Powerful old women's opposition to military heroes appears throughout the tales and sagas of barbarian Europe, and survives in modern peasant folklore. The hags in these stories have the power of shapeshifting, transforming themselves into wild animals or stunningly beautiful maidens. Their power reaches to the sun, moves rocks and earth and wind.
The Scottish Muilearteach, who raised winds and storms, came in the form of a hag to Scottish heroes, begging to be allowed near the fire. As she warmed herself, she grew large and aggressive. [Briggs, 304] The same story is told of theglaistig, protector of the deer, who comes to a highland cabin where hunters are gathered. She hunkers down by the fire and begins to swell in size. The hag demands snuff from a hunter, and if he is not canny enough to offer it to her on the point of his dirk, she jumps him and begins to choke him.
The hunting dogs spring at her, and she tells the hunter to keep them back. She pulls a gray hair from her head to tie them up, but the wise hunter will use his garter instead. The glaistig goes after him the minute the hounds are tied, saying “Tighten hair.” But the hunter says “Loosen garter.” With the dogs after her, the glaistig backs out the door. They pursue her like a deer until suddenly she turns and fights. The hounds come back mangled and plucked clean of hair. Without these animals and their own cunning the hunters do not fare well in combat with the glaisteag.
The Tale of the Strath Dearn Hunter shows the influence of the witch hunts. The supernatural glaistig becomes a human witch. After appearing first as a hen, then as a hag, she ends up fighting the dogs. They return to the hunter in very poor shape. He returns home to find his wife has gone off to attend a neighbor woman who seemed to be in terrible pain. The hunter is suspicious, goes to the house and tears the covers off her. Her breasts have been torn off by hounds' teeth. The hunter denounces the woman as a witch and kills her with his sword. [Craigie?]
Source: Crones,Excerpt from Secret History of the Witches, copyright 2000 Max Dashu