Today is the Cailleach’s Day. In the old calendar this was the first day of the new year.
For those of us that follow the old ways and the wheel of the year we can see two sides of the crone in these last few weeks. The hag still whips up some spring snow showers and a frost you weren’t expecting that stomped the life of those little seedlings you were a little too eager to plant in the soil. By the next morning she is a far younger self and she cradles the colorful blooms and lifts the temperatures to the tune of the land is singing the song of spring.
This is the way it has been for thousands and thousands of years, it is only us that change the story and the meaning. We have told stories of an evil hag holding the maiden prisoner – those stories say more about our opinions of women and especially old women. I do not tell the stories of hags taking maidens prisoners, there is no evil and bitter old hag jealous of the young years youth and vitality.
For those of us who follow the wheel this time of the year is the great return – we have moved from the dark of the year and our inward focus to emerging back to the outside world and all its demands and tending. The hibernating bear and Persephone are both symbols of the return of life to the land. Persephone returning to her mother after her time in the dark with Hecate – the story of capture and rape have no place in my cosmology.
There are stories of the great Hag which tell us at this time of year she is called down to the shore. She needs to do this before any part of this world has awakened – before the song of the first bird and the hum of any insect. She makes her way down to the shore as she has done for countless cycles in order to renew herself submerged under the water. Water, since neolithic times has been imbued with life giving properties, similar to amniotic fluid it is the place where regeneration occurs (Gimbutus 2001). Water is the primordial source and so this otherworldly figure must return there in order to renew herself – a story we can see in tales such as her renewal in the Scottish Loch Ba. Submerged below the waves she is between the worlds, she belongs to the most ancient cosmologies and a mark of time more in tune with galaxies than our mark of days and hours. What happens below the waves is what happens to the land itself, it renews. It is part of the most ancient cycle o birth and lie, of death and renewal – the fuel of the wheel of the year.
The Eternal Dance
In some stories the Cailleach returns to the otherworld where there she renews herself at the fountain o youth and that younger self is Brighid. Who came first the hag or the maiden – we can’t have one with out the other. Myths are not something we can sift and sort for the are woven with mystery, they are part this world and part otherworld. Our age has tried to kill the old hag, many see her as being no longer relevant – which says far more about our society’s obsession with youth than it does of the old ways. This story of the crone falling down in a heap of bones is wonderfully told in the little film An Cailleach Bhearra, a tale of the demise of the female in a male world.
We have a host of stories to choose from with which to weave our own meaning – there is no right or wrong yet what storie we choose to live with says of how we each walk in this world.
The Online Cailleach Course
This online course offers five sessions – it begins by exploring the great age o the Cailleach and then we take a virtual pilgrimage to visit some of her sites in ireland before moving over to Scotland and visiting some of her sacred sites there. next we explore her changing stories which has morphed and changed over the generations before diving down into her folklore and seeing where that takes us. FInally we weave this journey all together and examine the role of this great crone for us today. There is also the invitation to create a small altar on this journey of exploration and a Facebook group for the course where you can share your insights and thoughts.
Gimbutas, Marija. 2001. The Living Goddess. University of California Press, USA.