Friday, 21 December 2012

The Cailleach...beautiful, moving words...

This beautiful writing is from one of our lovely students Ileana Waldbewohner, it was so moving that I asked her if we could share it with you:

The Cailleach

As fate would have it, my awareness of The Cailleach came on November 7th of this year. This Autumn was different for me this year, and I was feeling a little lost, and dare I say cheated, of my usual experience of the most wonderful time of year for me, and of Samhain, my favorite Sabbat.

You see, on October 29th, a storm blew in, the likes of which we had never known before, and changed life dramatically for myself, my loved ones, and millions of other people. The elemental forces, and the strength of the unseen, where enormous, devastating ~ and overnight the luxuries and security that we knew where washed, burnt, and blown away. Lives were lost, reality shifted. Nature swirled, pounded, stripped, and ripped, commanding and sure. Cailleach was here.

Many of us expected quite a storm, and as island folk used to hurricanes, nor’easters and the like, we would get through, rebuild, and move on. Not a single soul knew that we were facing a divine visitation with far reaching lessons and call for attention to matters both personal and universal, spiritual and physical, emotional and practical. The call for re-evaluation of life was here, and truly, my own consciousness and that of those around me did a sickening flip-flop, followed by an incredibly unsettling sense of being lost. I write of this storm, because for this is the power of Cailleach.

Ancient Goddess, older than time. Winter Goddess, who swallows the warmth and brings the cold. Goddess of bones, her collection so vast that it cannot be counted. The earth personified, who danced on rock and formed mountains, lakes, valleys and streams with her mighty hammer. Who washed her mantle in the sea, and carried stones in her apron. Mother of the earth, who was turned to dreadful hag by those who feared to look upon her. Yet as mother as well as crone, her lessons can be both gentle and harsh, and as the best mothers do, she holds much wisdom.

My sense is that her lessons are harsh because they address that which is deeply embedded within us. Cailleach is a Goddess of dark; the cool, beautiful dark, without which we would not be able to see the twinkling stars in the winter sky. The dark is also a place of shadow, mystery, a place for fearful things to hide, both in nature, in the modern world, metaphysically, and in our own spirits. In Cailleach I see a fierce mother who stands strong and fights for her children. She is stern, and takes no s**t (sorry!), commands honesty and the ability to look at things head on without blinking. She is a little scary in her intensity, and as I write this I smile, because now I feel like I am describing the best qualities of my own mother, who could be scary as well…

A Goddess of the Celtic Pantheon, she is representative primarily of the crone aspect of the triple goddess. The legends of Scotland, Ireland, and England all possess local interpretations of this goddess, and she has many names, among them are Cailleach Bheur, Caillagh ny Groamagh, Caillagh ny Gueshag, Black Annis, or Black Annie. I believe it is due to her varying names that she is referred to cumulatively as The Cailleach, as she is many, yet she is one.

She is said in tales to be a giantess, hopping from mountain to mountain. With one large eye and teeth of red, matted hair of roots and twigs, as she hopped it is said that the rocks that she held in her apron (imagine the size), fell out and formed valleys, lakes and streams.

Cailleach is the protector of deer, but in essence a protector of all animals, especially wild creatures who are hunted by man.

As a goddess of death and re-birth, she holds the seeds of life within herself, to bloom and grow once again as does she when she drinks from the Well of Youth and is re-born as Bride, Goddess of Spring. This is the tradition that feels right to me, yet the tale of her apart from a dual-aspect goddess also rings true, with Cailleach returning to stone at Imbolc.

It is now December, seven weeks after the storm, and I feel as if I have lived a few years within this time. My bones themselves are weary from the journey that I have been travelling since that night, and I feel older, more settled, more sure. Many of the lessons with which I continue to work run deep. Life, love, family, relationships, the present, the future…. myself. I see in my sisters faces age that did not exist before the storm. I saw this age in myself, as well, but as time passes this journey has turned wonderful to me, and when I look in the mirror, I see a peace and calm the bespeaks of youth.

Forty days have passed since I had that magical moment of seeing that strange old image of ancient womanhood on video turn to the most beautiful, loving woman of blue with wildflowers in her hair. I was at that moment that I felt a sense of knowing that I have been looking for all of my life.

It took awhile to “get” Cailleach. I started researching, and found that her legends and origins were in many ways a reflection of my own spirit, and of all that I cherish in the natural world. Yet through meditation, I felt her slipping away. I see now that this is a Goddess unlike any other, and one who requires much. I think she was saying “Now that you have opened your eyes and can see me, do you have the mettle that it will take to embrace me ~ to embrace yourself?”

You cannot be lazy with Cailleach, and it is not wise to flinch. Her lessons are heavy with the weight of what matters most, and they are all encompassing. I kept having the thought that she was taking her measure of me before making a decision. It felt like this process would never end. Yet I believe that The Cailleach expressed her acceptance of me by presenting me with a gift. A little macabre, but I think that the head of a dead crow that seemed to have been lain right in my path that day holds much meaning. I’m not overjoyed at the form this gift is in, but I accept it, and remain open for its wisdom.

Forty days later, I feel as if I have died and been born anew. I am still finding my way, now with the guidance of this great goddess, and the people, things, and awareness that she has brought to my life.

At the end of October I felt cheated, as this was not Autumn as usual…. And now, as the Winter Solstice nears, I realize that this was the most important Autumn of my life, and the riches that I continue to discover are beyond value. I feel that at 47 years old, I have finally come home. To myself, and to Cailleach, who has never let me very far out of her reach, after all.


Element: Earth

Color(s): Grey, brown, blue, black, and the silver and white of snow and ice.

Crystal: Rocks… rough, grey-blue, cool to the touch.

Herb/Plant: The Hazel tree, Hazelnuts. A tree of knowledge and protection. The fruit of the tree are the hazelnut, said to bestow wisdom to those who eat them, and nutritiously rich for the long winter months. (In researching this, I often found the Holly tree as her plant correspondence. But since in folklore the Holly’s berries made Cailleach angry enough to throw down her staff to forever prevent the growth of grass underneath it, I looked instead for a plant or tree which possesses traits similar to the goddess’s.)

Season: Autumn/Winter

Time: Night

As a note, I think that while these make sense to me as primary correspondences, the breadth of Cailleach’s presence in the world is boundless. She is also the wind, the sea, the cool winter sun that makes icicles sparkle like diamonds. She warms her old bones with us by the fire, and she stands sentinel as her forest animals give birth. There is no doubt in my mind that Cailleach has supreme control of all things both natural and supernatural, as she is keeper of the veil.


  1. Wishn u a blessed Yule! Wonderfulll words of wisdom!

  2. A wonderful piece of writing - thank you for sharing. Happy Solstice :)

  3. An amazing write up, it has truly opened my eyes to someone I had never heard of, yet now wish to embrace. Blessings to you.