Caer Ibormeith : Yew Berry
Angus Mac Og, Lord of Love, fell asleep, dreamed of a mysterious, beautiful woman, and fell in love. He reached out to embrace her in his dreams, but the vision evaporated. She returned the next night and the next, and Angus began to pine away for love. Irony of ironies: how could the Lord of Love die of heartbreak? A major search for Angus’ dream woman was organized, coordinated by his parents, Boann and the Dagda. Finally she was discovered standing by a lake as beautiful as in his dream, surrounded by three times fifty maidens all linked together by a silver chain.
Her name was Caer Ibormeith (Yew Berry), and she was clearly no ordinary woman. Angus did the polite thing and asked her father for Caer’s hand in marriage. Her father explained that it was impossible. Caer is a shape-shifter, changing back and forth from female to swan along with her maidens.
No love is impossible for Angus. He conferred with the Dagda and then went to wait by the shores of the lake where the swan horde was anticipated. They arrived on Samhain (31 October). Caer promised to be Angus’ bride if he, too, would become a swan. He agreed; she transformed him, and the two flew happily off together. They flew three times around the lake; then flew off to Angus’ palace where they resumed human form. They still live happily ever after in any form they choose.
The love story of Angus and Caer was written down in the eighth century after Ireland’s conversion to Christianity. Old myths were loved and recorded so as not to be forgotten, but divine aspects of characters were downplayed. Caer is an ancient swan goddess, a fitting mate for the Lord of Love. (Legend has it that swans mate for life, and so their coupling is an example to all.)
She is a mysterious primordial spirit: when Angus describes his dreams to the other deities, they don’t recognize her. Although in modern mythology books, Caer is a footnote, mentioned only as Angus’ consort; it is Caer who approaches Angus in his dreams; Caer who sets the terms for their marriage; and Caer who transforms Angus into a swan.
Caer has powerful associations with death:
• Yew berries are highly poisonous and are favoured weapons in old British murder mysteries.
• Swans are among creatures serving as psychopomps: spirits who guide dead souls to their next destination. Caer’s dual identity indicates her power over life and death. She is a beautiful, fertile, magical woman while simultaneously a death goddess.
Yew, a funerary tree
Caer presides over Newgrange (Brugh na Boinne).
31 October, the festival of Samhain, a precursor to Halloween. The ancient Celtic calendar was divided into two halves: the light half and the dark. Samhain inaugurates the dark half of the year.
Images of swans; mead; jewelry and perfume with which to adorn herself for her lover. Don’t offer or handle yew berries: they’re deadly poisonous.
Encyclopedia of Spirits: The Ultimate Guide to the Magic of Fairies, Genies, Demons, Ghosts, Gods & Goddesses– Written by Judika Illes Copyright © 2009 by Judika Illes.