Scottish myths 33

Beira, the Winter Queen

Beira was the all powerful Highland Queen of Winter. So powerful was she that it's said she was the mother of all the divinities of Scotland. But even so, she would always be thwarted by rebellious spring and the power of the King of summer, Angus of the White Steed, and his beautiful Queen Bride, who were certainly more appreciated than Biera ever was.

During the winter months Biera wasn't a pretty sight. She was a huge, one-eyed old hag. Her skin was deathly blue and her teeth were like old, rusty cogs. She was always intent on making winter in Scotland last for as long as possible, yet she was also responsible for making the many lochs, mountains and valleys, in an extemporaneous way.

She lived for thousands of years. In fact it seems strange that one refers to her in the past, for surely such a powerful old woman able to rejuvenate herself annually, would still be striding across the misty Scottish mountains even today.

If then she was once upon a time immortal, this would be due to her drinking the magic waters of the deep Well of Youth, a source found in the mobile, Green Island that mysteriously drifted about off the west coast of Scotland.
As summer was the only season on this magic, paradisiacal island, where there were orchards of apples, apricots, peach trees, Victoria plums, herbs, rhubarb and perhaps even a vin yard, as well as a vegetable plot where Irish potatoes would also have grown, one might think that the old hag was a paradoxical impostor. This because she used the pleasant magic of summer to obtain the power of youth to annually cast her cruel winters of mean frosts, snow and icy winds on the poor Highlanders for as long as she could.

Only Beira knew where to find the Green Island. Ancient mariners tried to find it, but always in vain. Those who almost succeeded were deprived of the privilege by Beira herself, who would cough up a thick shroud of phlegmy mist to hide the island. Then leering wickedly she would paddle it elsewhere with her huge hands, so enormous was she.

It has also been said that Beira had to drink the magic water as it rose up from its source on the first day of spring at dawn. If however a bird or a dog drank the water before her, she would collapse and crumble into a horrid heap of noxious dust. As there were no dogs on the island, the risk was reduced, but there were Puffins, Cormorants, Oyster-catchers and sooty Terns, none of which were particularly interested, especially the terns who had more pleasant things to do, even in flight.

So Beira was always able to regain her youth from drinking the magic water. On her return to the Highlands she would sleep in a mountain cave near Ben Nevis until the start of summer, then she would wake up once more as a young, beautiful, but exceptionally gigantic girl.

Time, however, takes its toll, especially in Beira's case. For her each month had the aging effect of about fifteen years. By winter time she had regained once more the appearance of the ugly old hag that she really was; the dreaded, one-eyed, grey clothed Queen Beira of the winter season.

Biera used a great sledge hammer to sculpt the mountains. She was no meticulous, sensitive artist, but there is nevertheless a great deal of rugged charm in the random results. She formed the lochs and the bens, more often than not by chance, but this she would never have admitted. Thus lochs such as Loch Awe were born.

Biera had several maids who greatly feared her. She also had a few sons, although only the ancient Scottish divinities would know who their giant father was. But it would follow that if he had been totally enchanted by the beautiful rejuvenated Biera, he would have been understandably repulsed by the frigid, one-eyed, Winter Queen result.

The giant sons were ill-bred. They often argued stupidly and always ended up by throwing great slabs of mountain and boulders at each other. These can still be seen today covered with moss and deeply embedded in the hill-sides of Inverness as well as in other regions of Scotland further west.

Biera spent a great deal of time on Ben Nevis. In fact her cold, cushionless throne was hewed within the mountain itself. From the ben's snow covered peak, she was able, even with only one eye, to see far and wide to ensure that all was as she had ordained.
In the shire of Inverness there was a certain well which Biera always insisted should be covered at night. This was the duty of Nessa, one of the Winter Queen's maids.
One evening, arriving too late to cover the well, Nessa discovered great surges of water gushing forth from it. Fearing the consequences, and totally nescient of basic hydraulic science or plumbing procedures, she ran away. And all this Biera clearly saw.

The Winter Queen angrily accused Nessa of neglecting her duty, and she cast a hydorous spell upon the poor maid:  'Now you will run for ever', she decreed. Upon which Nessa became the mountain source, the loch, and the sea-bound river. And thus Loch Ness was born.

As Biera built the mountains of Scotland, she often carried with her an enormous creel filled with great rocks, huge boulders and shaley earth. As she awkwardly leapt across the lofty, misty crags, she would often trip over spilling the contents of her creel to form hills, valleys, lochs and islands. These have since been referred to as 'spillings from the creel of big old Biera'.

This was also how Little Wyvis was formed. Biera, engrossed in building Ben Wyvis, grew tired and stumbled thereby shedding what was left in her creel to produce the Wee Wyvis.

There are other tales of Biera, for it's said that she was followed by all forms of wild life who never feared her. In early winter she would milk the hinds on the mountain tops. The froth blown from the pales would freeze all about her, and later when torrents cascaded down the mountain sides, the Highlanders would say 'Big old Beira has milked her hinds'.

In Irish and Scottish mythology the Cailleach, also know as Cailleach Bheur, is another name for the divine winter hag of Scotland. Biera fights the spring and wields a magic staff that freezes the ground. She would wash her huge shawl Féileash mòr in the whirl-pool of Coire Bhreacain. This would take three days and it heralded the cruel tempests of winter. Even without soap-powder or bleach, the washing of the shawl caused it to become pure white, and then it would cover the Highlands as snow. 

Yet the great and fearful Beira, as she grows older and weaker, no longer has enough power to ward off the spring. But she always manages to reserve just enough strength to return to the Green Island, to regain her lost youth by drinking the magic water once more to be able to renew the seasonal cycle.

The wild, rugged and special magical beauty of Scotland can only be due to Beira and her clumsy, aggressive sons. Such is the paradox of Winter Queens, Gods or Nature, although by their own laws they could never regard their efforts as accidental.
  Scottish myths 34 
Scottish myths 32

Retelling and top image © Mirino. Source- Wonder Tales from Scottish Myths and Legends, with many thanks. Second image- Ben Nevis summit by David Crocker, with grateful thanks, also to Wikipedia Commons.                         December, 2013

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