ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Cailleach's Cold Cackle: Ancient Clues to Beating the Winter Blues

Updated on April 13, 2014

Using the Magic of Story to Alleviate the Suffering of Now

When cold winds blow and an endless piling of snow or pouring of rain threatens to dampen our spirits, that's just the time to turn to the ancients for a reminder of seasonal survival. While it may seem quaint and irrelevant to our modern ears, great stories of old once served the purpose of reminding people from where they came, and provided clues for how to get along in the world. For many of our most distant relatives, the telling of tales provided psychological tools of survival. So take today's tale of the Cailleach Crone along with your staple vitamin C, tissues and hot tea, and keep good company as we ride out the last long days of winter together.

Cailleach Bheara: the frightening aspect of winter
Cailleach Bheara: the frightening aspect of winter | Source

Winter's Firm Grip: The Cailleach's Tale

Before the Earth was as we know it now, when the sea covered places where there is land, and land was where there now is sea, and long before even the mountains were born, Cailleach and her eight sisters roamed free. And as time went on as it must, the sisters died, from flesh to dust; and Cailleach herself found her youth was lost, and on she wailed, and the Earth turned seasonally to frost. Young women would wander, but not without warning: the Cailleach is strong, with thoughts only of harming! So it was, a wise druid appeared to Bride the young, "of the old sow, steer clear." He gave her a bone whistle, but alas Cailleach was quick; she took off with fair Bride, before she could think. Days on cold end, Bride milked the Crone's deer, and made cheese from the liquid, and lived always in fear. Soon though the Druid in the form of a bird did appear: these three things must you do, to bring Springtime to bear. Listen well, and learn the Cailleach's secret name; watch ever closely, to find the well where her powers, she lays claim. Finally you must dance, and without wondering why, you too dear Bride must be willing to die." Bride so sweet, she did as she was told; and sweetly still, she inquired of Cailleach, "How old?" The hag, she cackled, and said "The Daughter of the Skies lived before the Earth was staid!" And so Bride followed secret Nic Neven to the place where a sacred well flowed, and she put a wheel of reed-rushes there, sealing it in haste. Finally to the Crone, Bride taught a deadly dance; the Crone blissfully obliged, and Bride put her to a stone's trance. With the Cailleach's demise, the reed-star flew into the sky, thus becoming the sun; and as the well-water rose, the winter passed by.

Three Sure Steps to Beat the Winter Blues

In the story above-- adapted from Caitlin Matthew's The Cailleach of the Snows-- the fury of winter is finally ended when the young heroine, Bride, agrees to complete three tasks. First, she must discover the secret name of the old Winter Hag. Second, she must find the source where the Winter Hag finds her renewal, and seal that place from further use. Finally, she must teach the old Hag a new dance-- and so doing, she herself must be willing to die.

When we find ourselves in the icy grip of unshakable, cabin-fevered Winter Blues, we can learn from Bride's journey and hasten the return of our own personal Spring. How so? Just as Bride, first we must first listen for the "secret name" of our Blues. In other words, what is really happening? Often when we are in the middle of a bad situation, it is our perception of it that makes it even worse. Once we give that perception a name, we tend to repeat it over and over, and in so doing we become the very thing we are trying to avoid: "I am so depressed." Instead of accepting this common name, can you listen carefully for the "secret name" of your actual situation? Often a "depressed" person is just a very tired person who needs more rest, and a change of scenery. What is your situation trying to tell you?

Bride's journey also admonishes us to watch: for often the most impossible situations will provide clues that point to what feeds them, what brings them to being, and more importantly what can send them into remission. Seasonal Affective Disorder is a real mood disorder that affects many people, especially those living in places that become very cold and dark in the winter time. Light therapy and cognitive-behavioral therapy are usually recommended in the most severe cases. In less severe instances, finding a daily blast of sunlight might do the trick. But where-ever your Blues rest on the SAD continuum, chances are your own mood --your inner Cailleach-- will tell you what sustains your blues, and what helps alleviate them. For example, watch yourself closely, and mind how your moods change over the course of a day. For example, if you're in the line at the grocery store, and you catch yourself smiling unexpectedly, examine that situation: was it a stranger's kindness who gave you that grin? Then find yourself a volunteer situation for the winter, where you can meet new people and help others in need. Was it the colors in the magazine rack that made you smile? Find ways to surround yourself in vibrancy, every day. Such moments as these will offer clues to seal your own well of unhappiness, and the capture of your own winter grief.

Finally, just like Bride, you must be willing to act: you must be willing to do the rediculous, even if it feels totally out of character. It may be that some part of you must "turn to stone" in order to free yourself from your situation. Physical activity is a great antidote to the Winter Blues. Learn a new dance, as Bride did; or learn how to ski, and really celebrate the season. Speaking of celebration, do some research: many cultures the world over offer thousands of ways to explore and enjoy the season at hand. Read tales of ancient winters of our mythological past. Peruse nature-worshiping sites that share ritual and ceremonial ideas for winter. Or just break out an old blues album, and dance around your own living room. Whatever you do, use the moment as an excuse to break out of your comfort zones. Be willing to let an old part of yourself "die" to your mood, as Bride trusted the Cailleach in their birch-wand dance. Seek new meaning in your predicament, and discover the wisdom that has lived within you all along.

Books about The Cailleach


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • PilarTeishin profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Western Massachusetts

      Thank you so much for the compliment! I'm glad you enjoyed the perspective.

    • Silver Fish profile image

      Silver Fish 

      5 years ago from Edinburgh Scotland

      Amazing hub, now as scotland is being embraced here in cold winds I will see winter with new eyes. Voted up and shared.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)