Mother Ocean, Daughter Sea by Diana Marcellas
This is a book that grew on me.
From the start the lyrical phrasing and use of alliteration made me want to read the text but gradually the story brought me into it – more in the latter half of the book though, as the front end is largely the usual story we hear about witches are cruel hags – or so men with little sense of self worth have seemed to believed over the century – and the contrast view of witches as wise women and healers. It is clear from history that these two views have coalesced into one – ie all witches are evil – at certain times in our history because the wise women healers were using skills and knowledge unknown to men and therefore they must be bad. Also, it can be claimed that wise women were prototypical feminists who were often self-reliant and unmarried and thus not dependent on men.
I decided to check out what the word ‘hag’ originally meant as it is usually used in a derogatory manner and was surprised to find out that yes, it was a derogatory term.
The term appears in Middle English, and was a shortening of hægtesse, an Old English term for witch, similarly the Dutch heks and German hexe are also shortenings, of the Middle Dutch haghetisse and Old High German hagzusa respectively. All these words derive from the Proto-Germanic hagatusjon- which is of unknown origin, however the first element may be related to the word “hedge”. As a stock character in fairy or folk tale, the hag shares characteristics with the crone, and the two words are sometimes used as if interchangeable.
In Irish and Scottish mythology, the cailleach is a hag goddess concerned with creation, harvest, the weather and sovereignty. In partnership with the goddess Bríd, she is a seasonal goddess, seen as ruling the winter months while Bríd rules the summer. In Scotland, a group of hags, known as The Cailleachan (The Storm Hags) are seen as personifications of the elemental powers of nature, especially in a destructive aspect. They are said to be particularly active in raising the windstorms of spring, during the period known as A Chailleach.
Hags as sovereignty figures abound in Irish mythology. The most common pattern is that the hag represents the barren land, who the hero of the tale must approach without fear, and come to love on her own terms. When the hero displays this courage, love, and acceptance of her hideous side, the sovereignty hag then reveals that she is also a young and beautiful goddess.
As a young and beautiful goddess in disguise, this is not quite the story-line but close except for the young and beautiful. Here the strange powers are feared, perhaps because the invaders in this story, who closely resemble the Vikings (perhaps over-whelming the Celts?) seem to be technology free and those being over-run seem to have had quite a lot of technology in use – see the Guardians and the Witchlights. So are we seeing here a metaphor or a re-telling? I think there are certainly elements of it, but the writing style is such that it means that the story-line is familiar – so far – is of little relevance. I grew entranced and would love to read the follow-on.
Some facts out of interest and if you live in the UK and are interested then here is a good link for you:
More than 200,000 were women hanged for witchcraft in the UK between 1484 and 1750.
The witch is the subject of a new exhibition at the British Museum which runs until January and they note that early witches weren’t the horrid hags of the Middle Ages. Many, among them Lilith, thought to be the first wife of Adam and his equal, sorceress Circe and Hercules’ unfaithful wife Medea, were as beautiful as they were powerful.