Symbols and Icons of The Cailleach
We don’t know what symbols and icons may have originally been associated with The Cailleach. She is so very ancient, that to us She has always been part of the land and the landscape.
I have been reading a fascinating book on the earliest inhabitants of these British Isles, Homo Britannicus: The Incredible Story of Human Life in Britain by Chris Stringer, FRS. Within this book, Stringer discusses evidence he and his colleagues have looked at through the AHOB (Ancient Human Occupation of Britain) Project, and he gives us a compelling story of Britain’s earliest inhabitants. There research is ongoing, but thus far from looking at all of the available evidence, they have been able to determine that humans, now as homo sapiens and before that as Neanderthals have lived here off and on for at least 500,000 years, only deserting these lands when encroaching glaciers during the Ice Age periods made habitation impossible.
We know very little of how these earliest people lived, and nothing about what kids of Gods they may have followed (if any). We know that they practised some sorts of rituals around burial of their dead and from that we can perhaps infer that they had a belief in some sort of after life. And if they had a belief in some sort of after life, it isn’t too far fetched to think they had some sort of spiritual or religious belief system.
It is my belief (completely unproven and existing only within my personal feelings) that The Cailleach came to the British Isles with these earliest humans nearly 500,000 years ago. Certainly, the cold and ice of the glacial periods would have appealed to Her. I’m not too sure what she would have though about the sub-tropical climate that most of Britain enjoyed in between.
While The Cailleach is sometimes lumped in with the Celtic Gods, she is far older than the eldest Celtic God. She was a part of this landscape long before the Celtic tribes ventured across the English Channel or the North Sea onto these Isles.
Our only hints as to what symbols and icons may have represented The Cailleach comes from looking at the myths and legends about Her, and the place names that honour Her across Scotland, Ireland, the Isle of Man, and other parts of the British Isles.
I will look more at some of these legends on another day, for now though I just want to focus on some of the symbols and icons we could associate with The Cailleach. Some of these I have taken from Pagan Portals: The Cailleach by Rachel Patterson while others come from personal meditations on The Cailleach.
- rough stones
- grey agate
- blue howlite
- sea glass
- holey stones (hag stones)
- Snow and ice
- Waning moon
- Element: Earth
- Rocky places
- Megalithic temples
- Standing stones
- The Ocean
- She is especially associated with those liminal places where sky meets earth, land meets water, river meets ocean
- Wild Boar
- Club moss
- Witch hazel
- Hazel and hazel nuts
- Juniper and berries