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Death is an Opportunity for Change

*The following article is a direct excerpt from my digital seasonal zine, Dance of the Seventh Daughter. This past Autumn Zine, which focuses on the Goddesses of Death and Transformation, is available in the Marketplace for half off. You can subscribe to yearly issues in the Marketplace as well.*

Across cultures, timelines, and religions,

there are a multitude of Goddesses who

stand at the threshold of death. Their

domain may be the Underworld, the

cremation grounds, or the halls of

Valhalla. Maybe they stand at the

crossroads or the liminal spaces

between life and death. They can

sometimes be depicted as crones or

hags. Maybe they are fierce with long, lolling tongues dripping with

blood. Maybe the top halves of their

bodies are beautiful and the bottom is

that of a long serpent's. They can be

depicted as both demonic and divine.

But that doesn't mean we should fear

them. Goddesses who stand at the

threshold of death are guides to help us

face our inner selves. These Goddesses

help us embrace our shadow and step into the deep and murky waters of self-exploration and discovery. Yes, that can be scary; to confront yourself honestly and wholly without judgment. But in doing so, we're given an opportunity to transform into a new version of ourselves.


T H E W I T C H ' S N E W Y E A R : C E L E B R A T I N G T H E C A I L L E A C H

I'm based in the United States, so Halloween for us is always October 31st. But Halloween is a descendent of the Celtic Samhain, or the witch's new year as some of us like to call it. Samhain is an old Celtic tradition marking the turn of the wheel towards winter. November 1st was considered the New Year and the first day of winter. It is also said that during the Samhain portal, the veil between worlds is thin. Spirits walk the Earth, ancestors come to visit more easily, and communication with the dead is more abundant. There are actually many dates throughout the month of November that are sacred and connected with various Goddess across traditions and cultures. For example, the Japanese Goddess Hettsui-No-Kami is honored with a Shinto festival on November 8th, and the Persian Goddess Anahita, or Ardvi Sura Anahita, is celebrated with a festival on November 18th. But as the Celtic Cailleach is a Goddess of Transformation, I'd like to bring her into the conversation.

The Cailleach, or the veiled one, rules over the winter landscape and the harsh, cold winds of winter. She often appears as an old crone, cloaked in mystery. He clothes are grey and she wears a shawl over her shoulders. Her skin is gaunt and blueish like that of a corpse. She has a single eye in the middle of her forehead suggesting she has the ability to see beyond all time and space. Some suggest that the Cailleach's origins are pre-Celtic and that she is older than time itself. In some traditions, the Cailleach is associated with wolves and, in others, she is a shapeshifter and has the ability to transform into a bird. There are many who fear the Cailleach or write her off as evil, but it's not that simple. In fact, she is not only a Goddess of winter and death, but of creation as well. Let me explain.

Every Samhain eve, the Cailleach enters a river to wash her shawl. Once the shawl is completely clean and white, she casts it over the land and blankets it with snow. Her reign has begun. During the winter months, she rides across the land crushing any sign of growth. She also kidnaps, Brigid, the personification of Spring and keeps her hidden away. It is said that the Cailleach has many children. In this tale, it is her son Angus, the King of Summer, who dreams about the captured Brigid and, upon learning that she is meant to be his bride, embarks on a journey to free Brigid and defeat his mother. Angus frees his bride on the eve of Imbolc, or the eve of Spring. The Cailleach pursues her son and his lover engaging in battle all throughout the night. At the moment where Angus is about the inflict the final and fatal blow, the Cailleach escapes by turning herself into a stone. She stays this way until Samhain eve, where her reign over winter will begin again.

It is easy to look at the Cailleach and only see an old crone Goddess that brings about the death of the land symbolizing the onset of winter. But she also makes way for the land to transform. Death must

take place in order for rebirth and regrowth to happen. The Cailleach paves the way for transformation. Light a candle on the eve of Samhain. Leave an offering (a piece of your apple pie will do), and

thank the Cailleach for the opportunity to go inward so that we may meet ourselves and come out on the other side transformed.

You can honor the Cailleach and all the Goddesses of Death and Transformation throughout the entire month of November (and beyond). I'd recommend setting up an ancestor altar as well... which I'll talk about in the next blog post.

Happy New Year Witches! Blessed be.


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