November 1, 2018

November 1st. Cailleach Bheur

In parts of Britain, Cailleach's Reign, a festival in honor of the ancient Celtic crone goddess, is still celebrated annually on November 1st.  Cailleach is the hag aspect of the Triple Goddess.  she returns each year on November 1 to bring the winter and its snows.  The magical staff that she carries freezes the ground wherever she taps it. 

The Cailleach Bheur is possibly the oldest Goddess of the Briitish Isles:  worn down over the centuries from deity to giantess, from giantess to the archetypal witch.  Her name now is Gaelic, from the "Q" Celtic Goidelic culture that spread through the Highlands -- but it seems she was there from ages before, waiting for them to come and call her crone. 

The word 'Cailleach' comes from 'Caillech,' which has its roots in 'Caille'-veil-a loan to Gaelic from the Latin 'Pallium' -- as the Goidelic languages are without the letter 'P'. The Cailleach was therefor the 'veiled' or 'hooded' old woman. This in turn led to Nuns being known as Cailleachs.  But the name is also linked to owls -- the most mysterious and 'wise' of the birds of prey -- and to the tinder that was vital to kindling a fire. 

The wizened old hag goddesses appear closely linked to particular locations throughout the British Isles.  'The Cailleach' is not a national deity of a whole country but is rather bound closely to the land -- associated with particular mountains, rivers, lochs and other wild places.  her form -- the powerful old giantess -- may be almost identical wherever she appears but her name and her tales are localised.  It has been argued that the Hag of Beare -- Cailleach Bhéirre -- is the eldest of the Cailleachs.  

In Ireland she has a 'wizard's wand' with which, when herding her cows, she strikes a bull, turning it into a stone, and she is connected with cairns and dolmens.  There is a 'hag's chair' in County Meath.  In Northern Ireland she formed a cairn on Carnbane by spilling stones from her apron, and she broke her neck when leaping from an eminence.  'She lives in a cave on the hills abouve Tiernach Bran.'  Her black dog gives milk which imparts great strngth to a man who drinks it.  She is credited with some of the feats of 'Aine ae Cnuic' -- Aine of the hill, knockainy, 'the Queen of the Limerick fairies', and she is the 'banshee' of some Leinster and Meath families, as Cleena, Grian of Gnoc Grèine, Aine, Una and Eevil are of other families, there having evidently been 'culture mixing' and the mixing of myths.  Most of the Irish stories emphasize the Cailleach's great strength and longevity.  She had seven periods of youth and was a great lover:

     It is riches
     Ye love, it is not men:
     In the time when we lived
     It was men we loved. 
     My arms when they are seen
     Are bony and thin:
     Once they would fondle,
     They would be round glorious kings. 
                                          (Scottish Folk-lore and Folklife.  D. A. MacKenzie, London 1935)


Cailleach Stones

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