Welcome to Cailleach’s Chair, the meeting place for the Cult of Cailleach.
Why have I gathered us all here?
This is a complicated question, but let me start by saying this: I do not wish to grow old … not in our Western culture as it is today. To grow old today is to be forgotten, discarded, and marginalized. How sad it is to be old today; a lifetime of knowledge forgotten. A lifetime of know-how ignored. This is true for all of us, men and women, but it is especially true for women.
So, I stand here today and I declare proudly, I will not go “gently into that good night,” or “grow old gracefully.” When I was younger, I used to announce such silliness out of my inexperience of life and lack of practical wisdom:
“I will grow old gracefully!” I proudly declared, drinking as I did from the cool-aid. “I’m not going to be one of those old ladies who try to be twenty-one their entire life,” said I with my perky boobs standing tall and my taunt skin glistering with a new summer tan. “I will accept what was given to me, wrinkles and all.”
I was an idiot, and cool-aid is not nearly as tasty as mead.
Truthfully, parts of the above declaration is true: I do not want to be 21 again, goddess help me …. No. I do want to accept my place in the great cycle of life. But in truth, our society has a different spin on the phrases: “go gently into that good night,” and “grow old gracefully,” and I find the spin offensive. These phrases, in practice, no longer mean accepting and honoring the great cycle of life; rather, in practice older people, middle age onward, are asked to disappear quietly, allowing the younger generation to stand tall, while the older generation is shuffled away from their jobs (old faces don’t sell), and hidden away into retirement communities or, for those of us with little money, state-run institutions. I’ve seen it, more often than not; and unlike dear Hamlet, I have no interest in shuffling off “this mortal coil.” Besides, this model is not sustainable, nor is it helpful to our world, culture, species, or younger generations.
It is time to take back and to re-embrace a better way of doing things. What that better way is, I am not sure, which is one of the functions of this blog: to discover a more sustainable model. As I grow older, I have no desire to be the discarded “hag.” Nope. It is time to reclaim the magical, mystical, powerful crone/hag: the Cailleach.
Cailleach Bheare is the celtic image of the old mother, the hag, the magical crone, who is revered as a mythical being in Ireland (Caolainn or the Hag of Beare), Northern Ireland (Cailleach Bherri), Britain (Black Annis), Scotland (Cailleach Mor), and the Isle of Man (Cailleach my Groamagh). In essence, she is known as a mountain mother, but is also given the title of the queen of the Limerick fairies, and is understood as the mother to the gods (she has the name Boi when she was the wife of Lugh – Irish god of Light). And, as you might guess, she controls the weather in the winter months as she too is in her declining years. Interesting enough, she is not always old, but passes yearly through the cycle of age, from youth to old age, representing both renewal and death, the journey from ignorance and deep wisdom. She returns yearly on Samhain, October 31st to you and me, and will leave with the warming weather, placing her staff under a holly bush before turning to stone herself, hibernating and regenerating for the next round of life … the next year.
I will write more on this image as the blog progresses, but it is enough to point out her usefulness as an alternative image to age, especially female aging, compared to the one we have now: the quiet old woman complacently taking her place in a rocking chair, lap ready for brief visits from her grandchildren*. Not that there is anything wrong with having a grandchild on your lap, but surely the middle-aged and older generation has more to offer the world than a lap to rest in. Cailleach moved mountains because she had the knowledge, the wisdom to figure out how to do such a feat. Let’s tap that wisdom … please!
This blog is about sustainability and wisdom. It’s about what we have to offer in the way of wisdom regarding these topics from an older persons point of view, middle-aged to the crone. And the focus is on women writers, but this does not mean that posts from guest male writers will not appear on these pages. Although I would like to create a space for women to be able to share their understanding regarding sustainability, sustainability itself is not a one sided affair. Feminism, in all its facets, must inherently include the masculine element, or the movement is doomed before it begins. But the voices of older women are easily lost in our world, and so I would like to make this space the space of Cailleach – in somewhat the tradition of the Cult of Cailleach, which has a long tradition in different parts of the Celtic world. The cult consisted of older women who gathered together to under the cloak of nature, magic, and wisdom.
So, I welcome you to the 21st century Cult of Cailleach. Take a seat, feel free to drape my yellow robe about you if you are cold, and stay a while for the magic about to unfold.
*I say this, but also offer a nod of homage to the great Golden Girls, who were not complacent!
Research based on the following:
- Coulter, Charles Russell, and Patricia Turner. 2000. Encyclopedia of Ancient Deities. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland. Pp. 112-114.
- Matthews, Caitlin, John Matthews, and Caitlin Matthews. 2003. Walkers between the worlds: the Western mysteries from Shaman to Magus. Rochester, Vt: Inner Traditions International.
- O’Brien, Lora. 2005. Irish Witchcraft from an Irish Witch. Franklin Lakes, NJ: New Page Books.