There was a grove, immemorially inviolate,
Hidden from the air above by interlacing branches…
There fell fountain-streams,
There gloomy images of Gods
Stood guard, jutting, human-carven in tree-trunk shape…
— from De Bello Civilis by Lucan (39-65 C.E.)
As we approach the crossroads of the Old and the New Year at Samhain, we honor the coming of the ancient Dark Goddess. One of Her many names is The Cailleach.
Patti Wigington, a Wiccan author for About.com, tells us, “The Goddess known as the Cailleach (pronounced CAHL-yahk) in Scotland and parts of Ireland is the embodiment of the Dark Mother, the harvest Goddess, the hag or crone entity.
“She appears in the late fall, as the Earth is dying, and is known as a bringer of storms. She is typically portrayed as a one-eyed old woman with bad teeth and matted hair. In Scotland, She is known as Cailleach Bheur, while along the Irish coast She appears as Cailleach Beare. Her name is varied, depending on the county and region in which She appears.
“The word cailleach itself means ‘veiled one’ or ‘old woman’ in Scottish Gaelic. In some stories, She appears to a hero as a hideous old woman, and when he is kind to Her, She turns into a lovely young woman who rewards him for his good deeds. In other stories, She turns into a giant gray boulder at the end of winter, and remains this way until Beltane, when She springs back to life.
“The Cailleach is sometimes portrayed riding on the back of a speeding wolf, bearing a hammer or a wand made of human flesh. She rules the dark half of the year, from Samhain to Beltane, while Her young and fresh counterpart, Brighid or Bride, is the Queen of the Summer months.
“Interestingly, even though The Cailleach is typically depicted as a destroyer Goddess, She is also known for Her ability to create new life. With Her magical hammer, She is said to have created mountain ranges, lochs, and cairns all over Scotland. She is also known as a protector of wild animals, in particular, the deer and the wolf.
“In some Irish counties, The Cailleach is a Goddess of sovereignty, who offers kings the ability to rule their lands. In this aspect, She is similar to The Morrighan, another destroyer Goddess of Celtic myth.”
Now, on the edge of Samhain, She beckons us to receive Her chthonic wisdom. In what ways is She challenging us to understand our own personal Sovereignty?
Consider these beautiful words, from author Willow Raven: “The vocation of Sovereign requires awareness, self-control and a strong sense of personal responsibility. In an age when most of us do not bear the responsibility of the welfare of our tribe, its territory and herds of cattle, Sovereignty takes on a more personal meaning.
“On a personal level it necessitates a strong center, an awareness of our strengths and weaknesses, not for ego-inflation or neurotic obsession, but in the wisdom of self-knowledge. Self-knowledge is a tricky thing; from birth we are told repeatedly who and what we are. Add to this the inevitable baggage we gather along the way and the question ‘Who am I?’ takes on stunning complexity.”
What baggage needs to go, this Samhain? What personal responsibility is yours and yours alone?
Yes, The Cailleach is a Goddess of dissolution and death. But also, as the Old Woman of Knowledge, She champions our search for wholeness, transforming our understanding of ourselves and our environment.
With deepest respect and love (and a healthy measure of caution), call upon The Cailleach, in this, Her time. Ask that She may guide you to your wisdom and sovereignty.