Witch. Mermaid. Fairy Queen. Cliodhna has many faces and names. Recently, while doing some geneaological research, I found my ancestors claimed descent from this elusive Celtic fairy goddess. I had no clue who she was, but almost instantly she began reaching out to me through the ether. She has quickly become my matron goddess, and if you also descend from her or are being called by her, you won’t be disappointed. Here you’ll find Cliodhna’s history, folklore, and eleven ways to work with her divine, otherworldly energy.
Cliodhna. Cleena the Fair-Haired. Pronounced Klee-nuh or Klee-uh-nuh. Cliodhna is the patron goddess of the county Cork Ireland and has been since ancient times. She is the great Calf Goddess of the Corcu Loigde (a group of old Irish families that claim descent from her – more on this below). Her magical domains are sea and earth magick, healing, protection, love, beauty, renewal/rebirth, witchcraft, and death.
Cliodhna the Fair-Haired is featured in the Tale of Teigue as being the most beautiful woman the men had ever seen. She lived in a crystal palace in the Celtic Otherworld and was accompanied by three magical singing birds. Cliodhna lives off of an eternal apple tree, where her birds also eat and perch. In the ancient tale, Cliodhna tells the men that the birds’ song heals all who hear it. In addition, she gifts Teigue a magical green goblet that turns water into wine. The cup is called an biasdain because it was taken from the heart of a whale.
There’s also an ancient myth of Cliodhna falling in love with a man named Ciobhan of the Curling Locks. She leaves the Celtic Otherworld to be with her lover, but unfortunately, the Otherworld wants her back. Depending on the version of the tale, either the sea god Manannan Mac Lir or the Cailleach have the goddess lulled to sleep with sweet, harp music on the seashore. Then a wave is sent to wash Cliodhna back into the Otherworld. To this day, the tide in Glendore harbor in Cork, Ireland is referred to as Tonn Chliodhna, “Cliodhna’s wave”. Every ninth wave that breaks on the shore is Cliodhna’s wave.
Do you have Irish ancestors from Cork? If so, you might want to check your surnames and see if your family was part of the Corcu Loigde, the Gens of the Calf Goddess. A few of the names include: O’Donovan, O’Driscoll, Coffey, Dineen, Flynn, O’Leary, and Hennessy. Research the Corcu Loigde to see a full list of the ancient Irish families that claim descent from Cliodhna. If your ancestors are part of this group, this means YOU can claim Cliodhna as a divine ancestor! Disclaimer: there’s some debate as to which goddess was actually the “Calf Goddess” that the Corcu Loigde claimed descent from. My theory is that it is indeed Cliodhna, but there’s some speculation it might have also been Flidais.
After the Church converted a pagan Celtic Ireland, the once-beautiful and healing goddess Cliodhna was demoted. Depending on the region and person, Cliodhna’s form changes like the seasons but most depict her in an unpredictable and frightening light. She’s a fairy queen, mermaid, witch and banshee in Cork folklore.
As a fairy queen, Cliodhna lives with the fairies in Cork under a large rock called Carrigcleena. In one story told by a Cork resident, Cliodhna gives a man a red fairy cow that blesses him and his family for decades. Until one day when the man’s wife treats the fairy cow poorly and the cow walks down into the lake and disappears forever. The Celtic Fairy Queen can be a seductress in many tales and in one she enspells Ivor O’Donovan only to lure him to the Otherworld to be with her forever. Cliodhna is the daughter of the Fairy King of Munster and is occasionally the sister of Queen Maeve and Bina. She holds her fairy court at lios-cul-blath.
Cliodhna turns into a banshee (a wailing, crooning fairy-woman) whenever someone in one of the old Irish families (the Corcu Loigde) dies. She rises from the lake (Loch Cluthmhar) and croons loud enough to send chills down the locals’ spines. She’s said to be the Queen of the Banshees too. Before a tragic event, Cliodhna rises from the lake and sits on top of her chimney. Before the Great War, locals claimed to see her sitting on her rock, singing, crying and gazing out at the sea for a full month.
Like most old goddesses, Cliodhna became a witch following the rise of the church. According to Cork locals, she will catch men of her liking and drag them into the earth through Carrigcleena (Cleena’s rock). If you knock on her rock three times and say “Open Sea Sake”, she will come out and kidnap you. One tale tells of a local good witch who saves a man from Cliodhna’s grasp by threatening Cliodhna that she’d use her wand to “send her back out to sea”. Moreover, her appearance on various bodies of water in Cork allude to the origins of her mermaid form. My theory is though folklore paints Cliodhna and other fairies in a negative light as “kidnappers”, they are actually benevolent psychopomps guiding the dead to the Otherworld.
If you choose to work with Cliodhna in your pagan or magical practice, your relationship with her will no doubt be unique. Just because I have a certain experience with her doesn’t mean your experience will be the same. Just like with any deity. Enjoy the journey!
I find many people who want to connect with a deity don’t do proper research first. If you want to get to know Cliodhna in her many forms, read and study her stories. You’re not going to find a lot about Cliodhna on google, so head to the library or find online library archives to dig through. She’s also featured in The Adventure of Cian’s Son Teigue in the book Tales of the Celtic Otherworld by John Matthews.
An altar serves as a meeting place for you and your gods. If you want to connect with Cliodhna, set up sacred space in her name. I recently built a small altar for her and included an image that reminds me of her (I printed and framed it). If you have a fairy or mermaid figurine, these would be great representations of her. Seashells, candles, shark’s teeth, driftwood, seabird feathers, sand, and water are all appropriate additions to her altar. Don’t forget she’s also an earth goddess, so earth element items like stones and live plants are also appropriate. Add a green cup and a small vase to her altar. When you cleanse her altar, she prefers the use of water instead of smoke. I used an essential oil diffuser when I first cleansed her space.
Like with friends and family, gods appreciate gifts from us. Make regular offerings to the Celtic Fairy Goddess including: apples, fresh water, mead, herbs and herbal teas, Caribbean calcite, cakes, wine, bread, and sweets. Cliodhna also enjoys enchanting Celtic music with the flute and harp. She recently told me she enjoys eggs and flowers as offerings, as well. How often you give Cliodhna offerings is up to you, but I like to provide offerings to my deities at least once a week.
Cliodhna is a shapeshifter like other fairies. In one tale, she turns into a white seabird. And seeing as how she’s been a witch, mermaid, and banshee, I think her shapeshifting fairy nature is obvious. Fairies are infamous for shapeshifting into various animals, changing their size, gender and more. Cliodhna is no exception to the rule. So learn how to perform shapeshifting rituals and/or shapeshift in your dreams.
Fairies are guardians of wildlife and Mother Earth in general. Cliodhna has her own horde of sacred animals. If you want to work with Cliodhna, consider caring for, studying, and connecting with her sacred animals: the cat, cow, snake, horse, fish, seabirds, and birds in general. Work these animals into your shapeshifting rituals, particularly the seabird. Hold a seabird’s feather in your hands while journeying to meet Cliodhna in the Otherworld. Snakeskin sheds, horseshoes, cat’s whiskers or claws (humanely sourced), can also be used to spiritually connect with Cliodhna.
Why not go directly to the source of Cliodhna’s power? Connect with her energy at any seashore (ocean or lake) or green mound of earth. If you are lucky enough to go to Ireland, visit Cliodhna’s home at Carrigcleena (Cleena’s rock) or Glandore Harbor in Cork. Pay tribute to her at Drombeg stone circle, Cliodhna’s legendary burial place. I plan to visit this stone circle this Summer!
Cliodhna is one of the Celtic fairy goddesses, and therefore fairy magick is a great way to work with her in your practice. Invite the fairies to your garden by setting up a space for them with fairy houses and small furniture. Set up a small stone circle there. Care for the wildlife in your area by planting flowers that feed the bees and butterflies. Fairies particularly love flower gardens teeming with buzzing bees and birds as well as natural, wild places. Study the Celtic Otherworld, Tuatha de Danann and Irish fairy lore.
In her witch form, one story says Cliodhna mixed herbs and hair in a magical vase. This to me indicates she is a magical herbalist like any other witch or fairy practitioner. Learn to identify, forage and use wild herbs that are local to your area in your magick. It’s even better if you utilize a vase of some kind in your herbal practice, just like the witch fairy queen herself.
The Celtic Fairy Goddess is intimately linked to the earth and to the water element. Therefore focus your magical practice on green and sea witchcraft. Green witchcraft practices include gardening (as previously mentioned), magical herbalism, foraging, caring for houseplants, and working with local wildlife and genius loci (land spirits). Sea witchcraft practices include lots of ritual baths, using sea water and seashells in your spells, scrying, dreamwork and much more.
After setting up an altar for Cliodhna on my nightstand, my dream recall has increased drastically. Every night I have at least one to two dreams. Often they involve animals from the Otherworld or dreamwalkers. I’ve learned that Cliodhna speaks to me clearly through my dreams. If you really want to connect with her, ask her to come to you in your dreams. Consider learning how to lucid dream and/or astral travel. She will lead you to the Celtic Otherworld through your dreams.
Cliodhna came to me in a dream once and showed me a beach covered in holey stones (also called fairy stones or hag stones). These are stones that have been weathered by the water with a hole straight through them. Cliodhna is linked to these stones. If you find one, keep it on her altar in honor of her. Use it in your divination practice. Hold it when communicating with this fae goddess.
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