Tag Archive | cailleach

More on the Cailleach

Stone of Destiny commented on my post about the Cailleach that we didn’t know whether she was a goddess but I think we do know an awful lot from Scots folk sources and tales which tend to have kept a lot alive.

I went back through all my pre-80’s sources of folk writings and tales and I didn’t find a single reference to Cailleach as a goddess but several as a spirit of place which in the case of Scotland is a being that is a member of the Fae tribe. The Cailleach is peculiar to Scotland and surely some source in a folk tale or folk memory would have named her a deity if she indeed existed as such. The Scots treat deity entirely different that they treat the Fae. There is not worship or reverence for the Fae as there is for deity or saint like Bride and there is mention of spirits that are feared but not worshipped and that is the chief distinction between fear and worship. God is worshipped, The Fae are feared and propitiated and detoured away from if possible.

And I did finally find mention in the Silver Bough – Scottish Folklore and Folk-Belief; Volume one by F. Marian McNeil published in 1957 and I find this one of the most creditable ones. In a chapter called Fairies, page 199 under Traces of Animism.

“Besides the fairies, the trolls, the banshees, and the sluagh, there are many supernatural beings in Scottish folklore. Traces of the old animism linger in the tales of the Fomorians (Gael:Fomhairean) the giants whose seats are certain mountain peaks, and who flings boulders at one another, and the Cailleachan or stormhags, who together represent the elemental forces of nature, particularly the destructive aspect; in the names of “Nimble Men’ and “Merry Dancers’ given to the darting streams of the Aurora Borealis; in the legends of river spirits; and in the tradition of the Blue Men of the Minch.

Many a mountain has its Cailleach. The Cailleach nan Cruachan for example dwelt on the summit of Ben Cruachan. ‘When anything ruffles her temper, she gathers a handful of whirlwinds and descends in a tempest, steps across Loch Etive at a stride, lashing it into fury, and prevents all passage at Connel Ferry.’

Many a river, too has its spirit. ‘Glen Cuaich, in Invernessshire, writes Professor Watson, ‘is-or was till lately-haunted by a being known as Cuachag, the river sprite. The tutelary sprite of Etive is Eiteag; a man of my acquaintance declared he knew a man who had met her in Glen Salach –after a funeral… In Ross, “Cailleach na h-abhann,” the river hag was dreaded at the fords of the river Orrin.” And it goes on to talk about the Blue Men of the Minch.

Notice the language is always about the Fae and is a lot like the Irish speech of the banshee at fords and waters. Never is she treated as deity.

I refer to sources before the 1980’s because after that we have the incestuous new age publications that love to refer to each other and not to actual folk writing and collections like McNeil or Alexander Carmichael since I can’t raise my grandmother from the dead to ask her. Celtic deities usually start as more human in guises like heroes and do heroic acts more akin to human. The Fae have no desire to do human acts and are not treated as human ever that I can see.

I maintain the Cailleach is not a goddess but a spirit of place and a member of the Fae.