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Dark Beira: Queen of Winter

In Scottish mythology, Beira or Dark Beira is the great mother of the gods and goddesses. She’s also known as the Cailleach, or the Cailleach Bheur in the Gaelic traditions of Ireland and the Isle of Man.

Donald Alexander Mackenzie usually described her as being very tall and very old but could be terribly fierce when provoked. Her anger was be as strong and bitter as the cold north wind and as wild and unforgiving as a stormy sea.

Every winter Beira reigned on Earth but as spring approached her subjects grew restless and rebellious against her harsh rule. They looked forward instead to the pending return of Summer King and Queen.

In the weakening of her power and the inevitable arrival of the King and Queen of Summer, Beira grew greatly enraged. She did what she could to prolong winter by raising spring storms and sending blights of frost but winter had to give way to spring and summer as her power weakened.

Beira had lived for thousand of years. She kept herself alive by drinking from the Well of Youth that has its wellspring on the Green Island in the West. The Green Island was a place where there was always only summer. The trees were always laden with blossoms and fruit and the days were sunny and clear.

Although many bold sailors have tried to find the island few if any have ever succeeded as it is hidden by mists.

Beira reaches the Green Island when the waters of the Well of Youth are at their most potent after the winter solstice. Then she drinks from the waters of the Well of Youth the night before the first lengthening day which was the last night of her reign as Queen of Winter.

It was important she drink the water at precisely the right time so she would arrive early and sit in darkness waiting for the very first glimmer of light in the east. At this signal, she would drink the pure water of the Well of Youth as it bubbled forth from a crevice in a rock. She must drink in silence and alone, before any bird or animal. If she should fail in this she would die, shrivelling and crumbling to dust.

As soon as the water passes her lips she begins to grow young again. When she had que chef her thirst and regained her strength, she leaves for Scotland where she falls into a long, magical sleep.

When she wakes, she’s a beautiful girl with long blond hair, blue eyes and rosy cheeks to find herself in sunshine. Having rejuvenated herself now, with the exception of Bride the Summer Queen, she’s the fairest goddess in the land. She wanders through the land dressed in a robe of green and crowned with different colored flowers.

As the months pass so the year ages Beira. By midsummer she reaches full womanhood at midsummer and by autumn the first wrinkles appear on her brow and her beauty fades.

The return of winter has Beira aged back into the old withered hag and she becomes Queen of Winter once more. She’s often heard on stormy nights, wandering alone through the bitter wind and singing a strange and sorrowful song.

The young Beira of the summer is a joy to look upon but aging and dark Beira of the winter is horrific. She has only had one large eye but her vision is sharp and clear, while her complexion iS of dark blue giving her a dull and dank appearance. She had rust colored teeth and long, lank, white hair that covers her shoulders like frost. Her clothes are grey and she’s wrapped in a dun coloured shawl which pulled tightly around herself.

Beira was beloved by all wild animals especially in her younger form. Foxes would bark out a welcome and wolves would howl greetings from the mountains, while eagles soaring above shrieked in delight at her presence. She gave her protection to the fleet-footed deer and wide horned shaggy cattle, the black pigs and other creatures that roamed the earth in those days.

She kept goats and cattle on the mountains so that they could graze the sweet mountain grass and these she milked. As soon as the wind began to blow milky froth from the milking pails she knew it was time to lead them down to the shelter of the valleys below. The froth from the pails covered the hills and lay glimmering in the sunshine. When the rain hit the mountains in torrents and ran down the sides in streams people would look up and say claim Beira is milking today.