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The Cailleach’s lament

27 Jan

The following piece of lore described here by the daughter of Alexander Carmichael, Elizabeth (Ella) Watson, gives a brief account of the legendary Cailleach Bheur, who did battle to hold back the onslaught of spring for as long as possible. This battle resulted in the Cailleach lending her name to a period of stormy weather in many parts of Scotland, the timing of which appears to have varied according to region. In general, her final admittance of defeat coincides with the time of Là na Cailliche (March 25th), which ushers in the beginning of Spring.

Compare the Cailleach’s lament given here with K.W. Grant’s discussion of the period in a previous post; the translation given here is much more accurate (although Grant’s is perhaps a little more poetic), and echoes the lorica-type prayers that were traditionally said for protection with the idea of girding oneself with ‘spiritual armour’. The best-known example is The Deer’s Cry, or St. Patrick’s Lorica, which calls on all of the directions and elements for protection. Here, the Cailleach inverts the idea to show just how thoroughly she has been defeated:

“According to some people, ‘cailleach’ [A’ Cailleach] as a period of time is the first week of April, and is represented as a wild hag with a venomous temper, hurrying about with a magic wand in her withered hand switching the grass and keeping down vegetation, to the detriment of man and beast. When, however, the grass, upborne by the warm sun, the gentle dew and the fragrant rain, overcomes the ‘cailleach,’ she flies into a terrible temper, and throwing away her wand into the root of a whin bush,1 she disappears in a whirling cloud of angry passion till the beginning of April comes in again, saying, as she goes:

‘Dh’ fhag e mhan mi, dh’ fhag e ‘n ard mi
Dh’ fhag e eadar mo dha lamh mi,
Dh’ fhag e bial mi, dh’ fhag e cul mi,
Dh’ fha e eadar mo dha shul mi.

Dh’ fhag e shios mi, dh’ fhag e shuas mi,
Dh’ fhag e eadar mo dha chluas mi,
Dh’ fhag e thall mi, dh’ fhag e bhos mi,
Dh’ fhag e eadar mo dha chos mi.

Thilg mi ‘n slacan druidh donai,
Am bun preis crin cruaidh conuis.
Far nach fas fionn no foinnidh,
Ach fracan froinnidh feurach.’

It escaped me below, it escaped me above.
It escaped me between my two hands,
It escaped me before, it escaped me behind,
It escaped me between my two eyes.

It escaped me down, it escaped me up,
It escaped me between my two ears,
It escaped me thither, it escaped me hither,
It escaped me between my two feet.

I threw my druidic evil wand.
Into the base of a withered hard whin bush,
Where shall not grow ‘ fionn ‘ nor ‘ fionnidh’,
But fragments of grassy ‘froinnidh.’ ”

From: E.C Watson, Highland Mythology, in The Celtic Review Volume 5, 1909, pp48-70.

Notes

1 Whin is another name for gorse, a very spikey and hardy bush that flowers for a long period of time, even in the winter. The bright yellow flowers of the gorse perhaps brings to mind the strengthening sun.

 
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Posted by on January 27, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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