THE CAILLEACH

Updated: Dec 24, 2020

¨In the depths of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.¨

-Albert Camus


From Skye Alexander's. Your Goddess Year

Dates For Inviting Her: December 18–24


During this week, when we enter the darkest time of the year—the winter solstice—we honor the Celtic winter goddess, the Cailleach, whose name means “veiled one” or “old woman.” She presides over this cold, dark, barren time of year and has many faces and variations in Ireland, Scotland, and England's folklore.


Often depicted as ugly, wizened, and gloomy, the Cailleach personifies deep winter. In Scotland, she’s shown with a blue face, suggesting the bitter weather has turned her blue with cold. Sometimes she’s pictured with hair white as snow, carrying a hammer with which she breaks up ice that blocks her way. On the Isle of Man, she’s considered a spell-weaver and diviner. Sometimes she’s viewed as an ancestral deity; often, she’s linked with the end-stage of life.

According to one myth, the ancient goddess imprisons a young, beautiful goddess within a mountain during the winter season. When the Cailleach sets the youthful deity free, spring emerges from within the earth’s dark recesses, and the land blossoms once again. Here we see parallels to the is ancient Greek goddess Persephone's story, whom Hades captures and holds in his underground realm during the winter months. It also bears similarities to the Sumerian myth of Inanna (April 10–16), whose descent into the underworld throws the earth into a period of death and decay. Another legend says the Cailleach starts like an older woman and evolves into a lovely maiden over time, just as winter changes into spring.


Myths sometimes speak of a partnership between the Cailleach and another powerful Celtic goddess, Brigid (January 29–February 4). The Cailleach presides over the darkest months, and Brigid has dominion as the days lengthen. In some tellings, the two goddesses are actually two faces of the same deity. Like other winter goddesses, the Cailleach is a wise woman archetype with magical powers.


Scottish folklore credits her with creating the mountains in the Highlands. Numerous sites bear her name, including the mountain Beinn na Caillich on the Isle of Skye and Slieve na Calliagh in Ireland, a hilly passage tomb aligned so that the sun shines into it on the equinoxes. She’s also believed to raise ferocious storms, slamming the countryside with sleet and snow. The howling of the north wind has been revered for thousands of years; and she can transform herself into a stone boulder, withdrawing into stillness and silence during the warm months.


One tale says the goddess and her family stayed for a while at Tigh nan Cailleach in Perthshire, Scotland, and gifted the people there with magic stones that provided protection. This week, invite the goddess into your life with the power of stones the way those at Tigh nan Cailleach did.


How to Invite Her

This week collect several blue-gray stones that speak to you—these represent the goddess in her many aspects. Stones hold ancient wisdom and memories of the events they’ve witnessed. Spend some time each day with the stones, allowing them to reveal their secrets to you. If you like, you can form a circle with the stones and sit or stand within it. At the end of the week, position the stones at the front and back of your home to safeguard it. Depending on how many stones you’ve collected, you might even choose to encircle your home with them. If you wish, give stones to friends or loved ones to protect them as well.



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