There was a time when hurricanes had no names. Then they had names, but only female names. Now they alternate, male and female.
There is a Force or a Source in the Universe that cannot be named. But we call it the Tao. When we name it, it becomes the Mother of the Ten Thousand Things, the Mother of Everything Under Heaven, the Mother of All That Is.
Some early Celtic people named this Life Force Dana and knew they themselves were Dananns, her children. She was the Mother of all Natural Things, including them. Over time she acquired other names: Brigid, Boanne, Shannon, Sequana, Eriu, and some terrible names (names that inspire terror) like Macha, Babh, and the Morrigan.
And sometimes she is called simply the Cailleach (pronounced kall-yuk), the Fierce Mother, the Dark Mother, the Death Mother.
Over this last year many of us have encountered the Cailleach in workshops and ceremonies. We sought ways to honor her fierce power, her seeming disregard for human and animal life for she too is part of this marvelous Universe in which we live, and deserving of honor and respect.
But how do we approach her? What do we make of her? How do we explain her mysterious workings that as poet Mary Oliver puts it, “bring us to grief”?
Perhaps we should listen to her entire poem, “Shadows.”
Everyone knows the great enemies running amok cast
terrible shadows, that each of the so-called
senseless acts has its thread looping
back through the world and into a human heart.
the gold-trimmed thunder
wanders the sky; the river
may be filling the cellars of the sleeping town.
Cyclone, fire, and their merry cousins
bring us to grief — but these are the hours
with the wooden-god faces.
We lift them to our shoulders like so many
black coffins, we continue walking
into the future. I don’t mean
there are no bodies in the river,
no bones broken by the wind. I mean
everyone who has heard the lethal train-roar
of the tornado swears there was no mention ever
of any person, or reason. — I mean
the waters rose without any plot upon
history, or even geography. Whatever
power of the earth rampages, we turn to it
dazed but anonymous eyes; whatever
the name of the catastrophe, it is never
the opposite of love.
Oliver never names it — “the opposite of love.” Perhaps she wants us simply to imagine it. Perhaps she wants us to name it for ourselves. Or perhaps it has no name. Or no name that we can give it. And just possibly, when it comes to the great Mothering Spirit of the Universe, there is no such thing as “the opposite of love.” And so we continue walking into the future.