Folklore

Storm Hags #folklore

If one just looks at the Cailleach, one knows that she is the ultimate Storm Hag. But then again, there are hags who follow her who also have minor powers over the weather…

Folklore

Wonder Tales from Scottish Myth and Legend By Donald Alexander Mackenzie [1917]

Beira, Queen of Winter

Dark Beira was the mother of all the gods and goddesses in Scotland. She was of great height and very old, and everyone feared her. When roused to anger she was as fierce as the biting north wind and harsh as the tempest-stricken sea. Each winter she reigned as Queen of the Four Red Divisions of the world, and none disputed her sway. But when the sweet spring season drew nigh, her subjects began to rebel against her and to long for the coming of the Summer King, Angus of the White Steed, and Bride, his beautiful queen, who were loved by all, for they were the bringers of plenty and of bright and happy days. It enraged Beira greatly to find her power passing away, and she tried her utmost to prolong the winter season by raising spring storms and sending blighting frost to kill early flowers and keep the grass from growing.

Beira lived for hundreds and hundreds of years. The reason she did not die of old age was because, at the beginning of every spring, she drank the magic waters of the Well of Youth which bubbles up in the Green Island of the West. This was a floating island where summer was the only season, and the trees were always bright with blossom and laden with fruit. It drifted about on the silver tides of the blue Atlantic, and sometimes appeared off the western coasts of Ireland and sometimes close to the Hebrides. Many bold mariners have steered their galleys up and down the ocean, searching for Green Island in vain. On a calm morning they might sail past its shores and yet never know it was near at hand, for oft-times it lay hidden in a twinkling mist. Men have caught glimpses of it from the shore, but while they gazed on its beauties with eyes of wonder, it vanished suddenly from sight by sinking beneath the waves like the setting sun. Beira, however, always knew where to find Green Island when the time came for her to visit it.

The waters of the Well of Youth are most potent when the days begin to grow longer, and most potent of all on the first of the lengthening days of spring. Beira always visited the island on the night before the first lengthening day–that is, on the last night of her reign as Queen of Winter. All alone in the darkness she sat beside the Well of Youth, waiting for the dawn. When the first faint beam of light appeared in the eastern sky, she drank the water as it bubbled fresh from a crevice in the rock. It was necessary that she should drink of this magic water before any bird visited the well and before any dog barked. If a bird drank first, or a dog barked ere she began to drink, dark old Beira would crumble into dust.

As soon as Beira tasted the magic water, in silence and alone, she began to grow young again. She left the island and, returning to Scotland, fell into a magic sleep. When, at length, she awoke, in bright sunshine, she rose up as a beautiful girl with long hair yellow as buds of broom, cheeks red as rowan berries, and blue eyes that sparkled like the summer sea in sunshine. Then she went to and fro through Scotland, clad in a robe of green and crowned with a chaplet of bright flowers of many hues. No fairer goddess was to be found in all the land, save Bride, the peerless Queen of Summer.

As each month went past, however, Beira aged quickly. She reached full womanhood in midsummer, and when autumn came on her brows wrinkled and her beauty began to fade. When the season of winter returned once again, she became an old and withered hag, and began to reign as the fierce Queen Beira.

Often on stormy nights in early winter she wandered about, singing this sorrowful song:–

O life that ebbs like the seal
  I am weary and old, I am weary and old–
Oh! how can I happy be
  All alone in the dark and the cold.

I’m the old Beira again,
  My mantle no longer is green,
I think of my beauty with pain
  And the days when another was queen.

My arms are withered and thin,
  My hair once golden is grey;
’Tis winter–my reign doth begin–
  Youth’s summer has faded away.

Youth’s summer and autumn have fled–
  I am weary and old, I am weary and old.
Every flower must fade and fall dead
  When the winds blow cold, when the winds blow cold.

The aged Beira was fearsome to look upon. She had only one eye, but the sight of it was keen and sharp as ice and as swift as the mackerel of the ocean. Her complexion was a dull, dark blue, and this is how she sang about it:–

Why is my face so dark, so dark?
  So dark, oho! so dark, ohee!
Out in all weathers I wander alone
  In the mire, in the cold, ah me!

Her teeth were red as rust, and her locks, which lay heavily on her shoulders, were white as an aspen covered with hoar frost. On her head she wore a spotted mutch. All her clothing was grey, and she was never seen without her great dun-coloured shawl, which was drawn closely round her shoulders.

It is told that in the days when the world was young Beira saw land where there is now water and water where there is now land.

Once a wizard spoke to her and said: “Tell me your age, O sharp old woman.”

Beira answered: “I have long ceased to count the years. But I shall tell you what I have seen. Yonder is the seal-haunted rock of Skerryvore in the midst of the sea. I remember when it was a mountain surrounded by fields. I saw the fields ploughed, and the barley that grew upon them was sharp and juicy. Yonder is a loch. I remember when it was a small round well. In these days I was a fair young girl, and now I am very old and frail and dark and miserable.”

It is told also that Beira let loose many rivers and formed many lochs, sometimes willingly and sometimes against her will, and that she also shaped many bens and glens. All the hills in Ross-shire are said to have been made by Beira.

There was once a well on Ben Cruachan, in Argyll, from which Beira drew water daily. Each morning at sunrise she lifted off the slab that covered it, and each evening at sunset she laid it above the well again. It happened that one evening she forgot to cover the well. Then the proper order of things was disturbed. As soon as the sun went down the water rose in great volume and streamed down the mountain side, roaring like a tempest-swollen sea. When day dawned, Beira found that the valley beneath was filled with water. It was in this way that Loch Awe came to be.

Beira had another well in Inverness-shire which had to be kept covered in like manner from sunset till sunrise. One of her maids, whose name was Nessa, had charge of the well. It happened that one evening the maid was late in going to the well to cover it. When she drew near she beheld the water flowing so fast from it that she turned away and. ran for her life. Beira watched her from the top of Ben Nevis, which was her mountain throne, and cried: “You have neglected your duty. Now you will run for ever and never leave water.”

The maiden was at once changed into a river, and the loch and the river which runs from it towards the sea were named after her. That is why the loch is called Loch Ness and the river the river Ness.

Once a year, when the night on which she was transformed comes round, Ness (Nessa) arises out of the river in her girl form, and sings a sad sweet song in the pale moonlight. It is said that her voice is clearer and more beautiful than that of any bird, and her music more melodious than the golden harps and silvern pipes of fairyland.

In the days when rivers broke loose and lochs were made, Beira set herself to build the mountains of Scotland. When at work she carried on her back a great creel filled with rocks and earth. Sometimes as she leapt from hill to hill her creel tilted sideways, and rocks and earth fell from it into lochs and formed islands. Many islands are spoken of as “spillings from the creel of the big old woman”.

Beira had eight hags who were her servants. They also carried creels, and one after the other they emptied out their creels until a mountain was piled up nigh to the clouds.

One of the reasons why Beira made the mountains was to use them as stepping stones; another was to provide houses for her giant sons. Many of her sons were very quarrelsome; they fought continually one against another. To punish those of them who disobeyed her, Beira shut the offenders up in mountain houses, and from these they could not escape without her permission. But this did not keep them from fighting. Every morning they climbed to the tops of their mountain houses and threw great boulders at one another. That is why so many big grey boulders now lie on steep slopes and are scattered through the valleys. Other giant sons of Beira dwelt in deep caves. Some were horned like deer, and others had many heads. So strong were they that they could pick up cattle and, throwing them over their shoulders, carry them away to roast them for their meals. Each giant son of Beira was called a Fooar.

It was Beira who built Ben Wyvis. She found it a hard task, for she had to do all the work alone, her hag servants being busy elsewhere. One day, when she had grown very weary, she stumbled and upset her creel. All the rocks and earth it contained fell out in a heap, and formed the mountain which is called Little Wyvis.

The only tool that Beira used was a magic hammer. When she struck it lightly on the ground the soil became as hard as iron; when she struck it heavily on the ground a valley was formed. After she had built up a mountain, she gave it its special form by splintering the rocks with her hammer. If she had made all the hills of the same shape, she would not have been able to recognize one from another.

After the mountains were all formed, Beira took great delight in wandering between them and over them. She was always followed by wild animals. The foxes barked with delight when they beheld her, wolves howled to greet her, and eagles shrieked with joy in mid-air. Beira had great herds and flocks to which she gave her protection-nimble-footed deer, high-horned cattle, shaggy grey goats, black swine, and sheep that had snow-white fleeces. She charmed her deer against the huntsmen, and when she visited a deer forest she helped them to escape from the hunters. During early winter she milked the hinds on the tops of mountains, but when the winds rose so high that the froth was blown from the milking pails, she drove the hinds down to the valleys. The froth was frozen on the crests of high hills, and lay there snow-white and beautiful. When the winter torrents began to pour down the mountain sides, leaping from ledge to ledge, the people said: “Beira is milking her shaggy goats, and streams of milk are pouring down over high rocks.”

Beira washed her great shawl in the sea, for there was no lake big enough for the purpose. The part she chose for her washing is the strait between the western islands of Jura and Scarba. Beira’s “washing-pot” is the whirlpool, there called Corry-vreckan. It was so named because the son of a Scottish king, named Breckan, was drowned in it, his boat having been upset by the waves raised by Beira.

Three days before the Queen of Winter began her work her hag servants made ready the water for her, and the Corry could then be heard snorting and fuming for twenty miles around. On the fourth day Beira threw her shawl into the whirlpool, and tramped it with her feet until the edge of the Corry overflowed with foam. When she had finished her washing she laid her shawl on the mountains to dry, and as soon as she lifted it up, all the mountains of Scotland were white with snow to signify that the great Queen had begun her reign.

Now, the meaning of this story is that Beira is the spirit of winter. She grows older and fiercer as the weeks go past, until at length her strength is spent. Then she renews her youth, so that she may live through the summer and autumn and begin to reign once again. The ancient people of Scotland saw that during early winter torrents poured down from the hills, and in this Beira fable they expressed their belief that the torrents were let loose by the Winter Queen, and that the lochs were, at the beginning, formed by the torrents that sprang from magic wells. They saw great boulders lying on hillsides and in valleys, and accounted for their presence in these places by telling how they were flung from mountain tops by the giant sons of Beira.

In the next chapter the story will be told of the coming of Angus and Bride, the King and Queen of Summer and Plenty, and of the stormy conflicts waged during the closing weeks of winter and the early weeks of spring between Beira and Angus-the-Ever-Young, who comes from the fabled Green Isle of the West-the land of eternal summer and perpetual youth.

Encyclopedia of Demons in World Religions and Cultures by Theresa Bane

CailleachCOYCALL

Variations: Beira, Queen of Winter; Bheur Cailleach; the Black Queen; Cailleach nan Cruachan; Cailliach, the Goddess of Smallpox; Callech the Witch of Ben Cruachan

From Gaelic demonology comes the demon of the late spring wind Cailleach (“old wife” or “veiled one”). An AERIAL DEVIL who commands gale storms and the winds, she has been described as looking like a blue-faced hag with boar tusks, bear teeth, and only one eye. Not necessarily an evil being, Cailleach kills all that which is no longer needed. With her power at its peak in the springtime, she raises windstorms in an attempt to prevent summer from arriving. Cailleach has the ability to see beyond the duality of things. The day before May Day she leaves her staff under a holly tree and returns to her home in the Scottish Highlands, where she then turns herself into stone until Halloween. Cailleach created mountains and Loch Awe.

*Read more in the book.

Encyclopedia of Beasts and Monsters in Myth, Legend and Folklore Theresa Bane

Shikome

Variations: Gogome, Gogo-Me, Hisame, Hisa-Me, Shikome (“terrible woman”), Shiko-Me, Yomo-tsu-shiko-me (“ugly female of the world of the dead”), Yomotsu-Shiko-Me, Yomotsu-Shikome

A species of barbaric and sadistic NATURE SPIRIT (storm Hag) from Japanese folklore, the savage shikome (“terrible woman”) are described as having bloodshot eyes and sharp, jagged teeth. Bands of these vile creatures roam the mountains, attacking unwary travelers. Some accounts of the shikome claim they are female devils who reside in Yomi, the Underworld, and the predecessors of the ONI. When Izanami was driven out of Yomi with his entourage of eight attendants and fifteen hundred assistant devils, it was done by a mob of shikome.

*Read more in the book.

Element Encyclopedia of Fairies by Lucy Cooper

Caillagh ny Groamagh

Manx weather spirit. Caillagh ny Groamagh means “old woman of gloominess”. On St. Bride’s Day, February 1st, the Manx Caillagh ny Groamagh appears as a giant bird carrying sticks in her beak. If it’s dry, she comes out to collect sticks to keep her warm through the summer. If it’s wet, she stays in and it’s in her interest to make the summer warm and dry. Therefore, a dry St. Bride’s Day portends a wet summer to come, while a wet St. Bride’s Day is a sign of a fine summer ahead.

*Read more in the book.

Encyclopedia of Fairies in World Folklore and Mythology by Theresa Bane

Storm Hag

On the bottom of Lake Erie near Presque Isle Peninsula, United States of America lives a water fairy by the name of Storm Hag. Described as being hideously ugly she has pale green skin, poisonous talon tipped fingertips, shark-like teeth, and yellow cat-like eyes. Custom says before she attacks, the Storm Hag will sing a song few have lived to tell. Traditionally her goes “Come into the water, love, Dance beneath the waves, Where dwell the bones of sailor lads Inside my saffron caves.” Once the song has ended she calls up a violent storm and riding the waves reaches up onto the ship and snatches up the crew, one by one with her long and strong arms.

Caillagh ny Groamagh

In Manx lore, Caillagh ny Groamagh (“hag of the sulks”) was an Irish witch who was thrown into the sea and floated over and landed on the Isle of Man. She is associated with the weather. It is believed at the beginning of spring she intends to leave her house to collect twigs for her woodpile. If the weather is unpleasant and keeps her indoors she burns through her stores and winter ends early. If the weather is pleasant and she is able to collect what she needs winter will linger on.

Cailleac Bhuer

Cailleac Bheur is a personification of winter and likely a diminished goddess who was reduced to fairy status. A nocturnal, solitary fairy, she described as looking like an old woman wearing black or blue and white tattered clothes. Some descriptions of her have a crow sitting on her left shoulder. The holly staff she carries has the ability to kill a person with a single touch. As she flies over the Scottish Highlands, she drops stones on people as she passes overhead.

On May Eve Cailleac Bheur will throw her staff under a holly bush and shape-shifted into a grey stone, then on each All Hallows Eve she would be reborn and set out blighting the earth, calling down the snow.

Cailleach Bera

Cailleach Bera (“Hag of Bera”) of Irish fairy lore is a gigantic hag of supernatural cunning and strength who is credited as being a great mountain builder.

Snow Queen

In the folklore from Denmark the Snow Queen is the queen of fairies; she is described as being a dazzling beautiful as ice crystals. The Snow Queen lives in the Ice Realm and travels down from the arctic blizzards. She incites men to follow her but to love her means instant death.

*Read more in the book.

Further Reading:

Folklore in a Nutshell by Ronel

There are two distinct storm hags in folklore: The Celtic Cailleach and the Storm Hag of Lake Erie.

Let’s first look at the Storm Hag of Lake Erie. This American faery is known to lurk below the surface of Lake Erie near Presque Isle. Much like a river hag, she’s fond of wrapping her long green arms around the unwary and drag them beneath the water. Much like a sea witch, she calls up storms over the water. Sometimes she attacks during the storm, but other times she waits until the calm after the storm to appear with whipping winds and crashing lightning to drag the ship and crew beneath the water.

Then there’s the Cailleach. We already know that she is the terrifying personification of winter and that her powers are more destructive as the season comes to a close. The people of Mullet, Ireland, still speak of an evening in January 1839 when they could see this Storm Hag rising from the sea, her hands of blue and green fire reaching up as the wind blew in storm clouds and the sea raged around her before she disappeared in the gloom. The people knew what this meant: the fishermen at sea weren’t coming home. Only a handful of boats that went out that morning returned; the rest were lost in the storm. Even the houses were levelled and their roofs blown away. Thus is the fury of the Celtic Storm Hag.

I have found a third storm hag in Japanese folklore called the Shikome. It roughly translates to “terrible woman”.  This faery is described as having sharp, jagged teeth and bloodshot eyes. It is said to roam the mountains, attaching humans and supernatural creatures alike. A savage creature, it is feared by all.

Looks like storm hags are powerful, scary and hungry for murder.

Lake Erie Storm Hag. Image credit.

Storm Hags in Modern Culture

Okay, this book isn’t technically about storm hags, but I think it’s close enough.

The witches are gathering…

In 1771, Robert Burns, future national poet and folk hero of Scotland, has big problems.

12-year-old Rab spends all of his time doing backbreaking work on his family’s farm instead of attending school, but when he finds a hag stone in one of the fields, everything changes.

Looking through its circular hole, he sees witches gathering in a coming storm, and they’ve set their sights on his family. Can Rab save his sisters from the clutches of the witches’ coven before their Halloween ceremony in the old kirk?

Filled with mystery and magic, Hag Storm is a spooky, historical adventure with a supernatural twist, based on the life of Robert Burns and one of his most famous and best-loved poems, Tam O’Shanter.

Check it out on Goodreads.

And we can’t have a discussion about storms and those who create it without looking at the Snow Queen — or rather, Disney’s successful version of it.

Throughout most of her young life, Elsa feared that her powers were monstrous. Therefore, she isolated herself from the world as a means of protecting her family and kingdom. Elsa’s anxieties would eventually trigger a curse that plunged Arendelle into an eternal winter.

Frozen Wiki about Elsa.

Storm Hags in My Writing

I first got the idea for what Storm Hags should look like when I saw Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters years ago.

Witches from Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters. Image credit.
Evil Grand Witch from Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters. Image credit.

Origin of the Fae: Storm Hags
They are an ugly veined blue. They are truly hags.
They cause storms wherever they go. Their cackling can be heard in the wind.
They follow the Cailleach around because they are drawn to her strength and cold. They obey her every command – as long as it is in line with the wishes of the Unseelie King.

Translation of Storm Hag to Afrikaans: Storm Wyf.

Where did you hear about storm hags for the first time? What do you think of them? Check out my Pinterest board dedicated to storm hags.

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2 thoughts on “Storm Hags #folklore”

  1. Thanks for sharing these wonderful myths and legends. I did some research into storm hags for one of my short stories and fell down a rabbit hole of information. The stories are so fascinating. I must write some more about these characters one day.

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