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:
- The definition of my existence is not related to whether I’ve mushed genitals with another human being.
- 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.
- 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