The Cailleach is one of the oldest-living beings in Celtic mythology. She has a conversation with Fintan the Wise, a seer who traveled to Ireland before the Flood, and the Hawk of Achill, one of the oldest creatures of this world, and both agree that she has outlived them, saying, “Are you the one, the grandmother who ate the apples in the beginning?” The Crone is eternal, passing through youth and old age with the turn of the seasons.
In Glen Cailleach, which joins to Glen Lyon in Perthshire, Scotland and through which runs a stream named Alt nan Cailleach, an ancient pagan ritual associated with Grandmother Winter continues to this day. There is a small shieling, a hut in the wild and lonely hills and mountains of Scotland and northern England, within the glen known as Tigh nam Bodach (or Tigh nan Cailleach), named after the old trickster husband of the Cailleach. Local legend says that it is so named because the dusting of snow on the hut in spring and winter resembles an old man’s beard. It is here that the Cailleach, the Bodach, and their children were given shelter by the locals, and while they resided in the glen, it was always lush and fertile.
When the Cailleach and her family left, they gave large, carved stones to the locals with the promise that as long as the stones were put out to look over the glen at Beltaine and returned into the shelter and made secure for the winter at Samhain, the glen would continue to prosper. The locals still carry out this tradition, bringing out the stones each spring and returning them to the shieling at Samhain.
With this blessing also came a curse. It is said that those who disturb this sacred site experience strange and terrible things. When Anne Ross, author of Pagan Celtic Britain and Folklore of the Scottish Highlands, took one of the stones away without permission to research it further about 35 years ago, she had a very unsettling experience. Jamie Glen, the Secretary for the Glenlyon History Society, said she returned the stone to the gamekeeper “looking really distraught and disheveled, as if she had been haunted.”
The site was threatened a few years ago by plans for a hydro-electric system that would run through this historically-rich area. Fortunately, after much local protest (and probably some ill luck for the developer, Glen Meran Farming), those plans were shelved.
More interesting articles on Tigh nam Bodach:
“‘Curse of Glenlyon’ haunts hydro plan” in The Scotsman, April 19, 2011.
“Marking All Hallow’s Eve” by David Lintern in The Great Outdoors Magazine, June 2014.