Mapping the Old Wife

For many years I’ve have a deep fascination with sites prefixed with the name ‘Old Wife’. With plenty of time on my hands, I decided to have a go at something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time, create a map.

The map covers the three main linguistic elements of my researches. For clarification, the word Wife means woman, it has only been used to signify a woman’s marital status relatively recently, therefore the Old Wife means, Old Woman. The second main element is Cailleach, a Scots and Irish Gaellic word which is still in use today and means, Old Woman/Hag/Witch. The Final element is the word Carling, which is the the Scots equivalent of Cailleach. For completeness, I have also included a few sites with a Witch element in their names as these are relatively rare and may be relevant.

The sites that I’ve select are all physical places and are named on maps. The word Carling has been a little problematic as the element Carl means a free peasant in Old English and Old Scandinavian e.g. the etymology of the word Carlton would be a settlement of free peasants. Whereas the etymology of Carling Howe, which was originally called Kerlinghou, means the hill of the old woman or hag. I have tried my best to filter- out these name elements and have hopefully only added relevant sites on the map.

Key – Orange/Red = Cailleach, Blue = Carling, Purple = Old Wife, Green = Witch

When looking at the distribution map, I cannot think of any other mythological or folkloric figure who is so well represented in our landscape and yet, as my friend Graeme points out, remains so anonymous . I suppose, given a millennia and a half of an interlinked church and state, which in the past has actively suppressed to any whiff of witchcraft or the supernatural, especially when practiced by women, the fact that her name has survived and remains embedded in our landscape is quite remarkable. The distribution of sites may also say something regarding certain commonalities between the cultures of the early inhabitants of the northern and western parts our islands.

The Hag/Crone/Old Wife/Witch

Cailleach – Gaellic, Carlin/Gyre, Carling – Scots, Kerling – Icelandic, Kelling – Faroese, Kjerring – Norwegian, Karring – Swedish, Kaelling – Danish

The map is a work in progress, I will continue to work on it and hopefully add the interactive version to this site.

Thanks to Graeme Chappell for his encouragement, comments and providing me with a few sites that I’d not come across.

The Old Wife

What is your name?

You know me as The Old Wife, I have many names in many lands, my true name is lost to you. In your world I am Carling, Gyre, Calliach, Cailich, Calli, Kerling, Kelling, Kjerring, Karring, Kaelling. I am also Black Annis, Cally Berry, Bell, Witch, Gentle Annie, Bronach, Mala Lia, Glaistig, Muilgheartach, Boi, Hag, Crone, Bone Mother, Veiled One, Thunderer, Frau Holle, Mardoll, Morrigan, Daughter of Frenzy.

Where do you come from?

I was always here. I am before time and place, I am below and above.

What is your purpose?

I command the weather and summon winter, I rule the dark months. I made your mountains, crags, forests and moors. Your rivers run because of me. The coastlines, islands, headlands, and cliffs are my work. I close your harvest and protect your animals. Gods, giants, kings and mortals have shared my bed, my offspring people the world. I am the bringer of death and the mother of all.

Printing with Iron – Cyanotypes for Sale

I’m selling some original Cyanotypes of the Dorman Long Tower. Cyanotype is a photographic printing process where the paper is coated with light sensitive iron salts and then exposed to UV light. Once exposed, the image is washed and then left to dry for 24 hours.

Each cyanotype is completely original, due to the vagaries of coating, exposure and washing, no two cyanotypes are the same. The image is made onto A4 330gsm acid-free paper. I may need to trim the edges slightly so the final image may be slightly smaller than A4.

Posting framed images would be rather costly so I’m selling them unframed. I’ve added a picture of a framed print below just to give you an idea of how they look. The prints are £15 plus £2 p&p each, with all profits going to the Trussell Trust. If you’d like to buy one send an email to smellofblackpath@gmail.com

Solstice

I spent much of yesterday afternoon hunting for a place from which to watch this morning’s winter solstice sunrise. My map is covered with pencil lines running through local landmarks, Freebrough Hill, Stony Ruck, Roseberry Topping, Godfalter Hill, all bisected at 130 degrees to align with the rising sun.

Last night I started to think about all of the times that I’ve been working away during the solstices, wishing I was at home. I thought about what the solstice means to me and how it relates to the situation we currently find ourselves in. I decided to put away my maps and focus on what is important, home.

Just before dawn, I took a walk and watched the town waking up. Dog walkers and early strollers started to appear, the bloke who is constantly engaged in an argument with himself was pacing the upper prom. On the lower prom swimmers were shouting for joy as they plunged into the cold sea. An ambulance parked outside of the nursing home brought home the current reality. I bumped into a friend on his way to start his long day, getting the hours in because he doesn’t know when the next lockdown will come.

The Solstice is often referred to as midwinter, the reality is that there are still long, lean months ahead of us. The wheel has turned, the sun reborn.