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The Cailleach

Oh veiled one, Queen of Winter, cold and wind. The Divine Hag of the Celtic world.

The Cailleach, translates from Gaelic as 'old woman' or 'hag'. She is most often portrayed as an elderly woman with a veil, sometimes with only one eye. Her skin was deathly pale and her teeth were often red and she wore clothes adorned with skulls. As old and frail as she appears she could leap and stride across the wild landscape and mountains, and in some traditions could shape-shift into a large bird and fly away. She was ambivalent in nature neither good nor evil. She would help or hinder depending on the respect given to her. As the mother of storms and the winter's cold she has a wild and often destructive nature. She had a hammer with which is created the rugged landscape of the Celtic world.

Perhaps the most famous folktale involving the cailleach is that of Imbolc. On the !st of February each year, the old hag would run out of firewood. If she awoke early she would make sure the day was clear and bright to ensure she had plenty of time to collect enough firewood for the rest of winter. If she slept in, the weather would be stormy, and she wouldn't have enough firewood to continue the winter. This story is where the belief that a 1st of February which is bright and sunny means winter is over and one which is stormy and grey mean another cold spell will arrive before spring. In america, the cailleach has been completely forgotten and replaced with the Groundhog but the tradition has lasted just the same.

One of the most magical traditions surrounding the Cailleach is that of Tigh nan Cailleach.

In Glen Lyon there is a tiny little turf-roofed house, which is home to a family of every ancient stones. It is believed to be a very ancient shrine to the Mother Goddess and it is the Cailleach's home. Each beltane the family of stones are brought out of the house and then returned before Samhain arrives. No one really knows who is doing the moving but this tradition has been carried out for hundreds, perhaps thousands of year and is still going on today. It is told that the families of Glen lyon provided shelter for the Cailleach and her family and so she made the land around Glen Lyon fertile for them and will continue to do that as long as the inhabitants move her family in and out of the shelter every year.

The Cailleach is also associated strongly with the Goddess Brigid in that Brigid is the light and the Cailleach is the dark. The Cailleach fades in to Brigid at Beltane and Brigid fades in the Cailleach at Samhain. Winter and Summer doing there annual dance with each other.

It is beautiful and refreshing to find ancient magical folklore where the 'old hag' isn't some gruesome malevolent being intent on causing harm, but just apart of nature, of the winter months and the sleeping of the world, of storms and ice and cold. The hibernation of winter is just as important as the blossoming of spring and the abundance of summer and the queen winter should be admired and cared for, just as the cailleach is in perthshire every year.


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