse midden in Westray in 2009) may have links with the dual goddess of ancient Scotland (I’d argue for a third…oft forgotten mid life figure…but you’ll need to follow the journey my story ‘Enchanting!’ is on to hear more about her) the piece, the only known Neolithic carving of a human form to have been discovered in Scotland,  bears a resemblance to other goddess type carvings found in other parts of the world and is often seen as symbolically female.

In Scotland we typically hear of Bridie the maiden, her links to Spring and the Cailleach Bheur, the blue crone, Queen of Winter , goddess of the wild animals.

We hear of the Cailleach holding Spring back and bringing it forth…midwife at Bridie’s birth, she is associated with so much of Scotland’s geography, half the mountain ranges of Scotland hold the shape of her… I passed one of my favourites driving down to The Secret Herb Garden in Old Pentland for my fourth gig of Samhain on Saturday evening.

I think that’s the clue, she is in every mountain she is part of our landscape…part of an arcane memory, held by the hills, you don’t need to know or think that way, you just need to see the beauty in the hills, breathe it in.

Spaces in stories allow the listener to create images, the spaces in the landscape: the wells and hills full of caves that hold the Cailleach are integral to our world, they allow plants to grow, water to flow and if water as many claim, holds a memory (and crystals/geology…) then what form does the memory of geography and history (of a place) hold …is this what a story is…the memory held by a place?

One story held by a place tells us that the Cailleach  cared for a well on the summit of Ben Crauchan in Argyll. In the evening as the sun set she covered the spring water a with huge flat stone, getting up with the sun to free the water once more. One evening after taking  her goats to the  mountains in search of the last fresh herbs at the end of Autumn, she sat and rested her eyes, just a little too long by the well side. Without the rock there to stop the flow, water gushed forth, running unfettered, growing in intensity til it channeled into the Pass of Brander drowning villages and animals as the flood grew, finally, fury over, it became  Loch Awe. The Cailleach was inconsolable, she’d worked so hard to bring life to so many that she stayed where she was, calcifying slowly, turning to the a lump of stone…exactly the same as the lump of stone she’d forgotten and as far as I know she’s still there.

Not strictly a herbal story maybe, but it neatly illustrates the age of our stories, and our relationship with our landscape… the place the plants go and rest at this time of year. What is symbolism today, was once a pathway for so many types of messages…not least in this case a message to conserve our energy at this time of year, to consolidate and remember what is important.

After all winter is coming, the Cailleach is awake and she’s a grumpy, outspoken old woman whose singular habits make her a force to be reckoned with!

I’m away for a small sleep in a hill…but I’ll be back…after all my own little Spring will be awake wanting milk soon but ’til then I’ll be under the heather and the gorse x

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