Among the Celts, the Old European wintertime Old Hag-Goddess became An Cailleach (literally An Old Woman) in Ireland, who in Scotland is known as Cailleach Bheur (meaning Genteel Old Lady) the blue-faced hag of winter, and as Caillagh Ny Groamagh (Old Woman of Gloominess) in Manx Gaelic. This last version of the Old Hag appears to be particularly unlucky, for she fell into the crevice -that nowadays bears her name- after trying to step from the top of Barrule to the top of Cronk yn Irree Lhaa. The mark of her heel is still to be seen in the place.
The Cailleach is the female personification of wild nature and creator of the landscape, she also controls the weather, winter in particular, determining the intensity and length of this season.
Much as the groundhog, Cailleach is considered an oracle of the weather to come. As a Celtic story goes, on February 1st, the holiday of Imbolc, Cailleach seeks more firewood for winter. If the day is fair, she feels free to store up fuel. But if the weather is poor, she stays in and does not gather much firewood. Since Cailleach controls winter, this latter contingency means that she must end winter early due to a lack of heating fuel.
Her name means veiled one or hooded one, which Gaelic mythology means aged or burdened in some fashion.
She is known for switching between an old hag and a young maiden.
She is most active during the dark days, between Samhain (Oct 31) and Beltaine (May 1). She arrives to the Higlands in late Fall, bringing storms and causing the ground to die.
As an old woman, she is said to have one-eye in the middle of her face, but uncanny eyesight reaching up to 20 miles as if seeing the back of her hand. She has bad teeth, a blue-gray face, and matted hair.
In some tales, she is called the Hag of Hair or Hag of the Long Teeth and would choke hunters who killed pregnant animals in the wild woods. Another aspect says she would carry materials in a basket or her apron to mold the land. She is to blame for the rocky landscape, said to drop rocks from her basket or apron, or throw them at men in anger. There are tales, even of King Authur’s contenders, being asked to kiss or have intercourse with an old hag. Any who braved to do so, soon discover her to be a splendid young woman who bestows sovereignty on any men kind enough to oblige an old woman.
Going back to her older, Pre-Cletic roots, Bheur is part of a cosmic tale with no name for her original believers. She is the winter sun’s daughter, born old and grows younger throughout winter, ending the season as a young spring maiden. For Scottish beliefs, she is depicted as a crane with sticks in her beak to forecast storms or a herder of deer. During winter storms, a common proverb was “The Cailleach is trampling the blankets tonight” and referred often to as the “sharp old wife” or Daughter of the little sun, winter sun. They believed the Mumming dances, celebratory sword dance with a wooden stick, drove her away, which has inspired songs during this festive tradition.
-Capper, D. (2016). Groundhog oracles and their forebears. Zygon, 51(2), 257-276.