Monday, July 31, 2017

Cailleach and the Púca

The Cailleach* stole apples from her rival Bríde and stored them till they were rosy-cheeked merry. They were in this condition when the Cailleach’s goat found them; and soon after he, in similar condition, jumped clean over the fence, and went careering through the countryside.

When she went in search of her goat, the first man the Cailleach met along the road remarked that a rabbit had stopped him and winked. A second met a hound who asked the way to Shrule, while a third, dishevelled and breathless, said a horse offered him a lift home, and carried him two miles out of his way.

For a year she trawled the countryside, hearing stories of a rampaging shape-shifter, till at last, the night after Samhain, she came in sight of her own field where an old man, sitting on a rock, eating an apple, greeted her.

They chatted happily for an hour or two on matters as diverse as the husbandry of goats and the tastiness of apples. There was a white patch on his meg that drew her attention over and over; there was something about it. And suddenly she knew. Like lightening she sprang on him, but he was swift and rolled from beneath her; in an instant, a hound was bounding into the distance with the most almighty great leaps.

The chase engaged, Cailleach flinging stones that lodged on hilltops, the hound sometimes treading on them as they rolled under his paws. They circumvented the whole of Ireland in a matter of days, leaving the landscape re-shaped behind them. It never ends. Each November storms circle the land from Dingle to Derry, Dundalk to Ring in a never ending cycle, Samhain to Lá Bríde; the hound howling, the Cailleach hot on his tail, stealing light from the sky with her never-ending hail of stones.

You can verify this account if you wish. The stones at Killeen Cormac are among the stones she has thrown; the hound’s footprints are in a boulder on Brewel Hill. The apples the goat scattered are the orbs of energy often appearing, still scattered, in photographs. The Púca’s antics are known all over Ireland and many are still recorded by unfortunates walking quiet roads late at night. Puck Fair is the yearly commemoration of the shape-shifter Púca*. And those great circles over Ireland, seen nightly on weather forecasts from September to February, are the chase as seen from the moon.

The Cailleach is a Celtic deity, goddess of winter, also associated with earth formations, changing of the seasons, animals. She feature in many legends, in particular stories of her rivalry with Bríde, goddess of spring.
Púca (Phouka, Pooka) is a malevolent/mischievous/benevolent shapeshifter from Celtic folklore; a bringer of good, more often bad luck.

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