Sisterhood of the Antlers

Stories of the Ancestral Mothers of Scotland from folk magic and the wise women who honored them. Rooted in the Bean Feasa (Wise Woman) tradition.

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A Visit to the Cailleach

Posted by on in Paths Blogs

b2ap3_thumbnail_Hill-of-the-Cailleach-Collage.jpgThe Hill of the Cailleach, Isle of Eigg, Scotland

When you look over the folklore of Scotland and Ireland you'll find that the cailleach is known by many names, this is because she was a localized deity. She was the cailleach of your loch, your mountain or moorland - this then gave her different qualities and animals and stories associated with her. I don't know all the different Cailleach's only the one I grew up and  I know her by the animals, birds and plants of the Loch Lomond area and by the weather that sweeps in and different aspects of her can be seen throughout the seaons. 

Pilgrimage

I have taken many pilgrimages to this old crone, she is the 'presence' I encounter in the hills and I hear her through the breeze stirring the summer bracken and the song of the Skylark. She is that cold biting wind in winter and the great eye who has looked over this landscape and watched the ice come and go like tides. We only know this present arrangement of features on the landscape, which to her is barely a blink of the eye. 

From these Island of the Cailleach in Loch lomond to the shrine at the Glen of the Cailleach (not too far as the crow flies) to the hill of the Cailleach on the Isle of Eigg you might notice a slight difference in this old one. 

On the Ancestral Mothers of Scotland Retreat (on the Isle of Eigg) we visit the Hill of the Cailleach where each woman can approach the site in her own way, perhaps with a gesture or two of ritual. On my first exploration to find the hill on entering the field I wasn't exactly sure what mound was the Hill of the Cailleach. The wind suddenly whipped up spooking the sheep who took off at a a gallup. A nearby flock of geese began hissing and squawking and I was beginning to feel decidedly unwelcome. I made my way over to another small hill which offered a wonderful view up to the Isle of Skye and took refuge there enjoying the evening's twilight. It was only the next day that I realized that my phone was somehow a it scrambled and the time had been set two hours back and I almost missed the ferry home. That old crone likes to play tricks on us! 

b2ap3_thumbnail_Tile.jpgOn my next visit to the same hill I had done my research to ensure I was at the right hill and made the precaution of leaving my electronics at a safe distance. I planned to walk around the hill three times in a sunwise direction - deosil (meaning right in Gaelic) and in the Celtic tradition of approaching a sacred site. On my second circle I noticed a little piece of what looked like tile sticking out of the ground and when I picked it up I realized to my delight that it had the figures of two women on it. The women wore hats or headdresses and long cloaks with their backs to the scene busy in some activity. The piece seemed to be part of an old plate, not a tea cup as I had first thought due to the thickness of the china. Of course I read that the women were priestesses attending to ritual - most likely for this old crone! By the third circle of the hillI felt very welcome and tears began to fall as if emerging from a deep, deep pool inside me - tears that had felt longing and now belonging, of knowing what it feels like to have something missing and now found. 

It is at Samhain that the old crone makes her presence most felt in the world. Her ritual is to wade out in the sea waters to the great whirlpool of Corryvrecken (not too far down the coast from this little Hill of the cailleach on the Isle of Eigg). She takes off her great plaid and dips it into the fast swirling cauldron. As she does maybe she says some words in a long forgotten language for this act, this annual ritual ushers in winter for as she shakes her plaid dry and throws it up, up around her shoulders a little flurry of drops from the cloth instantly freeze and dust the uppermost peaks of the surrounding hilltops. 

 

b2ap3_thumbnail_The-Cailleach-course-image.jpgAs we approach Samhain you are invited to take a journey with the cailleach in a five session online course as we explore her great age and visit her sacred sites. We explore why her story seems to have changed over the years as well as searching in her folklore to clues of her origins and finally we consider what her role is for us today. We explore this journey with the cailleach through art and take a step in each session in building an Altoid tin altar as well as taking guided meditations. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I am descended from a long line of wise women – for I too am a shapeshifter, a mythmaker, a woman who has always had one ear to the ground and a foot in the other world. I am a listener to old bones and a collector of stories that I gather from the shorelines, deep in forests or atop mountains. Sometimes my shadow shows my other selves sometimes crow sometimes bear, I am She Who Wears Antlers.

I am a radical doll maker, taking this tradition back to its roots and the hands of my foremothers. They remind us of our sacred connection to this world, the otherworld and our ancestors. I am a collector of stories, carrying old ones and those who need retelling.

I am inspired by the Bean Feasa tradition, a wise woman tradition that stretches back past pre-Celtic generations. People sought the wisdom of the wise woman in times of personal crisis and today this tradition can help us face this deepening global crisis.

I am a cultural activist working from the Bean Feasa tradition rooted in pre-patriarchy which honors imagination and creativity and provides us with tools that can help us overcome the psychological effects of patriarchy.

Visit my website for details of online courses, in-person workshops and our annual pilgrimage to the lands of the Ancestral Mothers of Scotland.

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