Survivals in Belief Among the Celts, by George Henderson, , at sacred-texts.com
III. The Earthly Journey (part 3)
It was not right to make a cake of the kind known as Bonnach Boise(adh), i.e. a small cake shaped and made on the palm of the hand, without making a hole in the middle of it. The reason assigned is that thus the fairies would not be able to take it away if it were so marked (John Smith, Jun., S. Boisdale). Possibly the origin of the ceremony is due to the time when certain placenta were used as emblems in phallic worship (Father Allan).
It was a source of danger to the soul of a warrior if he fell in battle fasting. Such was the case with one of the Macleans of Lochbuy, in Mull, known as Eoghann a chinn bhig, 'Eoghan of the Little Head,' whose grave is in Iona. His spirit found no rest and his apparition (taibhse) has been fabled for 300 years to have been seen: he rides his mettlesome horse as he did when he fell in battle, in consequence of his having fought on the fatal day without having broken his fast (thuit e na thrasg). 1
The multitude of restrictions are so numerous that it would serve no purpose to further amplify the above; suffice it to refer to the curious restrictions
on the old Irish kings, derived probably from the earlier ages of the priest-kings. The sun might not rise at Tara on the King of Ireland in his bed, with which compare Ossian's advice to his mother; 1 he was not to alight on a Wednesday at Magh Breagh, nor traverse Magh Cuilinn after sunset: on Monday after May-day (Bealltuine) he must not go in a ship; the Tuesday after Samhuin he was not to leave the track of his army upon Ath Maighne. The King of Leinster was forbidden to do certain acts on Mondays and Wednesdays. The King of Ulster might not listen to the fluttering of the birds at Linn Sailech after sunset [because he had some bird-ancestor?]; might not celebrate a certain bull-feast nor drink of the water of Bo-Neimhidh between two darknesses. The King of Connaught might not sit on the grave mound of the wife of Maine in harvest time, nor go on a grey steed in a speckled garment to Dal Chais, nor conclude a treaty concerning his palace at Cruachan after having made peace at All-H allows. 2
Even before the Christian mission had familiarised the Gadhelic tribes with the Latin peccatum, which has become peacadh, 'sin,' the language testifies to burdens which must be inferred to have pressed heavily if we may judge from the native Gadhelic word fine, 'sin': ar fine glossed .i. ar pectha in Sanctáin's Hymn, as to which Stokes thinks cognation with Latin vieo, vi-tium, Anglo-Saxon wídl seems probable. 3 Irish cean, cion, means 'transgression,
fault, sin.' Another word, immorbus, is frequent in the sense of 'trespass, sin, scandalum.' 1 The magician's spell (òrtha, ubaidh, obaidh, etc.), the wizard's word (facal), the incantation-charm (eòlas) of native medicine-men, the sacrifices (ìiobairtean) of Druids were alike impotent and vain, but were not and could not be abandoned until it was brought home to the more thoughtful minds that magical ceremonies and incantations did not really effect the results they were designed to produce. The spirit of the hymn ascribed to St. Patrick in the energy with which it abandons the nature-worship, and the spirit of the scathing words of Gildas as to a blind people that worshipped rivers and stocks and stones could not become readily diffused among the folk. Nor is it still; the eòlas or charm is resorted to, and in this parish in which I write there lived quite recently a man who was credited with the ability of stopping a flow or issue of blood by a spell; and another not long deceased had a like power ascribed to him in Assynt; while there are still living more than one in Ross-shire who will transmit this secret as carefully as the Druid wizards of old, passing it by word of mouth, with necessary restrictions, from father to daughter, and so forth through a continual alternation from man to woman, from woman to man. Eòlas Casga Fola, 2 'the charm for staunching blood,' was known in the Isle of Man; Moore gives a charm to staunch the horse's blood: "Three Maries went to Rome, the spirits of the church
stiles and the spirits of the houghs or sea-cliffs (ny Keimee as ny Cughtee), Peter and Paul, a Mary of them said, stand; another Mary of them said, walk; the other Mary of them said, may this blood stop (or heal) as the blood stopped which came out of the wounds of Christ: me to say it and the Son of Mary to fulfil it." Another Manx charm to stop blood I give in Moore's translation: "Three godly men came from Rome—Christ, Peter, and Paul. Christ was on the cross, his blood flowing, and Mary on her knees close by. One took the enchanted one in his right hand, and Christ drew a cross over him. Three young women came over the water, one of them said, 'up'; another one said, 'stay'; and the third one said, 'I will stop the blood of man or woman.' Me to say it, and Christ to do it, in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost." 1
The resort to similar charms is by no means quite a thing of the past. I gave in my Leabhar nan Gleann a short charm for toothache which I know to have been believed in in my own time. The exorciser—a very decent shepherd—invariably resorted to a wood and made a notch in a tree, which is a reminiscence of the cult of tree spirits and of the belief in the tree-soul. And I well recollect a certain Barbara Ghriogail (sic) who was possessed of a small crystal pebble which possessed some magnetic property, as it was often of use in removing things from the eyes of cattle and of persons. She practised a charm—Eòlas a’ Chronachaidh—which I already gave. These are charms for averting evil, and come
under the head of ἀποτροπη, or 'averting'; the Latins personified the spirits that controlled this process into Dii averruncii, the gods that avert evil.' In the averting ritual water had to be lifted in a wooden ladle at a stream over which the living and the dead passed; it was not suffered to touch the ground, and when taken up it was done in the name of the Sacred Trinity; silver coins were put into the ladle and also a copper coin; the whole was blessed with the sign of the cross, and according to a ritual of divination it was thought that a wise-person could tell whether it was a male's or a female's eye that had been the bewitching agent. Thereafter the patient was sprinkled with some of the lustral water, and what remained over was dashed against a huge boulder-stone not likely ever to be moved. Evil was thus transferred for ever to the stone, and the 'evil eye' was lifted from off the sufferer. On the other hand, the opposite process could take place, and a transference of virtue be effected: rites connected with the biting of the tearnadh, or 'afterbirth' (see Ch. I.), may be cited in illustration; a simple case is that of getting the razor with which a person well-to-do has committed suicide, which is the magic means of transferring the luck of the dead to the happy possessor through 'contact '; perhaps one may adduce the possession of a caul—or thin membrane covering a child's head at birth—which in the Isle of Man and elsewhere was supposed to be a preventive against shipwreck and drowning. Similarly in West Ross-shire water drunk from the skull of a suicide—and a suicide ranks as a criminal—was held to be a cure for epilepsy; in East
[paragraph continues] Inverness-shire it was held to bring good luck and to be a cure for toothache.
A proper witness for West Ross is the late Rev. Kenneth Macdonald of Applecross, 1 who states: "Another cure for epilepsy is a drink from the skull of a suicide. One may be found in Torridon on the west of Ross-shire still. Two years ago a man from Shieldaig declared that he used the skull himself for that purpose, and that he knew where it was kept. They (i.e. the suicides) had to be buried in some hole in a hill out of the sight of the sea. If his grave could be seen from the sea it was supposed to be enough to drive all fish from the coast. So strong was this belief that cases are on record in which the remains of suicides which had been buried by their friends in their own burying-ground were exhumed by the neighbours and removed to a spot hidden out of the sight of the sea. And yet by some perversity of human nature the withered skull of a suicide is supposed to be a blessing to mankind. It would appear then that the Druid still lives and competes with the evangelist in some localities. The Druid of the first century made no secret of his belief that human sacrifices were acceptable to the gods. Criminals as a rule were used for this purpose. And if a man was cannibal enough to eat a bit of the victim's flesh, he by that act rose in the good-will of heaven. He was supposed to have absorbed into his system so much of the substance of what was consecrated to God. He was in fact part of the atonement and therefore had a special claim to the
blessings secured. Human sacrifices are now forbidden by the law of Britain and the druidical Highland worshipper cannot got nearer participation in the gruesome sacrificial feast than to lick the skull of one of a class who would have been sacrificed to Apollo had he lived 2000 years ago."
Mr. Macdonald was for many years Free Church minister in Applecross and his testimony is indisputable. And there is the further witness of an authentic writer which I may quote: "It was a popular belief among the old people that a suicide buried within sight of the sea drove away the herrings for seven years. Any person who came by his or her death in this way was invariably buried behind the church. I well remember as a child hearing a discussion about the burial of a woman who 'put herself aside,' as it is expressed in Gaelic. Her people, who were by way of being superior to such beliefs, were anxious that she should be buried in the family grave; but this was not at all relished by the community, and after a good deal of wrangling she was interred in a remote corner of the churchyard, well out of sight of the sea.
"More than a generation ago, a certain Englishman, who happened to be staying in our neighbourhood, committed suicide, and in spite of all protests he was buried by his relatives in full sight of the Loch. So indignant were the natives at this violation of their traditions that one night shortly afterwards, a party of them disinterred him at midnight, carried the remains away to another churchyard in an inland parish ten miles away, and there re-buried him. It must have been a very grim sort of performance;
though grimmer still is another rite which to this day is, I am told, practised sub rosa in connection with this self-same person. It is, I believe, a fact, that the skull of this long-dead Englishman is lying perdu somewhere about the churchyard, its whereabouts being known only to one or two privileged individuals, and is used by epileptics to drink out of; a common belief being that if these unfortunates drink out of the skull of a suicide, the complaint will be cured. Only last summer, a woman whose son is afflicted in this way, said to me: 'Oh! we have done everything for him and tried every known cure; we had him prayed for in church and we even sent down for so and so's skull (mentioning the Englishman) to see if it would do any good.'" 1
A correspondence on this subject, styled "A Torridon Myth," took place in the Scotsman in 1901, I think, and though the minister of the parish denied both the superstition and the existence of the skull, a correspondent finally declared that he himself had drunk water from the skull as a cure for epilepsy. The two points to be noted are (1) that the suicide is a criminal, (2) that the criminal is a sacrificed victim. Acting on this belief witches in former ages endeavoured to get portions of the body of such as were hung on the gallows in order to make potent charms from them; and in 1591 in Scotland a case was proved against these witches of having opened graves at the devil's orders and taken the fingers and toes of the dead "to make ane powder of them, to do evil withal." In the Middle Ages the Templars were said to have made
use of human skulls in their secret rites at midnight; and the early Celts, if we believe Livy, used the head of an enemy, i.e. in their idea, of a criminal for secret purposes, while the Boii are said to have used the head as the appropriate vessel out of which to make drink offerings. A copan-cinn, i.e. the 'pan' of the skull, I have in my own time heard spoken of with subdued awe. A man touched with the hand of one who had been hanged was, in Cornish belief, held to be cured; pickled and dried such was a 'hand of glory' potent in discovering treasure. For further cases compare Southey's Thalaba and the Ingoldsby Legends. The skulls of slain enemies were coveted trophies of valour, doubtless because the luck and prowess of the dead were thus secured. The criminal, too, was slain sacrificially to take the place of 'devoted' persons; and it is likely that it was from personating the latter class that in most human sacrifices the victims were criminals. These, as they had not completed their cycle of life—and life was held to be a constant or complete quantity—had such virtues left which constituted a 'luck ' to be transmitted. But before the criminal life was accepted there was the earlier stage of certain ones devoted' to the god; I think of the ritual of certain Gaulish priestesses on an island at the mouth of the Loire. No man durst visit this isle of women; it had a roofed temple, which the women annually unroofed, but it had to be re-roofed before sunset. Each woman brought on her shoulders a burden of the roofing materials, and if any one suffered her burden to fall to the ground she was torn to pieces instantly by her companions and her mangled
remains carried round the temple. See the account in Rhys's Hibbert Lectures, following Strabo. Another account in Pomponius Mela adds the trait that these perpetual virgins could rouse the sea and wind by their incantations, turn themselves into whatever animal form they chose, cure diseases, and were 'devoted' to the services of voyagers only who have set out on no other errand than to consult them (Mela, iii. 6). There was a witch in Assynt, near Drumbeg, known as Mór Bhán, who had a similar gift of raising wind for becalmed sailors, and her memory is still fresh among the people. 1 In the isle of Gigha, too, there was a similar 'witch.' The tabu against any of the roofing material touching the ground reminds me of the holy water got from the Willock family in Strathnāin, which lost its virtue if the bottle containing it were allowed to touch the ground before it reached the house where it was sprinkled in the ritual of 'averting,' of cronachadh or ἀποτροπή in the widest sense, and the water received its virtue through the wizard being possessed of the bridle of the water-horse (srían an eich uisge), ultimately the bridle of Manannan, who had the gift of making himself invisible, as we read at the end of Serglige Conculainn.
A violation of tabu suffices to cause criminality. But I have pointed out that possession of the razor of a suicide helps to transmit the luck he would have had if he completed his span of life; and there
is the reciprocal or complement to this belief when for the good of a community the individual possessed of greatest life-power is not suffered to complete his life-span or end it in weakness. To prevent this his life is taken from him, and such a ritual act was liable in the reports of half-informed travellers to assume the appearance of cannibalism. A current explanation, treated at length in Mannhardt and in J. G. Frazer's interesting works, is that the divinity or spirit of vegetation, all-important to the community, was incarnate in chief and priest and 'rain-king,' and if such persons were allowed to die of weakness and age the divine power would be lost to the community, which accordingly marks such persons as 'devoted,' so that at stated periods they are put to death and their power transmitted untarnished to a successor. A man (or even animal, with some peoples) could thus be slain as a god; while, on the other hand, a suicide criminal, or criminal as such, could readily personate one 'devoted,' and to partake of any part of his members was to participate in the divine life. A suicide's skull, as in close touch with an uncompleted luck of life, would be thought of as imparting divine virtue and be capable of magic transmission by contact; and by imbibing the brain-particles with the water the epileptic's minimum of life was put in the way of becoming a maximum or normal.
Apart from this category, as having no ritual association, I put such references as I note from Keating, who says that in the reign of Loingseach there was a famine for three years in Ireland, "so that the people devoured one another there at this
time " 1 (go m-bídís na daoine ag ithe a chéile innte an trath soin). Not alike is the reference to Eithne Uathach, daughter of Congain, wife of Criomhthann, son of Eanne Cinnsealach, King of Leinster, fostered and "fed by the Deise on the flesh of infants (is ar fheoil naoidhean do biathadh leis na Déisibh i) that she might grow up the more quickly; for a certain druid had foretold that they would get territory from the man whose wife she would be." 2 Here there may be a reflex of the need of keeping the divine life in the tribal representative at its fullest and highest. It is not ordinary cannibalism, but a ritual act reflected on as possible for dark thought and for darker practice on the lines of a dark and revolting belief.
(c) Faith-healing. Psychic suggestion associated with stones and wells is very prominent in folk-belief. Thus, when Burns's Highland Mary (Mary Campbell) fell ill, her friends at Greenock supposed, it is said, that she had come under the malign power of the evil-eye. To avert this, seven smooth stones were procured from the junction of two streams. These were placed in milk, which, after being boiled, was administered, but without success. There are many still living who have heard mention at some time or other of a pebble or crystal (grìogag) and of witch-stones (clachan buitseachd), to which various virtues were ascribed in the Highlands.
Sacred stones linked with the cure of human ills are at least as old as the days of Colum-Cille, so far as written record among the Celts enables us to infer. In the country of the Picts, says Adamnan, the saint took a white stone from the river and blessed
it for the working of certain cures, saying: "Behold this white pebble by which God will effect the cure of many diseases among this heathen nation." The Druid Broichan, foster-father of King Brude, was thereafter stricken with sickness as punishment for having refused to free a female slave at Colum-Cille's request. Having repented, he sent a message expressing his readiness to do so, whereupon Colum-Cille sent two of his company with the pebble, which he blessed, saying: "If Broichan shall first promise to set the maiden free, then at once immerse this little stone in water and let him drink from it, and he shall be instantly cured; but if he break his vow and refuse to liberate her, he shall die that instant." The captive was freed, and we read: "The pebble was then immersed in water, and in a wonderful manner, contrary to the laws of nature, the stone floated on the water like a nut or an apple, nor, as if it had been blessed by the holy man, could it be submerged. Broichan drank from the stone as it floated on the water, and, instantly returning from the verge of death, recovered his perfect health and soundness of body. This remarkable pebble, which was afterwards preserved among the treasures of the king, through the mercy of God effected the cure of sundry diseases among the people, while it in the same manner floated while dipped in water. And what is very wonderful, when this stone was sought for by those sick persons whose term of life had arrived, it could not be found; thus, on the very day on which King Brude died, though it was sought for, it could not be found in the place where it had been previously laid."
Such sacred stones or charms were once extensively used: faith in them is not yet quite extinct. 1
The Loch mo Nāir stone is egg-shaped, and "it measures two inches in the long diameter and rather over one and a half inch in the shorter, weighs exactly four ounces, and has a specific gravity of 2.666, or almost that of Aberdeen granite. The stone exhibits a beautifully mottled cream and liver coloured surface, with delicate touches and streaks of pink here and there on the cream colour." 2 Gems and crystals early impressed the imaginative faculty, and the water-rounded pebble of white quartz is associated with early burials so often, one has remarked, as to point "to an underlying significancy so highly esteemed as to have rendered it not unfrequently to all appearance the only relic thought worthy of preservation among the ashes of the dead." 3
The tradition as told by Dr. Gregor is: "Once upon a time, in Strathnaver, there lived a woman who was both poor and old. She was able to do many wonderful things by the power of a white stone which she possessed, and which had come to her by inheritance. One of the Gordons of Strathnaver, having a thing to do, wished to have both her white stone and the power of it. When he saw that she would not lend it, or give it up, he determined to seize her and to drown her in a loch. The man and the woman struggled there for a long
time, till he took up a heavy stone with which to kill her. She plunged into the lake, throwing her magic stone before her, and crying, 'May it do good to all created things save a Gordon of Strathnaver!' He stoned her to death in the water, she crying, 'Manaar! Manaar!' (Shame! Shame!). And the loch is called the Loch of Shame to this day."
The remainder of the account adds that the first Monday in May and August (old style) were the most popular days for frequenting the loch. The patient was kept bound and half starved for about a day previous, and immediately after sunset, on the appointed day, he was taken into the middle of the loch and there dipped. His wet clothes were then exchanged for dry ones, and his friends took him home in the full expectation of a cure. "Belief in the loch's powers was acknowledged till recently, and is probably still secretly cherished in the district." 1
I know this to be the case: a few years ago this method of cure was tried. Here is an account by an eye-witness:
"At a loch in the district of Strathnaver, county of Sutherland, dipping in the loch for the purpose of effecting extraordinary cures is stated to be a matter of periodical occurrence, and the 14th August appears to have been selected as immediately after the beginning of August in the old style. The hour was between midnight and one o'clock, and the scene, as described by our correspondent, was absurd . . . beyond belief, though not without a
touch of weird interest, imparted by the darkness of the night and the superstitious faith of the people. The impotent, the halt, the lunatic, and the tender infant were all waiting about midnight for an immersion in Lochmonaar. The night was calm, the stars countless, and meteors were occasionally shooting about in all quarters of the heavens above. A streaky white belt could be observed in the remotest part of the firmament. Yet with all this the night was dark, so dark that one could not recognise friend or foe but by close contact and speech. About fifty persons, all told, were present near one spot, and I believe other parts of the loch side were similarly occupied, but I cannot vouch for this—only I heard voices which would lead me so to infer. About twelve stripped and walked into the loch, performing their ablutions three times. Those who were not able to act for themselves were assisted, some of them being led willingly and others by force, for there were cases of each kind. One young woman, strictly guarded, was an object of great pity. She raved in a distressing manner, repeating religious phrases, some of which were very earnest and pathetic. She prayed her guardians not to immerse her, saying that it was not a communion occasion, and asking if they could call this righteousness or faithfulness, or if they could compare the loch and its virtues to the right arm of Christ. These utterances were enough to move any person hearing them. Poor girl! what possible good could in immersion do to her? I would have more faith in a shower-bath applied pretty freely and often to the head. No male, so far as I could see, denuded
himself for a plunge. Whether this was owing to hesitation regarding the virtues of the water, or whether any of the men were ailing, I could not ascertain. These gatherings took place twice a year, and are known far and near to such as put belief in the spell. But the climax of the absurdity was in paying the loch in sterling coin. Forsooth, the cure cannot be effected without money cast into the waters! I may add that the practice of dipping in the loch is said to have been carried on from time immemorial, and it is alleged that many cures have been effected by it." 1
In the Statistical Account for the Parish of Farr, written in August, 1834, the Rev. David M‘Kenzie, minister of the parish, notes that connected with its antiquities he “may mention a few particulars regarding a loch in Strathnaver, about six miles from the church, to which superstition has ascribed wonderful healing virtues. The times at which this loch came to be in repute with the sick cannot now be ascertained. It must, however, have been at a period of the history of this country when superstition had a firm hold of the minds of all classes of the community. The tradition as to the origin of its healing virtues is briefly as follows:
"A woman, either from Ross-shire or Inverness-shire, came to the heights of Strathnaver, pretending to cure diseases by means of water into which she had previously thrown some pebbles, which she carried about with her. In her progress down the strath, towards the coast, a man in whose house she lodged
wished to possess himself of the pebbles; but, discovering his design, she escaped, and he pursued. Finding at the loch referred to that she could not escape her pursuer any longer, she threw the pebbles into the loch, exclaiming in Gaelic, Mo nar, that is, 'shame,' or 'my shame.' From this exclamation the loch received the name which it still retains, Loch-mo-nar, and the pebbles are supposed to have imparted to it its healing efficacy. There are only four days in the year on which its supposed cures can be effected. These are the first Monday (old style) of February, May, August, and November. During February and November no one visits it; but in May and August numbers from Sutherland, Caithness, Ross-shire, and even from Inverness-shire and Orkney, come to this far-famed loch. The ceremonies through which the patients have to go are the following: They must all be at the loch side about twelve o'clock at night. As early on Monday as one or two o'clock in the morning the patient is to plunge, or to be plunged, three times into the loch; is to drink of its waters; to throw a piece of coin into it as a kind of tribute; and must be away from its banks so as to be fairly out of sight of its waters before the sun rises, else no cure is supposed to be effected. Whatever credit may be given to such ridiculous ceremonies as tending in any respect to the restoration of health, while ignorance and superstition reigned universally in this country, it certainly must appear extraordinary to intelligent persons that any class of the community should now have recourse to, and faith in, such practices; but so it is, that many come from the shires already
mentioned, and say they are benefited by these practices. It is, however, to be observed that those who generally frequent this loch, and who have found their health improved, on returning home, are persons afflicted with nervous complaints and disordered imaginations, to whose health a journey of forty or sixty miles, a plunge into the loch, and the healthful air of our hills and glens may contribute all the improvement with which they are generally so much pleased."
One of the three charm-stones purported to have been thrown into Loch mo Nāir was said to have come into the possession of the Lord Reay, who gave it to an ancestor of Mr. Eric Ross, Golspie, who owned it in 1900, and whose notes thereanent are as follow: 1
The Witch's Stone.—". . . This stone, which had been in possession of the Reay family for generations, was highly esteemed by the country people, who came from all parts of Sutherland, when their cattle fell ill, for a small bottle of water, in which the stone had first been immersed. This water was faithfully administered to the ailing animals. Lord Reay was so bothered by these visitors that he gave the stone to my father, who in his turn was often called upon for the magical water. My father bequeathed the stone to my elder brother, who dying about three years ago, the ancient stone became my property. I remember well in my young days the people coming for the water, and their anxious faces as they watched the stone being put into the bowl of water. It is to be regretted that
no particulars of the early history of the stone are known, except the fact that it was once the property of a notorious witch. History is silent also regarding the recovery of the stone from Loch Mon-aar, 1 how it came into the possession of the Reay family, and the fate of its fellow-stones. The stone was never used, except for the purpose already mentioned. If the stone dried quickly after being taken out of the water, the sick animal would get well rapidly; but if slowly, it would be a lingering recovery: so the poor people believed. What the stone was used for in ancient times it is impossible to know. The loch, however, into which the witch-woman threw the precious stones was ever afterwards regarded as a place of healing; and hundreds of people have been known to journey from far to the loch for the sake of plunging into its dark waters to heal some real or imaginary ills. The plunge had to be taken at midnight and the bather out of sight of the loch before the sun rose and shone upon its waters, or else the charm would fail to work."
By reason of the honorific prefix Mo-, one looks, in the first place, for the saint's name; as the name of St. Munn, Munda, Gadhelic Munnu, comes from Mo-Fhindu, so Mo-N-Aar may come from Mo-Fhinn-Bharr, Findbarr or St. Barr, venerated in Sutherland, and whose name occurs in Kilmorack, i.e. Cill Mo-Bharr-óg, 'the church of my little Barr' (with the diminutive of endearment), and also' in Barra. The Rev. A. Gunn has already made this
feasible suggestion as to the loch name, but I cannot associate therewith the parish name Farr, with its short ă and thin r (i.e. Fair), which again seems of like origin with the place-name Far in Inverness-shire, and both apparently Pictish.
But in his legend the St. Bairre of Cork has annexed some of the attributes of a marine deity; he rides on St. David's horse across the Irish Sea, and, as Mr. Plummer 1 points out, his full name Findbharr 'white-crest' points in the same direction.
My suspicion is that the saint's name led to association with the ancient goddess Nāir, sometimes termed a bain-leannán, or female sprite. The Adventures of Crimthann Nia Nāir is among the list of the primary tales in the Book of Leinster, and this shows that in the 11th century it was current among the people. She is the goddess of the Wonderland, in the same category as Fand, who leaves Manannan her spouse, an immortal god, from her love for Cuchulain, like Níam, the bride of Oisin, and like the lady who wooed Connla Ruadh, son of Conn of The Hundred Battles,—Conn Cetchathach,—to the Sídh. Crimhthann Nia Náir, Crimhthann, husband or hero of Náir, figures as a high king in Ireland at the dawn of the Christian era, was a son of Lugaid Sriabderg, Lugaid of the red-stripes or circlets. This Lugaid was the son of
three brothers, Bress, Nar and Lothur; their sister Clothru was his mother.
Lugaid was united to Clothru, who thus in pre-Christian legend was both his wife and mother,
The legend of Crimthann Nia Nāir (i.e. C. hero of Nāir) is summarised in the tract known as Flathiusa h-Erenn. 1 The goddess Nāir brought him to an over-sea land, where he abode for what seemed a month and a half. A longing seized him to return, and he brought back a chariot entirely wrought of gold; a chess-board of gold ornamented with three hundred precious stones; a sword with serpents chased in gold; a shield with silver reliefs; a spear that caused mortal wounds; a sling of unfailing cast, two dogs bound by a silver leash valued at three hundred bondmaids,—things, in short, which point to riches acquired by a journey to the happy Other-World over sea. Through a fall from his horse he found his death, 'six weeks after his return to Ireland,'—the usual fate of the hero who returns among mortals from a visit to the land of the Immortals, the Ever-Young.
The diminutive form of the name Nār, Nāir, is Nārag, a name I recollect applied to a woman who was 'touched' with frenzy, and I infer that this other-world being Nāir was a being like Fann, who wrought the sickness of Cuchulainn, and of whom it is specially said that she made men mad. In this aspect of her being she was a goddess of death, whom sick men would seek to propitiate as they longed for a new life and happiness. Death and Night are
closely associated in primitive myth. The rites at Loch mo Nāir, which invariably took place at night, were to propitiate Death, the spirit of disease, of evil, of night with terrors dire. This would not exclude a trace of initiative magic; as the sun dies in the ocean at night and returns renewed, so by imitating his. bathing and death in the waters a similar renewal of life might be looked for; nay, if by imitative magic the bather returned ere the sun arose he procured virtue anew. The diving into the lake I take to be a remnant of an Other-World journey across sea, such as meets us in the Book of Leinster tale about Loegaire Liban, where the scene is laid at En-loch or the Lake of Birds. There the unknown warrior from Mag Mell, the Happy Land, the joyous home of the dead, seeks mortal aid, and having declared the glories of that land, he went back into the lake. Thereafter Loegaire dived down into the lake, and fifty warriors followed him. Later on he returns to bid his father Crimthann Cass farewell. He would not be touched: "Come not nigh us," he cried; "we are but come to bid you farewell," and he sang of the marvels of his new abode to his father:
[paragraph continues] The going at night into the lake then was some form of obeisance to the Other-World past. The bathing in Loch mo Nāir, in the waters sacred to the goddess,
was like undertaking a visit to the Land of the Dead, the gods' land.
The dead could cure, it may have been thought. O’Davoren's Glossary gives a word Nár as meaning noble (uasal), good (maith), holy, pure, which Stokes equates with Greek νήφω, 'to be sober, pure.' But the goddess Nāir in character reminds of the Greek Νηρεύς, 'a water-nymph, Nereid.'
Other well-cures of special significance were resorted to. At Strath-fillan in Pennant's 1 time it is observed that the saint "is pleased to take under his protection the disordered in mind; and works wonderful cures, say his votaries, even to this day. The unhappy lunatics are brought here by their friends, who first perform the ceremony of the Deasil, thrice round a neighbouring cairn; afterwards offer on it their rags, or a little bunch of heath tied with worsted; then thrice immerge the patient in a holy pool of the river, a second Bethesda; and, to conclude, leave him fast bound the whole night in the neighbouring chapel. If in the morning he is found loose, the saint is supposed to be propitious; for if he continues in bonds, his cure remains doubtful; but it often happens that death proves the angel that releases the afflicted, before the morrow, from all the troubles of this life." Near hand there formerly lived an old woman of the name Dewar, who was custodian of St. Fillan's fairche or mallet, 2 which was used to stir the sacred waters, if not to impart them virtues.
[paragraph continues] The Laird of Macfarlane tells of a chapel in Appin called Craikwherreellan, as he spells it, where "there are springs of fresh water, and the opinion of the wholesomeness of the water draweth many people thither upon St. Patrick's Day yearlie in hopes of health from disease by drinking thereof; the town or village of Ardnacloich is hard by, renowned for a well also, where, they allege, if a person diseased go, if he be to die he shall find a dead worm therein or a quick one if health be to follow."
St. Mary's Well at Culloden was visited on the first Sunday of May; about a dozen years ago or so it was calculated that about two thousand persons made the pilgrimage. Its waters were held to have the power of granting under certain conditions the wish of the devotee. Old men are known to have held that in their early days its waters had distinct healing powers. It was believed that at mid-night on the first of May its waters turned into wine for a short time. A visitor some years ago wrote regarding the ritual:
"At any rate two thousand people visited it last Sunday, and the observer might extract, as his temperament led him, either ridicule or much food for thought in noting with how much apparent earnestness—one could almost say seriousness—the appointed rites were performed by the majority of the visitors. The procedure to be gone through is this: A draught of the water is taken, the drinker at the same time registering a wish or desire for success in some form or another throughout the coming year. To facilitate the wish a coin of small value is usually dropped into the water. Yet the
rite is not altogether completed. The worshipper who intends to be thorough ties a piece of cloth—nearly always taken to the well for that particular purpose—to an adjoining tree as a symbol of the belief that thereby his cares and troubles for a year at least are left behind him. How small a price to pay for so great a boon!
SOME OF THE DEVOTEES.
Here come a group of happy boys, all of whom drink solemnly of the water, no doubt wishes corresponding with their ages and experiences being the while registered. But, alas! the ceremony is left in some degree uncompleted, for on examination it is found that no member of the group possesses a solitary copper. This part of the rule is thereupon brushed aside. But the tying of pieces of cloth on the tree is strictly observed, for, besides costing nothing, it gives each boy an opportunity of indulging in a little tree-climbing, the desire for which is doubtless inherited from his pre-historic ancestors; and soon variously-coloured pieces of cloth are floating gaily on the breeze. Here is another and much more interesting arrival—a young man and a pretty girl. The girl drops a coin into the well, glancing shyly at her companion's face the while. . . ."
The same rites as at Loch mo Nāir were observed at the same time of the year at St. John's Loch, Dunnet, and at St. Trostan's Loch, Papa Westray. Pagan cultus and Christian superstition we're here blended.
The well at Loch Maree, called after St. Mael Rubha of Abercrossan, has been often written about.
[paragraph continues] Most interesting of all is Pennant's description (1772) of 'the favoured isle of the saint': "In the midst is a circular dike of stones, with a regular narrow entrance; the inner part has been used for ages as a burial place, and is still in use. I suspect the dike to have been originally Druidical and that the ancient superstition of Paganism had been taken up by the saint as the readiest method of making a conquest over the minds of the inhabitants. A stump of a tree is shown as an altar, probably the memorial of one of stone; but the curiosity of the place is the well of the saint; of power unspeakable in cases of lunacy. The patient is brought into the sacred island, is made to kneel before the altar, where his attendants leave an offering in money, he is then brought to the well, and sips some of the holy water, a second offering is made; that done, he is thrice dipped in the lake; and the same operation is repeated every day for some weeks; and it often happens, by natural causes, the patient receives relief, of which the saint receives the credit. I must add that the visitants draw from the state of the well an omen of the disposition of St. Maree; if his well is full, they suppose he will be propitious; if not, they proceed in their operations with fears and doubts; but let the event be what it will, he is held in high esteem; the common oath of the country is by his name; if a traveller passes by any of his resting places, they never neglect to leave an offering; but the saint is so moderate as not to put him to any expense, a stone, a stick, a bit of rag contents him."
Sacred wells are met with in all countries where a
[paragraph continues] Celtic speech has been spoken. I need not linger over the Holy Wells of Cornwall, 1 but pass at once to a great shrine of present-day repute in Wales. It is a special account contributed to The Baptist of November 23, 1905, by Mr. W. Harris of Oxford; I may be allowed to quote it in full, as it is I believe quite reliable, and of special interest in this connection:
“It was our privilege a few days ago to pay a visit to Holywell, North Wales, a place famous among Roman Catholics for its spring of water known as St. Winefride's Well, which is supposed to possess miraculous healing power, and I thought perhaps an account of what we saw would interest Baptist readers. 'Traditions ' inform us that somewhere about the twelfth century a wicked youth
made infamous proposals to the maid Winefride, which she rejected. She was thereupon slain by him, and the head severed from the body. St. Beuno, on his way home from the church, discovered the remains, placed the head to the body, and prayed, upon which the maiden rose up. Immediately there sprang a stream of water from the spot where the head lay, and from that day to this has not ceased to flow.
“Having arrived at the outer gate (about a half-hour's good walk from the railway station), upon payment of an entrance fee of twopence we were admitted to the outer courtyard, and were directed to a doorway in the crypt of an ancient church. Upon entering, we found ourselves in a cold, wet, vault-like place, in size perhaps eighteen feet square, in the centre of which is the well, protected by a strong stone balustrade, octagonal in design, from the points of which spring eight finely-lined columns supporting an equally interesting fan-shaped roof. The water is allowed to accumulate in the well about three feet deep, and is clear as crystal and icy cold. It just wells' up from the centre of the mud and stone covered bottom, and is thus forced to the circumference of the well. Alongside the well is a baptistery of the usual dimensions, with steps at each end. A richly moulded flying stone arch separates the well from the baptistery. The only outlet for the water is through the latter, and then under the floor out into a large swimming-bath in the courtyard, to which we shall have occasion again to refer; the water passes down to another swimming-bath. This is under cover, and is called 'the Westminster'
bath, and to this bath admission can be gained at all reasonable hours upon payment of the entrance fee only. The water then passes away to the rear of the premises, and, by a sluice arrangement, part is conducted to drive a mill of some kind, while the other part is diverted into St. Winefride's Brewery!
“But to return to the well and its interesting surroundings. Upon first gaining entrance to the crypt, we could scarcely believe we were in the British Isles. During the previous month we had scarcely heard a word of our mother tongue, having toured to Pwllheli, Carnarvon and the Snowdonian range, where Welsh is spoken; now we were surrounded by a number of Italians of both sexes in their gay characteristic attire; while there was also a goodly number of our own fellow-countrymen and women speaking with a north-country dialect.
“The walls of the place were well covered with texts of Scripture appropriately selected; these were interspersed with crutches, etc., while in the four corners and on the floor were piles of crutches and walking sticks, cork boots, bandages, belts, metallic and otherwise, bearing unmistakable signs of years of wear, dirt and dust. Against the wall was fitted up an altar, upon which rested a large statue of St. Winefride in a richly carved and draped canopy. We arrived at the wall just at noon, and upon asking the meaning of the number of people present, we ascertained that they were pilgrims from various parts of the world, who had come to a service which would be held at 12.30. We estimate that there were four or five hundred people present. Every available inch of standing room was occupied, and a
large number of pilgrims were promenading round the bath in the outer courtyard.
“Seeing a Catholic priest among them, I went and joined myself unto him. He, in reply to my request, very readily lent me an ear for a few moments’ conversation. Said I, 'By happy experience I know that faith in our Lord Jesus Christ'—here my friend the priest reverently raised his silk hat and as reverently bowed his head—will tend to the saving of the soul, but when I look round upon these crutches and other implements my faith is—' 'Strengthened?' queried the priest. 'Nay, sir, rather it is staggered.' 'Then,' said a lady, who was standing near, 'surely, if you were told that an old man, a cripple all his life, had bathed here, was healed, and had gone away, having no further use for his crutches, you would believe it.' 'I should believe it,' I replied, 'if I had known the old man as a cripple, and had known him afterwards as a sound man.' 'Well,' broke in the young priest, 'I must say, seeing is believing. But,' he added, 'surely all these crutches and sticks should satisfy any reasonable man of the healing virtue in the waters of this well, but I admit, if you like, that not all who bathe are healed, but only those who have faith in the water.'
“As it was on the stroke of 12.30, by mutual consent we crowded into the crypt for the service, which opened with a hymn accompanied by a harmonium. The tune, judging by the way it was immediately taken up, was well known to all except perhaps our two selves; indeed, I do not think I should be far wrong if I said we were the only
persons present who were not Catholics, as the sequence proves. Then followed a remarkable litany, a copy of which is before me as I write, and from which I cull a few petitions. After each petition the response was instantly taken up, and spoken rapidly.
“Priest: O blessed St. Winefride,—(response) pray for us; O glorious Virgin and Martyr,—pray for us; O faithful Spouse of Christ,—pray for us; O sweet comforter of the afflicted,—pray for us; O bright example of Chastity,—pray for us; O hope and relief of distressed pilgrims,—pray for us; That all non-Catholics be converted to the Holy Catholic faith,—pray for us.
“Then followed another hymn and an eloquent address from Psalm cxxi. first verse. The first part of the sermon was very enjoyable, but as the preacher proceeded, he somehow took our eyes off the help coming to us in our need, and sought to fix our gaze ' upon St. Winefride.'
“As I 'retrospect' a little, I can now understand why the preacher's attention was fixed upon our face. He evidently saw gathered thereon 'a cloud about the size of a man's hand.' Another hymn and prayer brought the service to an end. The caretaker then in a loud voice requested 'all ladies to retire, as the men are about to bathe.' The congregation one and all, excepting ourselves, filed past the priest as he stood at the altar, he presenting a 'relic' to be kissed, many persons evidently requesting to be 'touched' on the shoulder, chest or back. The relic appeared to be a silver medallion fixed into a wooden disc with handle, somewhat in shape and size of a quarter-pound butter print.
“When all, excepting ourselves, had passed out, the priest took his departure. My companion then left me, and as I happen to belong to the sterner sex, and desired to be 'in the know,' I, quite unnecessarily, supported one of the pillars already referred to, while, as the priest had retired, the caretaker commenced walking rapidly up and down the room counting his beads and praying at a great speed after this fashion: 'Our Father, which art in Heaven,' etc.
“I now noticed that some half a dozen men, mostly of fine physique, had gathered around the baptistery. Among them was a man with a shrunken leg, a blind man, and an Italian boy of about five years with emaciated legs. He was dipped to the waist by an Italian adult. Each man was evidently carefully instructed how to act while in the 'bathroom.' Each in turn descended the steps unaided, submerged himself by stooping, raised himself to an upright position, then three times kissed the flying arch I have already referred to, which came just about level with the mouth; he then left the water, came and knelt on a certain stone in front of the shrine of St. Winefride, and again descended into the ice-cold water. This each man did three times in rapid succession, without a visible shudder or murmur. The only sound breaking the stillness was that caused by the caretaker at his 'prayers' and beads. This man was pointed out to me as one who had been stone blind, had bathed in St. Winefride's Well and had received his sight. The bathers then proceeded to the next step—viz., to plunge into the swimming bath in the open courtyard, round which
they must wade or swim three times, and it was an act of great merit and efficacy to dive and kiss a certain stone in the floor of the well. All the bathers by some means appeared to be familiar with the spot, and all seemed desirous of giving the stone the kiss. But, alas! while they doubtless could easily drown in the well, yet 'for love or money' they could not dive to the bottom. Then followed 'skylarking' unrestrained, in which one man tried by force to put the other's face into contact with the stone.
“I find I have omitted to mention that at the close of the sermon a procession of Italian peasants arrived, bearing lighted candles, banners, etc., headed by a priest bearing a wreath of hand-made silk flowers, under a glass dome, the work of the pilgrim band just arrived and others unable to leave Italy. This he faithfully promised should ultimately be placed upon St. Winefride's shrine in their beautiful chapel, though for the present it would remain upon the 'altar' at the well. During the service I trust we behaved ourselves with becoming decorum, though during a brief spell of silence I whispered in my companion's ear the words of Naaman, 'When I bow myself in the house of Rimmon, the Lord pardon Thy servant in this thing.'
“In the congregation was a beautiful girl of some thirteen summers, stretched upon a spinal carriage, and certainly, if the human face indicates the condition of the heart spiritually, that girl 'was not far from the Kingdom.' We were told that she had been brought to Holywell the day previous to see if the water would heal her of spinal disease; that she had been 'dipped' once, and it was hoped that
[paragraph continues] 'after one or more dips she would be better.' Our earnest prayer was that this might be so. Before retiring, the priest came to her carriage and presented the relic to her lips. She at the same time raised a suspended wrist-charm to be touched. This she again most affectionately kissed.
"Thus came to an end this never-to-be-forgotten service. Alas, alas! through lack of faith, or other cause, the blind man did not receive his sight, the lame man was not able to leave his cork boot behind, the skin on the legs of the child did not 'become like the flesh of a little child,' so neither was faith found in him. Then remembered I the words of the priest, uttered before the service, 'Not all who bathe are healed, but only those who have faith in the water.'"
At Killin, Perthshire, two springs, Creideag Bheg and Creideag Mhór, had curative qualities. 1 Children were dipped in the Lady of Lawers’ Well at Beltane, and sprinkled when the sun was visible. 2 Immersion in the Dòchart was resorted to for insanity. 3
Of a parallel nature, if on another plane, are the rites associated with St. Patrick's Purgatory, Lough Derg. A saint specially connected with the spot is St. Dabheoc, 4 who is credited with having had a vision there ere he died. It is this saint who gives his name to the sacred well in Gigha, Argyll, known as Tobar Da Bheathag or Tobar ath Bheathag, but
correctly written Tobar Dha Bheoc, with the accent on the bhe (Bhe-oc). The Gigha well since the time of the Druids has been credited with special virtues: 1 if a stone is taken out of it a great gale of east wind is aroused, which was taken advantage of when the islanders were given to smuggling, so that excisemen were kept from the island. Not many years ago a man from the south end went to the well (which is at the north end) purposing to take a stone out of it, and have his revenge on the captain of a vessel then anchored on the Kintyre side of the Sound. He returned, however, without fulfilling his purpose, having remembered just in time that a nephew of his was in another vessel in the vicinity. Da Bheoc is an early sixth century saint commemorated in Gorman's Martyrology under January 1. Loch Derg was of old Loch Geirc or Geirg, and was noted for its cave, visited by Knight Owen in the Middle Ages for the purpose of washing off his guilt. Legend has it that St. Patrick, while preaching to the pagans, miraculously opened up the place of punishment, with its four fields guarded by fire, ice, serpents, where souls are in torment; its narrow bridge, its wall bright as glass, its golden gate, its Garden of Eden, where are the happy souls who had expiated their sins, and were waiting to be
received into the Celestial Paradise. Ere entering, the penitent had to pass a probation of fifteen days in prayer and fasting; on the sixteenth, having received the sacrament, he was led in solemn procession to the gate, which, after the penitent had entered, was locked, and not opened till the following day. In 1497, on the representation of a disappointed Dutch monk, who saw no visions, the cave was destroyed by authority of the Pope as not being the Purgatory which St. Patrick obtained from God, but the pilgrimages have never ceased, and are in vogue from 1st June to 15th August, despite a second destruction in 1632, and an interdict in 1704. Through the work of Henry of Saltrey, a Benedictine of the middle of the twelfth century, the legend spread all over Europe, and was later dramatised by Calderon. It is most likely that long before St. Patrick's day this island was associated with burial or with death and visions of the entry into the other world, partly to be inferred from island names like H-irt, i.e. Death, the Gadhelic name for St. Kilda; and from Ròcabi and the Green Island of Highland legend, the Caer Is of Brittany, and other sources, such as the English versions descriptive of the water and of the bridge of St. Patrick's Purgatory itself:
[paragraph continues] This last is the Brig o' Dread, and like the Bridge Cinvat of the Avesta and the Bridge Sirāt of Islam. The Middle Ages lived in contemplation of the other world, and had many visions of a Divine Comedy long before Dante gave them eternal literary consummation. In the Vision-literature, of which much is due to the Celt, the Vision itself, by the aid of Faith, helped to cleanse the soul. Terror to a certain extent purified. There was a further basis in practices somewhat similar to the rites of incubation which still take place in Tenos, in Greece; and of old the temple-sleep 1 in the cult of Asklepios at Epidaurus, where suppliants approached the god by sacrifices and rites likely to win his favour, and lay down to sleep awaiting the divine visitation. All such rites had healing and revelation for their end.
(d) Folk-Medicine. Only things significant in virtue of their magic or by reason of their being credited in belief with healing power remain to be considered. Cures wrought by substances of ascertained physical properties must be set aside here for lack of space, forerunners though they be in some instances of later science. 2 Whatever is outside of
the usual produces a certain counter-shock on the soul or soul-body: this psychological fact is not forgotten in folk-medicine. If connected with what is held to be holy, the mental-contact itself suffices, although this is strengthened by visible means. In 1849 the people of Carrick were in the habit of carrying away from the churchyard portions of the clay of a priest's grave and using it as a cure for several diseases, and they also boiled the clay from the grave of Father O’Connor with milk, and drank it. 1
Things connected with or named after a priest's belongings, such as a biretta (currachd sagairt) or a processional canopy (puball beannach), are used in love-charms, whereby a girl can magically attach a lover. A sacred girdle is sometimes still worn by pious women who feel they are soon to add to the number of the faithful. This is to 'sain' the expected child as well as the mother from all harm, and to attach all good spiritual powers on her side. Parallel is the magic or wizard belt of St. Fillan (sianchrios Fhaolain 2), whereby MacUalraig of Lianachan, Lochaber, tied the Glaistig or water-nymph
in front of him on his horse, and swore that he would not let her go until he showed her before men. In return for her release she promised to enrich him with cattle and with house; on fulfilling each stipulation he let the siren (an t-suire) go free, and when parting with her he put the red-hot coulter into her crooked fist, and then she laid on him the curse of the Fairy-Host and of the Goblins, her wishes being that his race might "grow as the rushes, wither like the ferns, turn grey in childhood, die at the zenith of strength." Her imprecation fell short of wishing that a son might not take his father's place.
If sacred human things had such 'saining' power, how much more semi-sacred creatures which brought one in contact with the substance of the god! Epilepsy was held to be curable as follows: "A live snake was caught and placed in a bottle, which was then filled with pure water and corked. After standing for a short time, the infusion was given to the patient, who was kept ignorant of the nature of the drug." 1 To check whooping-cough it was recommended to hold a live frog over the sufferer's mouth. What is unusual has magic virtue: King's evil or scrofula could be cured if water were poured into a basin and applied by the seventh son in a family of nine—a daughter being the eldest and a daughter being the youngest, with seven sons between. Also by the seventh son of a seventh son, although the person concerned is unconscious of the secret of .his healing gift. Water drunk from a live-horn (adharc
bheò), or from a spoon or cup made out of horn taken from off a live animal, had virtue in curing whooping-cough. Another remedy was mare's milk from an aspen spoon. Fasting-spittle used at early dawn, as also swine's blood, was used to cure warts, the right hand being placed on the earth under the left foot (or the reverse, as the case might need) in name of the Trinity at the time of waning of the moon. Children born feet first were held to cure epilepsy, and certain charms were used to transfer the fits from day to night. Against epilepsy a black cock without a white feather was taken and buried where the patient had the first fit. A special modification was "the taking of the parings of the nails of the fingers and toes, binding them up with hemp, with a sixpence in a piece of paper, on which was written the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. The parcel was then taken, tied under the wing of a black cock, and buried in a hole dug at the spot where the first fit occurred, by the oldest God-fearing man of the district, who must watch and pray all night by the fire, which must not be let out. Another very universal remedy was drinking water out of the skull of a suicide at dawn." 1 Serpent-bite was cured by a decoction of water wherein a serpent's head had been boiled. In Tiree "water taken from the crest of nine waves, and in which nine stones had been boiled, was an infallible cure for jaundice. The shirt of the patient, after being dipped in this magic infusion, is put on wet." 2
On the west side of the same island there is a rock with a hole in it, through which children are passed when suffering from whooping-cough or other complaints. 1 "On the point of Oa, Islay, there is a small arch formed in a huge boulder, which had been resorted to by invalids for ages. Any person who passed through it was supposed to have left his malady behind him, whatever it was. The transit was a cure for all diseases. Within the last twenty years a poor man carried his sickly wife on his back for miles to give her the benefit of the charm.
One fact to be observed was that the disease of the last person healed would stick to the next passing through it unless he got a substitute to pass before him. Probably a valuable animal of the clean kind was the original substitute required, but latterly any living creature was considered sufficient. An old worn-out dog was supposed to be as good as a first-class ram." 2 The water-vole (labhalan), referred to in Rob Donn, is mentioned also by Pennant: 3 "The country-people have a notion that it is noxious to cattle: they preserve the skin, and as a cure for their sick beasts give them the water in which it has been dipt. I believe it to be the same animal which in Sutherland is called the Water-Mole." The mole itself is held to be an omen of death if it is perceived as making its runs in the direction of the foundation of
a dwelling. The cure may be a sort of counter-magic, just as an ointment from snakes’ tongue was once used as an antidote to snake-bite, and in England the herb 'adder's tongue' (ophioglossum vulgatum); in the south they nailed to the byre-door and to field-gates adder-stones, saucer-shaped pieces of hard blue marl, rounded and perforated in the centre by the action of water, which was probably the origin of the ovum anguinum of the Gauls, the serpent's egg so phantastically described by Pliny.
Goats especially were held to be proof against adders, and the minister of Kirkmichael, Banff, in 1794, quotes 1 a Gadhelic saying which implies that the goat eats the serpent or adder: cleas na goibhr’ ag itheadh na nathrach, i.e. 'like the goat eating the adder or serpent.' Red woollen thread which has been 'sained' (snàithlein) has various virtues: in the shape of a cross it may be tied to cows’ tails or put underneath the milk-pans or over the byre-door to counteract the evil eye; bound on the hand, if one has sprained a vein, it is held to be a blessed remedy, and termed sgochadhfèithe, i.e. a magical 'incision of the vein.' In some districts the magic thread is thrice passed over a horn spoon; the ends of the thread are placed together, and the spoon is thrice passed round the crook, and the sufferer's disease is rightly named or diagnosed whenever the thread stays on. If one sprains one's foot a good remedy is to take the crook full of soot, and make the sign of the cross over the aching part; the chimney-crook is ascribed
great virtue. Equally so is the magical operation of turning the heart in lead (cridhe-luadhainn) on behalf of a person suffering from heart disease. The patient may be resident far away in another glen, but doubtless has some knowledge that a good friend is 'turning his heart.' The lead is molten and poured through an iron key taken from the outer door into a bucket full of cold water. The state of the heart is diagnosed from the formations made by the liquid lead falling into the water. Another code requires the patient to be present, and to kneel near the fire: a sieve is placed on the head, and in the sieve is put a bowl full of water; into this bowl molten lead is poured through iron (the finger-hole of scissors suffices). One of the dropping pieces of lead is thought to take the rough shape of a heart, and the lead has to be melted over and over until a smooth or 'whole heart' is produced with no hole in it, whereupon the patient may rest assured that his heart is whole. 1 In the ritual of cow-healing and of turning the evil eye off children, lustral water, literally silver-water (būrn airgid), water which has been blessed in the Triune Name and has had silver coins cast into it, is given to cow or child as the case may be; a portion must be drunk by the ailing, a portion sprinkled over them, and the remainder poured over a large stone that cannot be moved. This stone is a sort of altar.
[paragraph continues] The evil cannot go further; it is thought to have passed into the stone. If cracks appear, the saying is applicable: envy will split the stone (sgoiltidh farmad a’ chlach): this is the properly magical part of the rite; the religious part is the careful observance of the earlier portion of the ritual, and the trusting spirit in which one goes about lifting the water, blessing it and giving it to the sufferer. Similarly, when rags are placed at wells or on trees and bushes near hand, the real idea is not that of transferring the disease to the tree or bush, but of taking the spirit of the place, either of the well or of the tree, to witness, in evidence of having done one's own part: the deity may then be trusted to do his. What Carleton, in his Traits and Stories of the Irish Peasantry, puts into the mouth of one of his characters is apposite: "To St. Columbkill I offer up this button, a bit o’ the waistband o’ my own breeches, an’ a taste o’ my wife's petticoat, in remembrance of us havin’ made this holy station; an’ may they rise up in glory to prove it for us in the last day!" In a similar spirit, if on a different plane, is the cry of the religious: God is my rock.
Man in his inner life is opposed to negligence of those rites which are realised as pertaining to his economic and social welfare in the highest and widest sphere; he in this spirit is strengthened to endure the further burdens of his pilgrimage.
Evidence of his magic-compelling belief in his spiritual power is seen in the old Irish custom of fasting in order to obtain justice or legal redress, to injure an enemy, to obtain a request as if by magic
force; 1 to ward off a plague. 2 The rite has its parallel in the sitting dharna (sic (dharana)—JBH) of the Hindoos. The explanation is that as eating keeps the body in life so fasting is a feigning of death; the dead-body does not eat. The spirit of Eoghan of Lochbuy cannot rest, for the warrior fell fasting. 3 Fasting makes a man more accessible to magic power whereby he may get his wish, just as it renders the body open to magical transformations; fasting elevates one on a par with the dead who eat not. Thus a fasting man may get his 'wish,' which becomes equal to an imprecation, which has magic-compelling power according to the Highland proverb. 4 That request or 'entreaty' passes into 'conjuration or exorcism' is shown by the meaning of geas, Irish geiss, from a word signifying 'I bid, entreat ': the magic word is mighty to place one under a prohibition from doing a certain act, which is tantamount to an obligation to doing another thing. The magic-spell (Irish feth fia: the Highland fāth-fīthe) has power to cause invisibility. The root is *vet, 'to say.' 5 Power centres in the magic word, and this is the justification of embracing a part of folk-medicine along with sacrifice. The word makes sacred.
One word in retrospect. Consciously or unconsciously, religious rites have an implied reference to
the supra-sensible; the motives of religion are manifold, and are inclusive (1) of the power of the word, (2) of the unseen objects of fear or faith which on the lower plane may be simply demons, (3) of acts of faith which issue in expiatory offerings. Religion embraces more than magic. There is felt or implied that some Power exists outside and beyond the actual words recited. In charms of the older period names of deities, such as Goibniu and Diancecht, occur. By easy transitions, as in the case of the pre-Christian Brigit, all 1 such deities make way for Christian saints. The lower rites anticipate the higher. The Divine Life is to man as man is to the Divine Life. There is freedom on both sides. Priority remains with the greater. It is the higher that gives, it is the lower that gets. Every giving reveals.
Folk-consciousness thinks in pieces: it gives small answers to great questions; it never reveals a sovereign content of existence, with its fullness of labour and sorrow, as well as love and joy. Truth is the whole. Celtic, like other folk-consciousness, betrays a longing after messages and signs of the will and favour of God. Its holy or naomh, Old Irish nōib, has its nearest cognate in the Old Persian naiba, 'beautiful.' Holiness in its spiritual depths and inwardness is a product of Christian associations. Non-Christian folk-consciousness is 'yet without strength'; 2 it does not know God as Holy. In Christianity alone is God seen as giving up Himself without giving up His Love.
297:1 N. Macleod in Teachdaire Gaelach, Aug. 1830, p. 93.
298:1 See previous chapter sub Deer Parentage of Ossian.
298:2 Cf. The Books of Rights, ed. J. O’Donovan.
298:3 Thes. Pal-Hib. ii. 351; K.Z. 41, 385.
299:1 Windisch's Wörterbuch for references.
299:2 Cf. the charms of healing put into the wounds of Cuchulainn. Faraday's trans. of the Tāin, p. 84-5.
300:1 Moore, Folk Lore of the Isle of Man, 98.
302:1 Social and Religious Life in the Highlands, pp. 29, 30 (Edin. 1902).
304:1 Folk-Lore for 1903, p. 370.
306:1 Her grave is still pointed out, covered with flagstones in a lonely spot where she is said to have been done to death by a number of young men. She entreated that her slayers should all die a violent death, which tradition says was the case.
308:1 Irish Texts Soc. ed. vol. iii. p. 143.
308:2 Ib. vol. ii. p. 317.
310:1 For an account of charm-stones for curing cattle, see Proceed. Soc. Scot. Antiq. for 1889-90, pp. 483-488.
310:2 A. Hutcheson, Proceed. Soc. Antiq. Scot. for May 14, 1900, p. 486.
310:3 See Mitchell as to the association of white pebbles with burials, ib. vol. xviii. pp. 286-291.
311:1 Quoted in Mackinlay's Folklore of Scottish Lochs and Springs, pp. 249-250.
313:1 From the Inverness Courier, quoted in the Celtic Magazine for 1877-78.
315:1 Proceedings of Soc. of Antiquaries, Scotland, 14th May, 1900.
316:1 Mr. Ross's spelling indicates the true pronunciation, viz. ā long, and bearing the chief stress.
317:1 Vitae Sanctorum Hiberniae, vol. i. p. xxxi. St. Barr begged St. David for the loan of his horse that he might make his journey the quicker. Quo concesso, ac benedictione optenta, equum ascendit, et sic super eum mare confidenter [intrauit], et usque ad Hiberniam peruenit. Equum vero prefatum in seruicio fratrum secum retinuit. Set in memoria miraculi discipuli eius fecerunt equum eneum, qui usque hodie apud Corkagiam manet. Ib. 69 n.
318:1 Book of Leinster, p. 23, col. 2, lines 2-8; Book of Lecan, fol. 295, v. col. 2. Cf. Keating's History, ed. 1811, pp. 408-9.
319:1 D’Arbois de Jubainville's Irish Mythological Cycle, trans. by Best, p. 204.
320:1 Tour, pt. ii. 15.
320:2 Originally, the mallet for bruising barley, but in later ages used for stirring the pool. St. Fillan's relics further embrace his bell, which was put over the patients in the morning; his Quigerach; his belt or girdle. Cf. Brigit's girdle (Relig. Songs of Connaught, ii. 27).
324:1 The Cornish Well of St. Keyne has a unique fame. Its water is gifted with the marvellous property that whoever first drinks of it after marriage will be ruler in the household. The poet Southey was so struck with this well when on his visit to Cornwall, that he afterwards celebrated its virtues in the poem beginning:
[paragraph continues] The conduct of some of these wells is truly unique. Take for instance the spirited behaviour attributed to the basin which catches the water as it issues from the spring at St. Nun's Well, Pelynt, near Looe. Here is the legend: A farmer once wishing to use this basin as a trough in a pig-sty attempted to move it by means of a team of oxen. At first it resisted every effort made to dislodge it. At length, however, he succeeded in dragging it from its place. But just as it was nearing the top of the hill it burst the chains that were holding it, and started to roll rapidly down again. Finally, when abreast of the well, it made a sharp turn and rolled straight in at the entrance, retaking its old position, where it remains to this day. The oxen then fell dead, and the farmer was struck both lame and speechless.
331:1 Trans. Gael. Soc. Inverness, 26, 48.
331:2 Ib. 25, 131.
331:3 Ib. 26, 145.
331:4 Shane Leslie's Lough Derg in Ulster (Maunsel & Co., 1909); T. Wright's St. Patrick's Purgatory, 1844; P. de Félice, L’Autre Monde: Le Purgatoire de Saint Patrice, Paris, 1906.
332:1 'Buaidhean sònruichte'; cf. Gordon Cumming's In the Hebrides and Martin's Western Isles as to the round bluish stone always moist on the altar of Fladda's Chapel in the island of Fladdahuan: windbound fishermen walked sunways round the chapel and then poured water on the stone, whereupon a powerful breeze was sure to spring up. In Lewis and Man wind might be sold to mariners: it was enclosed in three knots; undoing the first brought a moderate wind, the second half a gale, the third a hurricane.
334:1 Cf. Mary Hamilton, Incubation, or The Cure of Disease in Pagan Temples and Christian Churches (Henderson & Son, St. Andrews, 1906).
334:2 v. Dr. Masson on 'Popular Domestic Medicine' in Trans. Gael. Soc. Inverness, vol. xiv.; Dr. Clerk's 'Notes on Ancient Gaelic Medicine' in Trans. of Gaelic Soc. of Glasgow, vol. i.; The Caledonian Medical p. 335 Journal, July 1897, January 1898, April and July 1902, October 1904, January-April 1910, has papers by Dr. Gillies, Dr. Mackay, Dr. Maclagan, and by Professor Mackinnon on Gaelic Medical MSS., which in substance follow known Latin works of the Middle Ages, and are on a par with the 'science' of their day. In Pennant's Tour there are interesting remarks on The Diseases of the Highlands.
335:1 Gomme's Folk-Lore as an Historical Science, p. 199, quoting Wilde's Beauties of the Boyne, 45; Croker's Researches in the South of Ireland, 170; Rev. Celt. V. 358.
335:2 Domhnull Mac-Mhuirich, An Duanaire, Dun-éidinn, 1868, pp. 123-126. A fairly literal rendering is given in J. G. Campbell's Superstitions of the Scottish Highlands (MacLehose), p. 169.
336:1 Rev. Kenneth Macdonald, Social and Religious Life in the Highlands, p. 29.
337:1 Dr. Aitken in Trans. Gael. Soc. Inverness, 14, 309.
337:2 Folk-Lore Journal, i. 167.
338:1 Folk-Lore Journal, vol. i. p. 167.
338:2 Rev. K. Macdonald, op. cit. p. 35.
338:3 Tour, i. 175. Possibly an fhadhbh-alan; alan being a Pictish word, root as in Alnwick, the river-name Alaunos of Ptolemy.
339:1 Old Statistical Account of Scotland.
340:1 For lead-turning magic, see also Folk-Lore, Sept. 1893, p. 361. Divination by symbolic burial was resorted to: parents were wont to dig two adjacent graves beside a lake in the parish of Reay in Caithness, and there to lay their distempered children in the interval to ascertain the probability of their recovery from whooping-cough (Brand's Description of Orkney, p. 154).
342:1 v. Joyce, Social History of Ancient Ireland, i. 205, for evidence from the Brehon Laws.
342:2 E. Hull, The Ancient Hymn-Charms of Ireland in Folk-Lore, xxi. 423.
342:3 v. p. 297.
342:4 p. 10.
342:5 Cymric gwedyd, 'say'; also dywedyd; old perfect dywawt: gwawd, 'carmen, eulogy, poem'; gwawdiaeth, 'sarcasm.' From the ablaut *vat comes the Gadhelic fath; ferba-fath, 'words of magic' (Rev. Celt. xx. 246).
343:1 Lady Wilde has a spell wherein the three daughters of Fliethas are invoked against the serpent.
343:2 Romans, ch. v. 6.