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The Cailleach: Queen of Scottish Winter

22nd Dec 2022
The Cailleach: Queen of Scottish Winter

As the cold weather begins and snow powders Scotland's hills and cities, we know that the long nights and short days and other explainable forces are the reasons behind it. However, throughout Scotland's history, people would often look for other ways to explain changes in the weather - at times believing in more supernatural explanations.

One such folklore is the Cailleach, the Queen/Goddess of Scottish winter!

What & who was Cailleach?

In Gaelic mythology the Cailleach is a supernatural older woman and she was thought to be the one responsible for the darkder days and colder nights. Her appearance was often depicted as frightening, with features such as blue skin and one eye. She was a giant, who used her powers, strength, and tools to shape Scotland's landscape and call forth storms as she wished.

Places in Scotland linked to Cailleach

If you venture to the Scottish Isles there are even places related to the Cailleach. One is a small valley named Glen Cailleach, which contains the only surviving shrine to the goddess.

Another is Corryvreckan, a strait which runs between Jura and Scarba off the west coast of Scotland. It's home to one of the largest whirlpools in the world and its name translated means Cauldron of The Plaid, where the Cailleach was said to clean the large plaid that hung over her shoulders - causing the waves to crash and whirl.

Once clean, she would remove her cloak and drape it over the mountain tops to dry, before returning to her throne at Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in Scotland. There she'd wait, looking across the landscape and watching for the return of her sister, the Goddess of Summer. 

Traditions related to the Cailleach

One centuries old tradition is still upheld even today. Locals walk up to Glen Cailleach on Samhuinn (October 31st) to take the stones representing the goddess and her family out of their shrine, a small turf roofed hut named Tigh nam Bodach, in time for winter. They would then return on Beltane (May 1st) to place the stones back in the shrine before summer.

In times gone by, households that believed in the folklore would also carve the Cailleach's face, or a close representation, into a wooden log before tossing it into the fire to signal new beginnings and say goodbye to any dark troubles from the past. 

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