Tabbing into the Spirit of the Cailleach

Sitting on a bus, on a sunny Saturday afternoon (October 20th), I wondered if I made the right choice–I almost got off at the stop before my destination, to head back to Trinity College. But then that voice went off in my head saying “isn’t this year is about…adventure and stepping beyond your comfort zone”. I hate that voice. When I reached the venue and saw… pumpkins, mini statues, white masks, pictures of the “old-wise” Woman posted on the wall…I immediately wished then I had shut that voice up. What did I agree to? I asked myself. “Experience!” That stupid voice again. I thought maybe I will sit at the back, sneak out half-way through but then I saw the setup—chairs in a circle, surrounding the “pagan” decoration in the center. Oh, Lawd!

When I received an email from my professor inviting me to an all-day Irish ritual organized by the Women Spirit Ireland, in preparation for Samhain/ Hallowe’en, one of the four Quarter Days of the Irish calendar year, I was absolutely intrigued. I was fascinated by the woman-centric, matriarchy ritual, that is presided over by the “Cailleach,” the Old Woman of Ireland “who is said to have created the world as she dropped large boulders from her apron (womb)”. As a Guinean-American Muslim woman, born and raised in an Abrahamic, male-centric, Father-centric faith, I was excited to experience (observe mainly) something completely different from my own practice.

After a brief introduction, we were instructed to form a line within the circle, then place our left hand on the left shoulder of the person in front of us, take two steps forward, slowly rock back and forth, and repeated this until when we returned to our original spots. As we danced in this slow motion, with a soft Irish background music playing in an old CD player, I was in total synchronization with 20+ women. The event, held in a gymnasium, titled “Reclaiming the Spirit of Samhain” was aimed at reflecting on the ancient spirit of Samhain, which marked the end of the harvest season (Old Year), and the beginning winter or the “darker half” of the year (New Year). From learning the history of the festivity, its connection to Halloween and the role of the “Cailleach”, to sharing supper (with food contributed by every participant including myself), to masks painting (with lots of colors and feathers) to dancing in the dark with the masks, I could not have been happier for listening to that annoying voice earlier. I can probably write a whole book about this particular day in Ireland, but one of the most vivid and rewarding moments happened hours later.

Six hours later, sitting in a circle with all these Irish (mainly old) women, in a very dimmed-light gymnasium, I couldn’t stop the tears from rolling down my cheeks. Part of me could not understand why I was sobbing quietly in the dark room, filled with women I only met hours ago. But the other part of me knew very well—I felt an incredible connection to these women. I am not sure what it was, but something in me just opened up. As we went around the room sharing what the Old Year brought us, lessons we learned, what we are hoping to take into the New Year, I was no longer there to just observe (as a newcomer to Ireland) but I became part of the ritual and the festivity. As the next several months unfold here in Ireland, I hope to experience many moments like the one described above.











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