Cailleach

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In Irish and Scottish mythology, the Cailleach (Irish pronunciation: [ˈkalʲəx], Irish plural cailleacha [ˈkalʲəxə], Scottish Gaelic plural cailleachan /kaʎəxən/), also known as the Cailleach Bheur, is a divine hag, a creatrix, and possibly an ancestral deity or deified ancestor. The word simply means 'old woman' in modern Scottish Gaelic,[2] and has been applied to numerous mythological figures in Scotland, Ireland and the Isle of Man.[3]

Contents

Legends

In Scotland, where she is also known as Beira, Queen of Winter, she is credited with making numerous mountains and large hills, which are said to have been formed when she was striding across the land and accidentally dropped rocks from her apron. In other cases she is said to have built the mountains intentionally, to serve as her stepping stones. She carries a hammer for shaping the hills and valleys, and is said to be the mother of all the goddesses and gods.[4]

The Cailleach evinces many traits fitting for the personified Winter: she herds deer, she fights Spring, and her staff freezes the ground.[5]

In partnership with the goddess Brìghde, the Cailleach is seen as a seasonal deity or spirit, ruling the winter months between Samhainn (November 1) and Bealltainn (May 1), while Brìghde rules the summer months between Bealltainn and Samhainn.[6] Some interpretations have the Cailleach and Brìghde as two faces of the same goddess,[6] while others describe the Cailleach as turning to stone on Bealltainn and reverting back to humanoid form on Samhainn in time to rule over the winter months. Depending on local climate, the transfer of power between the winter goddess and the summer goddess is celebrated any time between Là Fhèill Brìghde (February 1) at the earliest, Latha na Cailliche (March 25), or Bealltainn (May 1) at the latest, and the local festivals marking the arrival of the first signs of spring may be named after either the Cailleach or Brìghde.[6]

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