The Cailleach,
Queen of Winter

But, even Beira was not strong enough to resist the passage of time forever. The time for her reign’s end had come and gone, and she could postpone it, mighty as she was, but not forever…..

By Liana Paraschaki

Before gods and goddesses were born, there was Beira. Beira, the Queen of Winter, and one of Scotland’s most powerful deities, created not only the rest of the Celtic pantheon, but also the hills and mountains and steep hikes of Scotland. The winter goddess has but one eye, and teeth the colour of copper. Her skin is blue and her long hair white, like the snow she yields and summons.

Beira is not simply a powerful goddess of creation; she is also cruel, and often jealous of those goddesses whose youth and beauty she does not possess. Legend has it that Beira once captured Bride, a beautiful young princess. Beira knew, as goddesses often do, that Bride was to wed her own son, Angus, the King of Summer, and become his eternal queen. Equal measures, jealous and afraid, Beira captured Bride, in an attempt to keep her away from her son. Alas, Angus dreamt of Bride and sought the counsel of the wise King of the Green Isle.

“I have dreamt of the most beautiful maiden, so beautiful, in fact, that tears fell from my eyes. Alas, my beloved is held prisoner somewhere and I must set her free!”

“The maiden you have dreamt of is Bride, and she is the most beautiful maiden, indeed. She is a prisoner of your own mother, because she knows that you will be King of Summer and Bride the queen by your side. Do not rush, my young friend. The land is still thick with snow, and Beira’s reign is still strong; you must wait until the first flowers bloom and her power grows weaker.”

“That, I cannot do. I shall borrow three days from August, even if it is still only February – I must set my beloved free.” And with those words, Angus, eternally youthful Angus, borrowed three days from August, and the sun shone brightly Scotland. His own armour was made of shining gold, glistening under the flaming sun. And so, the prince in shining armour, rode his white horse, over the hills and mountains of Scotland, to rescue his beloved from the cruelty of his own mother.

Meanwhile, Bride was set to a series of tasks as Beira’s prisoner. One day, she was given a brown fleece, and was instructed to wash it until it was white. Wash and wash the poor girl did, day after day, but the fleece always remained brown and Beira’s mocking was relentless. One day, as Bride was heading to the river, to wash the fleece once more, she encountered Father Winter.

“Give me the fleece, and I shall make it white for you,” he said and, shaking the fleece thrice, turned it white, indeed! Oh, how happy Bride was! But, Father Winter was not finished. He gave Bride a bunch of white snowdrops and instructed that she give those to Beira. And so, the young maiden returned to her captor, white fleece in one hand, and snowdrops in the other.

When Beira saw the snowdrops, one could have sworn her blue skin turned a few shades lighter. She knew what they meant – nature was blooming once more, and her own end was near. Terrified, the old hag gathered her servants and bade them ride north and south, east and west, to stop all growth and extend her own reign of frost and terror.

But even Beira was no match for time and the changing of the seasons; for when Angus summoned the three days of summer, flowers bloomed and nature slowly awoke. Mother and son fought mercilessly, with Beira summoning storms to drive her own son away from her prisoner, and Angus bravely insisting in his quest to free his beloved. There finally came a day, when the two lovers met, in a forest near the castle, where Bride had been held prisoner for so long. All around them, flowers bloomed and blossomed, as if reassuring them that their happy ending is near. The sun shone above their heads and the two young lovers confided in each other of their dreams, with Angus telling his young bride he had dreamt of her, and she narrating the sorrows of her captivity.

And that day, when the youthful Angus finally found the young Bride, is still, to this day, called Bride’s day and heralds the beginning of spring.

And so they wed, with the help of the fairies. The Queen of the Fairies herself helped transform Bride, taking away the colourless and shapeless rags Beira had forced the young maiden into wearing. Instead, on the day of her wedding, Bride wore a gown white and sewn with silver, and it was so bright and so beautiful, it was as if she were light itself.

When Beira heard of her son’s marriage, she grew angrier and more terrified than she ever had before. She felt as if she had no choice, but to go after the young lovers. Angus and Bride were forced to flee, and they sought solace on the Green Isle, far away from Beira and her power. Still, Angus longed for Scotland, and every now and again he would try to reach for the land, bringing sunny and warm days with him. But Beira and her storms always drove him away.

But, even Beira was not strong enough to resist the passage of time forever. The time for her reign’s end had come and gone, and she could postpone it, mighty as she was, but not forever. Soon, she grew weary and exhausted and her strength abandoned her. According to legend, Beira and Angus fought each other viciously one last time, until the exhausted mother could fight no longer; to survive, she turned herself into a rock.

And a rock she remained until the day of the Samhain, when her power would grow stronger once more. On Samhain, Beira awakens and manages to kidnap Bride once more, and so the reign of winter begins. Only when Angus fights his mother once more, and rescues his young wife, will spring return again. And so, the yearly cycle continues.