This tale today comes from my reading into those old journals that I bought from the local Paradox book seller [a good name for an anachronistic shop which we should retain more of]. The journal was Littell's Living Age, January 1904 version. As a general remark, just the few of these journals that I've flipped through so far indicate, to my preferences anyway, that there are a lot of experiences written about in these things, which we are on the verge of forgetting, and shouldn't be. Maybe re-telling some of them here will do a "Fortean" service.
This particular recounting took place in the area of Ireland marked above. The Wise Woman lived in Lisclogher, marked as the large white circle, and another rural healer lived at Kilpatrick, marked with the pink teardrop. So the lady who wrote of this had her manor house somewhere roughly in that area. This lady, who "rejoiced" in the name of Ermengarda Greville-Nugent, had a servant who was suffering from chronic pains. Fortunately he knew of a "wise woman" who had the gift to cure such an ailment. Ermengarda granted his wish to make the half day roundtrip to affect the cure. His problem was described as "Sciatica". He reported:
"Bedad then, me lady, she has me nearly cured already. I was with her again 'ere yesterday, and me legs feel rale limber to what they were before ... she's a wonderful woman entirely, so she is".
The lady of the manor was a woman of intelligence and curiosity and so decided to go herself to see this fragment of the ancient past, as so it seemed to be.
Making her way, with a friend, through this area of rural farming country, they came not upon some witch's hut in the forest but a simple but nice Irish cottage. Nothing wealthy about it, but nothing mean nor run-down either.
The wise woman was waiting for them, probably not through paranormal means but merely by the simple rural methods of everyone talking about every new thing which is heading ones way. The fact that it was the lady's servant man who had recently been cured, made the introductions easy, without any problem of trust in strangers.
There was nothing at all weird about the wise woman. She did not have raggedy hair, teeth, nor clothes. She did not look to be descended from Elves nor Leprechauns. She was, in fact, a nice-looking older, well-kempt female, thoroughly "normal" and of good sense. The ladies felt at ease immediately.
After the politeness of the getting-to-know-one-another preliminaries, and after the wise woman came to understand that the ladies had come to inquire about what she did and how, she showed remarkable willingness to talk to them about it, while the lady-of-the-manor made notes. At some level these two people must have "hit it off" and the wise woman realized that the lady was genuinely interested in the cures and in preserving at least the knowledge of the value of the Old Ways.
The wise woman told the lady that the secret of being able to cure these sorts of nerve pains had been handed down in her family from generations far back in time. The cure involved two sorts of things: the semi-silent [muttering] of a "charm", and the "bathing" of the affected area with stream water AND pebbles from that stream. She did not have the ability to cure just any indisposition, but there seemed to be a loose network of healers scattered about, each knowing of the others and respecting what each could do. The wise woman had been, in fact, on a later visit from the lady, boarding a young girl who was suffering a different sort of leg inflammation, which the wise woman could not cure by her charm, but a healer in Kilpatrick, John Murray, could. The girl had been brought halfway to Murray and the wise woman would arrange for her multiple trips to Murray from there. The wise woman's name was "Mrs. O'Brien" by the way, but I do not think her first name is mentioned. She had a daughter, Katey Alanna, who seemed clearly to be there learning how to keep the healing tradition going.
They ultimately went inside the house, while the wise woman continued to speak about the facts concerning healings.
"The most of the cures does be with prayers, me lady; but I cure the St.Agnes' Fire and the Wild Fire with errebs [herbs]".
The lady of the manor had rheumatism in one of her arms, not terribly but sufficient for a test. Her curiosity was on fire by now, and she asked the wise woman if she would effect a cure. The wise woman inspected the arm, pronounced it not so bad, warned the lady that she'd probably have to come back for three treatments, and asked Katey Alanna to fetch the water tin.
To affect a cure for such rheumatic pain, it was necessary to fetch water from a moving stream [a pond or a puddle will not do]. Also, the water must be "riz" [gathered into the container] before noon, and the charm itself worked only on Sunday, Monday, and Thursday, though applied then, it did not fail.
The lady walked with the wise woman to the nearby stream; it flowed slowly, but that was fine for as little an ailment as she had. Had this been a bigger task, the wise woman would have had to go farther afield to find mightier running water. She harvested the water against its flow [capturing the power of its motion?]. And she blessed the action with the sign of the cross and its words. At the same time, she selected three pebbles from that area of the stream.
Back at the house, she began bathing the affected area of the arm with stream water, while having the lady bless herself and the two saying an Our Father and a Hail Mary. Then as she laved on the water she muttered the secret charm. These "passings" were first with the pebbles and then with water alone. When it was done [all in threes], they walked back to the stream, where the wise woman returned the water and the pebbles, this time in the direction of the flow. She told the lady that she would have to return three times for the treatment; and had the ailment been severe, nine times.
And she said: that the lady's arm would soon go numb. After a while feeling would return but she would continue to feel occasional twinges running up and down all the way to her fingertips. The lady gladly paid the woman a fee, happy for the adventure, and traveled back home.
So what was happening here? There was nothing about the wise woman which suggested a powerfully magickal witch hag, as we have been warned by our churches to shun. But SOMETHING WAS happening. The cure WORKED. The lady's arm grew numb just as promised. When the numbness wore off, the twinges down to the fingertips manifested before they too subsided. With two more trips to the wise woman, the lady's rheumatic pain was gone.
During these later two visits they sat and talked about all manner of healing lore and many other olden things as well. One day she and Katey were telling of the need to carefully rake the coals of the evening fire before bedtime. Simple you say, of course. But there was more to it. The coals needed to be raked a certain way with saying a charm prayer AND NEVER WITH IRON. Why? Some of you have guessed it. The Little People. If "anything" [the way she spoke of the Little People without naming them all the time] is in the house, they cannot approach the embers for warmth if they have been raked with iron. This of course will anger them, and you don't want that.
She went on to explain how the Little People got here at all, and it was the typical Olde Irish explanation of the Middle Angels. In her version, the Lord had it up to his Mighty Beard with Satan's arrogance and had Michael begin kicking all the non-obedient angels out of Heaven. Some were whacked down to Hell [the really bad ones], while some of the not as bad ones had their fall limited by landing on Earth. Michael was about to wreak havoc on those who had only fallen halfway, when Mary [I don't know how she was around yet in this Cosmo-theology, but...] cried to Jesus for mercy as heaven was becoming vacant, and God relented, told Michael to pack it in, and let these not-as-bad guys live here as leprechauns and pookhas. Well, with a little re-organizing of the key Actors, that's a fine tale by me.
So what can we say? The wise woman's cures worked. Did they work because the charm and the ritual had "power" in itself? Did they work because the water had some healing "energy"? Did they work because everybody believed that they would? And that because God did it? Or was it Mind/Body medicine? Maybe the answers to those questions are "YES".
I loved the story, and felt "comfortable" in the wise woman's world. Plus, she seemed to me to be the 19th century result of a very old synthesis of Catholicism and Druidism. The Catholic faith here was gradually overlaying the druidical nature wisdom, whether the ultimate overlay was making sense or not. Notice all the threes. THAT is the druidical number. Yes, Catholicism has the Trinity, but everything in Druidism comes in threes. The lady of the manor reflected upon how in her studies she had found a striking similarity of folk beliefs about these matters all the way to the Outer Hebrides islands, speaking, she thought of some intimate contact between all these areas. That contact, in my mind, goes back to the druidical scheme of colleges and subtle governance which was webbed through the British Isles ... until we stupidly began smashing it apart.
There are many holes in my knowledge of these things, but one that I would particularly like to fill one day: how did "wise women" of the past relate to druids? Were they always "in" and we just don't know it, because most outsiders only saw the "King's counsellor" males? Their counterpart mystery religions often had priestesses or seers... where were the ladies?
Well, we just found one in our story.
Till next time, when I can.....