The Veiled Woman, Cailleach Bhéara, the Hag of Beara. N/NE intermediate power of winds, wilderness, winter (She/Her)

Pantheon: Celtic (Welsh)

Realm: Gehenna / Mungoth / Winter’s Embrace

Cailleach (pronounced KYLE-uck), the Veiled Woman, is the Celtic power of cold winds and harsh winters, embodying the untamed and merciless aspects of nature. 

Her realm, Winter’s Embrace is a desolate landscape, perpetually gripped by winter. It’s a place of stark beauty, with vast snow-covered slopes, ice-bound forests, and canyons containing froze lakes. The sky is a heavy gray, laden with snow clouds, and the air is filled with biting winds. A berk needs to be careful that they’re not blown off the icy slopes of Mungoth to a long, and likely deadly, fall. Winter’s Embrace is a reflection of Cailleach’s nature— magnificent in its severity. It’s a place where only the hardiest of creatures and spirits can thrive.

Cailleach herself is a formidable figure, her robes continuously swirling with the winter winds, her appearance as mutable as the weather. She embodies the relentless, merciless side of nature, overseeing the dormancy and decay of winter, yet also laying the groundwork for the renewal of spring. She manifests as two personas, Creator and Destroyer, each with a very different appearance.

As Creator, Cailleach the Veiled Woman appears as a pale young woman, skin and hair the colour of fresh snow, wrapped up warm in white furs. She is beautiful, but her expression is as cold as her realm. She is responsible for the ending of Winter and the start of a new cycle, and flies out from Gehenna and across Celtic lands to mark the last snows and the promise of Spring. Chant goes she carries a basket of stones, and when she drops them new mountains and valleys are created.

As Destroyer, the Hag of Beara appears as a horrible frostbitten crone, with milky white eyes and a third piercing blue eye in her wrinkled forehead. This personality takes pleasure in the destructive aspect of Winter, the killing of livestock and crops, and the hardship and hunger that follow. When she flies out from Gehenna, the lands are blanketed in snowstorms and ice, marking the end of the cycle. She is able to ride storms and leap across mountains, and wields a hammer that can call thunder and lightning.

The Celts pay homage to both aspects of Cailleach; placating the Destroyer and beseeching the Creator to return early. Her festivals involve the recognition of winter’s harsh lessons on survival, endurance, and the balance of life. Some Celts go even further; those who call themselves Scots may invoke her as the mother of all Celtic powers. Could this cutter actually be a manifestation or remnant of Dana, mother of the Tuatha de Danann? Despite her association with death and winter, Cailleach also symbolises fertility and the cycle of life, death, and rebirth.

Superstitions regarding Cailleach run deep in Tir na Og. While she is considered both a creator and destroyer, she is also considered to be a protector. Her connection to winter also connects her to grain, a food source necessary for survival during the winter months. The last sheath of grain from the harvest before winter is dedicated to Cailleach. The farmer who finishes the grain harvest first must make a corn mother that represents the crone and would throw it into a neighbour’s field if they had not finished their harvest. The last farmer to finish the harvest was left in possession of the corn mother and had to care for it throughout winter until the beginning of the next planting season. No farmer wanted to house the Cailleach for Winter and so competition is fierce during the harvest with each farmer trying to make sure they would not be the last to finish.

Adventure Hooks

  • The Harvest Ritual: The characters become involved in a ritual related to the grain harvest, perhaps trying to ensure that the last sheaf is not left in their care, or unraveling a mystery tied to the corn dolly and Cailleach’s wrath.
  • Balance of Nature: A story arc could revolve around maintaining or restoring the balance of nature, which has been disrupted, requiring intervention in Cailleach’s realm or an understanding of her dual role as creator and destroyer.

Source: Jon Winter-Holt

Further Reading: There’s a nice resource on Cailleach here. I added her to the Welsh powers section although she’s probably better placed as Scottish—however I think we have enough sub-groupings of Celts already…

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