Episode 32: Power Players of Faerie: Cailleach
The folklore of the Cailleach in a nutshell, how I reimagined her for my writing, and her name and title translated into Afrikaans.
Written and narrated by Ronel Janse van Vuuren.
Copyright 2022 Ronel Janse van Vuuren — All rights reserved.
Learn more about the Cailleach here.
Get the transcript here.
Music: Secrets by David Fesliyan (FesliyanStudios.com) and Dramatic Heartbeat by FesliyanStudios.com
You’re listening to the Faeries and Folklore podcast by Ronel.
I’m dark fantasy author Ronel Janse van Vuuren. With nearly a decade of digging around in dusty folklore books, researching creatures of imagination that ignited my curiosity, I’m here to share the folklore in a nutshell and how I reimagined it for my writing in an origin of the fae.
This is the Faeries and Folklore podcast.
Hi, I’m your host Ronel Janse van Vuuren. You can just call me Ronel. In today’s episode, we’re continuing our exploration of the fae realm.
This episode is brought to you by my book Once… Tales, Myths and Legends of Faerie available in eBook, audiobook and paperback. Learn more at ronelthemythmaker.com/my-books.
We’re continuing our exploration of the power players of Faerie.
Today’s Faery: Cailleach
Folklore in a Nutshell by Ronel
I’m enchanted by the old lore of the world – especially the Celtic goddesses.
The Cailleach is one of the most fascinating, powerful and terrifying of the Celtic goddesses. It is said that she is ancient.
According to legend, the Cailleach can transform herself from a terrifying hag in the winter half of the year and into a beautiful young maiden in the summer half. She is an elemental power of winter, the cold, the wind, and tempests. She comes into power as the days shorten and the sun courses low in the skies. She carries a wand of power with which she shapes the land and controls the weather.
In some accounts, she’s a withered hag with a vicious tempter who walks around with a wand or staff, freezing the earth and keeping all vegetation from growing, to the determent of man and beast. Once spring comes, she goes into a terrible rage and flings her staff or wand beneath a Hawthorne tree and disappears until the next winter.
In other tales, she disappears to an island where it is always summer, to drink form the Well of Youth on the last day of her reign as Queen of Winter. She returns to Scotland and falls into a magic sleep. Once she wakes up in bright sunshine, she is a beautiful young girl. But as the days go past, she grows older: By midsummer she’s a fully grown woman; by autumn, her brows are wrinkled and her beauty has faded. When winter returns, she’s an old withered hag and reigns again as the fierce Queen Beira.
The Cailleach is the one who decides who will live and who will perish in the storms of winter, and this is why she is also known as the Hag of Storms.
In yet another tale, she is the personification of winter and has been demoted from goddess to fairy. She is known to be solitary and is described as an old woman wearing blue or black tattered clothes with a crow sitting on her shoulder. In this tale, she carries a holly staff that kills instantaneously with the merest touch and she flies, dropping stones on people’s heads. On May Eve, she’ll throw her staff under a holly bush and shape-shift into a grey stone until the next winter when she’ll continue her task of blighting the earth and calling down snow storms.
In all tales, though, she’s seen tending to the land, forcing all to take time to rest, and taking care of wild creatures as her storms rage.
There’s clearly an underlying theme of yearning for youth and beauty, yet only having power as an old crone – and freedom from societal restrictions at this advanced age. I think, though, we can all agree that she’s super powerful and temperamental.
And now for my interpretation of the fae in an Origin of the Fae: Cailleach
AKA Cailleach Bheur AKA Beira, Queen of Winter
Sacred tree: holly and Gorse bush.
Storm Hags accompany her.
All turn to stone (standing stones) from Beltane to Samhain. According to myth – turning to stone only happens when they do not fulfil their duty to the land, the Dark Court and the Dark King.
The Cailleach has a staff that freezes the earth with each tap. She is also guardian of the animals during winter.
The Cailleach is aligned with the Unseelie (Dark Court) since the Rift for protection and power. Though the Storm Hags accompany her wherever she goes, it is more for their entertainment than her protection.
She holds the power of winter. She can appear as an old woman (thus her name) or at any stage of life; whatever suits her purpose.
She lives in Tir na nÓg – a realm all of her own filled with snow, various fae that either come willingly to her realm or accidentally or by force, a castle that sometimes appears as a cottage, and various animals from the mortal realm that find their way to her for comfort and safety. She sends the cold from her realm to Faerie and the mortal realm as needed.
As a little bonus, let’s look at the translation of Beira/Cailleach/Queen of Winter into Afrikaans: Beira/Cailleach/Koningin van Winter
I hope that you’ve enjoyed this episode of the faeries and folklore podcast and that you’ve learned something new about faeries.
Remember that you can get a transcript of this episode in the description. If you’re new to the podcast, why not go and grab your free copy of Unseen, the second book in the Faery Tales series, on my website ronelthemythmaker.com? Loads of folklore, magic and danger await! Take care!
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