Called by the Cailleach

The Cailleach came to me in a dream the other night. This incredible hag—the first goddess, she who grants sovereignty, the ancients, the land—and I stood on a beach in a place that seemed at the edge of everything. Waves a thousand feet high rolled in like easy folds of velvet and washed the world clean. The sun shone a creamy gold of a thousand comforting angels and the towering giantess cloaked and foreboding next to me.

Out there, in the realm of the Void, she shoved her hands into me, ancient daggers cutting away. Suddenly, she clamped down on my spinal cord and squeezed until all of the bulges smoothed and she released me.

I would stay with her, she told me, until my work was done.

Not My First Cailleach Moment

Last winter, I had a similar sort of dream. She showed up, and then kept pushing me toward the sea. It made sense to me back then, kind of. I had landed face-first in the middle of brutal menopausal mood swings. My bed-drenching night sweats meant I hadn’t slept an entire night in nearly six months. My rage ran so thick even the cat steered clear of me. So, I started making regular mini-pilgrimages out to the water several times a week in hopes that her constant call could bring a bit of relief.

We are graced to live about ten minutes by foot from English Bay here in Vancouver. So, these little sojourns down to the waterfront not only cooled me off, they kept me sane during a time when I thought I had very little of that left.

One of my first poems came from those walks. The writing of it cut through me and opened up a flood of poetry. I fell in love with the medium for the first time and have spent the last year just immersed in poets and poems and techniques.

I figured the Cailleach had called me at that point to give me a way to deal with all of my big emotions. I never expected to see her again. But, I should have understood that the this goddess of winter, who embodies the cycles of life, doesn’t come or go quietly.

New Cycle, New Cailleach

Anyone following along with my life this year knows that deep emotions is the motif for 2023. It kicked off with an emergency trip to South Carolina after almost losing my step-mother, whom has been a very special part of my life for more than forty years. Then, amidst my ongoing daily negotiations with night sweats and mood swings, both of my daughters graduated (Grade 7 and 12) and I began the biggest renegotiating of my life—a new way of life without my oldest daughter who is also one of my dearest friends.

As the waves of emotion crashed around me, my creativity dried up. Nothing. Not one word popped into Scrivener related to any novel at all. Writing, for me, is heavy emotional lifting. And, I could not lift one more damn emotional thing. So, I walked away.

Except, I didnt.

Instead of writing books, I started writing for myself. I started a contemplative writing practice that completely transformed the way I see and find mutuality in the world. I reintroduced prayer into my life. I continued with my absolute obsession with poetry. I sunk myself into teaching and service to my students.

But, still, I lived in this place of longing.

So, I closed myself up in my office.

And, I dug through my heart.

And, I cried a lot.

And, I started writing again.

And, that’s when the Cailleach decided it was time to re-up with me.

The Holy Yes.

Over the last year, two women have had a tremendous impact on my life. Christine Valters Paintner is the Abbess for Abbey of The Arts. I found her in the midst of searching for teachings on the incarnations of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Her writings on Mary have transformed my relationship with a woman (the BVM) who has actively shaped my life since childhood.

I learned the practice of Lectio Divina through my daily readings from her book Birthing The Holy. I am now deep in the shifts taking place as a result of her most recent writings in The Love of Thousands, how Angels, Saints, and Ancestors Walk With Us Toward Holiness. Valters Paintner speaks often of the “Holy Yes” and it struck for me like lightening. Western religion and me haven’t been on speaking terms since I broke up with the Catholic Church about 25 years ago. However, she has returned me to a place of contemplation and nurturing an inner world that feeds my soul. It gives me permission to Holy Yes it when it comes to exploring my creativity and self. She is, for me, the Cailleach of wisdom.

Cailleach, oh Cailleach

On the entirely other end of the spectrum, Dr. Sharon Blackie and her book Hagitude shifted my storytelling in ways that I am sure will not be fully realized for quite some time.

I needed desperately to reclaim the second half of my life. To be real, I wasn’t so pleased with the first half of it spent somewhere between trying to be something that fit into approved norms while secretly trying to contact the dead. I like the concept of being an interstitionary, like Jennifer Brandel talks about. Developing new ways to look at the world. But, I am no futurist. I am an ancient-ist. I want to go back to what we have forgotten. That’s the Sibyls. Blackie is also all about what we’ve forgotten. I swooned.

She ticked the boxes, a trained brilliant mind (I love academics) with the heart of a mystic (I love the liminal) and a storyteller (mah ghad). She had me at hello.

Since Hagitude, I have immersed myself in her mytho-perception. I often find myself wandering off to find poetry from writers she notes. I’ve taken classes on storytelling spurred by her recommendation. Despite the fact that we will more than likely never meet, I am so grateful for her as a connector. I’m naturally curious, willing to go down a rabbit hole as far as my interest takes me (which is usually pretty darn far). Her willingness to push the boundaries of what we can see and experience as well as share the process sparks all kinds of curious wanderings for me. Blackie first introduced me to the Cailleach and her frank writing and connective nature continues to drive my absolute passion for retelling the ancient stories. She is my intermediary. I am 100% sure Blackie’s nudge through her books, writings, and recommendations brokered the meeting between me and the great giantess. For me, she is the Cailleach of sovereignty. Clearer of the path.

It is amazing to me the impact that both Blackie and Valters Paintner have had on me. It was no coincidence that they landed in my life. I did the work, but I admit, I wasn’t really conscious of what was at play—or the Cailleach’s role in it all.

So, Please Get On With It

After this most recent dream, I realized that the practices of these two incredible women had somehow found their way to each other in me. I had begun weaving my own way. However, I was at a dead stop in terms of progress. I had to figure out why.

Instead of breaking it all down, I turned to dream work, which has always proved to me the space where I do my most profound work. Blackie, indeed, had spoken recently about working with the liminal, with dream daemons, to help or to receive help.

Once I started working with dreams in this way again, the Cailleach returned. Then, again, with a child in her arms. The new dream proved dark, the child’s eyes dim and lifeless. It took me a while to realize it was me. It was time to let a whole bunch of me go. She placed the child on the beach and the velvet waves took her. The tears ran down my face until I spotted the flip of a fin, the curious eyes peeking from the water.

Amongst the shells, sand, and drift wood, I stood beside the Cailleach and let the salty sea hag sing until a new voice rang out. Laughter, joy.

Let her pass into the place of memories, the Cailleach told me. We all must return to the sea.

I knew what she meant. I had passed the time that I could nourish anything that remained from the first half of my life. I thought that version of me needed me to reclaim it. But, no. The second half is my Holy Yes. My commitment to exploring my inner world, and helping other people explore theirs.

It’s time. Many changes are in on the way.

The Cailleach calls. She will not release me until the work is done.