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The Caillech Bheur

The Cailleach Bheur was a blue hag, said to frequent parts of the Scottish Highlands. Associated with winter, she was reborn on every All Hallows Eve and returned to bring the winter and the winter snows. She carried a magical staff, which froze the ground with every tap. She was also guardian to animals throughout the winter, and returned to the earth by turning to stone on Beltane Eve. In other traditions she changes into a young maiden, suggesting the changing phases of an earth goddess. Her sacred trees were the holly and the gorse bush, under which she traditionally threw her staff before turning to stone.

She may be related to other similar figures found throughout Britain, eg Black Annis, possibly worshiped by the ancient Britons. The Irish version, the Cailleach Beare is similar although not as specifically winter orientated, and may according to Donald Mackenzie - Scottish Folklore & Folklife - be younger than the Highland version. Archetypal she seems to incorporate the crone aspect of the earth goddess or the goddess of winter.

There are several stories told about her. One story attaches her to a specific place; she was charge of a well on the summit of Ben Crauchan in Argyll. Every sunset she had to cap the flowing water with a large flat stone and then release it at sunrise.

One night, weary from driving her goats across the mountains, she fell asleep by the side of the well. Unhindered the water gushed forth, breaking through at the Pass of Brander creating Loch Awe, and drowning local people and cattle in its wake. She was so horrified by her mistake that she turned to stone. The overflowing well is a common folklore motif used to explain many lakes and lochs.

There are many such crones or hags in British folklore, and they may all have a similar root source. Her association with stone is unusual, and she may have been identified with certain standing stones, perhaps, and this is pure speculation, ones with winter astronomical alignments.

Image Copyright: 
Andy Paciorek
Seannachaidh (not verified)
The Cailleach.  Beginning

The Cailleach.  Beginning and Ending.

The Cailleach (Veiled One) was the First Being to live in Scotland after the ice let go its grip on the land, many thousands of years ago.  When the storytellers see snow on the hills, they call it the Cailleach's plaid; the Cailleach having spread said plaid on the hills after first having taken it to the great Corrievreckan Whirlpool to wash.  She had no clan affiliations, being the First, and so her plaid had no checks or stripes, being as white as the snow. 

When she grew weary with living, she could not die; being immortal.  And so she changed herself into her favourite, earliest manifestation, that of a Giant, and lay herself down to an endless sleep.  It wasn't in my time that she did so, or even in my grandfather's time, but it was well within the time of the storytellers.  That is to say, a very long time ago. 

And so time passed, and soil collected upon her body, and all the plants of the glen grew there, until all that was left to see was a mighty mountain.  Many storytellers claim their mountain was the Cailleach, but no one knows for sure.  We only know that when the mist is on the face of the mountain, any mountain, the storytellers say the Cailleach has drawn her veil across her face.



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