30 Days of Deity Devotion: Misconceptions and Faith

27) Worst misconception about this deity that you have encountered

I’m always very surprised when ‘hard’ polytheists will talk in one breath about how annoying it is when deities are conflated, and in the next will talk about ‘the Cailleach’ in a very archetypal way. People who see all gods as separate beings will routinely conflate the myths of many different areas of Ireland and Scotland about Cailleachean. Despite her (other) name, Baoi is not the same as them. There’s been cross-pollination of myths, and I don’t know exactly what that means for the deities in question. But they’re not exactly the same, by any means.

I think there are a few reasons for this conflation of figures. One is that some scholars who have collected folklore about Cailleachean don’t seem to care much where each comes from. Another is that many of the recons working with this material are taking it very literally, along with interpretations. Another is that many Pagans love the ‘winter crone’ archetype of the Scottish Cailleach.

But the worst thing, for me, is when people privilege written myths referencing ‘the’ Cailleach, over local folklore about different Cailleachean. For example, there’s not much in writing about the story, from the Beara peninsula, that Cailleach Bhearra is married to Manannan mac Lir. But the myth exists. There are a couple of references to this (literally) in a very few books. But go to the area, and you’ll hear that tale a lot. Is it recent or ancient? I’ve no idea. I love it, though.

Similarly, because she’s not referenced in myth, it’s hard to find out about Dovinia, the ancestor-goddess of the Corcu Duibnhe tribe, who I think of as a sister of Cailleach Bhearra (which is sort of hinted at, but very hard to prove, in local folklore). Her name is on Ogham stones all over the Dingle peninsula. I’m planning to go and spend time at these stones soon. But you can’t read about her in books – not really.

If I spoke Irish and could spend time talking to people who tell stories in the oral tradition there, I would find out even more about the deities of my ancestors, through local folklore. But some things are way beyond me, even though I can visit the area and pick up little things.

Cailleach Bhearra is very much about the land where she is from – the Beara Peninsula. The pan-Irish and pan-Celtic approach erases that. No doubt the same goes for other Cailleachean, who I know much less about.

28) Something you wish you knew about this deity but don’t currently

So many things. I wish I knew if she was ever honoured as a goddess, or was only ever a figure in stories. I wish I knew how she was honoured as a deity, if she was. I wish I knew if she had customs and festivals and practices associated with her and her followers. I wish I could speak enough Irish to hear more of her stories, the ones that haven’t been written down by the scholars – and I suspect there are many of those.

But I’m also glad I don’t know some of those things. Is there anything more enchanting than a mystery? Is there anything more exciting than the necessity of faith?

29) Any interesting or unusual UPG to share?

Heh. The whole of this series has involved a lot of imbas and personal experience of Cailleach Bhearra. I hope I’ve done an OK job of saying where I get my impressions of her – whether from myth, from local folklore and tales, or from my own imbas.

And I hope I’ve sparked some interest in honouring her. She should be much more well-known and much more widely honoured than she is.

Hail, Baoi!

Dursey Island/Baoi Bhearra (once known as Inis Baoi in Irish - an island that shows up in a legend about an old woman and a cow...)

Dursey Island/Baoi Bhearra (once known as Inis Baoi – an island from a myth about an old woman & a cow…)

Hag of Beara stone. Photo by freespiral, flickr

Hag of Beara stone, Beara Peninsula. Photo: freespiral

Tarbh Conraidh, the sacred bull of Baoi/Cailleach Bhearra

Tarbh Conraidh, the bull of Baoi/Cailleach Bhearra

Ruined church on Dursey Island

Ruined church on Dursey Island (Inis Baoi of legend)