In the Celtic tradition, October 31-November 1, the days right after the WomanSoul gathering, mark the time of Samhain, the start of the New Year. This is celebrated in the United States as Halloween.
Samhain is the time to call on the Crone, the Hag, the fearsome one who, in the old tale, blocks the way to the life-giving spring and demands a kiss from those who, in desperate thirst, seek access. She rewards those brave enough to fully embrace her with beauty, power, sovereignty. Wild, generous, nurturing, wise, this ancient Earth Goddess belongs to the stone mountains in the west of Ireland. SliabhnaCaillí (Hill of the Hag), a high hill in the east of Ireland, is also dedicated to her. She is called An Cailleach.
I first met her seven years ago during a shamanic journey as I lay near the ancient stone cairn (mound) on top of that hill. She terrified me. Over time, her wise, kind grandmother aspect emerged. She embodies strength and determination. I draw on her for backbone and connection with the Earth.
Last autumn equinox, I again stood on Sliabhna Caillí, this time at dawn, waiting my turn to enter the cairn. The rising sun’s light shot through the passageway and illuminated the beautiful Neolithic carvings in the stone at the back of the cairn. Those of us crouched in the darkness inside gasped in awe.
An Cailleach is strongly connected to the North, direction of overcoming challenges, confronting one’s shadow, undergoing transformation. She whips up gale-force winds, torrential rains, deep snow, bone-chilling cold. Her love is fierce, and she asks us to call forth our own fierceness to meet her in the North, so that we can receive her gift, the gift of sovereignty. In a political sense, sovereignty means the ability of a state to govern itself. It also refers to the ability to stand in our power and use the full range of our gifts in our own lives. It is inextricably linked with the responsibility to recognize and honor the sovereignty of others and to serve the common good.
Our country now faces the extreme consequences that follow centuries of violating the sovereignty of its people, particularly indigenous people, people of color, and women. In the old days in Ireland, to become king a man had to marry the goddess of the land in sacred ceremony and vow to protect and honor her sovereignty. He was required to rule in a way that allowed all to share in the land’s abundance. If he failed to do so, he was ousted as king. How far we have come from those days!
An Cailleach can help us through the challenges we face at this time. Most of our leaders have not served the land and her people well. We suffer from rampant racism, ongoing war against the indigenous peoples from whom the land was stolen, oppression of and violence against women, economic inequality, environmental destruction, and on and on. To access the life-giving spring and regain our sovereignty, to fully embody our wild, lusty, powerful selves, to honor the stones, the Earth’s backbone, we can call on and embrace the old one, the Crone, An Cailleach. Whatever name you have for her in your culture or tradition, it’s her time.