A’ Chailleach Bheur – pronounced u ‘khye-lukh ‘vair – or The Shrill Hag, is a mythological winter spirit that resides on Scotland’s fairy mountain, Schiehallion. She is common throughout the Celtic myths and is represented in many different forms, more commonly known as the Blue Hag. Sometimes she is seen as a beautiful young woman but her real form is as an old hag whose appearance heralds the onset of winter. In Ireland she is believed to live on the cliffs of Moher, amongst other locations. She was one of two deities that between them ruled the seasons, sharing duties with the goddess Brìghde who in turn ruled the summer months. As a result, she must belong to an ancient belief system, one that the first people to live on these islands would have brought with them many thousands of years before the God of Judaism first appeared. It is a mark of her longevity that she still resides in the folk memory of these lands, long after any understanding of her has been forgotten.
The tradition of making a corn dolly from the last sheaf of harvested grain is a remnant of her influence. The first farmer to finish the harvest would make the dolly and throw it into a neighbour’s field, this is repeated until the last farmer to finish the harvest is left to look after the corn dolly until Spring arrives, with the knowledge that they might have to care and feed the old hag herself if she was to appear.
She is likely to be the inspiration for the Sheela na Gigs that appear as stone carvings on many old church buildings, a form of worship for the old religion that remains in full (and to many people’s eyes, obscene) view to the modern day. For not only did the old hag bring death to the land, she was also capable of aging in reverse – bringing about new creation through the metaphysical act of reversing age.
In the pantheon of Gods and Goddesses that still live in legend she may be the oldest and most powerful spirit whose presence still adheres to the land of the Celts.