An Cailleach Bhéarthach and the Walker

A good time ago, there was a man, during the time of an Cailleach Bhéarthach that lived at the foot of the Néifinn mountains in County Mayo, and he thought he was a good man for walking as there was in Ireland. But he knew that an Cailleach Béarthach was that bit better than him. So he decided to go and speak with her and take her walking so that he could see how much walking she was able to do more than himself. And he came to her and said that he had business to do in Galway and he asked an Cailleach to accompany him, that there maybe something she may want to purchase in town. She agreed, as she said she needed to get some teasing cards, to card her wool and that, as he was going there, they would go together. She added that it was much better company to have the two of them walking together rather than one person walking on their own.

They got themselves ready and they started off on the walk and it didn’t take them very long until they were in Galway. They had their dinner and an Cailleach bought her teasing cards. When they had all the things bought that they requried-bits and pieces-they set off for home again. They were walking on strongly, sometimes half running, half trotting and it wasn’t long until they were almost at the foot of the Néifinn mountains. But they came to a big river that faced them on their journey. The roads weren’t there at that time like they are now. And they met up with another man who was going some of the way in the same direction they were going themselves. When they got to the river an Cailleach made a run, carrying off with her, under her arm the man who was her companion for the day, and gave a leap across the river. When she brought her companion across the river under her arm, the other man wasn’t able to jump across at all-not even halfway. And the spot where there was a waterfall and a fording place to cross over by, was nine or ten miles away from them. An Cailleach and the man she took across under her arm, had, indeed, made a great shortcut.

“What harm did I do to you”, said the man she had left behind on the otherside, “that you didn’t bring me across like the other man?” “You did not do me a bit of harm”, she said, “but let those things stay unreconciled.” She left him there, though he had never done anything wrong to her, because she thought that it wouldn’t be right for her to be coming to the aid of every last person.

When she was parting from the man who had been her companion for the day, an Cailleach was going a bit farther, she knew full well that he was tiring from the walking. She asked him, “Does your wife have much butter in the house?” “She has some”, he said,” and a few crocks of butter.” “Well, when you get home tonight”, she said,”ask your wife to fetcha crock of butter and to put it with its bottom facing the fire and its mouth away from the fire.” “And let you put the soles of your too feet”, she said, “on top of the butter at the mouth of the crock and stay like that until tomorrow. If you don’t do that”, she said, “you’ll be dead by morning.”

He did as an Cailleach instructed him. He asked of his wife to get the crock of butter and position it. Then he took of his shoes and stockings and put his too feet onto the butter in the mouth of the crock. And by morning every last morsel of the butter had soaked into his feet. And only for that he was dead from the exertion of the day’s walking with an Cailleach.

When an Cailleach arrived home, she took a can with her and milked her goats; and then she had them all milked and settled down before the sun set at the foot of the Néifinn mountains of County Mayo.

The above Cailleach, an Cailleach Béarthach, is the evolution of the fertility goddess, Flidas of County Mayo legends, from goddess to wisewoman or to use other terms that I find personally distasteful, a hag or witch especially when Her description is that of beauty. The tale is a also another evolution, with the advent of Christian Ireland, with hidden meanings of a much older legend. Like all legends or folktales, this serves as a teaching tool as well as entertainment.

The above narrative came be viewed as personal learning path taken on a spiritual or psychological level. When invoking or internalising an archetype, it is what you personally take from the experience is what you learn from. Even in a group setting, a ceremony or ritual still reaches to you on a personal level that differs from the others. The extra companion can be seen as a teacher, research or others in a group. They can only take you so far. When you reach the river, the companion(s) is left behind so that you take the journey yourself with your archetype alone. Take what you personally learned and meditate on it or else the whole process or journey will be dead or lost to you. External dogmatic structures can only take you so far. The journey and leap is yours alone to take.

Go raibh maith agat as do chuid ama a thógáil chun é seo a léamh agus an léim a dhéanamh trasna na habhann.
Seán Ó Tuama.


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