We love a bit of folklore here at HES – not least because stories have the power to shape cultural views and traditions. This LGBT+ History Month, we asked author Kirsty Logan to re-imagine the Gaelic folk tale of Beira, the winter goddess whose reign was said to end on the longest night of the year.

After this point, she would  drink from the well of youth and get younger every day, as the light returned. Beira was said to have built the mountains of Scotland with her magic hammer, using the tallest (Ben Nevis) as her throne. She was also known as Cailleach, meaning old woman or hag in Gaelic.

Chapter 1:

All myths begin
With the rise and fall of the sun
So let’s start there
Or just before

Sit by me now
The circle of us a crown on the hilltop
The shiver of night air, cold as stars
Light still a promise behind the far rise

All myths begin with the rise and fall of the sun

We’ll sit together on this island of ghosts at the edge of the world
We’ll stay until we see that there is more than one layer to the sky
We’ll wait for the light

You’ve been told to stay away from me
At least until the days start to turn
At least until the air starts to warm
But I promise, I promise, my story ends with dawn

And it starts there too –

Chapter 2:

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before
Here is what they say about me
As the days get slow and short and cold
As summer becomes a memory

Snow queen, winter goddess
Protectress of wild woodland animals
The veiled one, bringer of storms, protector of the harvest
Witch, vixen, fishwife, shrew, harpy, hag

But what is a hag but a woman who is not
Quite what she is supposed to be
Not young pretty thin soft kind bright fertile ready to open her arms for a man
And embrace all that he is

But I have embraced men
Over and over
Many a man, and women too
And outlasted them all,
Outlived them all
Outloved them all and all and all
Until
She –

Chapter 3:

She, spring goddess, flower queen, made all of petals
She, my mirror, my opposite, the perfect shape to fill the gaps in me
Hair yellow as the sun – while mine is the white moon, reflecting
Eyes blue as a man dead of cold – while mine are the black of peat
Body round and soft like fresh bread – while I am tall and thin as a winter tree

She, there, just beyond the distant hills
Calling out for me, making my name out of light
Calling me not for power, not for storms, not even for mercy
But for love

And I
A goddess who built mountains
Literally built them, did you know that?
Those mountains you see – taller than your house, taller than any building you’ve ever been in
I built them, me and my hammer, I did that
And still I –
Still I, at the sight of her, at the closeness of her
Am humbled, am powerless, stricken, silent, sheer shambles

snow covered mountains tower above an icy lake

A goddess who built mountains

And I
Messed it up.
Okay? I messed it up.
For a long time it worked, and then it
Didn’t.
And it was me. I know it was me.
My heart is white and ice
And beats in fits
And her hands were warm and strong and melting
And I said it wasn’t enough
Even though it was everything
The air turned cold again
She took those hands away
And never touched me again –

Chapter 4:

I made this loch for her, to win her back
You see it?
Peat black
Days wide
Deep enough to swallow a town
Deep enough to hide a monster
And you know what? Perhaps I put one in there, just for her
Wee beastie, secret tale
Hiding down there in the depths
Hoping she’d come back
Just to find it

If you like that story, here’s another:
You can buy a tea-towel of me
Or a keyring, if you don’t wash dishes
Or a postcard, if you don’t have a home you need to open
They show me accidentally making the loch
Accidentally, not-on-purposely, not-an-act-of-incredible-love-and-devotion-ly
And this is why you should not let someone else tell your story
You can make an entire loch for the love of a woman
And they’ll say you didn’t mean it
They’ll say you can’t have done it
They’ll say you don’t know your own ice-white fast-beating heart full of the sound of her name

I know she loves monsters so I made one for her
I thought she’d like water so dark no one could get to the depths of it
I hoped she’d like a place where even a huge white-haired hag with a magical hammer could live
If she wanted
If we wanted –

Chapter 5:

So let’s start here
The circle of us a crown on the hilltop
The shiver of night air, cold as stars
Light still a promise behind the far rise

We’ll sit together on this island of ghosts at the edge of the world
We’ll stay until we see that there are many layers to the sky
We’ll wait for the light

It will return
I have to believe it will
I have lived for centuries
I have seen light after light after light after light after light

Do you think she will like the loch?
Do you think she will like the chill peaty water and the silver flicker of fish?
Do you think she will like the way the snow falls soft on the flat black glass?
Do you think she will like, still, the monster?

You don’t have to wait with me
I’ll stay a little while yet
For the world to turn
For the sky to burn
For the light to return

Join us for World Storytelling Day on 20 March, when Kirsty will read The Longest Night aloud on a special livestream.

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