Monday, 5 July 2010

The Cailleach


The Cailleach Bheur is my patron goddess, she is the one I work with most, and the one I go to when I need comfort or advice, I love and respect her very much.
Tansy
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The Cailleach

(Scottish, Irish, Manx) [COY-lck or CALL-y'ach] Also: Caillech Beine Bric; The Cailleach; Crone of Beare. Great Goddess in her Destroyer aspect; called "Veiled One". Another name is Scota, from which Scotland comes. Originally Scotland was called Caledonia, or land given by Caillech.

In parts of Britain she is the Goddess of Winter. Depicted as a blue-faced hag, who is reborn October 31 (Samhain) She brings the snow until the Goddess Brigit deposes her and she eventually turns to stone April 30 (Beltaine). In later times the mythical witch like figure of "Black Annis" is believed to have derived from her.

The Cailleach is one of the most intriguing and significant figures in British folklore. Some tales portray her as a benevolent and primal giantess from the dawn of time who shaped the land and controlled the forces of nature, others as the harsh spirit of winter. Occasionally there are hints that she may represent the survival of an early sovereignty bestowing earth goddess, or her ancient nature-based priestess cult.

More than any other figure in Celtic or British myth, the Cailleach represents the cumulative power of time. Her great age is a common theme in many of the tales about her, and as a result she has almost always been seen as a hag or crone (a meaning of her name). Her earth-shaping ability, through accidental placement of great stones expresses a mythic explanation for processes which take millions of years. The deliberate placement of stones is frequently tied in with Neolithic burial chambers, hinting at the survival of a cult from the distant past.

The Cailleach also has strong associations with both the weather and water, being viewed as the goddess of the harsh winter months. In this role she has been linked in literature ad legend to the Celtic maiden goddess Bride, sometimes as polar opposite and at other times as being dual manifestations of the same goddess. The extent of her power was made clear when she exercised her control over the forces of nature, which made her a significant figure in local folklore.

The Cailleach was also particularly connected with animals in the role of Lady of the Beasts. In Ireland her favoured animal was the cow and in Scotland her particular animal was the deer. She was known to keep herds of her favourite animals and protect them from hunters, who petitioned her for assistance to be successful.

The Cailleach (KAL-y-ach) is the Ancient Earth herself. She is the lichen-covered rocks and the mountain peaks. She is the bare earth covered with snow and frost. She is the Deep Ancestress, veiled by the passage of time.

She is the one who watches over the culling of old growth. She is the Death Goddess, who lets die what is no longer needed. But in the debris of the passing year, she also finds the gems, the seeds for the next season. She is the guardian of the seed, the keeper of the essential life force. She holds the very essence of power.

This is the hag of winter, often described as an ugly giantess leaping from mountaintop to mountaintop. The rocks she drops from her apron become hills. She has a blue-black face with only one eye in the centre of her forehead. Her teeth are red and her hair is matted brushwood covered with frost. She wears grey clothes and a great plaid is wrapped around her shoulders. When the Winter storms rage through the hills, people say the Cailleach is tramping her blankets. She washes her plaid in the eddies of the Corryvreckin off the Scottish coast, and the next day the hills are white with snow.

It is clear that the Cailleach is one with the land, clothed in snow in winter, with brushwood growing on her body. Her one eye shows that she sees beyond dualities to the ultimate unity of all things on the Web of Life.

The Cailleach, fierce though she may be, lives in all of us. She gives us the wisdom to let go of what is no longer needed, and keeps the seeds of what is yet to come. She stands at the cusp of Death and Life.

I am the Cailleach, Goddess of Winter, Mother of Mountains, Ageless Lady of Dark Places, Ancient Crone of Wisdom. The Winter brings the Spring, and in death, I am endlessly renewed.

In her right hand she wielded a magic rod or hammer with which she struck the grass into blades of ice. In early spring, she could not bear the grass and sun, and would ßy into a temper, throwing down her wand beneath a holly tree, before disappearing in a whirling cloud of angry passion, “…….and that is why no grass grows under holly trees”.

At winter’s end, some accounts say the Cailleach turned into a grey boulder until the warm days were over. The boulder was said to be “always moist’, because it contained “life substance’. But many tales say that she turns into a beautiful young woman at this time, for the other face of the Cailleach is Bride, once goddess, now gentle Scottish saint, whose special day, February 1st marks the return of the light.

On the eve of Bride, the Cailleach journeys to the magical isle in whose woods lies the miraculous Well of Youth. At the first glimmer of dawn, she drinks the water that bubbles in a crevice of a rock, and is transformed into Bride, the fair maid whose white wand turns the bare earth green again.

"Determined now her tomb to build,
Her ample skirt with stones she filled,
And dropped a heap on Carron-more;
Then stepped one thousand yards to Loar,
And dropped another goodly heap,
And then with one prodigious leap,
Gained carrion-beg; and on its height,
Displayed the wonders of her might"


Jonathan Swift, 1667-1745

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