Has worship of The Cailleach changed in modern times?
Short answer: I don’t know.
Long answer: Information about The Cailleach is so much steeped in legend, and has been incorporated with incoming religious and spiritual practices, both in Scotland and in Ireland that we have no real idea of how worship of The Cailleach may have been in ancient times compared to how it may be today.
We can however take some clues from what we do know, or have speculated about over time.
We don’t know how or even if The Cailleach was worshipped in ancient times. So, there is no way of knowing if people who follow or worship Her today are doing it in the same way, or in different ways.
Common sense though says that all things change over time. Whether it be a religion, a language, a group of people, or an individual person. All things change. When religions or languages or villages or individuals can’t or won’t change, eventually they cannot survive.
Usually these changes are gradual, so gradual that you don’t even notice they’re happening. It’s only when you look back through time that you realise just how different they have become.
We do know that the Celts, both in Ireland and Scotland tended not to worship the Gods. Honour them, yes. Ask favours of them, occasionally. Hold them in awe and perhaps a bit of fear, definitely. But worship? Not so much.
A traditional Scottish Spaewife I knew many years ago put it this way. “I talk to them the way you would talk to your neighbour over the back fence. I work with them. Sometimes they work through me. But I don’t worship them.”
This would seem to be an indication that there was no ancient worship of The Cailleach and the legends associated with The Cailleach would seem to bear this out.
Many legends talk of how Her permission would need to be obtained before one could hunt the deer under protection. It wasn’t a kind of worshipful obeisance though, more a “We’re off to hunt to feed the family, could we please have one of your deer?” And really, if you were going off to hunt on an old farmer’s land today you would stop off and get his permission first, even if there was a public right of way across the land. It’s just common courtesy.
However, we do have is a reference to a possible historical “worship” of The Cailleach in the form of a deer cult or deer-goddess cult in ancient Scotland. What we know today about this comes from a book written in 1930, “The Deer Cult and the Deer-Goddess Cult of the Ancient Caledonians” by J. G. McKay. After a lot of searching I was finally able to find a pdf copy of it online. I have linked to a copy here where you can read or download it for yourself. How much of what the author says is based on fact and how much is pure speculation or perhaps wishful thinking is not known.
I essentially have a clean slate when it comes to working out how I will conduct myself as a priestess of The Cailleach. She has made it clear that I already have the skills and knowledge needed for this job. I just need to find them within myself.