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Character Dossier: Cailleach (KAY-lech)

She is a wizened old woman, so shrouded in winter and mystery that her very name became synonymous with "veil." Or she is a Queen, at the helm of the frigid wind in late autumn, eternally at odds with both spring and sun, goddess of her own elements and mother of an entire family of Gaelic immortal beings.


Or she is both, a symbol of the divine so powerful that it can take whatever form and character it pleases.


In popular culture, she is largely forgotten. Her name, in its modern connotation, means "hag, wretched one." Her husband, the Bodach (BOW-deck) is referenced in contemporary stories as a monster that feeds on our fear, whether as a boorish, goblin-esque old man or a ghostly harbinger of massacre. How could a woman whose staff could freeze the very ground, whose voice and rage brought about a change in seasons, be thought of in such vulgar terms?


It is my love of the duality of themes in storytelling that drew me to her, to wonder what truth it was that gave rise to her myth. The idea of a thing so powerful that it appears as a humble specter, having need to neither boast or flaunt, who holds the world in her hands and breathes not a word of it to anyone but those unfortunate to cross her, is both beautiful and terrifying. And the thought of something that traces madness through our minds for sport, that turns our own dreams against us for no other reason than the pure cackling joy of it, is a wonderfully compelling brand of nefarious. Is she the creator of mountains, the commander of streams, the harbinger of Winter? Or is she the shrouded figure in the shadow of alleys, playing games with the minds of mortals for the sadistic fun of it?


Or is she both? Is the world black and white, or some other shade of gray?


And aren't we, like her, sometimes the monster and the hero of our own story?


Those are the questions that Cailleach's twisted lore inspired me to ask in the short story, Of Monsters. I think the truth, as I think most of us have found, lies not in black or white, but somewhere in the gray.

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