Scotland – Cailleach Bheur (Gentle Old Lady, Divine Hag), Cailleach Uragaig, Cailleach Beinne Bric (Old Woman of the Speckled Mountain), Cailleach Mor (Great Old Woman), Carlin, Scotia
Ireland – Cailleach Bhéirre, Cailleach Bolus, Cailleach Corca Duibhe
Isle of Man – Caillagh ny Groamagh (Gloomy Old Woman), Caillagh ny Gueshag (Old Woman of the Spells)
The Cailleach is a Celtic goddess associated with winter, storms, mountains and the landscape. She is thought to appear in late autumn, as the earth’s bounty wanes, and decides the fate of spring to come. She is a dark mother and harvest goddess, both a destroyer and creator of life. It is thought she rules the dark half of the year, from Samhain to Beltane, while her counterpart, Brigid, rules the light half. The Cailleach is often depicted having a chilling appearance, with a blue face and long silver hair.
Her name is derived from caillech, Old Irish for “the veiled one”, and cailleach, modern Scottish Gaelic meaning “old woman/hag”. The word Cailleach is associated with Gaelic terms like cailleach-oidhche (owl), cailleach feasa (wise woman, fortune-teller) and cailleach phiseogach (sorceress, charm-worker).
Her name varies according to region, and many place names in Ireland and Scotland refer to the Cailleach. She is often associated with craggy mountaintops, such as Hag’s Head (Ceann Caillí) at the Cliffs of Moher, and Slieve na Calliagh (Sliabh na Caillí, “the hag’s mountain”) in Ireland. In Scotland, she is associated with Ben Cruachan where she is called Cailleach nan Cruachan (“the witch of Ben Cruachan”).
She is both a destroyer goddess and creator of life. She is thought to have created many mountain ranges, lochs and cairns in Scotland, and is a protector of wild animals, specifically the deer and the wolf. The Cailleach is also seen as a goddess of sovereignty in Ireland, similar to the Morrígan, another Celtic dark mother and destroyer goddess.
© The New Pagan (2014)