Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Reading history in the Landscape - Cailleach

It is a common misconception that if you want to find any evidence of the people from our ancient history, other than the usual recognised monuments such as stone henge or Hadrian’s Wall, you have to dig.
This is simply not the case.
When I was researching for the first book in the Albion Chronicles series I was stunned to see just how much information was at hand, especially concerning peoples beliefs.

Cailleach features strongly in the series, she is recognised today as one of the old pagan gods and many people will have heard her name before. I wonder though how many people realise just how much evidence there is to support the historic worship of her. Her name survives in the names of numerous mountains, streams and and glens in Scotland. Her husband Bodach is also there, scattered across the highlands and islands with his wife. Scratch the surface a little more and you will find Cailleach’s name altered into numerous other guises. One of the key ones is the mountain, Schiehallion or to give it its Gaelic name Sidh Chaillean. The name is now considered to mean the fairy hill of the Caledonians and it is rumoured that a secret faery pathway runs right through the heart of the mountain. Nowadays most people know the mountain as the place where the first attempt to weigh the world took place in 1774.

Schiehallion stands guard to the eastern end of Glen Lyon, at its western end the glen runs into the Crooked Glen of Stones, also known as Glean Chailliche. It is here where the oldest continuous pagan shrine in Britain can be found and it should come to no surprise to learn the shrine is dedicated to Cailleach and Bodach and their daughter Nighean. Known locally as either Tigh nam Bodach or Tigh na Cailliach or the house of the old man or old woman. The shrine consists of a small sheiling or dwelling, in this case the shieling is little more than a tiny hut. At Beltaine (early May) every year the stone is removed from the front of the sheiling and a number of shaped stones resembling the family are set out on the grass to look down the valley. Whether Nighean refers to just one daughter or the collection of smaller stones representing daughters has sadly been lost over time. Whilst the stones are outside the sheiling is re-turfed and any repairs made, then at Samhain (Halloween) the stone family is put back inside their home and sealed safely in for the winter.

For more information why not visit:
Nelly Harper website
The Albion Chronicles book 1 - The Girl of Two Worlds facebook page

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