At Imbolc we celebrate the first stirrings of spring. It is a time of rebirth and new hope. The earth begins to wake from its winter slumber, the snow begins to melt, and the first green buds and shoots appear, bringing with them the promise of spring. For most of us it is still bitterly cold outside, and if you live in New England snow still covers the ground. It’s hard to imagine spring is just around the corner when you are still shoveling snow from your driveway.
The transformation we witness each year is a sacred one, one that plays out in the myth of the Celts, and in the way they viewed the Goddess. During this time of year, the myths of Cailleach and Brigid come to mind. While Cailleach, the Winter Hag, is churning the clouds above and dumping snow on the driveway, we know that soon she will transform into Brigid the lovely maiden of spring. Each Imbolc we stand at the precipice, a time of transformation, a time between times. Just as Cailleach transforms into Brigid so too can we be inspired from their myths to transform ourselves, to leave the old and no longer useful behind and to drink from the sacred well in order to be renewed.
Cailleach is arguably one of the most ancient Goddesses of the Celts. In fact, she may even be a pre-Celtic Goddess. Many historians have hypothesized that she may have been the earth Goddess of the original inhabitants of Ireland, prior to their integration with the invading Celtic tribes. She is often described as an old woman with white hair and blue skin. She was associated with a mountain in Ireland called the Slieve na Calliagh. The Slieve na Calliagh is made up of jagged rocks which may be why she was sometime said to have very sharp teeth.
Cailleach is best known as a Goddess of cold, winter, and darkness. She was also a Goddess of storms and during the winter months she was said to ride through the air on the back of a wolf, bringing snow and ice to the world below. She also had a magick wand that she used to strike away any hints of green on the winter landscape. While Cailleach seems like a dark figure, she is a necessary side of the Goddess. She is destruction, the bareness of winter and she can bring chaos and change just as swiftly as she can call up a winter blizzard, but we must remember she also wears another face. On Imbolc the Winter Hag melts away, transforming into Brigid the Goddess of fire and inspiration.
There are several legends as to how Cailleach’s transformation into Brigid occurs. In Scotland it was believed that each year Cailleach held the Goddess Brigid captive in a cave, preventing her radiant light and warmth to shine on the earth. In some stories Cailleach turns to stone at the first signs of spring, and Brigid escapes bringing with her renewed fertility and warmth to the world. At Samhain Cailleach awakes and captures Brigid, once again holding her captive through the winter. In another version Cailleach travels to a magical isle (sometimes said to be the Isle of Skye) where there is a miraculous Well of Youth. On Imbolc she drinks from the well and transforms into Brigid.
Cailleach and Brigid’s myths remind us how the Celts divided the year. Although we recognize four distinct seasons, the Celts generally divided their year in two, the dark and light half of the year. Although triple Goddesses are prevalent in Celtic myths, dual or two faced Goddesses are just as common. Cailleach and Brigid are two aspects of the same Goddess, their changing faces mirroring the changing of the seasons, and the way the Celts viewed theses seasonal cycles. At times these dual Goddesses appear as a Crone and Maiden, other times they are two sisters. We see this in Aine and Grian, two Irish sister Goddesses, who each ruled half of the year. Whether we see the Goddess as Maiden, Mother and Crone, or as the Winter Crone and Spring Maiden, these two aspects of the Goddess are intrinsically linked. The darkness of the Crone will always give way to the rebirth and new beginning of the Maiden.
So if there is still snow in your driveway, remember that Cailleach is about to take a drink from that sacred well, soon she will be the Goddess of spring. And as the earth around us begins its transformation think about what you can change in your own life. If you were to drink from the Well of Youth what transformation would you seek?
Below is a simple ritual I use each year to invoke Cailleach and Brigid’s energies during Imbolc. May you drink from the sacred well and be renewed!
Drinking from the Well of Transformation:
Brew a cup of your favorite tea or if you prefer use wine. Take the cup to your sacred space. Place two candles on your altar, one of each side. Blue for Cailleach and a red candle for Brigid. Light the candles and place your cup in-between the two candles on the altar.
Take a few minutes to ground and center. See yourself in a small boat. The boat glides soundlessly across the waves, and a cold winter wind blows across you. Soon your boat glides up to the isle’s shore and you step onto the green earth. Shaded by a grove of trees you see an old stone well. The well waters shine with their own light, and you know you have found the Well of Youth. Take a few minutes to consider what kind of transformation you wish to bring into your life. Are their old habits that you need to shed, new ventures you wish to start? When you are ready you dip your hands into the water and drink.
When you are ready take the cup in your hands and hold it over the altar, saying:
Cailleach, blue hag of winter,
Churning storms and chaos in your wake,
Lady of thunder, winter, and cold,
Drink now from the sacred well,
And let me change as you do each year
Hold your hands over the cup. Visualize a brilliant white light filling the cup, the light of Cailleach and Brigid, the light of new beginnings and transformation. Then take a sip of your magickal brew. Feel the blessings of Cailleach and Brigid filling you, revitalizing you, as the Goddess’ energies renew and awaken the earth each spring. When you are ready say:
Like Cailleach I transform,
I drink from the sacred well,
The darkness within transformed to new light,
I shine like Brigid of the green mantle,
Renewed and transformed by the Goddess!
Pour the remaining liquid outside as an offering to Cailleach and Brigid.
Cailleach Image – Illustration by Jill Smith www.jill-smith.co.uk/…/ pages/cailleach_jpg.htm
Brighid Image – ☆ Brigid Maiden Fire Goddess Banner :¦: By Wendy Andrew ☆