- Attributes: Goddess of Winter, Protection of Animals, Wisdom
- Symbols: Stones, mountains, gorges, cats, rabbits
- Place: Ireland, Scotland, England
The Goddess Cailleach is one of the oldest deities associated with Celtic Mythology, perhaps the earliest known in Ireland. It is not possible to know how she was venerated or by whom, since the Celts arrived at those lands around 2000 years ago, taking their own pantheon of Gods and Goddesses and recognizing Cailleach as and old Goddess at that time.
She is very powerful and important because she has not disappeared like countless other deities, meaning that her power is still present in the lands that were once dedicated to her. Her name, in free translation from Irish and Scottish, means “witch” or “old woman” and in Welsh means “she who wears a veil”. She is known to possess enormous wisdom, to protect and watch all wildlife and for punishing the hunters who kill pregnant females, strangling them with her hair. Therefore she is also responsible for the end of life.
Some legends also associate her with the Goddess Brigid and her blessings to the agriculture and fertility of the land, though their appearance is very different. They say Cailleach is a black-skinned old woman with only one eye on her forehead who shows intense passion. Her teeth are red and her hair is white as the snow covering the top of the mountains. In her right hand she has a wand or a hammer that she uses to turn the grass into ice during the winter and also for building mountains and canyons. Several places in Ireland and Scotland are associated with Cailleach, such as Cean Caillí (Witch’s Head) in Ireland, which is the image that illustrates the post; Sliabh on Caillí (Witch Mountain) also in Ireland and Ben Cruachan in Scotland. In spring she could not bear the sun, so she threw her wand in the shadow of a sacred tree and turned herself it into a gray stone to wait for the next fall, when she returned to her original form.
Goddess of Renewal
Cailleach is so ancient that one of her few myths tells that she created the earth by throwing stones from her dress. She is always connected to the earth similar to the Goddess Gaia, and she can also be considered as the cycle of life itself, bringing the winter to destroy and renew the earth.
In Wicca we can associate her with the Crone face of the Triple Goddess, because at the same time that she destroys, she leaves the earth prepared for the rebirth.
Cailleach is intimately connected with the Sabbat Samhain, and it is precisely on this night that she awakens from her sleep and walks free again through the lands.