The halfway point of summer is like a well-seasoned woman. The galloping growth of spring and sweet blush of summer have slowed and faded in her sweltering heat.- Donna Henes from her book Celestially Auspicious Occasions
Magic rises around us in the forest woven into the circle of endless life.
In some Pagan belief systems, typically those that follow a Wiccan tradition, the focus at Beltane is on the battle between the May Queen and the Queen of Winter. She is the embodiment of the Maiden, of mother earth in all of her fertile glory.
As the summer rolls on, the May Queen will give forth her bounty, moving into the Mother phase. The earth will blossom and bloom with crops and flowers and trees. When fall begins to approach the May Queen and Mother are gone, young no more. Instead, the earth becomes the domain of the Crone. She is the hag who brings dark skies and storms. She is the Dark Mother, bearing not a basket of bright flowers but instead a sickle and scythe.
The hag is a fairy from the British Isles. She is said to be the traces of the most ancient goddesses. The hag is regarded as the personification of winter. In the winter months she is usually old and very ugly looking. As the season changes though she becomes more and more beautiful, and younger.
The witch is a particularly fearsome hag, associated with the storms and dwelling on top of the most prominent mountains in any vicinity.
A Hag is a supernatural being found in many mythologies and folklore – although many Hags are neutral rather than evil they have become heavily associated with witchcraft and evil, to the point the two are often interchangeable (much like how Ogres and Giants have become somewhat merged in modern times).
Traditionally a Hag was seen as a spirit or goddess in the form of a hideous old woman and often had power over the elements or magic – thus gained fear and respect in equal lengths by the superstitious, who would try to either appease the more benevolent of these spirits or ward off the more malicious.
Hags were likely inspired by pagan beliefs dating back almost as far as human history and probably embody part of the ancient concept of a “Goddess” – as Christianity spread however Hags would inevitably become more and more demonized (along with many of the “fairies”): giving rise to tales of grisly old demon-witches with a taste for human flesh and so on.
Famous hags of a villainous nature in folklore are often said to enjoy kidnapping children and devouring them, a trait quite common for witches in folklore – where they were often associated with evil.
The Orcadian Scota Bess and the English Black Annis are two Hag Queens of lore…..
Scota Bess was an evil being from Orkney folklore who was best described as a malevolent hag – she was said to of once inhabited the area known as Stronsay and sat upon a rock formation known locally as the Mermaid’s Chair casting wicked spells by which to summon storms.
Scota Bess was thus known (and feared) as one of Orkney’s storm witches and embodies the unpredictable and dangerous nature of the open sea – somewhat ironically Scota Bess’ ancient throne would later become associated with fortune telling and lost some of its former sinister status.
Black Annis is the name given to a monstrous witch in English folklore that was said to haunt the countryside where she would hunt down her 2 favorite meals, lambs and the flesh of humans (especially children) – she was said to have iron-claws instead of finger nails and would be as bold as to reach into the windows of homes and snatch children away to be devoured.
Black Annis was not a human, as her face was said to be blue in coloration and highly deformed – this coupled with her fondness for human flesh is highly suggestive of her being a hag, a type of spirit that is often confused with a witch but is in reality a type of ancient goddess or demon.
Black Annis was also said to have a horrible habit of flaying her victims, leaving their skins outside her cave to tan – this grisly sight may of served to warn others to stay away from her abode and she was commonly used as a bogeyman to frighten children into good behavior out of fear that should they misbehave they would be spirited away by the old hag and devoured.
Why are older women often the face of evil in fairy tales and folklore? In my opinion the older women in fairy tales and folklore practically keep civilization together. They judge, reward, harm and heal; and they’re often the most intriguing characters in the story.