Cailleach, The Queen of Winter by Judith Shaw

judith shaw photoThe Cailleach (KAL-y-ach), which literally translates as the “Veiled One” is an ancient Goddess whose origins are unknown.  When the Celts arrived in Ireland and Scotland she was there. Over time Her name came to mean “old wife” or “old woman”.  And yet she was thought to never grow old, an all powerful, ageless, Goddess of transformation.

In one of her stories, Cailleach, as an old hag, seeks love from the hero.  If he accepts Her, She then transforms into a beautiful young woman, symbolizing the transformation occurring in the depths of winter when the seeds lay dormant in the earth.  Yet alive within this dormancy is the promise of rebirth in the spring.  She is the guardian of the life force, finding and nourishing the seeds, commanding the power of life and death.  As the final phase of the Triple Goddess, she rules the eternal wheel of reincarnation. Cailleach personifies death and the transformative power of darkness.  She leads us through death to rebirth.

The Cailleach by Judith Shaw

The Cailleach by Judith Shaw

The Cailleach, a Dark Goddess of nature, is clearly one with the land.  Sometimes depicted with one eye, She sees beyond duality peering into the Oneness of all Being.  She is the embodiment of winter, clothing the land with the whiteness of snow.  The sacred stones are Her special places.  She leaps from mountaintop to mountaintop, dropping rocks to create sacred hills, the Sidhe.  She carries a slachdam, the Druidic rod or a hammer with which she wields power over the seasons and the weather, unleashing powerful and cleansing storms.

Cailleach’s talismans are sacred stones, the slachdam or druidic rod, sacred hills, ravens, crows, the waning moon, and falling leaves.

As “The Veiled One”, in the quiet, dark of winter, she rules the hidden worlds, reigning over our dreams and inner realities.  Accept Cailleach into your heart and feel the unity from which our world of duality springs.  The Cailleach can be your guide through the many deaths and rebirths of our life transitions.

This year, 2012, has been heralded as one of great transformation.   Now, as we reach that cusp of Winter Solstice on December 21, 2012, allow yourself time to dream, to mediate, to manifest.  Allow the power of Cailleach into your soul as we cut through the old and dying ways.  As  cleansing storms both physical and symbolic sweep over the Earth, remember the promise of Cailleach, the promise of rebirth.  May we all find our way safely through these transformative times into a new age of deep connections, harmony, and unity.

Judith’s deck of Celtic Goddess Oracle Cards is available now.  Celtic-Goddess-Oracle-cards-by-judith-shawYou can order your deck on Judith’s website. Experience the wisdom of the Celtic Goddesses!

Judith Shaw, a graduate of the San Francisco Art Institute, has been interested in myth, culture and mystical studies all her life. Judith makes art, dances with abandon and experiences the world through travel and study. Her work, which expresses her belief in the interconnectedness of all life, can be seen on her website at

Categories: Art, Goddess, Goddess Spirituality, Myth

Tags: , , , ,

25 replies

  1. Judith I love your painting, it has a very haunting quality to it. I’m in the Southern hemisphere & it’s odd to think that half the world is getting ready to go within & reflect whilst the other half is basking in the summer sun, warm & abundant. I look forward to when the weather will cool, winter solstice is my favourite time of year. I will look back to Cailleach when the time arrives. Solstice blessings.


    • Jassy, Thanks for your comments. It is strange to realize that while half of the world moves into the depths of winter the other half is basking in the warmth of summer. I love both of the solstices- the quiet, inner time of the winter solstice and the hot, expansive, active time of the summer solstice. Solstice blessings to you also.


  2. According to Sorita d’Este and David Rankin research (The Visions of the Cailleach), this goddess is originated in Iberian Peninsula. Portugal is named after her (Portus Cal). She is also called BEIRA, a totally Portuguese toponym, which we can find in same areas like BEIRA ALTA, BEIRA BAIXA, BEIRA LITORAL.

    Winter blessigs from crone Cailleach,

    Luiza Frazao


    • Luiza, Thanks for the info from Sorita d/Este and David Rankin. I just found their website. It looks very interesting and I’d love to read the book. In my research I found much confusion over the Cailleach’s origins. She seems to have touched many peoples over the ages.


  3. Powerful! I am so happy to know Callileach.


  4. Brava! Thanks for writing this important blog.


  5. I’m sorry but a man named Donald Alexander MacKenzie invented the Cailleach by lumping a bunch of Scottish winter spirits together. There is no Cailleach in Scottish folklore. According to Dwellys the preeminent Scottish Gaelic Dictionary :iche, pl. cailleachan, sf Woman, single woman, old woman. 2 Old wife. 3 Woman without offspring. 4 Nun. 5 Carlin. 6(AC) Supernatural or malign influence dwelling in dark caves, woods and corries. 7 Coward, spiritless, heartless man. 8 The last handful of standing corn on a farm. 9 Circular wisp on the top of a corn-stack. 10(AF) see cailleachag-cheann-dubh. 11 see càileach. 12(DU) Smoke cowl. Ged a bha mi air uiread caillich a dh’arbhar, though I possessed no more corn than a wisp. Great emulation was displayed by all in harvest-time so as not to be last. Upon him came the cost of maintaining the other people if a dearth set in the spring. The Cailleach was tied up with ribbons, and hung up on a nail till spring. On the first day of ploughing it was taken down and given as a handsel for luck to the horses.


    • Elfkat, It is very true that the origins of the Cailleach are obscure. I am certainly not an expert but it seems that she was known in Scotland, Ireland, Gaul and apparently from the research of Sorita d’Este and David Rankin as far south as the Iberian Penisula. She was known by many names – The Veiled One, Old Wife, Bheur, the daughter of Grianan, Carlin, Hag of the Beare or Cailleach Bhuer (blue woman), Cally Berry, Black Annis, and Calleach ny Croamch. Perhaps all these names and ideas about Her origins are fitting for a Goddess who is “The Veiled One” – One who reigns in the hidden worlds.


  6. Beautiful image! Thank you for your post!


  7. Judith or anyone else: Do you know if there is any relationship between “Cailleach” and “Kallah” (Heb.), a term which Jewish kabbalists used (and others still use) to refer to the Shekhinah and which means “Bride.” AFAIK, this term was not used until the 1400s or early 1500s CE, originally among Spanish Jews. If the Cailleach was traced to Portugal, could there have been something cross-cultural at that point? Thanks.


    • Judith Laura – I don’t really know if there is a relationship between Cailleach and Kallah but it is an intriguing thread to follow. The Cailleach and her origins are mysterious – she has many many names and does seem to have a wide reach. She is part of the triple goddess with Brighid being the “Bride” part of the triad – though at time Cailleach herself marries the hero. If you discover any links please let us know.


  8. Elfcat, you are mistaken that there is no Cailleach in Scottish folklore. A dictionary is not the place to look for her, but Cailleach Bheur (not Bhuer, supra) is abundantly attested, and not just as a winter spirit. Wells are named after her, like the Taber Cailleach in Banffshire, and she is described as creating landscape features (much as her Irish prototype Cailleach Bhéara does). And what about the Cailleach Beinne Bric, who shares traits of the glaisteagan? It’s not just MacKenzie, but Craigie, Carmichael, and other Scottish folklorists who attest her stories. And Anne Ross, who refers to “great supernatural hags haunting mountain passes or driving their deer over the hills and conferring benefits and evils on humanity as they saw fit.”

    As for beira, i don’t buy it. The word means “border” in Portuguese but in Irish Cailleach Bhéara means Old Woman of Beare [peninsula in SW Ireland]. Unless a connection can be established, and this one seems thinner than thin, these coincidental resemblances of words are dead-end paths.


    • Max, Thanks for that wealth of information and your ideas on the Portuguese connection. Looking at linguistic links between cultures and their stories is really fascinating. I found one source that suggested the name Cailleach Bhuer (blue woman) was from the Picts, thus the blue connection.
      For most of my life I’ve mainly studied the Greek Goddesses but recently have been drawn to She who is part of my own ancestral reality – Irish, Scottish, English and French. It’s an exciting journey.


  9. Thank you so much for this post. I safely explore my younger Faerytale traumas and beliefs leveraging powerful Goddesses like this for Inner Heart Alchemy… I really and truly appreciate this article! It’s helping me so much find empowerment surrounding the grooming from Santa and the subconscious agreements I had made in my sexual and romantic partnerships as a result of it. So THANK YOU FOR EXISTING… and shining light into the Yin Essence of the Earth xo

    ~ Raven 🌷


    • Raven,
      I am glad you found the story of The Cailleach helpful to your life path. The Goddess in her many manifestations offers a road to empowerment for women. She also offers men insight into their own true nature which is much greater than the path of domination they have been on for so long now.

      Liked by 1 person


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  3. (Art) Cailleach, The Queen of Winter by Judith Shaw | Return to Mago
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