On the Isle of Lewis, every eighteen and a half years, the Western world’s age for the maturity of man, the Cailleach gives birth to the moon as it rises between her knees.
The Cailleach was a figure revered by the Celts - an earth/mother goddess. She is with the earth and of the earth. Her shape sits in the hills and valleys of Scotland. On Lewes the Cailleach hill formation is sometimes called Sleeping Beauty – the unawakened maiden, the first of the three stages of womanhood – maiden, mother and crone. Legend has it that Scottish islands and mountains have been created from stones dropped from the Cailleach’s apron.
In Scotland the Cailleach is often associated with the coming of winter, with cold and days that dwindle to a few hours of daylight in the winter months. Some believe that when spring dawns she becomes a standing stone, to be born again when winter comes. Others say she drinks from the well of youth at the end of winter, becoming a young woman again with spring’s dawning. Some versions of her story have her keeping a young woman captive, with spring coming as the young woman escapes. The Cailleach is also known as Gentle Annie, known by Scottish seafaring folk to raise storms and inclement weather.
Another of the Cailleach’s faces is as the witch of Ben Cruachan - a high mountain near Oban. She was responsible for covering the well at the peak of the mountain at night with a huge stone slab. One night she forgot her duty and the water overflowed, drowning people and animals in the valley below. It is believed that the water she released formed Loch Awe. The modern world has chosen to make use of the natural resources the area offers in a different way, for deep within the mountain there is a hydro electric power station.
The Cailleach is the crone – the older woman, the wise woman. That which in western culture was once known but has so often been put away when we don’t value age and wisdom. In the western world youth, ability to work and generate income often seem to be valued above age and wisdom. Yet eastern societies often put the family, group or community before individual needs, and as such may have a richer journey from cradle to grave.
If you are interested in learning more about the Cailleach you may find the books below of interest: