5 Ways to Connect with the Cailleach

Who is the Cailleach?

The Cailleach is a Scottish and Irish goddess of Winter, storms, and seasonal change. Often depicted as an old woman with a blue face, one eye, and wild hair, the Cailleach (meaning ‘hooded one’ or ‘veiled one’) uses a hammer to shape the world. While she walks the earth bringing storms and snow, she freezes the ground with her staff.

As well as meaning ‘veiled one’, the name Cailleach also means ‘old woman’ or ‘hag’ in Gaelic, which reflects her primal wisdom. She’s incredibly ancient, and is one of the very first deities of the region (some legends even name her the mother of all gods and goddesses). She came before many of the more well-known Celtic gods and goddesses, and created the mountains and valleys by dropping stones from her apron or basket, to either shape the landscape or use them as her stepping stones.

Because of her great age, she’s known by a few names and pronunciations region to region. Bone Mother. Dark Mother. The Hag of Winter. She does it all!

In Scotland, she’s also called Beira the Queen of Winter, or Cailleach Bheurra in Scottish Gaelic. The Cailleachan are a destructive group of wild ‘storm hags’, who bring in the violent storms of Spring. 

In Irish, she’s named Cailleach Bhéara. The words bior or beur loosely mean ‘sharp or shrill’, so this likely refers to the howling winds of Winter the Cailleach brings each year. She’s connected to the bean sidhe, or banshees, and has other names across the British Isles: Milucra, Digde, and Bui to name a few.

Throughout Ireland and Scotland, many ancient sites and landmarks are connected to her. Scotland’s Callanish Stones on the Isle of Lewis is a series of standing stones arranged in a circle and thought to be a sacred site dedicated to the Cailleach. 

Labbacallee Wedge Tomb, County Cork (Wikimedia image provided by: VisionsofthePast – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0)

In Ireland, the Labbacallee wedge tomb (or Leaba Chaillí meaning ‘the hag’s head’) is a Bronze Age burial monument, and thought to be where the Cailleach lived with her husband Mogh Ruith after she pinned him down with a huge boulder. She’s also thought to be buried there.

The Cailleach and Brigid

Regardless of her name, the Cailleach is known for one thing – Winter. As the personification of this relentless northern season, she resists Spring, freezes lakes and ground, and controls the migration of geese and deer.

She rules Winter between Samhain and Beltane, with some worshipping her as the Crone aspect of the triple goddess, Brigid. During Imbolc – the beginning of Winter’s thaw, and  Brigid’s typical time to shine – we can usually tell if the Cailleach is ready to give up her reign. 


If Imbolc has fair weather, then the Cailleach is out and about collecting more firewood to get her through a few more weeks of Winter. This means we can’t trust that Winter is over. But if Imbolc has bad weather, then it means the Cailleach is holed up in her house, unable to collect more wood to sustain her reign, and therefore needing to retire her Winter rule. 

This transfer of power between the Winter and Summer goddesses was vital to agricultural success. While Imbolc is considered ‘Brigid’s Day’, the Cailleach has always played an equally important role, since Brigid cannot commence her Spring until the Cailleach gives up her Winter.

They’re two sides of the same coin.

Working with the Cailleach

Despite her fierce reputation, the Cailleach is ultimately the benevolence of nature. She ensures the balance and harmony of the natural world – it can’t always be sunshine and flowers! She’s the keeper of the earth’s secrets, and an enduring figure in Celtic mythology.

5 Ways to Connect with the Cailleach

Like any goddess, take the time to get to know the Cailleach before asking things of her. Here’s five ways to get the conversation started:

1. Offerings and altar items can include herbs, wine, wood, or rocks. Animals are deer, geese, fish, wolves, and sheep. The Cailleach is fundamentally elemental, with Air, Earth and Water the most obvious. Fire can be acknowledged in the form of stoves, fireplaces, or woodsmoke.

2. She rules over fresh and saltwater, such as rivers, streams, oceans, marshes, and estuaries. These are great locations to connect with her directly, or do meditation or trance work as a way of introducing yourself to her. Brace the temperature, and try to do this during the Winter months!

3. As the birth mother of all the tribes of Scotland and Ireland, she can guide your ancestor work, lift the veil on your soul’s history, or show you truth. If you’re feeling drawn to her, she can do this regardless of your own known heritage – you don’t have to have Scottish or Irish ancestry to work with her.

4. The Cailleach can help you to manage immediate grief or sudden loss, and set you on the path towards Brigid’s healing when you’re ready. Her relationship to the bean sidhe (banshee) is a vocal one, so use your voice to articulate despair. Share your emotions with her, and other people in your life. She’ll protect you in this vulnerable time.

5. Finally, make sure you follow through with your promises! The Cailleach is as old as the earth, but has little patience for time wasters. If she invites you to work with her, and you commit to doing something in her name, then she expects you to stick to your word.

Polly is a practicing witch who primarily works with Persephone, Brigid and the Cailleach. She's the High Priestess expert on seasonal Australian practice and archetypal symbolism, and is a teacher at Witch School.