Celebrating the Old Ways in New Times for December 2020
We have had an unusually warm November this year, and I have taken full advantage of it to sit and visit outdoors as much as possible with people who I know I am not going to see again until March or April.
Covid-19 has hit us hard this month. I am in Franklin County, Ohio, and our county hit purple warning level of public emergency in regards to the levels of Covid19. For the first time, shops and even our Metro Parks are enforcing mask use, and we are back on a curfew again. Next, they may shut down restaurants, movie theaters, and all indoor gathering places again. I can’t wait to hear people complaining that they want to party and holiday shop….and if you have read my past December articles, you know I am over it all.
In my household, all Sabbats with friends have been canceled this year, and all visiting is outdoors only, and distanced. Usually a hugger, I am not hugging or touching people, and I’m not even letting people hold my cats. We are now going to do curbside pickup of groceries. We are doing all we can to be safe. Life in Covid19 times has been very different for my husband and I, and we have no idea when it’s going to change.
With the cold months setting in, most people are going to refuse to go outdoors, and are going to get lonely or bored, and will insist on gathering indoors with other people.
We are afraid for everybody, and we have no idea what to do except to implore people to mask, isolate, and wait this out. It can’t last forever, and the more of us taking precautions ensure this is over with faster.
Dear Old Winter
(Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash)
Wintertime has always been a time of more sickness, injuries, and death for people, and this Winter is no exception. Winter has been characterized as a mean old man, or a hideous old woman for as long as human beings can remember. As somebody who has arthritis in my back, and feet, as well as bone spurs, I know good and well how cranky I get when my pain is worse. I also know the older I get, the worse the pain is, and the lower tolerance I have for BS. I can be short, harsh, cutting, and downright mean when I feel somebody deserves it. The older I get, the more I have in common with Winter. When it first started happening, I got called down by people who easily intimidate. I was shocked by this newfound reaction. I wanted everybody to like me. Then I got to thinking. That sharp side does not come out of me until I have been pushed too far, and it’s time to tell people to back off- or even to FUCK off. I decided not to stop being this way when it was called for, but to embrace it.
OH NO!!!!! I realized what happened! I had graduated out of my age of being a Maiden, to being a Mother, to starting my path to being a Crone!
Wrinkles, gray hair, spider veins, aches and pains were just some of the things I don’t like that came along with this.
Also, wisdom, compassion for things I previously had no tolerance for, a calmness and slowing down, acceptance that I cannot control everything, learning how to ask for help and delegate, and giving up pipe dreams are just some of the wonderful things that came along with aging.
The myth of the three ages of woman are very familiar to Wiccans, and goddess worshipers in general. While not all women become a mom, we are mother figures to those we mentor and guide.
It’s the Crone phase that is the life phase many dread. Having worked in Nursing Homes, and on skilled nursing units for the elderly, and aging, myself, I fully understand why.
For one thing, society spits at our elders. They are considered to be slow, and in the way of younger people who want to go fast and fancy themselves as VERY important. They are considered an inconvenience because we have to speak up for them to hear us. When they start developing dementia, they are a called a pain because they need taken care of. When they cannot earn a full-time income, and need financial support from society and family, they are called a burden. They are expected to LOOK young all the days of their lives, and take a plethora of pills and do a lot of beauty treatments to stay that way for as long as possible.
The way they are viewed and treated is not the worst part of it.
The body changes.
Some can’t eat what they prefer due to health and/or digestive issues anymore. The very cost of being retired in addition to the rising cost of health care is too expensive for some. Failing hearing and vision means people cannot communicate as well, and giving up driving and conversation can be isolating. The body itself breaking down is very painful, and sometimes, there is no way to help.
Aging is the path to death. Now, as Pagans, we say death is just stepping out one door and into another- but it can be very painful, and terrifying. Especially if one does so alone.
Seeing the way our culture views aging and death, knowing Winter is equated with an elderly person tells us how society views deities associated with Winter.
To some of us, especially those who respect our elders, the woman who embodies Winter is not a mean old ugly hag. She is the goddess! Known by many names, she is the Cailleach, Beira, Milucra, Birog, and different spellings of these names. Cailleach means veiled one in old Gaelic. Bior(ach) and bior(ach) refer to Winter and the wilderness. The wintertime land!
Like the woman as a crone starts dying back, and can no longer “produce fruit” or children, the Mother goddess in Winter, in her form of the land does as well.
Some believe she and Brigid are the same goddess, only in different forms. Brigid rules over Summer, and the Cailleach rules over Winter. Some say they are different goddesses and they fight for power. The early spring snows are considered to be the Cailleach attempting to stay in power, but Brigid always wins! The Cailleach rules from Samhain to Beltaine, and at Beltaine, Brigid rules until the following Samhain.
Scottish lore tells us she is the mother of all the gods and goddesses. She also made the hills and mountains. Some formed when stones fell from her basket, and some she built on purpose, to use as stairs.
Like the land and human beings, the goddess does not stay young forever. Summer and youth passes, and Winter sets in. All of these times, parts of life, and seasons are sacred and should be honored.
When it’s time, the Cailleach touches the earth with her staff, and everyplace it touches freezes. She, who has made all goddesses and gods, and shaped the very earth we live upon does this.
Some say Winter coming is a three day process, instead of one including her staff. She brings winter by washing her plaid off the coast of Corryvrecken- where a legendary whirlpool is. For three days, she washes her plaid, and the roar of the waters are said to be heard as many as 20 miles away! When she has finished, her plaid is pure white, and snow covers the earth.
Here is a video of that water body. It is considered an extremely dangerous and powerful whirlpool. A great personification of “hell hath no fury!” This excellent video explains how the whirlpool works, why it is what it is, and shows beautiful footage.
Embracing the Crone
Embracing this goddess in the dark months can be done in many forms. For some, it will entail ritual, offerings, prayers, and maybe even hymns.
But that’s not what I suggest.
I suggest welcoming her by embracing the Crone in yourself, and embracing the Winter landscape.
What is it about your changing body that you dislike, or downright hate? I don’t know about you, but my spider veins? Not a favorite of mine. I’ve seen women call their stretch marks tiger stripes, and celebrate those…and I have heard from people who plainly state they do not feel the NEED to think every last inch of their bodies is drop dead gorgeous?
How about that? Some things cannot be fixed, and some people are content with wrinkles, and don’t feel the need to try to control everything.
We are the physical embodiment of the gods and goddesses. Human representations of those divine, immortal, timeless beings that were around before us, and will still exist long after we are gone.
As the Cailleach changes, so do we.
It’s time to accept it.
Saoirse’s Cailleach Working
Look at yourself in the mirror, focusing on ONE thing your body is doing as it ages that you dislike, something you have been fighting. It has to be something you can’t control. Not something you can get treatment for and fix. This has to be something like your voice changing as you age, or becoming unable to digest something you used to be able to- and no medication can fix this.
Accept that you have fought it, and you lost. Now, it’s time to adapt. If this is a dietary issue, like say, you became lactose intolerant as time went on, it’s time to give up dairy, and substitute.
In this way, you take care of your aging body, forgiving it, and making accommodations for it- just as you would for the Crone.
Now that we have addressed this- onward to the land!
How many people do you know who move from vehicle to building exclusively all Winter long?
Then pay attention, and you will see the people some call “diehards” out running in the harshest weather.
Check your winter gear, and buy more. Ask a Winter jogger what to buy if needs be. Just make sure to get good shoes, I kid you not, or you will end up on your backside!
Buy a fire-pit if you have a yard, and host gatherings around it in winter!
Sit outside with your hot coffee on the porch or patio!
Walk in the snow, and absorb the peace of the silence.
Stand outside to visit with people- this Winter especially!
Do this all winter long.
One thing you will find if you spend time outdoors in Winter, is that you will not be as tired. The body needs the vitamin D from the sun, even if the sun is not as strong as in Summer.
Observe all nature as much as you can all four seasons, but in Winter, note the touch of the Cailleach.
If you want to be more ritualistic about it, leave offerings for her outdoors often. Foodstuffs the critters will accept in her behalf, a cup of hot tea poured into the ground, or a seat by your fire for her.
Consciously welcome her into your heart, and then watch! Pay attention! She comes quickly in the way the last few leaves cling to the branches, and shake in the wind! She shows herself in the bend of the wildflowers, dried and still jutting out form the ground! Her voice is heard in the howling of the wind, or a rare bird call. She can be seen in the soft Winter light, and also in the darkness.
Just make that decision to embrace her. No ceremony is needed. Embrace the Crone in you, and in creation, and she will surprise you with her beauty.
About the Author:
Saoirse is a practicing witch, and initiated Wiccan of an Eclectic Tradition.
A recovered Catholic, she was raised to believe in heaven and hell, that there is only one god, and only one way to believe. As she approached her late 20’s, little things started to show her this was all wrong. She was most inspired by the saying “God is too big to fit into one religion” and after a heated exchange with the then associate pastor of the last Xtian church she attended, she finally realized she was in no way Xtian, and decided to move on to see where she could find her spiritual home.
Her homecoming to her Path was after many years of being called to The Old Ways and the Goddess, and happened in Phoenix, Arizona. She really did rise from her own ashes!
Upon returning to Ohio, she thought Chaos Magic was the answer, and soon discovered it was actually Wicca. She was blessed with a marvelous mentor, Lord Shadow, and started a Magical Discussion Group at local Metaphysical Shop Fly By Night. The group was later dubbed A Gathering of Paths. For a few years, this group met, discussed, did rituals, fellowship, and volunteering together, and even marched as a Pagan group with members of other groups at the local gay Pride Parade for eight years.
All the while, she continued studying with her mentor, and is still studying for Third Degree, making it to Second Degree thus far.
She is a gifted tarot reader, spellworker, teacher, and was even a resident Witch at a Westerville place dubbed The Parlor for a time.
Aside from her magical practice, she is a crocheter, beader, painter, and a good cook. She has been a clown and children’s entertainer, a Nursing Home Activities Professional, a Cavern Tour Guide, a Retail Cashier, and a reader in local shops. Her college degree is a BA in English Writing. She tried her hand at both singing and playing bagpipes, and…well…let’s just say her gifts lie elsewhere! She loves gardening, reading, antiques, time with friends and soul kin, and lots and lots of glorious color bedecking her small home!
On the encouragement of a loved one several years back, she searched for a publication to write for, and is right at home at PaganPagesOrg.
She is currently residing in Central Ohio with her husband, and furbabies.
Saoirse can be contacted at [email protected].