The Cailleach Comes…

Ever since I was a small child, I was fascinated and frightened by old hags. Those crooked old ladies whose fingers were branches creaking in the wind. They would scratch at the window wanting to be let in, these bent and crooked ladies intent on stealing me away.

When you are a child, these old hags are more than just the imagination, they are more than just dreams, but as you get older the world tells you they are not real, that you need to leave behind the childish fantasy. 

I never did stop believing in them, however. Even though I hid their stories away in the back of my mind I always knew there was truth to these bewitching crones- Black Annis, The Elder Tree, The Yaga, The Banshees and the winter giantess- The Cailleach. 

Illustration by Arthur Rackham from “The Brothers Grimm Fairy Tales”

The old hag came to me in a dream, I was sitting inside a hedge, and I was a child. I had done this many times before. Hedges and bushes that I could climb under were my favourite hiding spots as a child, the knottier the better. When she came, she taught me spells, and how to make potions, she taught me how to shape shift, and she taught me that not everything was what it seemed.

I do not know if this hag was one of the folkloric ones, or a familial teacher. I have only seen her once. There have been other dream hags and crones, but never her again. 

For much of my life as a witch, I found myself avoiding my own Scottish and Irish ancestry, on one hand I hungered for stories and tales of my own ancestral and folkloric heritage, and as a child I listened to a Scotsman talking in craggy tones, not understanding his words but understanding the emotion and power behind them. I would listen to my grandfather spin tales of fairy stories and mermaids and ships, being an Irishman his talent for story telling was soul deep. On the other hand I found myself disconnected from the tales which nepaganism told. 

Much of the books and texts on modern witchcraft, neo paganism and Wicca are written with a superficial focus on Celtic mythology, I would hear the same stories over and over from an Wiccan perspective, the festivals adapted for Wiccan gods, the cycles devoid of the old, old spirits with the old, old stories and italways left me feeling empty.

“The Elder”- Faeries by Brian Froud

Some spirits are just old and bone deep, and it is in reclaiming their stories and tales that we are able to find ourselves. 

The Cailleach comes at Samhain and brings with her, snow and frost. While in my land snow is incredibly rare, the black frost is no less damaging to crops and plants, no less devastating to those who have no warmth and shelter. It is wise at this time, to leave out whiskey for the Cailleach, as she rides on the back of a wolf blighting the land with her wand. 

The Ancestral spirits follow us to distant lands, there stories changing with the different landscape and climate, but they are always riding with us in our bones and blood. We often forget them, but sometimes they will make you remember, visiting you in your dreams, whispering their secrets to you through the cold icy wind, scratching at the window with their crooked and bent fingers. 

Illustration by Arthur Rackham

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