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 sites that I’ve select are all physical places and are named on maps. The map covers the three main linguistic elements of my researches, Old Wife, Carling/Carlin, Cailleach.
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, I’m still not sure if they are relevant but have included them anyway for interest.
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 – Blue = Cailleach, Green = Carling, Red = Old Wife, Orange = 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 didn’t know about.
This beautiful stone is thought to date from the Tenth century, it was found in 1847 during a restoration of the chancel (see comments). The local tradition is that the stone depicts the Norse god Loki. The Norse sagas tell of Loki being bound with the entrails of his son and tormented by a serpent that dripped venom onto his face.
This wonderful carving is probably Norman in origin. It is depicts two hounds and a human figure. No-one really knows what it is supposed to symbolise.
A Tenth Century cross shaft
A Tenth to Eleventh century shaft fragment depicting three crudely drawn animals.