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Archive for the ‘Ireland’ Category

After lunch, Ilona Tuomi (University College Cork) presented on the St. Gall MS, which is part of her ongoing research.  The entire afternoon line-up of speakers was fantastic, so my apologies in advance for potentially spotty note-taking.  I slept poorly the night before and unfortunately struggled to maintain focus toward the end of the day.

Ilona discussed the importance of words, within ritual actions, and the structure of charms, e.g., the power was built-up through names and story, and then discharged (the invocation, historiola, conjuration).

I. In the first example of the Thorn, we see the ‘aggressive’ language again:

Against a thorn
Ni artu ní nim ni domnu ní muir arnóib bríathraib rolabrastar crist assach(oich) díuscart dím andelg delg díuscoilt crú ceiti méim méinni bé ái béim nand dodath scenn toscen todaig rogarg fiss goibnen aird goibnenn renaird goibnenn ceingeth ass:- Focertar indepaidse inim nadtét inuisce 7 fuslegar de immandelg immecuáirt 7 nitét foranairrinde nachforanálath 7 manibé andelg and dotóeth indalafiacail airthir achin ;~ ;~ ;~ :• – Mary Jones

I strike a blow on it
which makes it spring out
which makes it spring forward
which drives it out

And again more aggressive language, this time invoking Goibnui:

the point of Goibnui…
before the point of Goibnui…
let it step out of him…

There is a translation for each charm on the Mary Jones site.  The Thorn charm contains these instructions:

This charm is laid in butter which goes not into water and (some) of it is smeared all round the thorn and it (the butter) goes not on the point nor on the wound, and if the thorn be not there one of the two teeth in the front of his head will fall out.

This instruction relates to the ritual performance discussed in the presentation.  The words of power are not sufficient.  They must be accompanied by the action which discharges the power.  In this instance, unwashed butter is put all around the thorn, but not on the thorn.  The “does not go in water” section referring to the butter making process. Important to note, there is potential danger in this charms use.  If you don’t actually have a thorn when you use this charm, your front two teeth will fall out!

II. In the ‘charm’ for Urine disease we see how repetition increases power, but also how not naming something specifically deprives the disease of power:

Against urinary disease
Árgálár fúail;~

Dumesursca diangalar fúailse dunesairc éu ét dunescarat eúin énlaithi admai ibdach;~ Focertar inso dogrés imaigin hitabair thúal :•~

PreCHNYTΦcANϖMNYBVc:- KNAATYONIBVS:- FINIT:•-  (again, from Mary Jones – see link above)

… a cattle – goad saves us

skillful bird-flocks of witches save us

with the ritual performance (instructions) to place the charm (perhaps written? a textual amulet?) in a particular location:

This is always put in the place in which thou makest thy urine.

III.  The Charm against a headache is arranged like Pat’s breastplate, with a listing of body parts, etc.

Against headache
Caput christi oculus isaiæ frons nassium nóe labia lingua salomonis c?llu•m temathei mens beniamín pectus pauli iunctus iohannis fides abrache sanctus sanctus sanctus dominus deus sabaoth ;~ ;~ ;~

Canir anisiu cach dia imduchenn archenn galar • iarnagabáil dobir dasale it bais 7 dabir imduda are 7 fortchulatha 7 cani dupater fothrí lase 7 dobir cros ditsailiu forochtar dochinn 7 dogní atóirandsa dano •U• fortchiunn ;~ ;~ ;~  (Mary Jones)

The ritual performance here includes therapeutic massage (which I rather like!), and making the sign of the cross on top of the head 5 times.  Prof. Hillers mentioned during questions what the “U” sign represents in the literature, but I failed to note it:

This is sung every day about thy head against headache. After singing it though puttest thy spittle into thy palm and thou puttest it round thy two temples and on thy occiput, and therat thou singest thy paternoster thrice, and thou puttest a cross of thy spittle on the crown of thy head, and then thou makest this sign, U, on thy head.

IV. Is a non-christian I-form charm:

Against various ailments
Tessurc marb • bíu • ardíring • argoth • sring • aratt díc hinn • arfuilib • híairn • arul • loscas • tene • arub • hithes • cú • rop achuhrú • crinas • teoracnoe • crete • teoraféthe • fichte • benim • agalar • arfiuch fuili • guil • Fuil • nirubatt • Rée • ropslán • frosaté • admuinur • in slánicid • foracab • dian • cecht • liamuntir • coropslán • ani forsate • ;

focertar inso dogrés itbois láin diuisciu ocindlut 7 dabir itbéulu 7 imbir indamér atanessam dolutain itbélaib cechtar ái áleth ;•

I save the sick to death…

Snake, hound, fire   (side note: this trinity is a recurrent theme in many of the charms discussed today)
I invoke the remedy which Dian Cecht…
Left with his household…

3 nuts which decay
3 sinews which weave

The ritual performance for this charm includes placing water in your palm when washing, then drinking (?) the water and placing the middle and ring finger in the mouth:

This is laid always in thy palm full of water when washing, and thou puttest it into thy mouth, and thou insertest the two fingers that are next the little-finger into thy mouth, each of them apart.

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Professor Eoin Grogan (NUI Maynooth) gave an enticing presentation on the archeological, or material, evidence of charms in ancient Ireland, titled, “Taken to the grave – possessions, mementos or charms?”  I enjoy archeology, and often search out academic papers on the topic, so this presentation was a delight for me.  He touched on a few finds I already knew about, and offered some details I was unaware of.

profile-of-face-pot

image from Eachtra Archeology Project

He began with the relatively recent – and significant – discovery near Mitchelstown (which is just down the road from me).  At this newly excavated site, the earliest anthropomorphic material good was found.  An early Bronze Age pit was discovered with the ‘burial’ of a remarkable clay cup, fashioned into the likeness of a face.  This remarkable find is unique in several ways.  First, it appears (along with an accompanying vessel) to have been ritually buried.  Secondly, it is fashioned into the likeness of a human face, with some stunning and notable attributes: both ears are facing opposing directions.  Thirdly, the anthropomorphic cup can not stand on its own, it requires the assistance of an accompanying vessel.  This accompanying vessel has not face, but it does have ears – also positioned with each facing opposing directions.

The ritually important aspect of this arrangement is evident when their placement in the pit burial is taken into account.  The cups were placed in such a way, that one ear of the pair was facing a cardinal direction – and with four ears, all four directions were attended to.

Professor Grogan also mentioned the famous use of ‘poppets,’ as recorded in the Early Irish Law Series, Volume II;  Uraicecht Na Ríar, The Poetic Grades in Early Irish Law; Edited by Liam Breatnach; Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies;1987:

The offended Druid, possibly along with a full contingent of students representing the seven poetic grades would rise before sunset and proceed to the top of a hill where a whitethorn (Hawthorn) grew.  The Druid(s) would stand with their back to the tree holding a clay image of the object of the satire.  When a north wind blew they would chant the satire while piercing the clay image with a thorn from the tree.

Evil, death, short life to Caíar,
spears of battle will have killed Caíar,
may Caiar die, may Caiar depart- Caíar!
Caíar under earth, under embankments, under stones!

Note: the Irish version looks much more poetical.

He talked about finding deer antler, unadorned, in several early medieval graves, and linked it speculatively to a European custom of a bridegroom taking an antler to his marriage bed to secure affection between spouses.

The two most provocative points were the burial in the Curragh, and the anthropomorphic bog find.

At the center of a burial complex in the curragh, a 20-30 year old woman was buried alive.  They know this due to the eventual placement of limbs, and the pressure to the skull.  This could have represented a willing burial, as it seems being the First interred in a burial complex was an important symbol.  I was immediately put to mind of the human sacrifice of sacral kingship.

(See ‘Human Sacrifice in Iron Age Europe‘)

H370475m

The gorgeous Yew-wood boundary marker, found in the bog at Ralaghan, Co. Cavan, which dates to the middle-Bronze Age was discussed.  This sensuous carved man, has an opening for his detachable genitalia.  The similarity to continental artifacts was discussed, with mention made of the detachable penis as a fertility object that would have been rubbed in many households upon entering the dwelling.  The Ralaghan man seems to have been placed into the bog as a votive offering.

(Also, check-out the ‘Red Man’ of Kilbeg: an early Bronze Age idol from Co. Offaly)

Lastly, and so as not to be remiss in the recording of my own notes, a burial at Kilteasheen, Co. Roscommon was mentioned.  In this burial, two individuals were placed next to each other, with large black stones placed in the mouth.  The stones were placed after death, but before rigamortis had set-in.  Were these individuals satarists?

NOTEif anyone can remind me of the exact mineral or process responsible for this – or point me toward a source for the information:

Ground water absorbed in the teeth can predict the exact geographic area a person lived in childhood.  Talk about being intimately connected to our Place!

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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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Charm-of-the-Sprain

Barbara Hillers (Harvard University) gave a wonderful presentation, entitled “Joint to joint and sinew to sinew”: an international healing charm in medieval Irish literature and modern folklore.  She began the talk discussing the connection between mythology and folklore, reminding us of the use of the bone charm in Miach’s cure in the Irish mythological cycle — pointing out that this tale comes from a single 16th century MS that uses some 9th century language.  This charm is also found in Germanic and Vedic sources.

There was some time spent dissecting the structure of charms and folk prayers.  Namely, that in charms the speaker affects the cure, aided by supernatural powers, and in folk prayers the cure is accomplished by the supernatural power.  The bone to bone charm is an epic, or narrative, charm.  The event or story told around the charm, which includes its narrative structure, is actually part of the charm itself, and includes formula transference where the speaker – the charmer — impersonates a divine being.

Part of Professor Hillers focus was in connecting the bone charm to IndoEuropean roots.  She explained that within scholarship three cultural sources are needed to substantiate such a connection.  The charm is found in Germanic, Vedic, and Irish sources, though scholars do not view the Irish source as ‘distinct.’  There is an additional Hittite variant of the charm, but it is not similar enough to supply the needed third cultural connection because it combines parts from different bodies, while the other two share the same function – repairing a single body.

Looking at the charm from a modern ethnographic perspective, we see more of a fusion of the charm across Europe, which indicates a non-IndoEuropean root.  The Irish folkloric sources are underwhelming. It is found in clusters in the SW and North of the country, which links it to Viking settlement areas.  This is important, because Scandinavia has a predominance of the charm; indicating a Viking source with diffusion spreading the charm in Europe.

I.  Irish Source

Miach went to the hand which had been replaced by Diancecht, and he said, ‘Joint to joint of it and sinew to sinew,’ and he healed Nuada in thrice three days and nights.
 The Second Battle of Moytura

II. Germanic Source

Phol and Wodan rode into the woods,
There Balder’s foal sprained its foot.
It was charmed by Sinthgunt, her sister Sunna;
It was charmed by Frija, her sister Volla;
It was charmed by Wodan, as he well knew how:
Bone-sprain, like blood-sprain,
Like limb-sprain:
Bone to bone; blood to blood;
Limb to limb — like they were glued.
second Merseburg Incantation  (another source: wikipedia)

III.  Vedic Source

Let marrow be put together with marrow,
let bone grow over with bone;
we put together sinew with sinew,
let skin grow with skin
Atharva Veda 4.15.2=4.12.4

NOTE:

The identification of Scandinavia (and Vikings) as a source for this charm is significant when you consider the political discourse of the “stranger” and “foreigner” so prevalent in the narrative of the 2nd Battle of Moytura.  If you have not listened to the Story Archeology podcast which covers Lugh’s identity as a ‘shiny foreigner’ (i.e. non-Irish origin), I highly recommend it!! 

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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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Incredible North Atlantic storm spans Atlantic Ocean, coast to coast

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