Ir.: "hag", though originally "nun", from the Latin pallium, meaning "veil" or "Greek mantle."
According to Scottish oral folklore, the time from Hallowe'en to Candlemas was ruled by Cailleach, the Hag. On Candlemas Eve, she would sail to the Isle of Youth and drink from its fountain, regaining her beauty and becoming Bride.
From this, we can see certain elements of earlier belief; firstly, the holidays of Hallowe'en (Samhain, the Celtic new year and beginning of winter) and Candlemas (Imbolc, the Celtic beginning of spring) are prominent as the time ruled by an old woman. The idea of winter ruled by an elderly figure is common (just think of the colloquial "Old Man Winter"); moreover, we then see this figure sailing off to the "Isle of Youth"--likely the Irish Tir na nOg.
The other known Cailleach is the Cailleach Bheirre, usually translated as the Old Woman of Beare. The famous lament on old age was likely written in the 9th century.
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Mary Jones © 2004