The Cailleach Speaks

Cailleach Wisdom

I was recently blessed by having the opportunity to craft a Cailleach Doll for a friend in Shetland. I never know who or what is going to emerge and I love the way the wisdom comes through. Someone asked me recently if I actually hear words. Sometimes I do but more often there is a growing awareness as my hands work on the fleece or whatever material I am working with (this week it was a wooden spoon doll that brought challenges about how we define beauty…but more of her story another time!) It’s a whole body listening and I sometimes see or sense images. The words come as I sit to write. For me, what comes through is Sacred. Sometimes it is comforting. Sometimes it is challenging. Always there are layers of meaning that emerge over time.

When I make a doll, I always share the wisdom they have shared with me with the new guardian (for we can never own such a creation just as we can never own a prayer). Sometimes the person will send me something to be included in the heart of the doll. I place herbs, leaves or stones that seems to call for inclusion and pray for the person and ask the great Creator to guide my hands.

With permission, I am sharing what I sent to my friend. As you read I invite you to allow the words of the Cailleach  to settle in your heart and see if there is a line or phrase that resonates for you.


The beginning always starts with intention. I lit a candle and spent some time with the images you had sent, holding the fleece in my hands. As I stroked the wool I was given impressions of strong rock, wild winds and stormy skies. The word remembering came to my heart. As I listened,  She spoke,

“You will remember who you are as you discover who I am.”

As I placed into the heart of the doll the ash of the surrendered regrets and tokens of the land, I added  Rosemary for remembrance, Elder flowers for wisdom, Willow for healing and Rose petals for the Great Lady, praying that we would remember who we are in all our Wildness and raw beauty.

As I worked the wool, folding and shaping I noticed that the offerings had in fact worked their way to the base.

She spoke,

“All that is surrendered, no matter how difficult, becomes the very strength that holds you up. But it has to be surrendered. Allow the elements to do their work. Then there is strength and stability.”

As I worked, my hands found landscapes that were rich and full of beauty. There were deep greens of moss, silvery lichens and the gold of gorse. Rock and stone emerged, raging seas and endless skies. My heart was moved by the beauty, but then, my hands reached for swirling mists, ice and snow which covered up the beauty. I resisted, not wanting to lose it.

She spoke,

“How can anything be lost? Just because the mist covers the mountain does not mean the mountain has disappeared. You have become used to looking at the surface, judging from appearances. You must look below the surface if you are to understand the present and to find beauty that survives. You think that what is in front of you is all there is but below your feet exists the wisdom of age upon age. It is the same within you. Your cells remember. What and who came before? How have they shaped you?

The Whirlpool

My hands began to remember a strait of water between two landmasses. As the water thundered through, I could feel the churning and heaving of the Whirlpool of Corryvrechan

She spoke,

“Pressures can increase a flow and uneven sea floors will bring turbulence and  powerful surges to the surface. It is in the midst of this that I wash my plaid and the season changes. Remember this as you experience great turmoil and clamour. The landscape will surely be changed, all will be covered and you will fear the silence means death. But this is a season, and seasons pass.”

She wanted a shawl. I had some white Shetland wool and it seemed fitting that She would carry back some of the sheep’s essence to its homeland as a gift. The weaving seemed so slow, I kept thinking that it must have grown but when I put it against her, the many rows were barely perceptible. I was tempted to find another way to make her shawl.

 She spoke,

“Weaving can’t be hurried. If you want to weave a different garment it will take practice. It will take showing up and moving the weft, thread by thread. It will not be hurried.”

As my hands formed her face, I kept trying to make her look severe, as all the legends that I have been told speak of her that way. But try as I would, a soft expression would come through and a smile would hover on her lips.

She spoke,

“You interpret my actions in the same way you interpret  death and winter. Because you cling onto things believing that they will be lost to you , you fail to see the beauty in simplicity. I strip away so that what remains is pure essence. My motive is not to destroy but to reveal.”

 She impressed upon me that the next line was particularly for you.

“Let her see my smile. I would have her come under my plaid and find shelter. As she shelters she can  feel my body supporting her. It does not have the plump softness that some associate with comfort, but as  she  leans into my firm contours she will find enduring strength and courage.”