Cailleach’s Alchemy: turning hubris into humility

bell selkie lovelock
6 min readOct 25, 2020


It’s been a wild day — shocks of stinging hail followed by intense sunlight sending shafts of glimmer onto the black lochs; stunning craggy mountains, loch Ewe and North Sea appearing and disappearing suddenly, as if they’re flashing me…and rainbows threaded through it all.

Last night was what I call a Cailleach teaching — this may be familiar with you as something like (fairly) instant karma — where a less-than-whole mindset/ action seems to attract an unfolding of events that teach you a lesson (should you choose to perceive it as that)to put you back into balance.

In my particular dance with this dark feminine destroyer energy, she shows up when I get into some hubris — where I forget to be humble and get a bit puffed up. I know it’s hubris and not healthy pride because it has an element of feeling a bit better than others in its mix. Healthy pride doesn’t need to lean into superiority (I think?).

A few folks have told me recently that they wished they were as brave as me — a woman taking myself off to wild places alone … That started my metaphorical knuckle polishing against my chest at my own amazingness in comparison to others…Sigh

So last night, I felt rather brave and also very clever to have found myself a jaw-dropping park up (compared to those other people down in the designated sites and official car-parks who settled for tame…Sigh) overlooking loch with a young pine forest beginning to soften the hard barren rock of mountain’s flanks to the east, and a brief but splendid sunset over the mountains to the west AND to set up a blog page (finally).. I settled down in my smug little bed and dropped off.

I was woken with the conviction that someone had reversed hard into the van, but the repeated thumps and deafening shrieks were of wind, accompanied by the thunderous downfall of heavy rain. I lay in darkness, at first excited at being cosy in such elemental fury (mwahaha cackles the Cailleach), but then, as the rocking and shrieking increased, I started to get scared. Calling on what I could access of my strategic mind at 3am ish, I checked the weather and it told me that gusts were increasing to 63mph by first light in the nearest town.

Then I was properly scared — I’d read (on a similar night in Cymru) that winds over 60mph can tip high-sided vans over…I had strong visions of me being tossed around with books, cans and jars of food, the wood stove and other heavy items down the bank into cold waters, never-to-be-seen-again sort of thing.

So, I realised then that I needed to take a moment of breaths…to remember the questions I heard that are good to ask in troubling times, attributed to those skilled hunters, the San bushmen of the Kalahari, for cultivating inner tracking:

“What is happening?

What am I learning?

How can that help me?

How can what I learn help others? “

In the howling gale I swear I could hear her delighted cackling somewhere and felt something like gratitude for an opportunity to learn (again) to steady myself eg how to feel proud that I’ve cultivated a certain courage, yet to remember that an awe-full lot of grace, luck, support and generosity has played a significant role in developing whatever courage I have.

That seemed to do the trick — got my grown-up self metaphorically and physically back in the driving seat of the situation, so I could make my very slow way to a safer, sheltered place.

Often, it seems with Cailleach’s teachings, that some graceful gift comes after — as if to confirm that it was actually a lesson. Waking up to go running (NB …decided I wanted to be able to run 5k by the time I’m 50 on Nov 4th! !). I found that, instead of a road run which is tough on me old knees, I was right opposite a track meandering into the new pine forest I’d been so touched to see growing amidst the desecrated mountains.

So balance restored perhaps? Not quite…Cailleach hadn’t finished with me. After my run and morning writing, I was divining which way to head (by which I mean: look at a map and see what allures or repels me and head in that direction.) I noticed there was a peninsula called Cailleach’s head (!). I headed for the headland next to it as I didn’t want to be too bold as to go straight there, not after last night’s “fun and games”.

Following the slow, slow gait of a heavily pregnant highland heifer, her royal shagginess set me up for a ceremonial arrival at a park up tucked out of the way — not blocking anything, no signs discouraging parking, right at the end of the road. Ahead, only purple heathery headline and beyond that, sea and a massive moving sky.

I was mending my stove door when a shiny landrover arrived and a man got out and told me “We don’t allow overnight parking here”. Ahhh, here we go, I thought. I queried who “We” was and was told it was the estate. I asked if he was the estate owner (that would have been fun!) and was told he was a tenant.

Now, at this juncture in the conversation I could happily have got into verbal sparring about why he was defending the rights of the elites who possess stolen land and are charging him rent to live on said stolen land; or to point out that his brummie accent meant he was an incomer and, in the same way that new converts to a religion are usually the most zealous ‘cos they have something to prove, he may be over-reacting out of insecurity…and several other arguments generated by an immature rebel part of me that takes great glee in winding folks up in a verbal battle!

But with the cackling one watching me from over the bay, I felt the gravitas of this moment of choice. I went instead towards the softness of trying to find some common ground between us — realising he was feeling protective of his place and people, and didn’t trust that I would be respectful. He was not knowing who I am or that I’m here, listening in to the wilds outside and within myself because I too feel protective of earth and so am learning what earth made me to be, by offering my soulful attention and creativity to the other-than-humans (and humans) that I encounter as best as I can. It took a while to establish that common ground while he went through the “I’m taking a photo of your number plate/I’m going to call the police;/You let all travellers down/I bet you don’t even have a shovel for your shit in there” retorts.

I listened and reflected back his concerns and then told him softly and strongly that I was likely to stay the night and would leave no mess whatsoever, (showing him my poo pot and gloves to confirm that not only do I leave no trace of me, I also clear up other peoples mess to “ pay my rent” to the place that has given me shelter). I promised that I wasn’t a threat to him, his people or this place. And he agreed, chuckling, to leave me in peace for one night before driving away.

Shortly after, a couple were walking up the lane with two dogs that greeted me enthusiastically. Realising that these four were theoretically my nearest neighbours, I told them my intention to stay for a night and that I wouldn’t leave a mess, nor give them Covid. “ Nae bother at all” they said “Have you been bothered by a guy in a landrover? He’s the only one round here who cares. Stay as long as you like.”

Sun has long set and my fire is working well with the fixed door…gratitude for the little shop with the helpful man that amazingly had the exact part I needed to mend my stove door; gratitude for the man who defends his square mile from people who leave dog-poo bags and wet wipes/tissues in wild places … and gratitude for cackling crones who push us to our edges so we can grow into our wholeness.