C is for Cailleach and Crones

Some tales portray [the Cailleach] as a benevolent and primal giantess from the dawn of time who shaped the land and controlled the forces of nature, others as the harsh spirit of winter

Rankine and d’Este (2008)

The Cailleach (pronunciation almost as variable as that of Brigid; I have settled on CAL-y-ACH with the ‘ch’ like ‘loch’) is described as “the goddess of the harsh winter months” (Rankine and d’Este 2008), known for her giant size and for dropping rocks to shape the landscape. The name Cailleach has several meanings, including old woman, hag, crone, nun and veiled one (R&E 2008). She is most associated with shaping the landscape, her giant size, her vast age, associations with water, guardianship of specific animals (deer, cows), and her ability to shapeshift (R&E 2008).


She is of the wild, of the cold harsh days of the year, of icy water, elemental stuff. I strongly associate her with winter, and with power over the weather and the earth.

I felt myself calling out to her over winter, as my seasonal affective disorder threatened to drag me into [more] depressive places, and as I struggled with the lack of light. I turned to a being of great expanse and great age, who represents the thing I fear the most – the lack of sunlight. And I found warmth, and wisdom, and another, different kind of beauty in the winter months. I found things to admire and to love, not simply to fear.

Part of depression (for me) is acceptance. I learn to accept the bleakness as part of life, rather than struggling against it, and it makes it easier for the warmer times to come back round. If I have patience the spring and summer will return, and I needn’t spend all winter fighting against the unchangeable. (I reiterate: this is something that I personally have found helpful; I am not for a second suggesting that if other people with depression ‘do what I do’ then they’ll get better. It’s simply something that works for me some/most of the time.)

I haven’t been through a year with my newly-found pagan beliefs yet (I am most definitely a tiny!Pagan), so I think any relationship between the Cailleach and Brigid will become clearer as the wheel turns. I’ll keep revisiting old posts throughout the year, and if my beliefs significantly alter I will post an update.


I sometimes wonder about age and deities. I have been a child, and an adult, but not yet an old woman, so I haven’t had to think about how age is represented (because I’ve occupied the favoured ages). I do notice that it tends to be female deities who are categories into “maiden, mother and crone”, which makes me uncomfortable for many reasons, but briefly:

  1. The definition of my existence is not related to whether I’ve mushed genitals with another human being.
  2. Not all women have vaginas; not all people-with-vaginas are women. Most people I know live outside of that conceptual framework, so maiden-mother-crone are irrelevant categories.
  3. It insinuates that women’s purpose and function is entirely and completely relational to her reproductive abilities. Just… ew.

I do not think that way of women, and I am not about to start regarding deities by those standards. I mean, can you imagine?

“Ok, Cailleach, so you’re a several-thousand year old shapeshifting land deity of winter. Whatever. Now! Can we talk about the shape and function of your genitals?”

At this point, I image the Cailleach would drop a mountain on the speaker’s head. 😉


Rankine, David and Sorita d’Este (2008) Visions of the Cailleach – Exploring the Myths, Folklore and Legends of the Pre-eminent Hag Goddess Avalonia Books: London



Filed under pagan blog project

13 responses to “C is for Cailleach and Crones

  1. Love this post! The Cailleach appeals to me almost as strongly as Brigid, perhaps because she’s sometimes considered Brigid’s flip side?

    On the maiden/mother/crone thing I so understand what you’re saying–I have felt many times like I don’t fit any of those categories, and they need an alternate for those of us who haven’t given birth or who might not wish to identify as mothers just because we are parenting children. Paganism is, sadly (and like most other paths) not free of constrictive patterns and archetypes. I’ve read some creative re-interpretations of the metaphorical meanings of this kind of triple goddess but in the end, of course, the goddess I’m the biggest fan of is a trinity of sisters. Sometimes. Depending on who you ask.

    On the other hand, as a general rule I think pagans are more likely to interpret the old myths and archetypes creatively, and we’re also great at choosing what works for us and discarding what doesn’t. That’s always good.

    • I think that I’m drawn to the Cailleach for similar reasons.

      “On the other hand, as a general rule I think pagans are more likely to interpret the old myths and archetypes creatively, and we’re also great at choosing what works for us and discarding what doesn’t. That’s always good.”
      Absolutely! It allows for UPG and personal comfort levels, and is not so reliant on texts. I enjoy this about Paganism.

  2. Crones have a very powerful magic of individuation. It is definitely a strength, but I think things are easier late in life because what is there to lose? It is a balance. I have enjoyed working with Hekate a great deal myself, and Cerridwen as I am super into cauldrons.

  3. Aranna

    Yeeees ! Thank you : I’m feeling uncomfortable with this categorization and for the reasons you’ve explained. I’ve read that some groups make a 4th section “nymph” => for women who have sexual intercourse but who are not yet mother. GRRRRRRRRRRR. So, If I well understand their sorting, that means a woman MUST BE a mother to be “really” a woman. ARGH (I am against this kind of “genital classification”. Are we on the XXIst century or during medieval times ?

    I could add I’ve a strong connection with Cailleach : she’s a powerful goddess I work with. ❤

    • “I’ve read that some groups make a 4th section “nymph” => for women who have sexual intercourse but who are not yet mother. ”

      Blargh! They can screw off, to put it eloquently. 😉

      “I could add I’ve a strong connection with Cailleach : she’s a powerful goddess I work with. <3"
      ❤ That's wonderful to hear.

  4. Reading this was great, as I too have felt called by Cailleach (and to a lesser extent Brigid/Bride).

    I would also tend to agree that the ‘mother’ aspect doesn’t apply to me because I’m not going to have human children. Up until reading this, I would’ve simply considered myself a mother to my cat as a compromise, but you bring up an interesting point that while Bride/Cailleach are sometimes seen as a triple goddes (who’s the third?), they are not always. I think I feel more comfortable associating them simply as winter/summer.

  5. Have you read Sandman, specifically A Game of You?

    • I haven’t, no. Why’s that?

      • The three fates/sisters/MMC appear on and off through the whole of Sandman but a Game of You was attempting to deal with gender and has a bit with the pagan universes’ attitude to a transgender individual. Sadly it didn’t attempt very *well* and is pretty offensive but this post just made me think of it.

      • Ah, gotcha. I was warned not to read Sandman while depressive, but those are the times I feel most like glooping about in a library, so I have failed to read it as yet.

  6. I’m also majorly seasonally affective. I agree that attitude is a big part of dealing with it. Having low energy does not have to be the same thing as feeling bad. Winter is for quieter things, like reading books and blog posts. When spring comes, then I can go back to running around and causing trouble!

    I used to have a hard time wrapping my head around the triple goddess idea too. I’ve moved far enough away from the areas of paganism that find them important since then, and I no longer think of myself as spiritually female anyway, so I haven’t even thought of it in awhile. You make a good point.

    • Thank you – that was a really well-timed comment. I was starting to feel bad about not wanting to create anything physical at the moment. I got some paints for Christmas and I haven’t been able to use them; I just can’t bring myself to do it. It’s good to think of winter as a time for less physical things, of quieter activities; it’s what I feel like doing, and it’s all right to do so.

      Thanks for your comment.

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