The Cailleach is the stone mother, the spirit of winter, the queen of the cave and the keeper of the fire. This Wise Woman represents the completion of the Wheel of Time. She is wholeness. The Cailleach has immense wisdom to share because she has seen it all. Journey into her sacred cave for a time of renewal.
Far from being a simple granny, she is fierce with no patience for fools. Her beauty is found in her legacy, the very earth itself. We are all her children. She comes as The Cailleach, the Great Wise Woman, who created the mountains and brings the winter. She is called carline, crone and hag. We see her in the faces of our goddesses when they come to us in their ancient forms. Hail to The Cailleach in all her many forms. She of 1,000 names. She who was she before she had a name.
The Cailleach’s Message
In our time, we resist the harsh barrenness and storms of winter. We rage against the darkness of these months, unnaturally lighting up the world. Forgetting The Cailleach, we have created on the global scale the same false positivity that we can fall into in our personal lives. The Cailleach calls us to her cave so that we can return to our truth.
Within our lives, avoiding the dark places within us inevitably leads to unsustainability as well as we fall deeper into the energy of the shadow self. It is a curious thing that the only way we can heal our shadow is by not avoiding her, but by embracement. The dance of shadow and soul plays out not always under the burning light. We need the darkness for our wholeness. Call out to The Cailleach to teach you how to be a better dancer, a creator of balance and wholeness.
Renewal: The Nourishing Darkness
As she has always sustained us, we can now nourish her by bringing her presence back into our lives. As we answer her appeals, her energy will grow leading to the correction within us that denies the necessity of darkness and in the larger world. Avoiding her winter darkness has gotten us in a lot of trouble. Isn’t it time to enter her cave?
The cave is the refuge from the harshness of reality, but only the brave will enter. They will be rewarded with nourishment and wisdom. How often do we choose to remain in a storm, ignoring comfort offered to us? There is a time for rest.
Entering The Cailleach’s Cave
While The Cailleach is as complex and diverse as they come, this ritual calls out to her to bring us nourishment and respite. Her home is deep in the heart of her mountains, where she restores her strength. Her cave offers a break from the storms of life and the harsh barrenness of the winter landscape. In many ways, winter comes for us as individuals and as society. While the only way to survive these storms is through them, there is a time for replenishment required. Enter into her cave to share your stories and to hear her wisdom. The sacred shared nourishment of connecting through the power of narrative awaits.
The Wise Woman Healer
Although the word “cailleach” simply means “old woman,” this term is generally used today to signify a witch-mother goddess who’s evolved through the tales told of her, often through the myths of particularly Ireland and Scotland. She heals through the wisdom shared in her stories. Her cauldron brings rebirth. She welcomes the sincere into her presence.
The Ancient Goddess
There are many tales regarding The Cailleach as the eternal wise woman healer. Sometimes denigrated as a mean-spirited hag, The Cailleach of various locations, such as the Cailleach Béara (Cally Berra), were Goddesses of Winter to ancient Celts.
The importance of place is central to the tales of The Cailleach, where she is historically often said to be based in a specific location, such as Béara. That she is linked to places signifies how deeply she is connected to the land and its people. She is of the earth itself. This connection of place also speaks to her message of reconnecting to the land, of treating the earth well so that we can be nourished.
The Cailleach Béara is the ancestress of many peoples in Ireland. To them, she is the sovereign queen who remembers the time before time, and the early eons when earth was water. Also representing the time before the freedom of the Irish was lost.
The Veiled One
In legends dating from the Christian period, she is sometimes portrayed as a nun, perhaps linked to the association of her name with veiling. She is The Veiled One, wrapped in shawls with her head covered in a scarf.
The Goddess of Winter and Storms
On The Isle of Man, she is called Caillagh ny Goamagh (Grumpy Old Woman) and Caillagh ny Gueshag (Old Woman of the Spells), where she is a spirit of winter and storms. The Cailleach Uragaig, of the Isle of Colonsay in Scotland, prevents a young woman from being with her beloved. In a similar story, the Cailleach imprisons the beautiful young Goddess Bride (Brigid) inside of a mountain over the winter. At Bride’s release, spring comes to the world.
The theme of The Cailleach holding spring captive is found in many of her stories. She arrives at Samhain, dismissing the youthful exuberance of Bride (say “Breegh”). The Gracious Old Lady of Scotland (The Cailleach Bheur) is a blue-faced crone in winter but becomes youthful in the spring.
Goddess of the Sea and Stones
The Cailleach, like many goddesses of winter, is strongly associated with not only storms, but the sea, such as the Cailleach Na Mara (Of The Sea).
The Cailleach an Mhuilinn (Of The Mill) appears in many myths as well. She is both helper and foe, a seer and shapeshifter. To the ancients who revered her, the mill symbolized the power of creation through the wheel which spun the water to create the necessary friction. The association with the mill illustrates her connection to ponds and lakes. The grist stone stands in for the Wheel of Time. The Cailleach as the Maker of Mountains and her connection to millstones demonstrates her primal nature. She existed before time and created the stones and the earth itself.
Cailleach’s Cave Ritual of Renewal
Like stone, The Cailleach endures. She awaits deep within her cave for you to trust in yourself enough to enter that dark womb. Confidence is required to turn away from the harshness of the surface world. To find comfort in darkness is for the courageous.
This ritual is suited to any winter’s night. Best done in darkness, as a sign of respect for The Cailleach who is drained by our electricity.
This ritual is visionary rather than performative, so there is little required. It is a spiritual journey into The Cave of The Cailleach.
A white candle is helpful for entering the sacred space.
To create the energy of rest and replenishment, this journey can be completed in the bath (infused with lavender, for example) or while cosily wrapped up in blankets (don’t forget the heat bags to stimulate the energy of warmth).
However, here are some recommendations for deepening the power of the ritual.
Committing The Call To The Cailleach to memory is recommended so you can immerse yourself in the journey. Change it up so it feels right to you, and don’t fret about it being 100% correct.
Purification: Saining With The Spirit of WinterPrepare your space through purification if necessary. Recommended method is asperging (saining) with snow or storm water using a sprig of juniper, pine or spruce to flick the water about while saying something like, “I cleanse this space with the energy of winter, freezing out all harms, and protecting all within through her icy shield.”
Altar: Sacred Objects Of The Cailleach
Create a Winter’s Journey to the Cailleach altar with stones, branches (blackthorn, previously mentioned trees) and seasonal animal spirits. The Cailleach takes care of the animals in winter. Owls and deer are particularly attuned to her energy, as are creatures of the cave (mice, bats, spiders). Altars need not take up a lot of space. A talisman created on a bulletin board will work just as well. Even better if you create it yourself, connecting to the energy of The Cailleach and the ritual.
Offerings: Your Trust and Tales
The Cailleach is lonely. We have ignored her too long with our addiction to the light, and even to staying in the storm. All she wants is for you to trust yourself, and her, enough to enter into her cave and share your stories. In kind, she will share her wisdom.
Contemplate what stories you wish to share with her. What speaks of your wisdom? Share your tales of when you trusted yourself, listened to your intuition or deeply connected to the natural world. She values these above all else.
If you are comfortable using trance techniques to help you go deeper into the journey, feel free to do so. This depends so much on where you are at with your own journey. This blend can be used as an incense, heated in oil or even consumed. Lavender essential oil, or in a simple infusion in boiled water will work fine as well. Blend well, beginning by pulverizing the benzoin if required, the add the other three.
My Crossing The Veil Tea is perfect for this ritual. It can be found here.
Anoint yourself to activate your spirit world walker within using the Deathwalking Oil, the directions are available here.
When you are ready in your warm womb of water or blankets, call out to The Cailleach. If it is too tricky to light your candle (or turn it on if using electric), then do so before you get comfy.
I’ve provided the appeal below for you to use as you feel led. Rest in her presence, tell her stories and allow her to share her wisdom. As she is related to ancestors, she may permit one to come forward to you. In addition, you may experience yourself as an ancestor, deep in the future.
Close your eyes. Don’t worry about reading The Call exactly, allow your heart to speak out to her. You can listen to this amazing chant that inspired me greatly in writing the petition below. Take your time in her presence. Allow your imagination to expand, filling the vision of the cave out in great detail. Scrying in her fire. Don’t jump into that cauldron for this ritual; you are here for restoration, not rebirth.
When you are preparing to leave, express your gratitude for allowing you to enter her cave and for her presence. Slowly ease yourself back into normal consciousness by turning your attention to your physical being; wiggle your toes, gently shake your legs, take a few deep breaths, shrug your shoulders, smile widely, and then open your eyes. Remain in this place so you can process your experience.
Call To The Cailleach
I call to you.
I enter your Sacred Cave with courage and trust.
Casting aside my worries,
Laying them down like the stones they are.
I come seeking
She who is Bringer of Winter,
And Keeper of the Fire.
I seek renewal in your Sacred Cave,
Which shelters me from the storms of winter,
I light this candle to call you forth, Wise Woman.
I come to be nourished and blessed by your presence.
I welcome you, Stone Mother.
I embrace you, Wise Woman,
With gratitude and openness.
For blessing me with your presence,
Hear my stories,
And grant me your wisdom.
Rituals of The Sacred Cave
This ritual is an addition to The Rituals of The Sacred Cave: Release, Retrieval and Rebirth in the Womb of the Goddess. Sometimes we need a rest from all that spiritual growth. If you’re up for the intense process of these three rituals, you can access this mini-class, including an e-book and audio guide here.
In Open Circle Coven, we are celebrating The Longest Night with our version of this ritual. A few times a year, I share rituals here on the blog for everyone to do as part of Open Circle’s commitment to service. We go much deeper in our exclusive platform that’s an app for your device. To participate in the live gathering, and to access the expanded version of this article that includes an audio class with the guided journey, join us. Or download the Mighty Networks app and then search for Open Circle.
Notes and Resources
There are many different English translations of the many Cailleach, so there can be spelling variations. This also applies to her name: Cally, Cailleach, Callach, etc.
As for pronunciation, there are also many ways to call her: Cal (like in California) EEE Ack is the easiest for my tongue to say. Hear the Irish and Scottish ways to say her name here.
In writing the Call to The Cailleach, I was greatly inspired by The Cailleach Chant sung by Triple Spiral of Dún na Sidhe and written by Gina Martin. Listen to it here.
Two of my Patheos colleagues have written extensively about The Cailleach:
An Apron Full of Rocks: The Cailleach (An Introduction) by Sorita d’Este will inevitably lead you to purchase her fascinating book (co-authored with David Rankine).
“She is ancient…” by Rachel Patterson contains an excerpt from her book on The Cailleach.
This is a peculiar and profound short film demonstrating the message of The Cailleach in our modern times. Just watch it all the way through. A bunch of us in the coven have been watching it repeatedly as we prepare for our journey to meet her. There is magic in this film.