In Gaelic (Irish, Scottish and Manx) myth, the Cailleach (Irish: [kɪˈl̠ʲax, ˈkal̠ʲəx], Scottish Gaelic: [ˈkʰaʎəx]) is a divine hag and ancestor, associated with the creation of the landscape and with the weather, especially storms and winter. The word literally means 'old woman, hag', and is found with this meaning in modern Irish and Scottish Gaelic, and has been applied to numerous mythological and folkloric figures in Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man.In modern Irish folklore studies she is also known as The Hag of Beara, while in Scotland she is also known as Beira, Queen of Winter.
The Cailleach, also known as the Cailleach Bheirre or Bhéara, and the Cailleach Bheur, or Bhuerra. On the Isle of Man she is called the Caillagh, or Caillagh ny Groamagh. She appears in various Irish poems as Digdi/Digde, Biróg, Buí or Bua/ch. Her name means Veiled or Cloaked One.
She is a hag, or what might sometimes be known as a crone goddess. She is a goddess of Winter, stones and mountains, the wilderness, and is the protectress of wild beasts – specifically red deer who are referred to as her cattle. She is associated with the stone carvings of Sheela na gig, the grinning gargoyle woman stretching wide her enormous vagina who adorns various stone buildings throughout the British Isles.
She is related to pre-Celtic Irish goddess Mor Mormain. Scholars have also equated her with the Jötunn goddesses of Germanic tradition, notably Jörð the earth giantess and mother of Thor, and Skaði the mountain etin-bride of Winter. In her various stories, she is at odds with the forces of Summer.
She is depicted as crotchety and at times sinister, but not truly villainous. The Cailleach is described as having lived seven lives, and in each of these lifetimes she had many husbands, giving birth to many tribes and clans. She laments her lost loves, having outlived them all. In the stories, she mourns her youth and laments being particularly wise (ignorance is apparently bliss).
In Scottish lore, she is also called Beira, Queen of Winter and is the mother of the gods; or alternatively as Duan na Muileartaich, the Water Hag. Her name is related to Gaelic words for owl, nun and witch. She is described as a giantess by the Scots, and as having dark blue skin, white hair, teeth as red as rust, and only one working eye.
In Scottish folklore she also wields a hammer, and travels the land carrying a basket of rocks, which cause thunder as they tumble down from inside. Her banging about the land created many land formations throughout Scotland and Ireland.
There are many place names throughout the Scottish highlands and the Hebrides named for her. Many standing stones are also named for her, usually a result of her turning to stone, turning her family to stone, or dropping a stone from her basket of rocks. She is particularly associated with Ben Nevis, Britain’s highest mountain peak. Tiring of her lazy maid Nessa, the Cailleach has her transformed into Loch Ness, creating another famous landmark.
She is associated with many place names in Ireland, such as the Beara Peninsula in County Cork. The megalithic tombs at Loughcrew in County Meath are also hers, where the rising sun’s rays illuminate an inner chamber filled with megalithic stone carvings.
The commencement of Winter is signaled when the Cailleach washes her plaid dress in “her cauldron” the Corryreckan whirlpool (which is the third largest in the world). Her swirling and swooshing it around stirs the atmosphere. She washes for three days, after which her blue and green plaid is washed out, and now white, as snow gently covers the land.
The Cailleach can take on a plural form of eight sisters called the Cailleachan, or Storm Hags. The worst weather of the season, sleet in particular, are attributed to them. If one Cailleach is cranky – imagine what eight are like!
In the Scottish legends, the Cailleach alternates power with Brigid the goddess of fire, and the two sometimes battle for control of the seasons. Cailleach ruled the land between Samhain and Beltaine, Brigid from Beltaine to Samhain. Some versions depict Cailleach as turning to stone during Brigid’s rule, and Cailleach kidnapping and imprisoning Brigid during her season, beneath Ben Nevis. Aengus, a son of the Cailleach, must rescue Brigid from his mother, and the often turbulent weather during the month of March is said to represent this struggle between the three.
In yet another version, the Cailleach is Brigid, and changes form with the turning of the seasons. She comes into full crone-dom and power on the Winter Solstice, where she generates all of the foul weather. Her power wanes after this apex and she drinks from the Well of Youth. As she does, she becomes young and beautiful again and with her transformation comes the spring. In time, the power of the Well beings to wear off and she begins to age once more.
In Ireland, the Cailleach is associated with craggy, prominent mountains and outcroppings, such as Hag's Head (Irish: Ceann Caillí, meaning 'hag's head') the southernmost tip of the Cliffs of Moher in County Clare.
The megalithic tombs at Loughcrew in County Meath are situated atop Slieve na Calliagh (Irish: Sliabh na Caillí, meaning 'the hag's mountain') and include a kerbstone known as "the hag's chair".Cairn T on Slieve na Calliagh is a classic passage tomb, in which the rays of the equinox sunrise shine down the passageway and illuminate an inner chamber filled with megalithic stone carvings.
The summit of Slieve Gullion in County Armagh features a passage tomb known locally as the 'Calliagh Beara's House'. There is also a lake, where the Calliagh is said to have played a trick on the mythical warrior, Fionn mac Cumhaill, when he took on the physical appearance of an old man after diving into the lake to retrieve a ring that the Calliagh fooled him into thinking was lost.
Aillenacally (Aill na Caillí, "Hag Cliff") is a cliff in County Galway.
The Carrowmore passage tombs on the Cúil Iorra Peninsula in County Sligo, are associated with the Cailleach. One is called the Cailleach a Bhéara's House. William Butler Yeats refers to the Sligo Cailleach as the 'Clooth na Bare'. In County Sligo she is also called the Garavogue Cailleach.
She is often not shown in a favorable light – and yet great lengths are taken to appease and honor her. The times she is revealed as a benefactor are often the times when she decides to reward mortals for their work or their deeds.
In the Scottish tradition Caillech is a deer-herder, and the deer who get away and escape from hunters are said to have been led from harm by the goddess.
Although compassionate to the deer, these acts are associated with curmudgeonly Cailleach keeping food from the people during the lean Winter months. Her walking stick causes the ground to freeze, so not only is she responsible for hiding the deer, she causes the cold in the first place!
In both Scotland and Ireland, the Cailleach was venerated in the making of Carline, a corn dolly (“corn” in Europe referred to wheat prior to Christopher Columbus) from the last sheaves of the season. Carline would be made in the likeness of a maiden for a good harvest … and a hag for a poor one, which would be tossed into whichever field in the community had not finished bringing in that year’s crop. The farmer was then required to care for the corn dolly, keeping her in a little bed and “feeding” her throughout the Winter, presumably making little food offerings. It was fierce competition to not be stuck with little Carline all Winter! The properly cared for Carline would be buried with the first seedlings of Spring or fed to the horses who would do the first plowing.
In Irish tradition she is the sister of Áine, the Summer goddess. On Imbolg in Ireland, or Là Fhèill Brìghde in Scotland, the Cailleach goes out to gather firewood to last the rest of Winter. If she’s feeling extra crabby and decides to make Winter last longer, she will ensure that on Imbolg the weather is bright and sunny, so that she can gather more than enough wood to last her through the longer season. If the weather is poor on Imbolg, it’s a good sign indicating that Cailleach will spend the day napping, won’t procure enough firewood, and so will concede when it is time to hand over the season. Birds seen carrying sticks in their mouths on Imbolg are thought to be helping the Cailleach, or sometimes are the hag goddess in bird form.
She appears in later Arthurian legend as the Loathly Lady, in which a hideous hag is sought to help break a curse that has befallen the land, causing King Arthur to weaken to the point of death. She agrees to Sir Gawain’s request to break the curse, provided he take her as his wife.
Heavy-hearted young Gawain agrees and on their wedding night she transforms, revealing herself to be the beautiful dame Ragnell. She tells Gawain she can appear as a hag by day and beauty by night, or in reverse, and that he must choose. Gawain tells her that he would like for to choose for herself. For his respectful answer, she rewards him by choosing to take her fair form at all times that she is with him.
At Beltane in Scotland, a figure from the community would dress up as the Cailleach, and would have eggs thrown at her, being mocked and ridiculed by the community before she would take a ritual bath of purification, becoming the maiden goddess once more. On the Isle of Man, mock battles would be held between the May Queen and an actress depicting the Cailleach and the May Queen.
The folk tales and observances are nearly endless – a testament to the greatness of the goddess, her influence on mortal affairs, and her position amongst the other gods.
Brigid (/ˈbrɪdʒɪd, ˈbriːɪd/ BRIJ-id, BREE-id, Irish: [ˈbʲɾʲɪjɪdʲ, ˈbʲɾʲiːdʲ]; meaning 'exalted one' from Old Irish), Brigit or Bríg is a goddess of pre-Christian Ireland. She appears in Irish mythology as a member of the Tuatha Dé Danann, the daughter of the Dagda and wife of Bres, with whom she had a son named Ruadán.
She is associated with wisdom, poetry, healing, protection, blacksmithing and domesticated animals. Cormac's Glossary, written in the 9th century by Christian monks, says that Brigid was "the goddess whom poets adored" and that she had two sisters: Brigid the healer and Brigid the smith. This suggests she may have been a triple deity. She is also thought to have some relation to the British Celtic goddess Brigantia.
Saint Brigid shares many of the goddess's attributes and her feast day, 1 February, was originally a pagan festival (Imbolc) marking the beginning of spring. It has thus been argued that the saint is a Christianization of the goddess; a form of syncretism.
In the Middle Ages, some argue that the goddess Brigid was syncretized with the Christian saint of the same name. According to medievalist Pamela Berger, Christian "monks took the ancient figure of the mother goddess and grafted her name and functions onto her Christian counterpart," St. Brigid of Kildare.
St. Brigid is associated with perpetual, sacred flames, such as the one maintained by 19 nuns at her sanctuary in Kildare, Ireland. The sacred flame at Kildare was said by Giraldus Cambrensis and other chroniclers to have been surrounded by a hedge, which no man could cross. Men who attempted to cross the hedge were said to have been cursed to go insane, die or be crippled.
The tradition of female priestesses tending sacred, naturally occurring eternal flames is a feature of ancient Indo-European pre-Christian spirituality. Other examples include the Roman goddess Vesta, and other hearth-goddesses, such as Hestia.
Both the goddess and saint are associated with holy wells, at Kildare and many other sites in the Celtic lands. Well dressing, the tying of rags, (called clooties in Scotland), to the trees next to healing wells, and other methods of petitioning or honoring Brigid still take place in some of the British Isles and the diaspora.
Brigid is considered the patroness of poetry, smithing, medicine, arts and crafts, cattle and other livestock, sacred wells, serpents (in Scotland) and the arrival of early spring. In the Christian era, nineteen nuns at Kildare tended a perpetual flame for the Saint, which is widely believed to be a continuation of a pre-Christian practice of women tending a flame in her honour. Her festival day, Imbolc is traditionally a time for weather prognostication:
Brigid’s name means “Exalted One” and “She Who Rises.” In Scotland she is known as Brighide (Bride). In Wales, she is known as Ffraid, Baint and Breint, and there are several place names in her honor.
More modern spellings of her name include Brigit, Brid and Brig. In Irish literature she is one of the Tuatha Dé Danann, and daughter of the Dagda, wife of Bres and mother of Ruadan. She is the goddess of dawn, blacksmithing (synonymous in the ancient Celtic world with what we might think of as “technology” today), wisdom, and domesticated animals.
Brigid was appealed to for protection for both humans and animals. She is a goddess of healing and medicine – for both people and animals.
She is described as having two sisters as part of a trinity. Brigid is often referred to as Goddess of Fire, and is also importantly a water goddess, associated with various wells and rivers. As a goddess of poetry, it must be noted that Celtic poetry involved the oral transmission of all important cultural knowledge, and the memorization of vast bodies of lore.
Perhaps most well known for being an Irish goddess, she was also found throughout Britain – known to the Brythonic Celts as Brigantia. The Brigantes tribe of northern England claimed her as their spiritual ancestor. Numerous archeological finds have been found attested to her, and the River Brent was named for her. As with Irish Brigid, Brigantia presided over rivers and wells and the Romans called her “Nymph Goddess.”
Various wells are attributed to her throughout Ireland and Scotland. Both the goddess (and later Saint Brigid, see below) are venerated at sacred wells through the tying of cooties on trees next to the wells.
Both goddess and saint are associated with Imbolg, an ancient fertility festival around February 1, which marks the shift from Winter towards Spring. In this she is strongly associated with Cailleach (who in some stories is Brigid’s crone aspect). Imbolg was a time for divination of the weather, along with traditions across Europe, which informed the modern-day folk traditions of Groundhog Day.
In Irish myth, Brigid has a menagerie of animal companions, including guardian beasts who cry out at any sign of danger. Two named oxen called Fea and Femen, give their monikers to two plains in Ireland, and Cirb the boar, also named Torc Triath “the King of the Boars,” has his own plain as well.
The figure Saint Brigid inherited many of the goddess’ attributes, and was said to charm wild wolves into domestication. Likewise, she could charm wild boars to domestic pigs, and summon wild ducks. As a saint she is strongly associated with pregnancy and motherhood.
According to the Cath Maige Tuired, at the death of her son Ruadan, Brigid began the folk custom of wail-singing called keening, which lived on as an important lamentation practice among the Irish and Scottish. Professional keeners were women who earned a wage by performing this duty, and in addition to conducting cathartic wailing, would recite the deceased person’s lineage, history and family.
Brigid’s husband in the Irish lore is Bres, a Fomorian who serves as king of the Tuatha Dé Danann. The Fomorians can be compared to other earlier families of gods, such as the Jötnar, and their story is similar to their conflicts with the Vanir and Æsir in Norse-Germanic myth. The wedding of Brigid and Bres is an act of diplomacy between the two tribes.
Brigid is one of the most beloved of Celtic figures among many traditions: Celtic pagan, Wiccan, the women’s spirituality movement, and even Catholic and Anglican (Protestant) Christianity (as a saint).
Brigid was so beloved and culturally significant that the Christians who arrived in Ireland kept and adopted her during the conversion period. The goddess was syncretized by Celtic Christians with the figure of Saint Brigid of Kildare. Scholars have learned a lot about the goddess Brigid through deconstructing the saint. While there indeed appear to be several candidates for a real-life personage dubbed Saint Brigid of Kildare, the aspects of the goddess are obvious when you look at them. Saint Brigid is associated with the tending of a perpetual, sacred flame. Nuns today tend such a flame in the sanctuary of the saint.
Among the saint’s attributes was the ability to manifest never-ending quantities of food, in particular cheese, milk, butter, porridge, and pork. She could also turn rock into nutritious salt, and turn water into beer. She was able to ask trees to get up and move!
Scholars think that there were several nuns who modeled their lives after the goddess, and took her name, in a like manner that nuns practice the taking of names of Mary and other spiritual role-models. Celtic Christianity, as begun in Ireland was a relatively harmonic fusion of the faiths. So much so that the monks who painstakingly preserved the old faith in their records appear to have done their best to preserve much of the pagan past and merge it with their own mythology.
Hence, the Irish cosmogony in the Lebor Gabála is a hodgepodge, grafted onto Hebrew myth. This blending, now called Celtic Christianity horrified Roman Catholicism, who in the 1100s came to Ireland to clean things up, a process which among other things saw the demotion of Christian priestesses called Abbesses.
Brigid is one of mythology’s great diplomats. Her wedding to Bres the Fomorian prince is an act of statecraft between two warring tribes of gods. She brings together wild and domestic animals. Her soothing, summoning, and putting to domestic task various wild animals places her a part of world folkloric motif of Fairy Tale maidens pacifying beasts.
The Romans syncretized her with Minerva, goddess of wisdom and technology. This fused deity is often referred to by scholars as Gaulish Minerva. Like Minerva, Brigit is credited with creating the first whistle instrument. This goddess was called upon as a goddess of war and defense of the Homefront by her Brythonic children, the Brigantes, in their resistance to Roman occupation.
The tradition of female priestesses tending sacred, naturally occurring eternal flames is a feature of ancient Indo-European pre-Christian spirituality. It is possible that Brigid is linked with Greco-Roman Vesta-Hestia, goddess of the physical and spiritual hearth. There is evidence in the Celtic period of priestesses who tended fires in early Iron Age Ireland.
With the power to end unwanted pregnancy and her role as a midwife, Brigid is often thought of by modern pagans as a goddess of women’s reproductive health and choice.
Brigid’s name appears to be connected with the Hindu goddess of the dawn, one of whose names is Bṛhatī.