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 peoples that 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. 

To enter the Giveaway for my Print
“Snow at the Confluence,” please leave a comment below.
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Tell me about the coldest water you have ever swam in (For me it was Lake Superior in October)!

Entries must be made by January 18, 2018, noon, EST.  The winner will be announced that afternoon.






Hag — 23 Comments

  1. The coldest winter I experienced was in Pieksimikii, Finland in March 2014. The locals kept saying “Happy Spring” but everything was still ice and feet of snow everywhere. We broke the ice on the river and jumped in naked after sauna. Ridiculous cold.

  2. Lake Superior…. in AUGUST!
    We were camping and it snowed on us in the middle of summer.
    The water was like needles, and the sun was warm …. very confusing to our bodies. 🌱

  3. Ahhhh…thank you this sharing of beauty, wisdom and great heart! My winter story is also woven by the big Momma Lake…Gitchigaumie by the Anishannabe, Superior…that mystery that is so vast if all her water were to be emptied out, both N. and S. America would be covered in a foot of water.

    So for a long spell that I am still under I was /am claimed by her. And for 2 winters I lived near her in a primitive cabin, chopping wood and carrying water in northern Wisconsin. Literally and figuratively. It was an initiation which I am still returning from. Thank you again for sharing Hag’s wisdom. I would be so honored to gaze at your art in real time. Miqwetch…

    My website which wouldn’t load below – http://www.listentoatale.com

  4. Oh…and in that time there were many dips into her before and after freeze…and of course walking on her frozen form….xx

  5. In 1987 I was caretaking a property on White Oak and living in an Airstream with a built on porch. The porch was wooden halfway up the walls with plastic covered screen on top. At one end I had put a small wood stove with fire board behind it to supplement the nasty little kerosene heater that came with the trailer. That night it got to -35, still the record cold for NC. They claimed the wind chill was -65. I cranked up the stoves, piled on the covers and went to sleep in my little bedroom. My companion was a Collie Shepard mix named Arrow. She liked to sleep on the porch. Sometime during the night the wood stove caught the porch on fire. Arrow came inside, past the outside door which she knew how to open, past the fire that was eating its way around the wood stove, into the bedroom and woke me up. The smoke was so thick I crawled with her into the living room where I grabbed a pot and was able to throw water on the flames and put them out. Best dog ever.

  6. This is so beautiful, Stephanie! I don’t really have any cold water experience beyond dipping toes in the Pacific off the northern California coast. (So spoiled here on the Gulf Coast!)

  7. I survived the Blizzard of ’77 in Buffalo, NY. The snowdrifts reached out second story windows. I’d never known cold like that. It bit at your face ~ truly “bitter cold.”

  8. Coldest water? South Toe in April!! The girls could not wait another minute so we swam. I’m getting too old for that!

  9. A few years ago, in August, I went to Portland with a good friend. We did lots of touristy things, but I loved the outdoor activities most. One day we had a picnic near a stream at a state park whose name escapes me. After lunch, I took my shoes off and walked out onto some rocks into the water. I stood there, just staring at the natural beauty of the area, and barely noticed until a few minutes later how cold my feet were. Living in Mobile, there is water all around, but none of it is cold in August! I am truly in awe of your beautiful art and talent, Stephanie. Thank you for sharing it with us this way.

  10. Amazing and inspiring stories and art! Big hearted gratitude to each and all.

    It may or may not have been the coldest of the cold, but what viscerally comes to mind is last May, Big Creek Falls swimming hole, in Yancey County. You know that feeling of the expansion/contraction of spring, and our bodies are absolutely craving the elements of our skin, as we begin to unfurl. Last year, I jumped in for the first time of the season and my heart almost stopped it was so frigid. Tingly, numb, yum. Burrrrrr. The creek in front of my house was pretty cold last week too, as I cracked holes in the ice for water while my pipes were frozen.

    Winter well, dear ones. Light is lingering longer! Spring will come.

  11. The Atlantic Ocean at Hampton Beach, NH in early April, 1968. I was in college and had to get to the ocean and then, of course, had to get in. I felt layers of my skin and then beneath freezing. I had hitch-hiked to the beach and had to hitch back to my college dorm and was really frozen by the time I returned. It was wonderful.

  12. 20 years ago I was living in the mountains in Idaho. On a summer like day in late spring, some friends and I went on a hike to a high mountain lake called Goat Lake. The hike was quite strenuous and took us several hours. We had to climb a boulder field where I decided to remove my hiking boots and climb the rocks barefooted for better footing. I remember feeling joyful jumping from rock to rock and I my excitement was growing to reach the lake. As we reached the ridgeline and crested a slab of rock, we saw the little lake surrounded by trees. It was absolutely breathtaking. The color of the water was like an aquamarine gemstone. At the far end of the lake was still a block of ice that had not melted from the winter snowfall. Since I have never met a lake that I did not swim in, I stripped and jumped in. I had to jump off about a 10 foot cliff. The water was so cold it took my breath away. It felt like an electric shock. My friends were laughing at me, but my dog took the plunge too, so we swam a few feet out and then back to shore. I laid on a warm rock in the sun and gazed at the lake. I still cannot believe how cold it was, but I am so grateful for the experience.

  13. Carrie! You won the giveaway! I love that Lake Superior waters also make the winning entry! I’ll send you an email privately about how to claim your prize.

  14. How lovely to see your name here, Tracy! I hope someday we can meet at her shores.

  15. First off, that’s a great name for a dog. And obviously, best dog ever. We are all indebted to her for saving your life so that we can be warmed by your wonderful smile!

  16. Well, Irene, please come up to western NC sometime and let me introduce you to the South Toe River. 🙂

  17. I have never heard of this blizzard but I can only imagine what that was like! Not just cold but an immense amount of snow!

  18. Ummm, yeah, Molly, that was no doubt very cold. Did you know there’s a group of people jumping in the river every month? They did on New Years Day and had to BREAK THE ICE!!! I was not one of those people, but I definitely watched. Brrr.

  19. Molly, where is Big Creek Falls? I’ve never heard of it! And yes, the light grows! The other night there was still some light at 6 and I was soooooo happy!

  20. I love how that experience has stayed with you, Lisa. Thank you for sharing!

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