The Winter Women

(C) 1995 Lynn Noel

Creative Commons CC BY-NC-ND (Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs)

They come, the winter women, at harvest time

Turning the great Yule wheel, cross-quartered,

Down Persephone's dark road

While the earth weeps a mother's tears.

The Baba comes to the barn,

Corn Mother, Corn Maiden, Old Wife, Oatwife

Tossed high on the harvest, dancing, queening it she comes

The year's last sheaf come home.

Creeping she comes, the Old Wife of the Celts,

Cailleach Bheur, hag goddess, crag goddess,

Leaping from the rocks to lock the Bride of spring away.

She whistles up her winter winds, that pack of dogs

That follow dark Frau Gaude on her icy rounds.

Keening she comes! You careless ones,

Who leave your doorways cracked ajar

Will hear her dogs' keen whining at your hearth.

You lazy spinsters, mind your distaff's full

And wind your spindles tidy by the fire

Lest Berchta send you plague or blind your eyes for spying.

Sweep your altar stone

And pile the green boughs high to call her forth

To tell your future in the flames where past and present mingle at your hearth.

Bright candle flames now wreath her, crowned in lingonberry,

Saint Lucia bringing light out of the heart of Northern darkness.

She brings you gifts of plenty, La Befana sweeping on her broom

Beware, and honor her! Lest your Epiphany be black as coal.

Black it was, in the beginning,

When the sun was on the far side of the world

And Spider Woman made the long journey with her pot of clay

To bring the sun back to the Cherokee.

Mary brought the Son, they say, the Prince of Peace --

For unto us a child is born! and the year begins anew.

Children carol for her, Kolyada, whiterobed in her snowy sleigh

In her deep Russian woods of frozen winter streams

where the winter nymphs, Rusalky, sing their secret solstice songs.

There in those winter woods was born the snegurochka, Snow Maiden,

Ancient spirit, daughter of spring and winter come to earth.

At Candlemas, cross-quarter time, the Old Hag springs again,

But this time Brigit's cross wheels high above the door

And the frail Snow Maiden melts into her summer lover's arms.

See where they come, the winter women, in the bleak midwinter night

To summon up the sun and bring us light.