One of the great Celtic ancestors, the Cailleach was the goddess of the cold and the winds. Sometimes known as the Veiled One or the Queen of Winter, the Cailleach determined the winter’s length and harshness. As both divine hag and creator deity, the Cailleach appears primarily as a veiled old woman, sometimes with only one eye. Her skin was deathly pale or blue, while her teeth were red and her clothes adorned with skulls. She could leap across mountains and ride storms. In the Manx tradition, the Cailleach was a shapeshifter capable of transforming into a giant bird.
Of the Triple Goddess ~ she is the Crone.
The Veiled One was a creator deity that shaped much of the known landscape; whether she did so intentionally remains unclear. Her tools of creation and destruction included her hammer, with which she was able to control storms and thunder. In some legends, she also controlled a well that would occasionally overflow and flood the land.
Writing this choreography kicked my ass!
Prepare yourself, this dance is a CHALLENGE.
For this class, please come prepared with your hydration of choice, yoga mat and favorite props, smudge, a WHITE, BLACK, or GREY candle, your amulet and something to tie around your waist.
It was very challenging for me to find a song that she was ok with me using, and although I kept attempting to work with music that came from folk music of the north, she kept bringing me back around to this one. You can definitely feel the intensity of her gaze and sense the rattling of bones in this track. It packs a punch!
Slow song: Lost Bridge by El Mahdy Jr.
Mid tempo: Fleur Blance by Orsten
Fast: Feel it Out by Khiva
Working with the Cailleach is not unlike working with any other goddess, take time to get to know her. Rachel Patterson’s Pagan Portals book is a great reference. She provides a meditation to meet the Crone, and it is really helpful in learning about her, getting a sense of her personality and energy. The Cailleach is an easy goddess to approach and has a sense of humor (so don’t take yourself too seriously when working with her). She is associated with veils and can see right through the veils we put up to hide our true selves (so don’t bother trying to put on an act, she already sees you for who you are). Be yourself, be honest, and don’t be afraid to ask her questions. Ask about the sea, about ancestors, about herself. Just like any other relationship — get to know each other.
Being a goddess of the land and sea, offerings representing either element work well. She appreciates offerings that have significance, but will happily accept offerings of food or herbs if you haven’t time to prepare something with sentimental value. pebbles and dried reeds that washed ashore from a local pond, patchouli, cloves, drawings, or clay sculpted to depict a spiral, seashells, and sea glass, soil and fresh Rosemary work as well.
She is the queen of winter and her nature mirrors the season: dark and cold, but also introspective and mysterious. The Cailleach is not usually a mothering presence. She is wise and strong-willed; no-nonsense and contemplative. Her guidance is that of a stern but compassionate guardian. She helps one confront the darkness and nurtures our strength and perseverance.
You can contemplate her well and honor her at any place where the land meets the water: Riverbanks, lakeside or by the sea. If you can take some time to seek her out in any of these areas before Imbolc, I highly recommend it. Spending the last of the midwinter days with her in an intentional way is a wonderful method for getting the maximum benefit out of the deep quiet this season has to offer before the seeds of Imbolc begin to stir.
With Imbolc comes a quickening and seeds of intention are planted for the waxing of spring and culmination of summer, so taking advantage of the final days of deep quiet and contemplation are so essential and nourishing for the soul if we can remember to slow down, continue to strip away the old layers of ourselves that need to go and find solace within the death cycle. It is during this time that the wisdom of the Cailleach is most prevalent, and if you seek her out, she will offer the sharper truths needed in order to experience real transformation.
The Cailleach was neither fully good nor fully evil; her intentions varied from tale to tale. Through her association with storms and thunder, she was a natural and wild destructive force. Despite this, she also cared deeply for animals both wild and domestic during the dark winter months. In all three Gaelic-speaking regions, she was the patron of wolves emboldened by winter hunger; in Scotland, she also served as a deer herder.
The Cailleach was both ageless and immortal; as winter gave way to spring, she would take a drought that returned her to youth. In Manx legend, she spent half the year as a young woman and the other half as a old crone—she was only known as the Cailleach during the latter half.
On the day of Imbolc it was said that if it was dark and cold outside, the Cailleach was sleeping, so she would awaken soon and we would have an early spring. If it was sunny, that meant she was out gathering firewood as it was sure to be a long winter.
For communing with the Cailleach, make some rosemary tea and take it with you in a thermos on your walk to a body of water. As you sip your tea, swirl it clockwise and ask the Cailleach for advice about anything you you need clarification about. Offer some fresh Rosemary to her and sit in quiet contemplation. Allow the land and the waters to speak to you in their own language. Allow the sacred truths to surface through the voice of her ancient bodies of land and water.
If you have anything that symbolically represents aspects of your life or yourself that you are ready to let go of, you can bring those as offerings to her as well.
The Cailleach is fierce, with no patience for fools. Her beauty is found in her legacy, the very earth itself.
We are all her children. She comes as the Cailleach ~ the Great Wise Woman, who created the mountains and brings the winter. She is called carline, crone and hag. We see her in the faces of our Goddesses when they come to us in their ancient forms. Hail to the Cailleach in all her many forms.
She of 1,000 names. She who was she before she had a name.
In our time, we resist the harsh barenness and storms of winter. We rage against the darkness of these months, unatturally lighting up the world. Forgetting the Cailleach, we have created on the global scale the same false positivity that we can fall into in our personal lives. The Cailleach calls us to her cave so that we can return to our TRUTH.
Within our lives, avoiding the dark places within us inevitably leads to unsustainability as well as we fall deeper into the energy of the shadow self. It is a curious thing that the only way we can heal our shadow is by not avoiding it, but by embracing it. The dance of shadow and soul plays out not always under the burning light. We need the darkness for our wholeness.
Call out to the Cailleach to teach you how to be a better dancer, a creator of balance and wholeness.
As she has always sustained us, we can now nourish her by bringing her presence back into our lives. As we answer her appeals, her energy will grow leading to the correction within us that denies the necessity of darkness and the larger world.
THE WISE WOMAN HEALER
Although the word Cailleach simply means “old woman”, this term is generally used today to signify a witch-mother goddess who’s evolved through the tales told of her, often through the myths of particularly Ireland and Scotland. She heals through the wisdom shared in her stories. Her cauldron brings rebirth. he welcomes the sincere into her presence.
While the Cailleach is as complex and diverse as they come, we can call out to her to bring us nourishment and respite. Her home is deep in the heart of her mountains, where she restores her strength. Her cave offers a break from the storms of life and the harsh barrenness of the winter landscape. In many ways, winter comes for us as individuals and as society. While the only way to survive these storms is through them, there is a time for replenishment required. Enter into her sacred landscape to share your stories and to hear her wisdom. The shared nourishment of connecting through the power of narrative awaits.