ANCIENT CURES, CHARMS, AND USAGES OF IRELAND.
CONTRIBUTIONS TO IRISH LORE.
THE EARLY RACES.
ALL nations and races from the earliest time have held the intuitive belief that mystic beings were always around them, influencing, though unseen, every action of life, and all the forces of nature.
They felt the presence of a spirit in the winds, and the waves, and the swaying branches of the forest trees, and in the primal elements of all that exists. Fire was to them the sacred symbol of the divine essence, ever striving towards ascension; and water, ever seeking a level, was the emblem of the purification that should cover all daily life; while in the elemental earth they reverenced the power that produces all things, and where all that lives finds a grave, yet also a resurrection.
Thus to the primitive races of mankind the unseen world of mystery was a vital and vivid reality; the great over-soul of the visible, holding a mystic and psychic relation to humanity, and ruling it through the instrumentality of beings who had a strange power either for good or evil over human lives and actions.
We turn back the leaves of the national legends of all countries and peoples, and find stamped on the first page the
words "God and Immortality." These two ideas are at the base of all the old-world thought and culture, and underlie allmyths, rituals, and monuments, and all the antique usages and mystic lore of charms, incantations, and sacrificial observances. The primal idea may be often degraded, debased, and obscured by the low instincts of savage man; yet, religious faith is the basis of all superstitions, and in all of them can be traced the ceaseless and instinctive effort of humanity to incarnate and make manifest this prescience within the soul of the unseen dominating the seen, with the desire, also, tomaster the forces of nature through the aid of these invisible spirits. It is worthy of note, also, that the mythology and superstitions of a people are far more faithful guides as to the origin and affinity of races than language, which, through commerce and conquest, is perpetually changing, till the ancient idiom is at last crushed out and lost by the dominance of the stronger and conquering nation.
But the myths, superstitions, and legends (which are the expression of a people's faith), remain fixed and fast through successive generations, and finally become so inwoven with the daily life of the people that they form part of the national character and cannot be dissevered from it.
This is especially true of the Irish, who, having been wholly separated from European thought and culture for countless centuries, by their language and insular position at the extreme limit of the known world, have remained unchanged in temperament and nature; still clinging to the old traditions with a fervour and faith that would make them, even now, suffer death sooner than violate a superstition, or neglect those ancient usages of their fathers which have held them in bonds since the first dawn of history. For the customs and usages of the Irish race can be traced far back, even to the Egyptian and Pelasgian influence that dominated the primal tribes of humanity, ever wandering westward by the shores and islands of the great sea. The Celtic tribes followed the earlier Pelasgian along the same line of westward migration, carrying with them Egyptian and Pelasgian ideas even beyond the Pillars of Hercules, till they reached the shores of the distant Hibernia, where pre-historic monuments, supposed to be of Pelasgian origin, are still existing to attest the presence of that ancient people such as the grand and wonderful Temple of New Grange, at the Boyne, one of those eternal works of the hand of man over which time seems to have no power.
Irish customs also resemble the Hebrew in many things; for all nations have preserved fragments of the one primalcreed, and have many elements in common as regards religious beliefs and ritual. The Jews borrowed from Egypt, as the Egyptians borrowed from Babylon and Chaldea.
Thus the creeds, symbols, and usages of all the early nations have a certain basis of identity.
The Irish, however, have retained more of the ancient superstitions than any other European people, and hold to them with a reverential belief that cannot be shaken by any amount of modern philosophic teaching. They are also, perhaps,
indebted to Egypt for the wonderful knowledge of the power of herbs, which has always characterised the Irish, both amongst the adepts and the peasants.