As it’s now the season of the Witch, I thought I would visit the Cailleach, their history, who they are in my novels and what is the meaning they bring to our everyday life.
The Dictionary of Scots Language gives the following definition of Cailleach: Gael. Cailleach, an old woman, a nun; the last handful of standing corn in a farm; from caille, a veil, cogn. Lat. pallium (MacLennan).
So far, so commonplace, but traditionally an elderly woman, unmarried, living on her own and tending to the medicinal needs of the locality could have been thought of as a Witch, a woman with supernatural powers, in league with the devil and therefore the word Cailleach and Witch have become, to an extent, interchangeable, especially in Scots.
In William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the three Witches at the beginning of the play, Act One, Scene One, are thought to be Cailleach’s, Weather Witches, or Hags, able to bring forth not only thunder, lightning and rain, but also Macbeth’s downfall. These are powerful women, not to be messed with by mere men or mortals.
The Cailleach’s of the Thomas Angel Trilogy are blue oriental cats, with large ears, hypnotic almond eyes and blue furless skin. Their blue skin is covered in tattoos of swirls and patterns, some of which are incantations, etched into their skin, meaning these queens are the spells they create. The blue colour is a link to their Pictish history, wherein warriors would paint their skin blue and draw protective emblems on themselves before going into war. Bells hang from their ears and around their ankles and wrists, gently tinkling as they walk. The bells signify not only their arrival, the beginning of the ceremony or the coupling with the realm beyond, but a connection with the Goddess. The sounding of the bells creates harmony and energy which has a healing power within all beings. This is why little Bridie finds the sounds, combined with the mewling of the Cailleach so hypnotic when she attends the healing of Sophia, her Queen. The sound vibrates on a higher level, in the same way as purring does in cats, to help heal and sooth the injured Queen. The bell also signifies wisdom, a knowledge of the beyond, the ability to see beyond what is in this world, the Cailleach cannot only bring forth thunder and lightning and storms, but their inherent inner wisdom allows them to connect to the past, and the future to foretell of what will be.
The Cailleach’s in my novels are revered for the wise queens they are, and that is how it should be. Whether or not the word Cailleach means lone woman or Witch doesn’t matter. It is the wisdom that comes from standing apart from the throng and being able to see the world around them with clarity and insight that is their true superpower. My Cailleach’s know they have the power within them to achieve anything they want, and they use their powers wisely, and for the greater good.
Embrace the season of the Cailleach, and the power that dwells within all of us.
Reference: Online @ https://dsl.ac.uk/entry/snd/cailleach