Tuesday, 17 July 2018

WALKING WITH THE CAILLEACH Part 2

This is the final post from my exhibition 'Tales from The Cailleach' 
which is showing at LOUGHCREW MEGALITHIC CENTRE until the end of August. 

You can find the first post WALKING WITH THE CAILLEACH PART 1

My journey with the Cailleach began many years ago when I glimpsed her in stories about the Caillagh-ny-Groamagh, the old woman of spells, who lives on the Isle of Man. Following a powerful experience within cairn T here at Loughcrew, she circled closer, coming to me in words and images as my life began to change. 
Now in my sixth decade she is a constant presence, a source of strength and wisdom as I walk beside her on 
my spiritual path.  

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SHE CARRIES THE GREENING WITHIN
AN ORIGINAL PAINTING by JANE BRIDESON
Watercolour & gouache on watercolour paper.


As The Cailleach walks a snow shrouded landscape she carries within the symbols which are carved into the back stone of Cairn T. 
At Spring Equinox the sun will enter the mound shining on this symbol and the greening of the land will begin.

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AUTUMN EQUINOX
AN ORIGINAL PAINTING by JANE BRIDESON
Watercolour, gouache & pencil on watercolour paper


Each year at Autumn Equinox, around 21st September, the light at sunrise enters the passage of Cairn T on Sliabh na Caillí to illuminate the ‘equinox’ stone carving. 
It is a point of balance after which nature begins to rest, turning her energy inwards.


THE HARVEST’S IN
THE TURF IS STACKED
A FIRE BURNS RED UPON THE HEARTH
WE TAKE OUR EASE THESE LONG COLD NIGHTS
YET THE CAILLEACH STILL WALKS THE LAND
HER FACE TOWARDS THE WANING YEAR
TRACING FROST UPON BLACK BRANCHES…

words © Jane Brideson 2018


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THE CAILLEACH’S HEARTH
AN ORIGINAL PAINTING by JANE BRIDESON
Watercolour, gouache & pencil on watercolour board


Before sunset on the eve of Bealtaine it was customary for people to guard against witchcraft as there were those who would attempt to steal milk and the goodness from butter on May morning. 
It was also understood that the local Cailleach could transform herself into a hare 
and sup directly from the cow’s udder.
At this time precautions were taken against charming by tying red thread or a sprig of mountain ash on the cow’s tail. 
To protect the butter mountain ash, a small piece of iron or a coal from the fire was placed under the churn. 
Because of its red berries the mountain ash or rowan was especially powerful however care must be taken as, in the wrong hands, it could also be used to bewitch. 


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THE CAILLEACH’S COTTAGE
AN ORIGINAL PAINTING by JANE BRIDESON
Watercolour, gouache & pencil on watercolour paper

“ THE HARE MANAGED TO REACH THE SHELTER OF A NEARBY CABIN. 
WHEN THE MAN ENTERED HE DISCOVERED AN OLD WOMAN NURSING A BLEEDING LEG. HE PULLED HER OUT BUT SHE TOOK THE FORM 
OF A HARE AND ESCAPED.
ABOUT A HUNDRED YEARS AGO PAT CLANCY OF CURRANDOO SHOT AT &WOUNDED THE SAME HARE ON THREE CONSECUTIVE DAYS. 
ON THE THIRD OCCASION THE SHOT RETURNED & HIT HIM ON 
THE HAND, PARALYSING HIS HAND FOR LIFE.”

From the Schools’ Folklore Collection.


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BONE SLIP
AN ORIGINAL SKETCH by JANE BRIDESON
Watercolour & gouache on watercolour paper


One of the most intriguing artefacts discovered by excavations at the Loughcrew mounds are the bone slips found in cairn H.
150 slips came to light, all of which appear to have been placed beneath two different orthostats. Decorated with La Tène style carvings, some originally formed combs whilst others were pierced at one end, possibly for hanging.
Recent carbon dating suggests that they were produced in the Middle Iron Age, older than first believed, revealing that the ancestral mounds of the Neolithic people were still sacred to those who came much later.
This bone slip carved with a stag and the head of a doe may be the earliest example of representative art in Ireland. 






MOTHER OF THE HERD ~ REBIRTH
AN ORIGINAL PAINTING by JANE BRIDESON
Watercolour & gouache on watercolour paper


Red deer, the only species native to Ireland, have had a continuous presence here since the end of the last Ice Age. They were vital to the life of early people providing food, clothing, tools and adornment. Perhaps the deer also played a part in the beliefs and ritual focus of our ancestors 
The Cailleach, the Mother of Herd, associated with deer and horned cattle, holds the life of the herd and the people in her hands. 

Archaeological excavations in Cairn T on Sliabh na Caillí unearthed many articles composed of red deer antler and bone including pins, a bodkin and an antler tine three inches long. 
Also revealed were rolled white quartz pebbles and a clear quartz crystal, drilled to be worn as a pendant.
These cloche geala, bright white stones appear throughout ancient architecture, folklore and mythology. Also known as grian cloche, sun stones, they are white quartz, clear crystal and quartzite stones which occur at almost all of the sacred sites excavated here and appear to be linked with the dead and the ancestors. 
Lore also describes them as cloche uaisle, a gentle or noble stone, often associated with The Good People and their mounds.
In modern times quartz is used in healing and as a tool to 'see' the future, white stones are still left on saints' beds, graves and at holy wells. 

Although we will never know the meaning of quartz to our ancestors it seems to be an integral part of Ireland’s sacred places, linking them to the Otherworld and perhaps to the rebirth of the spirit.

THE BELIEFS AND RITUALS ASSOCIATED WITH SHINING STONES CONTINUE 
FROM THE NEOLITHIC TO THE PRESENT DAY.

words © Jane Brideson 2018

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THE HAG OF THE MILL
AN ORIGINAL PAINTING by JANE BRIDESON
Watercolour & gouache on watercolour paper -private commission


I was commissioned to paint The Cailleach in her in her guise of The Hag of the Mill as she appears in Buile Suibne, ‘The Frenzy of Sweeney’, a tale recorded in the 1670’s. 

Briefly Suibhne is described as the king of Dal Araidhe in the north east of Ireland. When news reached him that St. Ronan Finn was building a Christian church on his land and chanting psalms the pagan Suibhne, having no time to dress, left his home naked and expelled the cleric.
After throwing the psalter into a nearby lake Suibhne is cursed by Ronan to constantly wander Ireland, flying naked throughout the land until killed by a spear.

So he spends seven years leaping from hill to hill, living amongst trees and existing only on watercress. Suibhne appears to lose his sanity but he is eventually caught and left in the care of his kinsman, the miller.
Suibhne is locked in a bedroom at the miller’s hostel until one day, during the busy harvest when all hands are needed, he is entrusted to the care of Lonnog, The Hag of the Mill. 

She is ordered not to speak to the captive but Lonnog has her own plans. 
She teases the king about his madness and he responds with tales of his freedom and the great leaps he once took across the hill tops of Ireland. 
Finally the Cailleach challenges him to make one more leap, this time through the skylight of the room. Suibhne does so and pursued by the Hag, is free once more. 
They travel across the landscape, with the Mill Hag driving him on. During their time together Suibhne recounts his meetings with the famous stags of Ireland, remembering his great adventures in the wild he recognises Lonnog as an ancient one, the progenitor, mother of the great herds of deer.

“ O mother of this herd
thy coat has become grey,
there is no stag after thee
without two score antler-points.”


Finally, to be rid of the Hag, Suibhne leaps to Dunseverick on the Antrim coast where he jumps again, followed by the Hag of the Mill.
The king survives by falling into the sea but the Cailleach lands on a cliff, her body broken, she falls into the water. After many more adventures St. Ronan’s curse descends upon Suibhne and he is killed by a spear wound.
But what of Lonnog, the ancient Cailleach ?
We are told that her body washes up on a beach and at that liminal place, between sea and land, 
she is carried away by her Otherworld kin. 

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TEA WITH THE CAILLEACH
AN ORIGINAL PAINTING by JANE BRIDESON
Watercolour, gouache & pencil on watercolour board

The story surrounding Tea with The Cailleach will be posted soon!

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SPRING EQUINOX AT THE MOUND
AN ORIGINAL PAINTING by JANE BRIDESON
Watercolour, gouache & pencil on watercolour paper


Each year at Spring Equinox, around 21st March, the light at sunrise enters the passage of Cairn T 
on Sliabh na Caillí to illuminate the ‘equinox’ stone and its’ carving. 
It is a point of balance after which the length of daylight increases bringing renewal, growth and 
the promise of nature’s abundance.

GOODNESS IN SEED, GRASS AND GRAIN
SUN-WISE CIRCLING
GOODNESS IN FLOWER, FRUIT AND BRANCH
A HEALTHY HARVEST
A SUDDEN SURGE 
A TORRENT THE YELLOW OF RIPENING SUN 
IS BIRTHED ACROSS THE LAND 
THE POINT OF BALANCE TIPPED
THE LAND AWASH WITH VIGOUR ONCE AGAIN.

words © Jane Brideson 2018


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AT THE CENTRE
AN ORIGINAL PAINTING by JANE BRIDESON

On a bright spring morning as my companions explored the hill,
I entered the mound. 
I brought no offerings nor expectations only a reverence for this sacred place.
As my eyes settled from daylight to darkness I sat in the centre. 
Around me carved stones, cool air and silence. 
I waited. 
Through thoughts of tomb and womb, ritual and rebirth 
I waited.
Slowly a warmth grew beneath me, spreading around me.
I waited 
and finally the scents of age, of earth, of ashes 
as slowly
a presence filled the mound.

Curled upon the earthen floor held fast in bony embrace
She spoke to me and I wept in recognition of her words.
Filled with a certainty beyond all doubt.

I KNEW THEN, AS I KNOW NOW, 
THE CAILLEACH STILL WALKS THIS LAND.

words © Jane Brideson 2018

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WINTER
AN ORIGINAL PAINTING by JANE BRIDESON
Watercolour & gouache on watercolour paper



WINTER DEEPENS IN A HUSH OF SNOW
LAND LAID BARE TO REST
IS TIGHTLY TUCKED BENEATH WHITE BLANKETS.
AS WE DREAM OF SUMMER DAYS
THE CAILLEACH STILL WALKS THE LAND
FOOTSTEPS LEADING TO THE END
AND ON 
TO THE BEGINNING…

words © Jane Brideson 2018

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This exhibition is dedicated to The Cailleach in her many forms, 
to my Manx granny Annie-Mona Bridson & 
to the Old Women everywhere.