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Professor Fergus Kelly’s (Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies) presentation on Early Irish Charms for Animals came with an extensive reference handout.  Because the two keynote speakers had run over time, Prof. Kelly sped through his offering.  I would have enjoyed hearing more from this distinguished scholar, but I am thankful to have his list of sources.

The thrust of the presentation concerned the narrative of a hunter-gatherer people, transitioning and transitioned to a life dependent on agriculture and animal husbandry.  Where once the herd animals had been robust in size and number, with domestication, their physical size and numbers were reduced.  This necessarily increased concern over disease, which was directly linked to domestication.

This new concern can be seen in the highly significant burden placed upon local Kings, which tied the health of the land and animal population to the King’s justice, as well as the compensation an animal healer was entitled to, as outlined in the law tracts (1/4 of the wound price).  It is from this concern that the use of animal charms arises.

Language of the Literary Sources:

Seirthech, a disese of horses (seir ‘heel, hock’)

Sinech, a disease of cattle, perhaps ‘cow-pox’ (sine, ‘teat’)

Conach ‘rabies’ (disease affecting dogs, cattle, pigs, poultry, etc.), derivative of cú, con ‘dog’

Liaig ‘animal doctor’

gono míl, orgo míl, marbu míl  “I would the worm, I strike the worm, I kill the worm”

Milliud ‘destruction, bewitching’

mart leicter la sruth .i. ar g(l)einntlecht leicter ‘an animal which was swept away in a stream, i.e. it is swept away by sorcery with g(l)einntlecht being associated with paganism

mimir do cor do coin ‘giving a bad morsel to a dog’; froma uptha dus inbud amainsi: lethdiri ind, uair ni fo fath narbtha .i. fromad felmais .i. fromad na pisoc, anfot indethbiri he ‘trying out the spell to find out whether it is magic: half penalty-fine for that, because it is not with the intention of killing, i.e. trying out a magic spell i.e. testing the charms, and that is culpable inadvertence’

amainse ‘magic’

felmas ‘spell’

pisóc ‘charm’

Other Charms

There was mention of the use of charms, in general, with an interesting note concerning marriage.

bean dia tabair a ceile upta oca guide co mbeir for druis “a wife whose husband gives her love charms while wooing her so that he brings her to lust” is entitled to a divorce, and to keep her bride price!

Corrguine(ch) ‘crane / heron-slayer, sorcerer’ could be one who practices the crane stance, etc.

Herbs in Charms

An incredibly interesting portion of the talk skimmed over the different uses of herbs, specifically, that each class used a different herb for the same problem.  There is an indication that certain plants were only used for the noble class, etc.

Ar ni inun cosc sair [] dair [] leth[s]air: ‘for the prevention of [the evil eye from ?] the noble and base and half-noble is not the same’

Tri losa atheclthar and: righlus [] tarblus [] aitheclus: righlus do righaibh guna comhgradhaibh [] tarblus do gradhaibh flatha, aitheclus do gradaib deine “Three herbs are recognised here: royal herb and bull herb and plebeian herb: royal herb for kings and those of equal rank with them, bull herb for the grades of lord, and plebeian herb for the grades of commoner’

Time, and it’s connection with Charms

Another topic, which could have received its own treatment, was the notion that time mattered: that when you plucked or cut an herb was associated with status, of the herb and the person it was to be used on.

is ed dleghar a buain ‘maseach [] in lus resa[rai]ter is ed dleghar a buain cach nuairi do ‘it should be plucked in turn and the herb which is said [to correspond to his rank ?] is that which should be plucked every time for him’

[] is airi danither sen mada teccmadh a athair do gradhaibh flatha [] a mathair do gradhaibh feine ‘and it is for that reason that that is done, if his father should belong to the grades of lord, and his mother to the grades of commoner’

Agricultural Year ?

Prof. Kelly mentioned the lack of information present in early Irish MS regarding cereal crops.  He indicated that the climate here was never fit for them, and even the more hearty barley can be a struggle.  It is interesting to me that there should be a lack of literary reference to cereal crops in the early period, when they seem to overshadow the current practitioner (pagan) mindset of an agricultural (harvest based) year.  It puts me in mind of the theory espoused by Barry Cuncliffe of the university of Oxford and Social anthropologist Lionel Sims, that the transition to agriculture from a hunter-gather way of life was motivated by a reduction in large game after the last ice-age, and that turning to stationary lifestyles which required more intensive periods of work, and dependence on climate, was resisted.  This subject needs further practitioner (pagan) scholarship, if it has not already been done. 

A modern festival which I had read about previously was mentioned: Féil na nairemon ‘the festival of the ploughmen’  Prof Kelly indicated that this festival took place in mid June, when the crops had reached full growth, after 3 months of tending.

Additional Time related activities mentioned by audience members:

At Bealtaine – hawthorn was collected after sunset, placed on house before sunrise.

Vervaine is only collected when Sirius is rising, which is sometime in July.

Roots are collected after the November full moon.

Sources:

The majority of Irish texts cited are from Corpus iuris hibernici  (Dublin 1978)  D.A. Binchy

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http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01rdzx0

Episode five of a thirty-part series made in collaboration with the British Library Sound Archive.

Around the world charismatic individuals claim the ability to change the weather, heal illness and help crops grow. Professor David Hendy explains how sound – and its manipulation – is central to the shaman’s power.

David introduces the eerie rituals of Siberian reindeer herders as they summon spirits, before coming closer to home to hear a mysterious singing angel high in the facade of Wells Cathedral.

 

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This weekend I attended an excellent multi-disciplinary symposium on Charms and Magic in Medieval and Modern Ireland, organized by the Department of Early Irish at the National University of Ireland Maynooth.  Scholars from so diverse backgrounds as religious studies and archeology, linguistics and philology, and from applied disciplines likes herbal healing and veterinary medicine presented enlightening glimpses into their own work, as it related to the topic.  I hope to share what I took away from these talks.

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Worm and Snake Charms

The first speaker of the morning was Jacqueline Borsje (University of Amsterdam and University of Ulster), who delved into Irish snake and worm charms as export products.  She outlined the importance of charms as words of power, and how important context is when seeking to understand them.  Cultural, textual, and situational context is everything; in other words, don’t necessarily take them at face value.

Professor Borsje has written extensively about the evil eye in Ireland, and she brought this connection with “supernatural theft” into her discussion of snake and ‘wyrm’ charms.    Her reference to Professor Kelly’s work on medieval Irish Law tracts dealing with the stealing away ‘through envy,” with such concerns of butter and milk, was the thrust of her argument here.  A Babylonian incantation from the 2nd millennium BCE, in which women, babies, storage rooms, the god of the house, were all mentioned in their need for protection against this ‘supernatural theft.’

An interesting point connected ‘evil eye cultures’ — those cultures expressing a concept such as the evil eye or supernatural theft — with unstable ecological environments dependent on crop or cattle economies, with a concern over scarcity of resource.

Another non-Irish source mentioning supernatural theft are the 12 Roman Tables.  These tables talk of bewitched crops, evil spells, and the removal of crops by incantation.  In medieval Ireland, a particular concern was ‘stealing through the evil eye on the corriguinech (on May Day) — which seemed connected to milk theft.

Anglo-Saxon MS have references to Irish snake and wyrm charms that focus on remedies for swallowing a ‘wyrm’ and for ‘penetrating wyrm.’  These charms normally entailed singing the charm in various ways, and using saliva.  For example:

Wyrm Charm (MS  remedies)

Sing the charm 9 times, in either the right or left ear

Penetrating Wyrm

Sing the charm directly on the wound, then anoint with saliva. 

The charms are ‘aggressive’ in imagery, using the language of battle.  During this time, worms were seen as the cause of ailments as diverse as toothache and migraine, to pregnancy and actual disease.  An example of some of this language can be found in Lady Wylde’s writing, which, though not scholarly, does offer a glimpse into modern usage:

 for the Great Worm

 I kill a hound….

I kill a worm…..

for Pains:

evil worm

venomous charm….

rub with butter, etc.

The tendency of these charms is to treat like with like, similar to homeopathy.  The idea of a ‘snake charm’ was to use something venomous (the word of power) to treat a venomous disease (caused by a worm).  Another very interesting thing was the use of singing.  These charms, by and large, were sung, and often over the wound or over the water / liquid which held the charm and was then drunk.  If the patient could not drink, then the incantation of the charm was sung into the patients mouth.

Snake charms were used against illnesses associated with poison.  The absence of snakes on the island of Ireland was seen as a special property of this island.  This is why most of the snake charms found in continental Europe contain a portion written in Old Irish.  The really interesting thing to note here, is that the Irish found written in these charms was so garbled, it’s almost unintelligible.  Why?  Because it had been told to an original scribe by an Irish speaker, but had been handed down to non-speakers who were simply trying to copy, from memory, a phonetic representation.  They didn’t understand the Irish they were saying, but it was a Word of Power that held the protection of the ‘land without snakes.’  A potent charm against poison diseases!

A fun side note mentioned the old Irish hex of placing 13 eggs in someone’s haystack on Bealtaine.

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I have been writing at the new Patheos Pagan Chanel blog: A Sense of Place. It has taken me into a deeper exploration and understanding of my own connection to the geography around me, what constitutes “home”, and what various places mean to my spirituality and to my practice as a witch.

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the ring fort : Lissnabroc : Cork

Because it was such a sunny morning here in Cork, I went out for a run. As I passed the gate, leading into the pasture where the Ring Fort lives, I noticed a sigh. “blah, blah, Cork County Council…blah, blah…..planning permission for..blah, blah, ….a residential structure.”

What!?

The man who bought the pasture– from the family whose relations originally farmed it and lived in our stone house (that pasture had once been part of the farm belonging to the house we live in), a family whose relations had preserved the ring fort in tact (a fate not shared by two others on this ridge)–was now giving it to his daughter to build a new house. Right. Next. To. The. Ring.

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the back pasture : my family farm : Wadsworth, Texas

Several things flooded my mind as I read the sign. First, that the new owners show an incredible lack of regard for folk tradition. In years past, no one in their right mind would have lived so near one of “their” dwellings (ring forts were seen as dwelling places of the Good Neighbors, and there were/are many prohibitions concerning them). This seeming lack of regard immediately had me concerned for the preservation and welfare of the ring. Secondly, I felt the trauma of losing my family farm all over again.

I am sure I have written here before about growing up on a farm in Texas. My experience of and deep connection with that Place forever shaped my present incarnation. Many times I have admitted that instead of human parents rearing me, it was actually the land. Nature herself, in all her forms, took a wild heathen thing, who used to run barefoot from sunup to sundown, and shaped her into the woman I am today. When my father got control of the farm, he sold it: bit by bit. While I know his actions were influenced by his Bi-Polar disorder, the loss devastated me.

So today, reading a simple white sign staked into the ground by the stone wall, I was struck once more with my own Solastalgia (Albrecht, 2010a): my own grief, pain, and trauma caused by the loss of Place. My post on Patheos this week was about snakes and sovereignty–specifically musing on the very local and immediate connection the ancient Irish kings had with Place. The right to rule, here in Ireland, was bestowed by a female agency and was intimately bound to the immediate environs of that tuath (The tuath was the basic unit of society and was based on kin grouping. At one time, there were up to 300 tuath in the country.). The king, then, was sovereign over his very specific Place–and nowhere else, as each tuath was independent (apart from occasional alliances, etc).

I no longer have a place. Uprooted and tossed on the wind, like many in western culture, I am a migrant. I am forced to carry my Place within me. This is both lonely and liberating. I learned, out of necessity and natural inclination, the tools to connect with my surroundings. These have served me well, as I have traveled–moving from place to place–the entirety of my adult life. And it occurred to me, reading the sign today and feeling the instant desire to flee so I don’t have to witness the infringement on the ring, that I’ve been running from deep connection my entire life.

Maybe we all do. In America, society has become disposable. Forces outside our immediate control have power and sway over our lives. So, whether due to economic or political forces, many are compelled into a migrant lifestyle, seeking work or fleeing destruction (another shopping mall or parking lot, anyone?). In ages past, we were subject to the power of a chieftain or tribal ruler. But at least that king was kin, and his domain–our domain–the same Place our ancestors had lived, perhaps for millennia.

a village by the sea : Ireland

a village by the sea : Ireland

Now market forces rule, and kingship is given to the profit margin.

I hurt…and because I can’t bear the loss of another Place, I will migrate once again. My face is turned toward the city. It seems my Fate is intimately bound with it. My academic interests include the psychological stress of urbanisation. It seems fitting, doesn’t it?

References:

Albrecht, Glenn. (2010, May 22). ‪TEDxSydney 2010 was organised by General Thinking. Environment Change, Distress & Human Emotion Solastalgia. Retrieved from http://youtu.be/-GUGW8rOpLY

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Dear little birdeens of my heart, go to sleep in the thorn tree,
Nor loss nor danger to you tonight the yellow cat nor her kittens,
Nor danger from the water sprite who lurks by the fairy fort,
Nor from the voracious otter on the strand below.

Chorus

Sleep, little birdeens, little thrushes, little blackbirds,
Sleep little birdeens in the hedge outside in peace,
Sleep, little birdeens, little thrushes, little blackbirds,
So sleep, sleep until it is day.

Dear little birdeens of my heart, go to sleep in the thorn tree,
No danger to you the people who are sleeping softly.
Nor any danger from evil spells while I am beside you.
So sleep, sleep until it is day.

ÉINÍNÍ is a beautiful lullaby from An Rinn (Ring), the small Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking district) near Dungarvan, County Waterford, Ireland. It is also an enchanting celebration of those little birds whose presence and singing lightens every heart…

Éiníní, a chroí ‘stigh, codlaígí fén droighneach,
Ní baol díbh aon díth ‘nocht, an cat buí ná a hál.
Ní baol ná an síofra cois leasa na luí dhó,
Ná an dobharchú thá cíocrach thíos ar an dtráigh.

Curfá / chorus

Codlaígí, éiníní, smóilíní, céirsíní,
Codlaígí éiníní sa chlaí ‘muigh go sámh,
Codlaígí éiníní, smóilíní, druidíní,
Codlaígí dá bhrí sin, codlaígí go lá.

Éiníní a chroí stigh, codlaígí fén droighneach,
Ní baol daoibh na daoine thá ‘na gcodladh go sámh.
Ní baol ná aon draoireacht agus mise bhur gcoimhdeacht.
Codlaígí dá bhrí sin, codlaígí go sámh.

Curfá / chorus

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I tell to you, a special festival,
The glorious dues of May-day:
Ale, worts, sweet whey,
And fresh curds to the fire.

Lammas-day, make known its dues,
In each distant year:
Tasting every famous fruit,
Food of herbs on Lammas-day.

Meat, ale, nut-mast, tripe,
These are the dues of summer’s end;
A bonfire on a hill pleasantly,
Buttermilk, a roll of fresh butter.

Tasting every food in order,
This is what behoves at Candlemass,
Washing of hand and foot and head,
It is thus I say.

Quatrains on Beltaine, &c.
Author: Kuno Meyer
An electronic edition

What is probably meant by “every food in order” is that the fresh food was getting scarce, so eat whatever was on hand!

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toward Dublin

for Lebor na hUidre!

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Awake, awake, you ancient watchers
Awake awake and let me in
Come down come down, from your waiting houses
Come down come down and let me in
~Sharon Knight

Here, at the end of all things,

let me start at the beginning and introduce myself.  I am a native Texan, living in Ireland.  My sense of Place is intricately and intimately tied with the land  which is now known as south and central Texas.  I was born on the coastal plain, a land that stretches wide, with clear vistas from horizon to horizon: fertile and verdant.  Where big winds blow and the sky is a yawning expanse. Adopted at birth into a farming family, my youth was spent in isolation with nature.  My nearest human neighbors were over a mile away, and I was the only child of an only child.  I spent my days alone and barefoot, roaming creek bed, plowed field,   empty barn, and lonely byway. My grandparents passed to me their wisdom: planting and harvesting by the moon and signs, cures, folk knowledge, and  ancestral  stories.  Descendants of Welsh and ScotsIrish emigrants, they adhered to a system older than the society that swallowed them.  I was fortunate to have been cocooned in their land of enchantment – 250 acres, and then some, to roam and explore – unfettered – nurtured by the accumulated lore of generation upon generation….of  human and other-than-human persons. Love to you – always ❤

My blood seeks movement,

and I traversed the greet North American lands as a young adult, living and breathing in many regions.  My heart pulled me toward mountain, desert, forest.  I tasted and loved them all.  As these things go, eventually the blood pulled wide – to Far lands across an ocean …..and some of them I have kissed.  My bed is now in Eire, but how long She has me….only Fate knows. Deep in The Avondhu of east Cork, which escaped glaciation, my eyes seek and my ears are open.  Surrounded by new voices, new ways….. I follow my mesolithic ancestresses blood.


I  have always been pagan…… my grandmother infused my praxis as a witch….and my blood drives me back  – into a misty past, where we were all once truly Human.

To Mabon and Gene;
Katie and Thomas;
Chilton and Love-Ann

…Victor, Cora, Gwydion:

None are forgotten
nothing fades forever
all that has past comes around again

For here, what is Remembered Lives
What Is Remembered Lives

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