I have a personal relationship with my Gods. Sometimes they surprise me in my dreams. Sometimes they give me “permission” to draw and paint their portraits. This time one of them wanted me to paint Her as a self-portrait of myself. I was mystified and challenged by this. Would I get it right? Dare I do this? I let my fears go and invited my passions to take over.
This is The Cailleach…
Who is She? She’s known by many names: Cailleach Bheur or Carlin in Scotland; Cally Berry in northern Ireland; Cailleach ny Groamch on the Isle of Man; Black Annis in Britian; the Hag of Beare or Digne in Ireland. Unlike how I have depicted her in my painting, she has been described as having one eye in the middle of a blue-black face, red teeth, and matted white hair. She wore grey clothing, a kerchief, and a faded plaid shawl.
In my vision, I saw her reflected back at me in my bathroom mirror. A ghostly image of myself that is not myself — the goddess looking at me with my own eyes — but just for a second. I drew the face with eyes of snow, the skin as translucent and slightly blue like ice, her breast and cheeks like hills covered by snow, and her forehead creased like jagged rocks and boulders. She would be dressed in dark grey, the color of old snow melting into mud. Her hair like the whirling drifts of snow that make snake-like patterns in the air and over the ground when the wind blows the coldest.
I can’t describe Her better than how Sorita d’Este does in her book Visions of the Cailleach. In fact, I did not know much about the Cailleach (pronounced COY-lck or CALL-y’ach but I sometimes call her COY LUCK) until a year ago when I just heard her name spoken, read a very brief description of her as a crone goddess, and in my haste to come up with a simple Winter Solstice rite that would not take all night to perform, I evoked her.
She taught me a very powerful lesson: be careful what Goddess you decide to summon because she may end up really liking you and will decide to stick around for a long while! Also, do your research, please. Calling upon specific Gods come with consequences and will change your life in ways you may not expect. How could I forget that?
The simple Winter Solstice rite included a performance where I dressed up in a black veil, called myself the Cailleach, and proclaimed I was the personification of winter. A student of mine’s daughter played the part of the snow maiden, a personification of the new year. I took off my veil and gave it to her as a representation of the passing of the old year, also symbolic of the crone giving her power over to the maiden. Two special things happened right after this: I stopped menstruating for three months and my student’s daughter started her menses. Last year began with me going through all sorts of weird changes, possibly signs of early menopause (I had only just turned 40) including erratic mood swings, full body sweats, heat flashes, the works. That’s when I began to study more about the Cailleach, as well as more about what to expect in the years before menopause. Cailleach began to speak to me as I endured the emotional and physical eruptions occurring within me, warning me of the next stage of life to come. Was I ready? Well, she’d make me ready.
As I learned to honor Her properly, and as I learned to relax into my age, I began to really appreciate and recognize the beauty of becoming older. Becoming older does not mean I will become weaker or uglier. I am not really going to “dry up” and lose all of my desire. I told the Cailleach, “Okay, I understand it now, it is going to be great becoming a sexy old woman!” And then she showed me another vision of Herself…
This was a vision of the Cailleach I did not expect to see. I have read stories of how she can renew her youth, where she is not always so old, or cold. She is known to have many handsome lovers whom she often out-lives. I saw her as having very fine white hair, her skin a warm milk-white, and her face a little plump, showing a fertile fullness. She seems to be like a happy peasant girl ready for a roll-in-the-hay, but her eyes are other-worldly, her body glowing with an aura of enchantment. I think she seems more frightening in this youthful aspect than as her older self.
In one brief legend I read in The New Book of Goddesses & Heroines by Patricia Monaghan, one in which I will retell here in my own words, she hires young men to help her repair her house. She promises them that, if they can keep up with her, she will pay them ten-fold after a period of six months. The men look at her. They see she is this old, bent, wild-haired, feeble-seeming lady. They estimate that it wouldn’t take long for her to lose her breath or hurt her back. They take her offer and celebrate at the pub because they think they’ve got it made. Oh, but they got it all wrong. The little old lady is fast and clever and strong. Soon the men get so caught up in their work they do not notice that this old woman is no longer so old. She has grown young as they grow tired. By the time some of them see this beautiful younger woman with the softest hair and smoothest milky skin, a few have fallen in love with her. She takes them as lovers, but they cannot keep up with her in love-making and soon expire. One by one, each man succumbs to her charms, but not before her house is completely repaired. By summer, she has nothing to worry about, and by winter she’ll have only need to gather wood for her fire.
So what young Cailleach says to me is I need is a few good men to rejuvenate me, eh? *laughs*
Finding this goddess has been a treat. I have learned so much more about her now. I will reveal more gods with my paint brush. Perhaps they don’t just speak to me. Perhaps they will have something to say to you, too.
What did the Cailleach say to you when you saw her in my portraits?