The Legend Of The Cailleach Bheur: The Story Behind The Witch Of Winter

She was the ruler of disease, death, wisdom, seasonal rites and weather magic in Scottish mythology. She was known as Cally Berry which means old gloomy woman in Irish Gaelic; she was also known as Cailleach Bheur (or Beare). Her name comes from the word cailleach, meaning hag or old woman. Sometimes she was called the Hag of Winter, representing the old woman who ruled over winter with her disfavor and coldness until spring returned bringing new life to all who lived on the land.

Who was the Hag of Winter?

In Scottish lore, she was often portrayed as a young beautiful woman with unruly red hair, porcelain skin and eyes made of jet. She was a very ancient person who could wander the earth, giving gifts of healing and cold weather to her most favored men. On the other hand, she could also curse men or the weather and cause it to be cold and windy for her enemies. She was often depicted as wearing a cloak of a very dark green with a hood as she sat near the rock of Nessie, the biggest, coldest, darkest, and farthest in the sea.

Her circle of friends included the Hunter of the Highlands, the Fairie Folk, Nessie and Morag, the Raven of Islay and Rum, Prince Crimond and the Shamans of Abernethy and the Men of the Isles, the witches of Edinburgh, St. Bride of Midlothian, and the Lothian druids.

The Hag of Winters legend

The Aos S, or people of old, believed that she had been in the hut of Cailleach Aonaich, a holy woman who died 500 years ago. In the folklore of the time, the two hags had a quarrel and the Hag of Winter killed Aonaich with one of her talons. The reason for the argument is unknown; according to folklore, it had something to do with the spiritual feminine and masculine energies, or Cailleach Aonaich would have been well able to handle the cold of winter, much like the feminine spirit in a woman.

Although people of old feared the Hag of Winter, they still considered her a part of the folkloric goddesses. The words for hag, in particular, used to be a part of the language of the Irish and Scottish, as Celtic tongues have close affinities with Irish and Scottish Gaelic.

What did she do?

To appease the Cailleach, one had to swear to God, to sing the most sacred songs of the Tuatha de Danaan or the druids or to sacrifice to the gods. Sometimes, people would try to appease her with beautiful rituals and pleas to her power. Others would simply gather the herbs and plant hermetically sealed them under the soles of their feet, making a dog-like growl. It was said that a maiden was more likely to be appeased with this strange practice.

The Witch of Winter : Pagan Legends and Symbols

The Cailleach was a deity associated with Winter and used as a guide for people venturing into her domain.

Why was she so feared?

To the Scots she was seen as a physical evil force who could take on the form of a beautiful woman, a bird, a stag or even an animal. She was believed to be so evil that she was kept away from village by placing stones on the roads or building a fortress called The Grange (pronounced HaGraw) in her honor.

Signs of Cailleach Bheur

The Scottish she-wolf

The hag can be seen in nature around every Scottish home, from a foggy morning mist to stormy clouds. Many cottages in Scotland also have a stone wall around the yard to keep out the hag or to hold something precious. One prominent symbol of the Cailleach is the hag, the dwarf a dark, diminutive figure in the form of a gnome or goblin. The hag is often depicted in iron shoes and rags.

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