An Chailleach – The Witch

Have you heard about the mysterious character known as ‘An Chailleach’? Well, from the earliest times, An Chailleach has been venerated as a Mother Goddess of Ireland. She is associated with the creation of the landscape, the weather, the winds and the winter months. A complex character, neither fully good nor evil, An Chailleach is said to safeguard animals during the dark winter months, such as deer, and to have a particular affinity for black cats, wild cattle and goats.

‘Cailleach’, meaning ‘old woman’ or ‘hag’, comes from the Old Irish word ‘caillech‘, meaning ‘veiled one’. This word is the root of many other Irish words used to describe women, like ‘cailín’, meaning ‘girl’.

An Chailleach is the archetype of the old wise woman, Grandmother to all and queen of the dark half of the year. Her veil extends over the land in winter, gently encouraging all beings whose time has come to make their final crossing in the spirit world, but also carrying the promise of eternal rebirth with the turning of the Sun’s wheel. Her name appears in various placenames throughout Ireland, reflecting the scope of her ancestral importance, including special sacred sites such as Sliabh na Calliagh, the hill of the veiled one, now referred to as Loughcrew Hills.

An Chailleach is a reminder of the wilder aspects of Nature that we often shy away from or have been taught to fear. Nonetheless, these aspects are as important for the turning of the cycles as everything else in life that we hold dear.

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