A brief introduction
The Cailleach is a Deity that I have been familiar with for many years, but only on the periphery. I didn’t really know a lot about Her until She started tapping me on the head last winter.
It was then that I began getting hints and messages about becoming a priestess of The Cailleach. At the beginning of March, with the help of a friend I did some journey work and spoke to Her about the idea. There She and I ironed out our agreement on what She wants from me, and what She will give me in turn.
My first task over the past 6 months has been to discover more about this ancient Goddess of the British Isles.
Depending upon where you look, Cailleach can mean old woman or veiled woman. She however is called The Cailleach, which to me would indicate that this could be a title rather than a name.It would also indicate to me that there could be several Goddesses called Cailleach, or a variation of that name, but there is only one The Cailleach.
You can find reference to The Cailleach in place names across Scotland and Ireland, from the Cailleach Bheur to the Cailleach Beara. In future posts I will expand further on the mythology surrounding The Cailleach.
In one of the stories told about The Cailleach it is said that a priest went to Her home to speak with Her. In the course of their conversing, he asked Her age. She answered that She had thrown the bones of an animal into her loft each year that She had lived and if he wanted an answer he would have to count them.
The priest (or a young lad depending upon the story) climbs into the loft and sees that is it filled completely with bones. He begins counting, and continues counting, and perhaps is still counting to this day.
Indications are good that The Cailleach was already an established presence on the British Isles long before the Celts first arrived on our shores. Archaeological discoveries appear to indicate that early humans (Neanderthals and then Cro-Magnum) have inhabited these lands as far back as 150,000 – 200,000 years ago. Periodic Ice Ages that covered most of the Isles in a mile of ice drove these earliest inhabitants away, but only temporarily, and when the ice receded they returned.
I am still finding information on these earliest pre-Celtic people and we can only speculate on what sorts of spiritual or religious practises they might have had, but it is my belief that The Cailleach arrived on these shores during the time of these earliest humans over 100,000 years ago and possibly stayed during the times when the ice and snow covered the land. Certainly, She would have felt right at home in that perpetual winter.
I will be discussing more about The Cailleach and my service to Her as Her priestess in future posts.