This because I’m spiritually cranky today, but it still pisses me off. There are two beings that do not exist in history that pagans love to create, one is Lord Samhain. THERE IS NO SUCH GOD! And the other is The Cailleach, WHO ALSO DOES NOT EXIST!
I did a bunch of research today to try to confirm what I have always been told and did not find one single source that refers to a goddess named the Cailleach. Cailleach is a descriptive term meaning old woman. Old men in the Outer Isles of Scotland refer to their wives as the Cailleach which is the equivalent of a biker referring to his partner as my old lady. See the book “Crowdie and Cream” for an example.
Every primary source I could find equated a reference to the word Cailleach as a reference to an aspect of Brighid. The word itself refers to some one who wears a shawl or a veil. Women in the Highlands wore shawls as part of their everyday dress and it was often worn over their head.
The word is used as part of several terms: the cailleach oidhche is an owl, literally old woman of the night. The cailleach dhubh is a nun or the veiled woman in black. Cailleach feasa is a wise woman. Cailleach phiseogach is the old woman magic maker or sorceress. Cailleachanta is to be old wifish or to be cowardly though why being an old woman would be cowardly I do not know since I would not mess with any old Scottish woman, especially one like my grandmother or her mother.
After harvest the last grain sheaf is the Cailleach rather like the last corn kernel unpopped is the Old Maid. The only reference I could find to a being even close was the Cailleach Bheur which is the Old Woman of Bearra and a gentleman in the 20th century by the name of Donald Alexander MacKenzie invented her as a compilation of all the winter gods and goddesses in Scottish myth. Why he felt the need to do this when all those winter goddesses hae proper names I do not know. So there was no Cailleach of Winter until he invented her that I can see.
Some of the references were really stretching it. One cited the Carmina Gaedelica. Um, which of the 10 volumes and where? And did they refer to the English translation or did they actually read the Gaelic? That’s rather like using the King James version of the Bible and citing the verse about, “thou shalt not suffer a witch to live” when the Hebrew says “thou shalt not suffer a poisoner to live.”
So I wish people would stop making up Celtic goddesses. If you want to flaming call Brighid. CALL HER!
Okay, after much searching the Carmina Gaedelica I found what they think is the passage about the Cailleach. It isn’t. It’s called The carlin of Beinn Bhreac. (lower case letters in the citation) Carlin is another form of the word cailleach but and it’s a HUGE BUT! The two songs are about one of the Fae. The Fae are not deities and it very well might offend them to call them so. They are the Fae, unique unto themselves, and I don’t mean little cutesy Victorian faeries. If you want to know more about the Fae I suggest reading some of RJ Stewart’s work or better yet, take one of his classes. Again there is no Cailleach that is a deity nor Carlin. And if you look at the stories at the end of how Alexander collected them the woman in the song is referred to as using Fath fith (also fith fath, and it pronounce it the th s are silent). An occult power that changes women into in a deer, cat or hare form. (Men change to horses, bulls and stags. MacClennan) This is a faery power.
There are plenty of quite awesome, in the true sense of the word, Celtic/Scottish deities with out inventing one and using it in ignorance.
MacClennan, Malcolm, Gaelic Dictionary
Carmichael, Alexander, Carmina Gaedelica, not found as Cailleach, see song 517 & 518 the second is clearly titled “the fairy woman and the hunter”. In the chapter called Fairy Songs.
Logan, James, The Scottish Gael – Celtic Manners being a historical and descriptive account of the inhabitants, antiquities and national peculiarities of Scotland. 1830 edition, also no reference found.
Only newage sources mention a goddess called the Cailleach and they are not good sources and Wikipedia also only references her newage sources and vague other sources with no exact citing.
I have over a hundred books on Scottish traditions and lore some of which are very old and fragile. I trust my sources.
I’m not the only one with a hair (hare?) up their butt about this. I once heard Steve Blamires go off at Harvest Moon about it one year.