Cailleach Bhéara - The Hag

The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World - Judika Illes 2005

Cailleach Bhéara
The Hag

Bhéara, also spelled Beara and Beare, is a region along the borders of Ireland’s Counties Cork and Kerry.

There may be one, two or more Cailleach Bhéara. Her primary territory is southwest Ireland, where she is credited with shaping mountains and forming rivers, but she is also known throughout Ireland and the Scottish Highlands. Cairns are piles of stones fallen from her apron. Various specific geographical formations are identified with Cailleach Bhéara:

Image A cairn on top of a hill close to Slieve Gullion in County Armagh is called Cailleach Bhéara’s Chair. Cailleach Bhéara allegedly now sleeps beneath it.

Image Cailleach Bhéara is associated with the Beare Peninsula, near Cork, allegedly forming the peninsula herself. She was carrying stones in her apron when her apron strings broke: the stones fell out and formed the land.

Image In Ireland’s Dingle Peninsula numerous geographical formations are named in her honor.

Cailleach Bhéara is a Corn Mother: she taught people the secrets of harvesting grain. She remains a prolific, rapid harvester of crops and enjoys challenging people to reaping contests they can never win.

She manifests as a rabbit in the grain fields. The person who reaps the last sheaf of grain in her territory is said to “drive out the hare.” Historians often point out that Ireland has no indigenous snakes, and so they could not have been banished by St Patrick. However according to ancient legends, Cailleach Bhéara sometimes manifests as a snake, and so perhaps she was what the saint banished.

According to a fourteenth-century manuscript, Cailleach Bhéara is also known as Búi. As Búi, she is one of the two wives of the Irish solar deity Lugh. Búi means “yellow” and may refer to the sun, or to the smith’s fires.

Cailleach Bhéara’s two sisters are the Cailleach Bolus and the Cailleach Corca Duibhne (see pages 538—9). Together they form a holy trinity or a triad of three queens.

See ANIMALS: Rabbits, Snakes; CALENDAR: Lughnasa; ERGOT: Corn Mother; MAGICAL PROFESSIONS: Metalworkers.