Cailleach: Hag queen of winter, Eight of Earth


Shuffling through my new Dark Goddess Tarot – a deck filled with a rich variety of goddesses, witches, wise women and demon-ladies from many cultural traditions – I came across the Eight of Earth: Cailleach, meaning ‘hag’ in Gaelic, ‘veiled one’ in Old Irish. She is a crone, a hardened old woman who brings the winter, storms, snow and ice.

Also known as Beira, Queen of Winter, she is credited with making numerous mountains and large hills, which are said to have been formed when she was striding across the land and accidentally dropped rocks from her creel or wicker basket. In other cases she is said to have built the mountains intentionally, to serve as her stepping stones.

She carries a hammer for shaping the hills and valleys, and is said to be the mother of all the goddesses and gods.

From Wikipedia


The personification of winter, Cailleach governed the cold, dark months of the year, while her counterpart, the maiden Brighde (Brigid) ruled the warmer, greener months. There are many differing legends about the relationship between the two goddesses…or as some would have it, the two faces of the same goddess. In some Cailleach keeps Brighde captive, releasing her on the first day of spring, in others she drinks from a well of youth and is transformed from ancient crone to young maiden. In others still, Cailleach turns to stone at the end of winter, giving up her rein until darkness returns.


By Thalia Thook

In Scotland, the Cailleachan (lit. ‘old women’) are also known as The Storm Hags, and seen as personifications of the elemental powers of nature, especially in a destructive aspect.

The Dark Goddesses of Ellen Lorenzi-Prince’s tarot are not the nurturing, earth-mama types found in other ‘goddess decks’. These are challenging archetypes of other femininities, other depictions of what a woman’s power might be – alongside birthing new life and bringing abundance, these witches, hags, demons and wise women bring destruction and change, unstoppable forces, elemental powers against which man is powerless. At the mercy of weather, landscape, seasons and the will of nature, mankind has no option but to submit, to work with, to appease, to integrate these forces into their way of life. To honour Cailleach and the harsh weather and landscape she represents is to show due respect for the realities of life, rather than the opposite approach, which is to view nature as something to be conquered or tamed.) Here on Skye – in January, with the snow and the frozen track, the steely yet every-changing sky, the ground which will grow only what it grows – the Cailleach’s power is very real.

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