Hagmoth, a pastel by Stephanie Thomas Berry

I walk along the edge of the river.
It is full from many days’ rain. I’ve been reading the folklore of the hag. There’s Long-Armed Nelly, the hag of rivers, who will grab you and pull you into her wet home. There you would obviously drown, and be eaten by her. It seems a little real as the dark river rolls below me with furious power. I think of branches that might rush by, and pull me into the cold rushing waters. I keep my distance from the edge.

In this painting the dark figure of the hag moth is framed by a hexagon of hawthorn twigs. The creamy white blooms dance along the points of the hexagon, in stark contrast to the black background. Inside the hexagon the background is a creamy gray. A six petalled bloom is eclipsed by the hag moth.

The rains have washed away the ice,
which gripped the waterfalls and rivers in patterns and sound rarely seen here. Last Sunday I walked to Setrock Falls with my husband and sat at the foot of that great waterfall. It was a gleaming giant of white, frozen over completely. Strange and almost vulgar, yet beautiful at the same time. Underneath the water 
whispered in its frozen prison, aching for release. 

The use of black and (creamy) white indicates a play of opposites. In Celtic mythology, the Hag rules the Winter, the dark time of the year, and the May Queen, crowned in Hawthorn flowers, rules the Summer. For life to exist there must be not only a balance, but also an interplay of dark and light, life and death.

It is Winter, in full force.
Dark and frozen. I ache for the warmth of Spring, the flow of sap and the twittering of birds. A warm spell brings the rain, and melts the ice, and fools us all into dreaming of Spring, but the cold returns in force. We wrap ourselves in wool and wait in the dark.

The Hexad is the framework of our physical universe. Michael Schneider describes the principle of the Hexad as structure-function-order or space-power-time. “Every whole event occurs at the intersection of these three aspects,” he writes in my favorite book about everything, A Beginner’s Guide to Constructing the Universe. That the hexagon appears here in this painting signals that something of great natural order is occurring, here, in space and time, with unique power.

We sit with the Hag of winter.
She knows things of the deep, things we have long forgotten. We do not want to look into her old eyes, for she sees us fully, and we do not wish to be seen so clearly, we do not wish to be so vulnerable.

Lastly, in the symbology of this painting, let us consider the etymology of hag, which is related to hex, meaning witch. It is “one of the magic words for which there is no male form,” and in its original meaning meant something close to diviner, a woman of prophetic powers. She was feared and respected. The word hag is related to haw, as in hawthorn, a tree of great importance to northern European peoplesthat was viewed as a bridge to the Otherworld. Indeed, the hag was considered to be a “hedge-rider” a woman of power who had one foot in the civilized world and another in the wild Otherworld.

On the path to the river is a cluster of hawthorn trees.
In them the hag cackles and laughs, like ice, like the leaves underfoot, like the howl of wind.
You are a fool, she tells me, and I know she is right. I am a fool, as much as we all are, fools blundering about in the wide dark of winter, stumbling towards rivers and caves, afraid to take the hand of the Hag.

For She will guide us. She knows the way. 

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