ANCIENT CURES, CHARMS, AND USAGES OF IRELAND.
CONTRIBUTIONS TO IRISH LORE.
FOR A MOTE IN THE EYE
An incantation is to be said by a fairy-woman over a plate of water. Then the patient is to look steadily at the plate, and the mote will drop into the water, and the eye become clear.
The most powerful charm against ill-luck is a horse-shoe made red-hot, then tied up at the entrance door, and never after touched or taken down.
Heat a great stone in the fire, and, when red-hot, throw it into water, and bathe the bruise with the liquid. Repeat this treatment twice a day, always first heating the stone, and the cure is certain in a few days.
FOR THE BITE OF A MAD DOG
A charm which Columkill applied to a wound, brimful of poison, and it took away the venom:
"Arise, Cormac O'Clunan, through Christ be thou healed. By the hand of Christ be thou healed, in blood, marrow, and bone, and may the poison die in thee as I sign the sign of the Cross."
This oration to be said over the person bitten, while butter is given him to eat. It may also be said over a cow or a horse, but never over a hog or dog.
FOR SUSPECTED WITCHCRAFT
The forge dust of three different forges, well mixed together, to be given to the patient while Paters and Aves are recited; or the herb called Lusmore may be used as very effectual against witchcraft. It is a powerful poison, and the patient is rubbed all over with it, though the practice is dangerous, as the bewitched person may die under the treatment, especially if tied naked to a stake, as was the custom in old times, while the imprecation is said: "If you are bewitched, or fairy-struck, may the devil take you away, with the curse on your head for ever and ever."
Elder ointment is of great repute; also a salad made of various herbs by the wise women, called
the green ointment, is considered a sovereign
All the ancient cures were derived from the animal and the vegetable world, never from the mineral kingdom. A very ancient belief pervaded the South and West, that twelve large earth-worms baked upon a shovel, then reduced to powder, and made into a philter to be drank every morning, was an unfailing remedy for jaundice; but not long since the child of a gentleman of rank in the West was nearly poisoned by a dose of this physic, for the nurse, being dissatisfied with the treatment of the doctor in attendance, secretly gave a drink of the philter to the little patient, who so nearly died of it that the nurse was tried for an attempt to murder.
The Homoeopathic adepts amongst the Irish doctors always employ yellow medicines for the jaundice, as saffron, turmeric, sulphur, and even yellow soap. The Allopaths employ other remedies, especially the leaves of the barbary tree, which is held to be a specific, if brewed to a strong drink, and taken every morning, fasting, for nine days in succession.
An adept in the County Galway attracted great crowds to his dwelling recently by his wonderful cures for jaundice and other diseases. The remedy used was simply a dose of tartar emetic, administered freely for every form of ailment, and often the result was most satisfactory.
The fairy-doctors use the following cure:
Nine young shoots from the root of an ash tree that had been cut down. These are placed in a bottle, which is then buried in a secluded spot, the patient not being allowed to see it.
As long as the bottle remains in the ground, he is safe from the disease; but, should it be broken, he will have a relapse and probably die from mental emotion, caused by fear of the result, before many days are over.
FOR SORE EYES
The most efficacious treatment for diseases of the eye is a pilgrimage to a holy well, for the blessed waters have a healing power for all ophthalmic ailments, and can even give sight to the blind.
Pearls upon the eye are said to be removed by an amber bead, the tenth upon the rosary, rubbed upon the eye; and the wise woman of the village will show the amber bead, with a white substance adhering, which she affirms is the pearl removed by the mystic attraction of the amber. Also the shell of a living snail is pierced with a pin, and the fluid that exudes is used as healing for the eyes. This cure is called the "Snail Drop." Severe counter-irritation upon the crown of the head has been long used by the wise women, and with wonderful success. The crown of the head is first shaved, and then a plaster is applied, made of coarse lint and white of egg spread upon a piece of tow. This is left on till a blister rises, when the cure speedily follows.
This remedy of counter-irritation is, however, now well known and recognised by the medical profession, and largely used in ophthalmic surgery.
Fasting spittle is considered of great efficacy by the peasants for sore eyes, especially if mixed with clay taken from a holy well. This is made into a paste and applied to the eyes, and the people say "nothing beats the fasting spittle for blessedness."
To avert the evil eye from child or beast, it is necessary to spit upon it on entering a cabin; and if a stranger looks fixedly and admiringly on a child, he is at once requested to spit upon it; this saving process being perhaps unknown to him or if he should not understand Irish, and omit the rite that preserves from evil, then the old mother will rise up from her seat by the fire and perform the ceremony herself, that so good luck may not depart from the house.
Fix a small piece of candle on a penny piece, then lay the patient on his back and place the penny on the region of the stomach; light the candle, and over all place a well-dried tumbler, when the skin will be drawn up, as in cupping. This is called "the lifting of the evil from the body."
For epilepsy there are many cures, but chiefly by exorcism. When the priest is called upon to exorcise the evil spirit,he puts on his sacred garments for the ceremony, sprinkles the patient with holy water, and recites prayers over him till the fit leaves him. If, however, this treatment does not succeed, the priest will not repeat the exorcism, saying: "Leave him to God. The will of the Lord must be done."
Another cure is also used : A harrow-pin, a piece of money, and cuttings of the hair and nails of the patient are buried deep down in the earth, on the spot where lie fell in the fit, and he is given a drink of holy water, in which nine hairs from the tail of a black cat have been steeped.
Let the patient drink of a potion made of dandelion (dent-de-lion — lion's tooth) or of ground- ivy, made and used in the same way, with prayer said over it before drinking.
The red rash is cured by applying unsalted butter to the part affected, while the Ave Maria is said. Also the blood of a hare is very efficacious if applied to the skin with a red rag, and the rag afterwards buried.
For whooping cough, a lock of hair, cut from the head of a person who never saw his father, is to be tied up in a piece of red cloth and worn round the neck.
This disorder was not prevalent in Ireland in early times, but since the general use of potatoes as diet amongst the villagers, along with the copious amount of whisky drank in the towns, the disease has become very common.
In former times spittle was used in baptism, and in many of the daily transactions of life, as a lucky and confirmatory act; and even now no bargain is concluded at fair or market till the receiver lays the money in the palm of Lis hand and spits upon it. The head of the faction fight likewise spits upon his blackthorn stick to make the blow more deadly and certain. But, for a perfect result, the saliva should be used fasting, especially after a black fast, when the person had not even tasted water. It is also effectual as a cure for chapped lips when mixed with dust and applied in the name of the Trinity.
FOR THE NIGHT FEVER
Take a ribbon and tie it tightly round the head of the sick person, saying: "In the name of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, let the fever go from thy head, man, and be thou healed."
If a cow becomes restive, plunges about, or lies down with ber nose to the ground, she is said to have the feist, or worm. To cure this, a long string is taken and twisted into a knot, like a coiled worm; and the curious knot seems so firmly knitted that it never could be untied. Tet there is a mode of drawing out the two ends, when the coil disappears and the string is quite free. This is done three times while the Paternoster is said over the animal, when the most beneficial result is sure to follow. This cure is called snaidhen- na-peista (the worm's knot), and is of great antiquity.
FOR THE KINGS EVIL
There are certain wise men amongst the peasants who keep pieces of paper, transmitted from their fathers, which, they say, have been steeped in a king's blood. And if the paper is rubbed over the patient in the name of the Trinity, he will be cured.
The bone of the haddock that lies under the mark of Christ's fingers is always to be carried in the pocket. This bone has many other virtues, and always works good to the owner; but it must not be exhibited, and it should never be lent, or touched except by the owner.
TO REMOVE WARTS
Tie up some pebbles in a bag with a piece of silver money, and throw it on the road; whoever finds the bag and keeps the money, to him the warts will go, and leave you for ever. Also, steal a piece of meat and apply it raw to the warts; then, bury it in the ground, and as the meat decays the warts will disappear. Bat the charm is of no use unless the meat is stolen, and no one should see you either stealing or burying it.
For other ailments there are many curious usages employed by the people that have come down by tradition, and in which they have the greatest faith, and the faith, perhaps, effects the cure.
For the slaedan, or influenza, some clay must be scraped off the threshold, made into a paste and applied as a plaster to the chest. But, to be effective, the clay must be taken from the very spot where a person first sets his foot on entering the house, when it is the custom to say, "God save all here," for these numerous blessings have given the clay a peculiar power to cure the chest and help the voice when it is affected, But the holy power is only for him who believes, for by his faith he will be made whole.
FOR A STIE
The tail of a black cat, if rubbed over the eye, will effect a speedy cure. It is good, also, to point nine thorns in succession at the eye, without touching it, throwing away each one after use over the left shoulder.
FOR A HEADACHE
Measuring the head for nervous headache is much practised. The measuring doctor has certain days for practising his art, and receives or visits his patients on no other occasions. He first measures the head with a piece of tape above the
ears and across the forehead, then from ear to ear over the crown of the head, then diagonally across the vertex. After this he uses strong compression with his hands, and declares that the head is "too open'' And he mutters certain prayers and charms at the same time.
This process is repeated for three days, until at last the doctor asserts that the head is closing and has grown much smaller — in proof he shows his measurements; and the cure is completed when he pronounces the head to be "quite closed," on which the headache immediately vanishes, and the patient is never troubled by it again.
They say in Shark Island, that any man who rubs his tongue over a lizard's back will be given power to cure a burn by applying the tongue to the part affected.
Some wool taken, from a black sheep, and worn, constantly in the ear, is a sure remedy for earache.
Spiders are of great use in curing disease. A few tied up in a bag, and worn round the neck, will keep off fever and ague; but none, save the fairy doctor, must ever open the bag to look at the contents, or the charm would be broken. Also a
black spider, laid as a sandwich between two slices of bread-and-butter, and eaten — one every morning — will be found a great strengthener of the body.
The king's evil is cured by the blood of a black cat. A peasant woman had a cat whose tail was almost entirely nipped off by the repeated applications made for a drop of the creature's blood.
Finally the cat was carried away altogether, pro- bably to effect a speedy cure by the more copious use of poor pussy's healing blood.
Spiders are used for many ailments, especially for ague. A small living spider should be rolled up in a cobweb, then put into a lump of butter and eaten while the fit is on. Pills, also, may be made of the cobwebs in which the eggs remain, and
taken daily for three days; after which time it would be dangerous to continue the treatment.
The spider's web is also an excellent styptic, and is still in use amongst all classes for the staunching of blood, or any abrasion of the skin.
In the operation of bleeding, salt was first sprinkled on the plate and in the cup, and the lips of the patient were touched with the first drops of blood that flowed. It is considered unlucky to bleed a young girl in the arm; the operator therefore, when possible, bleeds her in the foot, which is first placed for some time in warm water.
Duckweed boiled down, and the liquid drauk three times a day, is an excellent potion for the sick.
THE FALLING SICKNESS
Burn the patient with a red-hot church key along the head, and he will be cured. Should he fall in the fit, put the juice of absinthe, or iennel juice, or sage juice into his mouth, and he will get well at once.
FOR SORE EYES (1460).
A charge of great power, called "The Charge of the Artificer's Son," and from the Danes it was got; and these are the herbs: onions and dillisk, with ambrosia and garlic; and let the plants be broken and boiled upon beer; then add the gall
of a hog's liver and a drop of wine or of doe's milk, and, when well strained, pour it into an amphora of brass, and apply the liquid to the eye, when the benefit is certain.
Another illustrious charge is made of white lily, valerian, and the leaves of the rowan tree.
Also yarrow, and honey, and the gall of fish boiled together and strained, then applied to the eye, will carry off every description of blindness and clear the pains of the head.
Charms, relics, holy wells, stroking by an adept, and the hand of a seventh son, are all esteemed infallible curative agents. But the seventh son born in succession, without a daughter intervening, has the power of curing pains and aches by merely waving his hand over the part affected. He must, however, first pray in silence for power and strength.
Mesmerism has been practised in Ireland from Druidic times, and cures were effected by waving of the hands without contact, or by stroking. The phenomenon of clairvoyance, called in Irish the "enlightenment," was also well known to the Druids, who by this means ascertained the will of the gods in important matters, and by its aid prophecies were made and the thoughts of the heart revealed.
Kheumatism was chiefly cured by stroking, and all remedies that acted on the imagination, such as lying in a saint's bed, mesmeric charms, and incantations, were deemed most effectual. Latin words were used as charms, sewn up in a bag and carried in the pocket, tied round the hind legs of a hare. An eel-skin had great virtue placed on the chest, or tied round the knee. Forge water had many virtues and could allay rheumatic pains; also potato water, used hot, with the
Called by the Irish the "wild fire," is believed to originate from fairy malice; and blood must be spilled to cure the disease. The blood of a black cat is best, consequently few of these animals can be seen with an entire tail, for it is nipped off bit by bit to perform the cure.
The black cat is a very weird and mysterious creature. If you manage to possess one particular bone of it, you can at will render yourself invisible.
To obtain this, boil the cat alive, then take the bones one by one, and hold each singly in your mouth before a looking-glass, strictly observing if the bone is reflected there ; for should you happen to hold one in your mouth that is not reflected, then you may know that the mystic bone at last is found which will make you invisible at pleasure.
If a cow is sick, the witch-man or charmer mounts astride on the animal, and is given a bannock to eat, well buttered, along with a bowl of cream ; these he takes, saying: "A bite, a sup, a bite, a sup; if it be so ordained, let the beast get well; if not, leave it to its fate; but the bannock I will eat."
A wise woman, learned in the mysteries, has been known to cure the depression of spirits, called in Irish "the sinking of the heart," in the following manner. Holding a cup of meal close to the patient, the operator says in Irish: "Base to the
heart, ease to the heart," at the same time repeating the words of an invocation known only to herself, and which has never been written down.
This is done on Monday, Thursday, and the Monday following, each time the meal being cast into the fire after use. Then a cake is made of the remainder, the patient sitting by till it is baked, taking care that neither cat, nor dog, nor any living thing passes between him and the fire till the cake is baked and the sign of the Cross made over it.
It is then eaten with nine sprigs of water-cress, and if any is left, it must be thrown into the fire, so that no animal should touch it, the sign of the blessed Cross being stamped thereon.
The peasants have such faith in the ancient cures that, in case of accident or sickness, they wonld far sooner trust the wise woman of the village than all the dispensary doctors in Ireland.
One of these authorised practitioners narrates that a woman once consulted him about a severe affection of the throat, and when examining her he found that she had a scarlet worsted thread tied round the throat, and another round the wrists.
Asking the meaning of this, she said that the old wise woman of the place had given them to her the night before as a certain cure. "So, as they did no harm," added the doctor," I left them on, though meanwhile I added what I considered best, and under the usual medical treatment she soon became quite well. But, all the same, she believed in the scarlet thread, and secretly thought that by its power she was cured of her ailment."
Philters, love powders, and charms to procure affection were frequently used in Ireland, and the belief in them existed from the most ancient times.
The bardic legends have frequent allusions to love charms; but the most awful of all is the dead strip. Girls have been known to go to a grave- yard at night, exhume a corpse that had been nine days buried, and tear down a strip of the skin from head to foot; this they manage to tie round the leg or arm of the man they love while he sleeps, taking care to remove it before his awaking. And so long as the girl keeps this strip of skin in her possession, secretly hidden from all eyes, so long will she retain the man's love.
There was a terrible care employed in old times for insanity, which the people believed in with implicit faith. It consisted in burying the patient for three days and three nights in the earth. A pit was dug, three feet wide and six feet deep, in which the patient was placed, only the head being left uncovered; and during the time of the cnre he was allowed no food, and no one was permitted to speak to him, or even to approach him. A harrow-pin was placed over his body, for the
harrow-pin is supposed to have peculiar mystic attributes, and was always used in ancient sorceries, and then the unhappy patient was left alone. If he survived the living burial, he was generally taken out of the pit more dead than alive, perished with cold and hunger, and more mad than ever. Yet it was averred that sometimes the senses were actually restored by this inhuman treatment.
THE FALLING SICKNESS
This sickness is best cured by the hand of a priest. But it is said that if on the first attack the person's shirt be taken off and thrown into the fire and burned, his hair cropped, and his nails pared, and the hair and the parings buried, together with a young cock put down into the grave alive, then lie will never have another attack while he lives.
Madness is also cured by giving the person three substances not procured by human means, and not made by the hand of man. These are honey, milk, and salt, and they are to be given him to drink before sunrise in a sea-shell. Madness and the falling sickness are both considered hereditary, and caused by demoniacal possession.
For king's evil, a most effective cure of proved power is made of burdock roots, the common dock, bog-bean, and rose-noble boiled in water, of which the patient must drink three times a day.
Vervain and the mountain ash are the best preservatives for cattle against witchcraft. Some should be tied round the cow's horns and her tail.
Then no fairy or witch can do harm while the herbs of power are on her.
Exorcism and incantations by a witch-doctor is another remedy but as it is a laborious under- taking, a good supply of whisky is always provided for the adept. When any person in the village showed signs of madness, this man was sent for, and, after a good pull at the whisky, the caster out of devils began his exorcism by pouring forth a torrent of gibberish in a loud voice, which he called Latin prayers; while at the same time he dashed holy water all over the room and the patient.
Then, taking a stout blackthorn stick, he proceeded to thrash the demented person most vigorously, the patient being held firmly all the time by three or four of the friends or neighbours. When the poor victim was half stupefied, and unable even to yell any longer, the operator announced that the devil had gone out of him; but as the evil spirit was still
lurking somewhere about, he must be expelled by force or magic. Whereupon he commenced to whirl the blackthorn stick round in all directions, striking everything, animate and inanimate, that lay in his way, as if crazed with fury; especially beating the doors, by which, he said, the devil might escape, and he was determined to have a good blow at him; and all the time, during the process of beating, he kept on reciting the gibberish Latin in a loud, strong voice, fortifying his efforts at exorcism by frequent appeals to the whisky jar.
A singular case of attempted cure took place lately in Roscommon. A young man named Davy Mynn became suddenly raving mad, or "elf- stricken" as the people say, and the great witch- man of the place was sent for one Sunday morning
in all haste. He found him bound hand and foot, and foaming at the moutb, while five or six strong men were trying to hold him down; and a great crowd was gathered round the door, who declared that the wretched madman was not Davy Flynn at all, the handsome Davy, once the pride of the village for beauty and strength, but a fairy demon who had taken his shape. So the witcb-man baving examined him, and performed sundry strange rites and invocations, pronounced bis opinion that the lunatic was certainly not Davy Flynn, but an old French charger, a fine stalwart horse in his time, once
belonging to a French general who came to Ireland long ago in tbe time of the troubles; and to keep the real man alive, who was now in Fairyland, the substitute must be well fed witb the proper food for a horse.
On bearing this the friends ran for a sheaf of oats, and crammed tbe straw down the wretched maniac's throat, after which tbe exorcist prepared for his mortal combat witb the devil, aided of course by the poteen, five kegs of which were brought in for the general strengthening of the company.
The operator first tied a white apron over his shoulders, then, witb a wave of the band in the form of a cross, he commanded silence. After which, be began the invocation by a volley of gibberish Latin, thundered forth between tbe occasional draughts of whisky, while poor Davy had only a bucket of cold water thrown on his head, to whicb he responded by terrible cries.
At last the people got tired of tbe work, and one of them secretly cat the cord of the halter, which held the supposed French charger, while the witch-man was busy over the poteen. Davy, thus finding himself free, sprang at the doctor as if he would tear him to pieces, on which a panic seized the crowd, who rushed from the house, the witch- man following, while the maniac leaped after them with hideous yells and curses. At length the maniac was secured and tied down by a strong rope till the magistrate arrived, who ordered him off to the Roscommon Lunatic Asylum, whither he was at once taken, and where he eventually died, to the great relief of his friends, who really believed that he was the old French charger, and that till the death of the demon-substitute, poor Davy had no chance of being released from the bondage he was under in Fairyland.
Dog-fern roots and shamrocks should be cleaned and pounded well, then mixed with butter — made on May morning — and holy salt, till a kind of paste is formed. This is rubbed all over the back, while the Lord's Prayer is said, and the Hail Mary; and the paste is by no means to be washed off, but left till the cure is perfected.
FOR THE LIVER COMPLAINT
The leaves of plantain, wild sage, the shamrock and dock-leaf, with valerian and the flower of the daisy, are to be plucked by the person before sunrise, and fasting, on Mondays and Wednesdays, while Hail Mary is said, and the Paternoster; all these are to be boiled and strained, and the herbs after wards to be carefully burned. A glassful of the liquor to be taken twice a day.
Woodbine and maiden-hair, pounded and boiled in new milk, with oatmeal, and taken three times a day, the leaves to be afterwards burned.
(From an Irish Manuscript in the Royal Irish Academy, dated about 1450.)
FOR THE FALLING SICKNESS
Put salt and white snails into a vessel for three nights, add 7 lb. woodbine leaves, and mix them to a paste; a poultice of this applied for nine days will cure.
Or, the heart of a crow, beaten up with his blood, and drank for nine days, will relieve the disease.
Or, a plaster made of mandragore and ground- ivy, boiled and laid upon the head. If the patient sleeps lie will do well, and if not, he will not.
Or, a band of the fresh skin of a wolf worn round the body as a girdle, and as long as the patient wears it he will be free from the falling sickness.
Or, pour wine upon a pound of hemlock, fresh gathered, and let it be drank while the person is in the fit.
Or, three hairs of a milk-white greyhound to be tied up and worn on the neck as an amulet.
This keeps the fit away.
The scribe who copied these receipts says of himself, "I am Conlan Mac Liagk son of: the doctor, and in the Monastery of Tuam I am this 14th day of the moon's age, and a thousand years, four hundred years, and nine years the age of the Lord."
Pettigrew, in his interesting book on medical superstitions, mentions the ancient idea that black hellebore was to be plucked, not cut, and this with the right hand, which was then covered with the robe, while the herb was secretly conveyed to the left hand. The person gathering it, also, was to be clad in white, and to offer a sacrifice of bread and wine.
He also mentions that vervain, one of the sacred herbs of the Irish, was to be gathered on the rising of the Dog-star, when neither sun nor moon was shining, an expiatory sacrifice of fruit and honey being previously offered to the earth. Hence the power of vervain to cure fevers, eradicate poison, and render the possessor invulnerable. And he makes mention of the virtues of the elder tree as being widely known for effecting a cure in cases of epilepsy; also the use of spiders and their webs for curing ague, applied in the same manner as is usual with the Irish. Barton, in his "Anatomy of Melancholy," mentions having himself used a plaster of spiders, the web being effective for the staunching of blood, as also the moss from a dead man's skull brought over from Ireland,
A porridge advised by Dianecht, chief physician of the Tuatha-de-Dauans, has been handed down through the centuries for relief of ailments of the body, as cold, phlegm, throat cats, and the presence of living things in the body, as worms. It consists of hazel-buds, dandelion, chickweed, and wood sorrel, all boiled together with oatmeal. This porridge to be taken morning and evening, when the cold and the trouble will soon disappear. Also a poultice of yellow baywort tied round the throat is excellent as a cure for the throat cats.
According to Dianecht, there are fourteen disorders of the stomach, and he gave recipes for all, consisting mostly of plants and herbs. Against witchcraft he ordered a potion to be made of the roots of the alder tree and the roots of the apple tree that grow downward in the earth. These to be boiled with the brains of a wild bog, and drank fasting, till the bewitched person casts up the evil thing: that was in the stomach.