The Cailleach – Celtic Veiled Great Mother

The Cailleach – Celtic Veiled Great Mother

“Celtic traditions contained a rich lode of myths about a divine Old Woman. In Gaelic (both Irish and Scottish) she is called the Cailleach (from caille, mantle or veil, thus veiled one.) The Q-Celtic word cailleach is related to the Latin pallium, which survived as the name for a priestly stole… a deity who is both transcendent and immanent…

Veiled Goddess of Lybia

Veiled Goddess of Lybia

…The Cailleach sometimes assumes the shape of gulls, eagles, herons, and cormorants. [MacKenzie] She rambles the hills followed by troops of deer and wild pigs, and leaps from hilltop to hilltop. She created mountains and lakes, she built the archaic cairns and megaliths. Rees calls her “the most tremendous figure in Gaelic myth today…

…As “daughter of the little sun,” the Cailleach is an elemental power of winter, the cold, wind, and tempests. She comes into power as the days shorten and the sun courses low in the skies. She carries a slachdan (wand of power) with which she shapes the land and controls the weather. In the Skye folk-tale “Finlay the Changeling” she strikes the ground with it, making the earth harden with frost. Wherever the Cailleach throws her slachdan nothing grows. [MacKenzie, 140-1]

…The last spurt of harsh winter weather is called A’ Chailleach. Then comes Latha na Caillich, which in the old calendar fell on March 25, the equinox, and this is when the hag was “overthrown”—til the next equinox. [That used to be new years day, but now is called Lady Day. Mackenzie, 143] In early spring the Cailleach hurls her slachdan into the root of the holly and gorse, plants symbolic of winter and sacred to her. During the “big sun”—the light half of the year—she metamorphoses into a gray boulder that exudes moisture…

Veiled Statue, Memphis and Horn Lake.
The blue-skinned Caillech Bheur of the Highlands is released from her stone state between Samhain and Beltane’s Eve.

Stone Caillech Bhear Veiled Stone Statue Memphis and Horn lake

…Her face was blue-black of the lustre of coal
And her bone-tufted tooth was like red rust.
In her head was one pool-like eye,
Swifter than a star in a winter sky. [MacKenzie, ScFL2, 159]…

…Another blue-faced crone was Black Annis, who lived in a cave in Leicestershire. ”

“…It is said that on February 1st, if it is sunny and bright, the winter will be longer and that She is gathering firewood to keep herself warm for the prolonged winter.”

“Known as the ‘Cailleach’ (pron. kal-yack), her mythology portrayed her as an ancient forebear of humanity – perhaps so old that her body, her existence, her very essence appears as one with the landscape, which she is credited with creating. On account of her age she is ascribed great knowledge of things past, but also in many traditions claims knowledge of what will come to pass in the future. She is a mistress of herds, an industrious worker, but somewhat reclusive and prone to be found in wild, out-of-the-way places – particularly mountain-tops. She clearly relies on no male partner, although in some tales she is associated with one – albeit in a somehow estranged manner. Students of ancient European paganism might well recognise in her the image of whom the Romans referred to as Magna Mater – the Great Goddess…”

An Cailleach by Helen O’Sullivan
For sale at

An Cailleach by Helen O'Sullivan