For most of my life I dreaded both the approach of winter and winter itself. Having grown up in the semi-tropics of New Orleans I had little tolerance for the cold. Living further north as an adult, the shortening days seemed to contradict the joy I found during the blooming of spring and the abundance of summer. Though I certainly appreciated the crisp, clear, golden days of fall they also caused feelings of trepidation as the days continued to shorten.
Over the past few years my feelings at this time of year have changed completely. Now I feel joy as the days begin to shorten, the shadows begin to lengthen and the sky takes on the blue grey colors of winter. I relish the quiet time the long nights provide.
A friend recently asked me why my feelings have changed. I think that part of it is just the nature of maturity which allows for greater acceptance of what is. Or maybe now that I’ve spent more of my life where there are four real seasons than the years of my youth in the hot climate of New Orleans the cold has become the norm. Yet I believe that another part, perhaps even the largest part, is the study and research I have done and continue to do into the myths and culture of the ancient Celts which has created a profound and mysterious shift in my psyche – a greater opening to the potential for healing and growth in and through the darkness.
Add to this my discovery of the Reindeer Goddess honored by the ancient Lithuanian, Latvian, Slavic and Sami people of Northern Europe. These people believed that this goddess in the form or a reindeer or in a chariot pulled through the sky by reindeer flew over the land on the Winter Solstice bestowing gifts on the folks below. How exciting to discover that the quintessential modern symbol of Christmas, Santa Claus, has its origins in the Reindeer Goddess – a deity who brought the people hope as they passed through the dark time.
The longest night was called “Mother Night” as it was during this time that the Goddess worked her magic to nurture the seeds laying dormant in the dark womb of earth so that new life could emerge in spring. It is a time to celebrate the sacredness of the darkness and the eternal cycle of life, death and rebirth.
Our culture honors the busy, doing, expanding days of spring and summer. We place great value on logic, on accomplishments, on success. The pursuit of wealth and comfort dominate our world view.
The Celtic world view was very different from ours. The Celts recognized and appreciated the unfathomable mystery of life – the deeper, numinous realm just beyond the reach of logic; beyond the reach of our mind’s ability to understand. In their view all physical life emerges from this unknowable mystery. And this mystery was best understood in the darkness.
Time was always cyclical to the ancient mind. In the dark of the year they celebrated the darkness – the cold and dark which allowed for a time of introspection and spiritual growth. In the light of the year they celebrated the light – the warmth and the brightness which allowed for physical abundance and growth. And so the cycle would continue though out the changes of human life.
Within that eternal circle of dark to light the Celts relished the darkness in a way that is foreign to us today – giving it primary importance over the light half of the year. Every day and every festival began at dusk not dawn. Even their New Year began as the world turned toward the dark with the Samhain celebrations on October 31. The harvest was in, thanks were given, and nature was moving into its period of death.
Winter was a sacred time and a time of peace as the Fianna, the warrior caste, suspended all war until Beltane.
The Cailleach who existed in the British Isles long before the the Celts arrived was the embodiment of winter. She was one with the land, creating hills and valleys with single leaps and dropped rocks. She wielded power over the weather – using the slachdan to unleash powerful and cleansing storms. Her reign was ushered in at Samhain, lasting through the dark of the year until February 2 when Brigid, ancient Goddess of Healing, Smithcraft and Inspiration took over for the light half of the year.
The Cailleach translates as “the Veiled One” which perfectly describes her reign over the quiet, dark of winter, the hidden worlds, and our dreams and inner realities. My image of the Cailleach stays on my altar during the winter months as a reminder to myself to honor the dark.
Though intellectually I understood that winter is a time of dormant possibility and germination I still resisted it. Now I relish the long winter nights from a place of love for this season of great richness and potentiality. It is during this time that beliefs and conditioning can be put aside and released more easily, allowing inspiration and an open heart to lead; allowing the new seeds of vision and perception to take hold. May you be warm and cozy on these long winter nights while remaining open to the possibilities found in the dark and cold where the seeds of new life and new ways germinate.
Sources: Living Myths,
Judith’s deck of Celtic Goddess Oracle Cards is available now. You can order your deck on Judith’s website – click here. Experience the wisdom of the Celtic Goddesses!
Judith Shaw, a graduate of the San Francisco Art Institute, has been interested in myth, culture and mystical studies all her life. Not long after graduating from SFAI, while living in Greece, Judith began exploring the Goddess in her art. She continues to be inspired by the Goddess in all of Her manifestations, which are found everywhere in the natural world.. In recent years Judith became very interested in the Goddesses of her own ancestors, the Celts, resulting in her deck of Celtic Goddess Oracle cards. She is now working on her next deck of oracle cards – Animal Spirit Guides. Originally from New Orleans, Judith makes her home in New Mexico where she paints as much as time allows and sells real estate part-time. Give yourself the gift of one of Judith’s prints or paintings, priced from $25 – $3000.