The Cailleach: A Celtic Goddess of Winter

Arkane Curiosities

Just as the Greeks celebrate the change from winter to summer with Persephone arising from the underworld, the Celts had the twin goddesses of Brigid and Cailleach. While the bright Brigid ruled over the summer months, Cailleach was the goddess of winter — the dwindling of the light.

Winter Goddess

Cailleach was known as the Veiled One or the Queen of Winter and she determined the severity of the colder months. Samhain, or October 31st, marked the end of the Celtic year and the start of Cailleach’s reign. This lasted until Beltane, May 1st, when Brigid ushered in the summer months. Some believe there were two aspects of the same goddess. 

This might explain why she aged backward. Cailleach began Samhain as an ancient crone and gradually became younger as the months marched toward spring. Cailleach had total control over the frigid winter winds, being called Cailleach Bhéara in Scotland, the master of winds. She would determine if we received and early spring.

Collecting Firewood

On Imbolc, February 1st, Cailleach ran out of firewood. This forced her to journey out into the woods to collect more. In the Manx tradition, she transformed into a mighty bird, gathering branches in her beak. In Ireland and Scotland, she journeyed out on foot. 

This chore determined how severe the last months of winter would be. If Cailleach wanted winter to go on, she would make the day sunny and bright, allowing her to find more firewood and prolong the harsh winds of winter. However, if she overslept, the day remained gray and stormy, signaling that warmer weather was soon to come. 

This tradition has carried over into the United States as Groundhog Day. It shifted to February 2nd, but the ritual is very similar. A sunny day means that Punxsutawney Phil will see his shadow and bring six more weeks of winter. If the day is overcast, then he won’t see his shadow and we get an early spring. 

Oldest of Them All

There is a legend of a wandering friar and his scribe who chanced upon an old woman’s house (spoiler, this would be our Cailleach). The friar wanted to know how old the woman was, but she had survived so many winters, she couldn’t quite recall. All she did know was that each year she killed an ox and cooked up a soup. Then she’d toss the bones into the attic. 

The friar sent his young scribe scrambling up the ladder to throw the bones down for a count. As the pile grew, the friar soon ran out of paper in which to record the years this old lady had lived. He called up to the scribe to see how many bones were left. The scribe replied that he’d not even cleared one corner of the attic. 

Another tale involved Fintan the Wise, who accompanied Noah’s granddaughter to visit Ireland. This was before the Great Flood and Fintan felt he was the first to set foot on the Emerald Isle. Instead, he discovered Cailleach living in a small hut. 

Fintan was known as the man of a hundred lives, having lived some 5500 years. Yet he surmised that Cailleach was even older than he. He asked her, “Are you the one who ate the apples in the beginning?”, wondering if she might be Eve. He received no answer. 

The Well of Youth and the Green Isle

Perhaps Cailleach (also known as Beria) lived so long because each spring, she drank from the Well of Youth. These magical waters bubble up from the Green Island.This island, visible as only a speck off in the west, was a magical land where the only season was summer. It drifted along with the tides of the Atlantic, appearing off the coasts of Ireland and Scotland. Beria always knew where to find the isle and visited each spring to renew her life. 

Tim Kane

3 Weird Ways to Confuse a Vampire

Arkane Curiosities

If a vampire has you on their menu, you can reach for a stake or garlic. But another solution is to simply confuse the vampire. Through the years, people have surmised various weaknesses of these nocturnal bloodsuckers and come up with different ways to perplex them. A confused vampire is one that won’t be feasting on you.

Force the Vampire to Do Some Math

Many cultures contend that vampires are obsessive to the point of compulsion. They will count various objects, no matter how many, until the job is done. We can use this to our advantage.

Germans would scatter seeds (poppy, mustard, oat or carrot) around the grave of a suspected vampire. The undead was compelled to count all the seeds before leaving the grave to seek blood. Although this seems like a simple task, often the vampire found themselves delayed till daylight. The Kashubs of Poland believed a vampire could only count a single seed a year, thus keeping it busy for centuries. 

Knots could also delay a vampire. Nets were often buried with the deceased forcing the undead to untie all the knots.

A more macabre practice was to leave a dead cat or dog on your doorstep. In this case, the vampire must count all the hairs on the animal. Personally, I would opt for the seeds. 

Trick the Vampire with Poop

Never has the poop emoji been so powerful. No garlic or crucifix at hand? Just shove a bowl of excrement in the vampire’s face.

In Europe, vampires were thought to exit the grave through small holes (the size a serpent might make). In Bulgaria, they placed bowls of feces (or poison) right outside these holes. The vampire, it seems, is so famished that it will consume the first thing it comes across, devouring the bowl of excrement. 

Get the Vampire Drunk

A happy vampire is one that won’t invade your home. Sometimes a bottle of whiskey was left in the grave with the corpse. If the vampire became too drunk, it might not be able to find the home of its relatives, preventing it from feeding on you. 

In Romania, people would bury a bottle of wine with the corpse. After six weeks, they dug up the bottle and drank it, offering a form of protection from the strigoi (a Romanian vampire).

Tim Kane

Strange News Signup

Arkane curiosities: five minute reads on mythology, legend, and supernatural history delivered monthly to your inbox.

churning

Thank you for sign up!

3 Weird Ways to Stop a Vampire (Carpet, Hairpin, Lemon)

Arkane Curiosities

Vampires rise from the grave to bite our necks and gulp down our blood. Not a great situation if you’re on the punctured side of the equation. The best way to cope with these bloodsuckers is to make sure they never get out of their coffins in the first place.

Wrap the Vampire in a Carpet

In areas of Eastern Europe, people bound the knees (or sometimes even the whole body) of a suspected vampire with a rope. This prevented the corpse from clambering out of the grave. People would take this one step further, and wrap a rug around the bloodsucker to completely immobilize it. In Ireland, people would pile stones on the grave to keep the Dearg-dul (Irish vampire) from rising. 

In the case of the recently discovered vampire in Poland, the corpse had a padlock on her left big toe to symbolize that she would never rise again. Serbians took this one step further and cut off the toe of a Vlkoslak (a Serbian vampire).

Poke the Vampire with a Hairpin

Various sharp objects have been found in vampire graves, all meant to discourage the undead from leaving the grave. The discovery of a female skeleton buried with a sickle across her neck was not the first anti-vampire method. The idea with the sickle was to cut the head off if the vampire should rise.


Image credit: Miroslav Blicharski / Aleksander. Photograph:( Others )

Hairpins or thorns would also prevent a vampire from rising. These objects were inserted either under the tongue or in the navel. In Bulgaria they wrapped their version of a vampire (Krvoijac) with wild roses. The thorns of these were seen as a deterrent. 

When dug up, people noted that some corpses looked plumper than before (due to the swelling of the body after death). Pins or thorns were thought to keep the body from swelling.

Give the Vampire a Lemon

A certain German vampire called Neuntöter was afraid of lemons. Placing a lemon in its mouth when buried would keep the vampire in its grave (they would sometimes cut off the head between 11pm and midnight). 

The lemon has long been seen as a treatment for illness and poison. The ancient Romans used lemon juice to cure colds and fevers, while the Egyptians would drink the juice to protect against poison. Ancient Greeks claimed that eating lemons could help people survive being bitten by a poisonous snake.

Tim Kane

Strange News Signup

Arkane curiosities: five minute reads on mythology, legend, and supernatural history delivered monthly to your inbox.

churning

Thank you for sign up!