This is one of Jock's favourite stories about Winter!
This is the story of the Cailleach, the goddess of goddesses of Scotland.
Riding high in the sky from the freezing north, riding on icy blasts of shrieking wind she came, the Cailleach, Hag of the
Ridges, Goddess of Winter, Queen of Ice, and with her nine ice hag maidens their wild hair steaming in the howling gale,
they ride astride great drifts of snow like icy meteors dragged behind the Cailleach. And the Cailleach from her kreel -
her great basket – dropped the clods of peat that made Scotland, her beloved land. And the greatest of these clods,
the greatest of these rocks, she formed into Ben Nevis. And there in lofty crags and peaks she makes her winter home
from Samhain until Imbolc – from the Celtic festival of Samhain in the freezing fog of November, until the rains of February.
She is lean and lank and bony thin, her skin blue, her eye red rimmed from the icy winds, her gaze sends shivers
through the wind, and her breath strips leaves from trees and turns earth to iron. Her cauldron is the Corryvreckan
whirlpool. And there she hurries and scurries from time to time to see if it yet boils and froths and fumes. And then
for twenty miles around and three dark days and nights a howling gale flows over land and sea until it boils, and there
she goes, throws in her great plaid and then in the seething frothing foam she watches, and when it is clean and
bleached pure white she throws it over the mountain top, and sometimes over all the land.
The Cailleach keeps a prisoner; she keeps prisoner the beautiful bride, the goddess of spring, eyes blue as summer
skies, and her gaze opens the buds on the trees, her breath wakens the frozen streams to splash and play again.
Now from afar, from Tír na nÓg, from the land of the ever young, some say the Green Isle of the Great Deep, some
say the Islands West of the Setting Sun, Angus, the youngest god of all, gazes in yearning and in longing towards
Scotland, towards Bride. And each night Bride, the goddess, dreams of Angus, Angus Lord of Summer, Angus of the
Primrose Hair, Angus whose voice is a song, Angus the Fearless who will one day free her from the ice clutch of the Cailleach.
From afar Angus gazes, and when the sun god gives him lengthening days he takes his way across the riding on a
horse as white as marble. But the bone-thin Cailleach senses his coming, she gazes out, summons the nine hags, a
nd with the weather of the seven elements; the rain, and sleet, and snow, and hail, lightning and howling winds
they hurl in the face of Angus, and he retires to Tír na nÓg, the Isle of the Great Deep, and there he rests.
Until from August he takes three warm days and once more rides across the ocean to free the goddess bride.
But the Cailleach takes three days from darkest coldest winter, and on the high ridges of the Cullins they meet and
clash; a fight fierce and ferocious as ever with Cuchulain, a great god, when he fought the daughter of the warrior
queen of Skye. For three days the air is cold with rage, the battle fury torments the earth, storms rage in the sea,
and then Angus Og defeats the Cailleach and she flees screetching to the Isle of Mull, and there she dies.
And her husband, the great sea beast, laments and his tears are the first cold rains of spring.
Across the meadows of the morning walk bride and Angus towards one another, and when their eyes meet their
love warms the earth, their laughter tickles the first buds to spring to leap from the trees like a little dance, her
gaze wakens even the frozen streams to splash and play again. She is free, the earth is alive again.
But the Cailleach cannot die, she sleeps and waits and, once more, will put her cold clutch on her winter kingdom
and her beloved land of Scotland. And some say that the Cailleach, Goddess of Winter, and Bride, the
Goddess of Spring, are one.