Bride, Angus and the Cailleach

And so winter gave way to spring, and then summer and autumn as Angus and Bride continued to rule, only for Beira to rise again to reign over winter. And so the seasons came to pass upon Scotland.

Words by Taylor Petrie and Joanne Fong
Illustration by Linley Barba

It is told that Beira (also known as The Cailleach) was an old hag described to have long, frosty white hair, dull dark blue skin and only one eye, is the Goddess of Winter. Beira, along with her eight sister hags, ushers Scotland into winter by riding out from Ben Nevis, her home, to hammer frost into the ground. Beira carried a staff or rod that is said to have frozen the land wherever she tapped, and a mighty hammer she used that created and shaped the land of Scotland, raising mountains and crafting valleys and rivers.

Beira could be seen riding through the sky on the back of a great wolf in the winter (corresponding to the old Gaelic name for the month of January leading into February, meaning ‘wolf month’). And her reign as the Queen of Winter ended in June, in which she would drink from the Well of Youth, allowing her to become younger and more beautiful to renew her strength during the summer and autumn months in order to reign over winter again.

Angus & Bride

Beira held a beautiful young maiden named Bride captive; jealous of Bride’s beauty, Beira made her dress in shabby clothes and put her to work in her mountain home, performing the most unpleasant tasks. She continuously criticised Bride, making her life desolate.

One day, Beira gave Bride a brown fleece, and told her to wash it in the running stream until it was pure white. So all day long, Bride laboured to wash the fleece but found it an impossible task – the brown would not wash off. Beira bid her to continue washing the fleece day after day, and so Bride continued in her endeavour.

One day, while crying bitter tears over her hopeless task, an old man with a grey beard was passing by and took pity on the maiden, asking why she was in distress. Bride answered, telling him about Beira’s task for her that she could not accomplish. Then, she asked, “Who are you?”

“My name is Father Winter. Give me the fleece and I will make it white for you,” he replied.

Bride have Father Winter the brown fleece, of which he shook three times. On the third shake, the fleece became snow white. Filled with joy, Bride thanked Father Winter, to which he replied by giving Bride a small posy of snowdrops. He instructed her to tell Beira that green shoots and new grass were beginning to sprout in the fields and under the snow.

Having gone back to Beira residing in the mountain, Bride laid the now-white fleece at her feet, but Beira’s attention was riveted on the snowdrops in her hands. In sudden anger, the Goddess of Winter asked where Bride had gotten the blossoms, prompting Bride to tell her Father Winter’s message. Beira banished her from her sight, but Bride was overcome with elation; she knew Beira’s reign was coming to an end. Meanwhile, the Goddess rode off to each compass point, hammering at the earth in the attempt to keep the spring away.

Meanwhile, on the West Coast of Scotland, the God of Summer, Angus Og resided on the Green Isle of Summer, also named the ‘Land of Youth’. He had dreamed of a beautiful maiden weeping, and when he awoke he asked his father, the King of the Isle, about his dream. The King tells Angus that Beira holds Bride captive because Bride is the fair princess Angus is to marry, and when he becomes King of Summer, Bride is to be his Queen; Beira hopes to stop that in order to hold onto her reign.

On hearing this, Angus is determined to set out at once in order to free Bride from Winter’s grasp. However, his father bid him to stay until the wolf month had passed and grass was growing, and the winter seas were calm. Nevertheless, Angus did not want to wait and decided to cast a spell on the land and sea – he borrowed three days from August and gave them to February and the sea drowsed serenely, allowing him to cross. That night, Bride had also dreamed of Angus, and awoke to the knowledge that he was arriving to free her. Violets blossomed where her tears of joy fell, as blue as her eyes.

When Angus at last came upon Ben Nevis and freed Bride from her prison, the Fairy Queen stepped out of the forest to greet them. She waved her wand, transforming Bride’s tattered clothes into a beautiful white and silver robe. In her right hand, she held a white wand adorned with golden corn-stalks, and a golden Horn of Plenty in her left. The linnet was the first bird of the forest to hail Bride in all her beauty, and is dubbed by the Fairy Queen the ‘Bird of Bride’, and the oyster catcher was the first bird to chirp in joy on the shore, and the Fairy Queen named it the ‘Page of Bird’ hereafter. And so the Fairy Queen wed Angus and Bride, and as they walked forth, they came across a river coated in ice. Bride dipped her fingers in, and Ice Hag shrieked and fled as the ice melted under Bride’s touch.

Beira, on hearing the jubilant trilling of the birds and the cries of “Spring has come!”, set off at once to wage war against Angus. When he caught sight of Beira bearing down on them in all her wrath, Angus sprang onto his steed with Bride and they fled back to the Green Isle.

There, Angus and Bride spent many happy days, though Angus longed to return to Scotland to reign as the King of Summer. He would make many attempts to return, but Beira raised storm after storm after storm to chase him away. However, Beira eventually grew weary for she was a hag in the winter, and longed to drink from the Well of Youth again. She threw her hammer underneath a holly tree and rode west to the Green Isle. There, on the dawn of the next day, Beira drank the water from the well to become beautiful and young again. Angus and Bride both returned to Scotland, and were welcomed as king and queen.

And so winter gave way to spring, and then summer and autumn as Angus and Bride continued to rule, only for Beira to rise again to reign over winter. And so the seasons came to pass upon Scotland.

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