Cailleach, the Goddess of Winter5 min read
Today we live in a world where we are taught from birth to cling to youth and to fear every kind of change, transformation, and death.
To accept these natural processes can be seen as strange and even disturbing.
But actually wisdom comes with experience….at least, for the majority!
During the female life cycle, women experience the process of becoming a Maiden, Mother, and Crone, representing the triple Goddess.
The Maiden, the young woman or girl, represent new beginnings, joy, and enthusiasm.
The Mother fertility, abundance, growth, as well as the gaining of knowledge.
The Crone represents the hag and Wise Woman, the darkness of the night, and eventually death.
Just as the female character reveals herself in these 3 aspects so does her male counterpart with the archetypes of Lover, Provider, and Sage.
Looking at wheel as a cosmic calendar, this season we are in the energy of the Crone, with dark and cold winter days and nights.
It is the time to regenerate, to collect new energy for the spring to come, the Maiden season with all its energy, rebirth and colors.
The Crone is represented by different goddesses, including Cailleach in the Irish/Celtic tradition and Holle in the Germanic mythology.
Cailleach is a common word in both Scottish and Irish Gaelic meaning literally “old woman” or “hag” and the current word was derived from Caillech, meaning “veiled one” in Old Gaelic, but etymologically it is difficult to tell for certain where the name comes from.
But, in any case, the Cailleach is the old woman, the hag, the witch.
Her cloak is the year’s first snow, laid down on the emerald fields of Ireland, the mist-shrouded Isle of Man, and highlands of Scotland, and there she makes her bed, traveling and thundering and offering woe and weal in equal winter measure.
And her appearance is terrifying.
She is the ancient goddess, old, wrinkled, pale blue and always wears a veil.
Sometimes she only has one eye and her clothes are decorated with skulls.
One of her attributes is a hammer, or sometimes a stick, with which she can make and break mountains and cause thunderstorms.
She is the goddess of winter, but she is also the goddess of the weather, and in some stories the leader of the packs of hungry wolves in winter, who can walk over mountain peaks and control streams and rivers.
She is also a creating deity, who makes and changes the landscape, and her power makes her able to create and destruct, just like the earth.
She is called the mother of all gods and goddesses.
She lives on the summit of Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in Scotland and the United Kingdom with its 1,345 metres, and that’s her seat, despite throughout Scotland are countless places that bear her name or are associated with her.
Between the islands of Mull and Jura is a giant whirlpool, the Corryvreckan Pool, a name that derived from the Gaelic Coire Bhreacain, Cauldron of the plaid.
This is where the Cailleach washes het plaid for the winter and, If she is washing you can hear the terrible noise the water makes far inland.
She created the whirlpool herself whne she wanted to drown a Scottish prince.
Well…actually, the whirlpool of Corryvreckan is created by the current and a high underwater peak that causes the incoming water from the Atlantic to change into a whirling mass, that has been appropriately named An Cailleach.
In Irish mythology, it is said that at Samhain, the Gaelic festival marking the end of the harvest season and beginning of winter or “darker-half” of the year, the Cailleach comes to life from being a stone, strikes the ground with her stick, and freezes the ground.
She is the responsible for bringing winter and with it, the important work of winter that enables regeneration and resetting.
She is said to rule the months between Samhain (the first day of winter marked on November 1st) and Beltaine (the 1st of May and the first day of summer), while Brigid rules over the summer months.
She is the ruler of winter and she determines how long the cold season lasts.
Bride or Brigid, goddess of the warm half of the year, appears at the end of winter. Where Brigid awakens the earth to bring it back to life and let plants grow again, the Cailleach does her best to play some last winter tricks until she is actually overwon by Brigid, who is allowed to rule the land until Samhain.
According to legend,on February 1, Imbolc, traditionally the day Brigid awakens, the Cailleach goes out to fetch wood to get her through the rest of winter. If the weather is nice and sunny on that day, she can gather a lot of wood so she can let winter last for a long time.
But, If the weather is bad on February 1, she will not stay out too long to search for her wood, and this means she will run out of wood fast so winter will be over soon.
In spring the Cailleach is more likely to cause some last storms which she evokes together with the eight other hags who are with her, called storm hags or Cailleachan.
However, even though the Cailleach is typically depicted as a destructive Goddess, she is also known for her ability to create new life, as well as a Goddess of Dissolution and Death.
But she is also the Old Woman of Knowledge.
Especially in times like these, the Wise Woman support us in our phase of change and adjustment, giving us a warm embrace of wisdom, calm, and safety.
She helps us to celebrate transformation and melts the resistance against the winter, outside, and inside of us.
Images from web – Google Research