An Cailleach

An Chailleach Bheara.

The Cailleachan are remembered in Scotland, Ireland and the Isle of Man. There are many names given for these beings, and specific places in the Celtic landscape with which they are identified. They are seen as giantesses, responsible for the shaping of various hills and mountains, ancient hags so old they cannot remember their own age, and mystical beings ruling over the winter season bringing snows and harsh spring storms.

We associate our Cailleach with winter, but also, with the bones of the land and the cool waters that flow from the Oak Ridge Moraine into Durham Region, and we have therefore named our local goddess An Cailleach of the Oaken Ridge. The Oak Ridges Moraine was formed 10,000 years ago, trapping glacial ice beneath the rock. The waters from that ancient ice feed many of the rivers and streams in the Durham Region where our Grove operates.

We draw from folklore in our work with An Cailleach. We honour her in summer by creating a cairn for her use at the Spring Equinox, and we draw lots at Samhain to determine who will host her over the winter. In this way, we have created a cyclical relationship, appropriate for a being with primordial and seasonal associations.

We see the Cailleachan as a group of deities related through a similar archetype, primordial and ancient, but as they are inextricably tied to the land, this makes them independent, regional beings as well. Our Cailleach is related to these other figures but is her own being also, just as the essence of the winter season may be the same, recognizable as “Winter” from year to year, yet each year’s winter being distinct, with changes to both place and time.