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The Cailleach

From high mountain pass, exhaling ice breath, (2).
Comes Cailleach clothed in summers death.
Cold fingers search under starlight’s lantern
Staff cracks dew to frosted mantle, (3).
In the stags hoary frosted bark,
Riding with wolves on the cloak of the dark. (4).
From mountain, hillock, stone and spring (5).
From bare tree in hollow, behind the north wind.

Primordial dreamer and shaper of stones,
Mountain pools, streams, coastlines, Albion’s bones.
Spinner of fate on 3 strands of thread, (6).
Dread to the hunter, bringer of death. (7).
In Corrivreckan washing her plaid of white, (8).
Perched on the sea cliffs drawing storms from the night. (9).
Daughter born of the little sun, (10).
3 days of turning in a boiling sea cauldron. (11).

At the height of the sun: summers full bloom,
Carlin sleeps within stone in mid-June. (12).
Cold staff hidden from the summers glare,
Where the evergreen thorns make barren & bare, (13).
Red tooth and nail, her breath on the wind,
The fettered mind closed to the song that she sings.
Blue faced hag, goddess of fear, (14).
But beautiful maiden at the turn of the year. (15).

1. The Cailleach or Cailleach Bheur (Ireland) is a supernatural being from Celtic folklore associated with winter. With such a wealth of traditions associated with her it has been suggested that she is perhaps a remnant of an ancient goddess once worshiped in antiquity in Britain, kept alive in folklore and denuded through time into a hag or witch.

2. Although associated with many features of the landscape one of the more common motifs is her association with high mountains, mountain passes and mountain springs.

3. Both Irish and Scottish sources have the Cailleach in possession of a staff embodying the power of cold and winter. In Scottish sources she spreads frost by striking her staff on the ground.

4. Folklore has her riding wild pigs or wolves, and as protector of wild animals.

5. Landscape associations include: Standing stones, boulders, rivers, coastlines, wells, the sea, and many more perhaps strengthening the theory that she may have originally been a primordial deity.

6. Related to the Irish crone goddess, the weaver is an old goddess motif.

7. As protector of wild animals she was in conflict with hunters mentioned in both Scottish and Irish sources.

8. Scottish tradition has her washing her plaid in maelstrom of Corrivreckan north of the Isle of Jura for 3 days, ushering in the beginning of winter.

9. Association with the headlands of Mull where she sat looking out to sea.

10. She is named “daughter of the little sun” in Scottish tradition, the little sun being the sun of winter.

11. See 8.

12. In Scottish folklore the Cailleach is sometimes known as The Carlin, and there are boulders known as Carlin’s stone in Scotland. Tradition has her sleeping within large boulders during summer.

13. During summer she throws her staff under a holly tree until winter, evergreen trees often make the soil under them acidic and so no other plants tend grow there.

14. Often described as a blue faced hag.

15. This is a reference to the triple goddess, as the Cailleach may be the crone aspect of the Maiden, Mother, Crone from Celtic mythology.

Daniel Parkinson



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