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What do you know about the blue-faced hag of Imbolc? Her name is The Cailleach, and she is so old, her essence is found in stories that predate most Goddess lore. In fact, this fearsome crone is said to have given birth to all other deities, making her the original All-Mother.
Throughout Ireland, Scotland and England, localized legend tells of how this elemental Goddess shaped the land and controls the weather. In Ireland, at the Cliffs of Moher, for example, locals will tell the tale of how the Cailleach was in amorous pursuit of a virile young man when her speed carried her over the ledge of the cliffs and into the sea. Her face can now be seen in the southernmost cliff, known as Hag's Head.
Another popular tale describes the Cailleach as the gruesome old woman who ventures out to collect fire wood to keep warm throughout the rest of the winter. If on February 1 the sun is shining, you better watch out because that means she has changed the weather to suit her work. If, however, it is stormy on this day, rejoice because it means she is sleeping and spring is on its way!
Interestingly, Ground Hog Day has its roots in the Cailleach legend. Every February 2, Punxatawny Phil (the new Cailleach?) rises from hibernation to see if "he" can catch his shadow. If yes, then we are warned to brace for six more weeks of winter. If no, spring is only six weeks away!
But like most Goddess stories that have been completely altered or reduced to nothing more than a reader's digest version of a tale, the wisdom of the Cailleach risks being lost in translation. Like most hag goddesses, she was demonized because the patriarchy fears the shamanic potential of the wise old crone.
I believe that like all good folk legends, the story of the Cailleach is an interesting metaphor regarding the dangerously taboo topics. In this case, sexual passion, the mysterious forces stirring within to create change without, our creative life force energy and end-of-life journeys. For a system that preached eternal life with an All-Father (to the exclusion of the Divine Feminine) the Cailleach was a character who didn't fit into the plot line of the new patriarchal story. For in the tale of the Cailleach is encoded ancient wisdom instructing women on the mysteries of the Crone.
So, a new myth was created and the wise old crone was recast as an ugly, pathetic old woman. But it was just a matter of time before we remember her wisdom. This is the nature of the Goddess.
As a wisdom keeper of graceful aging, the Cailleach has been making herself known to me these days. At 42 years old, I've begun to notice new wrinkles and gray hairs, not to mention the random and unexpected chin hairs and erratic menstrual cycles. While I'm considered young to be going through the "change of life," my doctor has, in fact, confirmed that I've begun perimenopause status recently with a FSH test. And now I know what they mean by "gruesome". I feel this energy in the physical transformations taking place within me. It's been, shall I say, a tad uncomfortable -- the heat surges bookended by cold chills, weight gain, irritability. It feels like an initiation into Wise Woman Wisdom, and honestly, this journey with the Cailleach continues to be one of the most intense initiations I've ever dared to endure.
On the other hand, the Cailleach story also speaks to me of grace. While the discomfort of perimenopause shapes my physical being, I am beginning to rest easy in her energy. We can not stop the ravaging effects of time, but she arrives with ancient wisdom that instructs us in the elegance of surrender, illustrating the grand paradox that gracefully yielding to the natural cycles of life actually restores one's vitality.
She may be gruesome, old and haggard, but this Goddess of sex and death, life and creativity has loads of wisdom to offer those who dare to listen.
Who is She?
Women of a certain age know.
While scholars continue to ascertain her origin stories, I'm more concerned with the psychology of the Cailleach. What does she want us to know? What can we learn from exploring Her landscapes of neither here nor there?
She meets me there, in the liminal space and I hear her whisper what has past and what is yet to come.
"Mine is the mystery of time.
You'd go mad if you knew then what you know now.
Mine is the mystery of wild grace.
What will be, Is.
Mine is the mystery of death.
For the more you let go, the more you gain."
My name is Dawn Champine and I am the Creatrix of The Goddess Diaries. I am very passionate about helping women remember their REAL GODDESS selves.