Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Wise Woman of Lisclogher

Hello again folks. I'm going to try to get back into some pattern again for producing entries for our adventures into the mysterious, now that I'm a week back to Wheeling and maybe see a pattern to my own life [mainly as it relates to visiting Mom]. I don't think that this will increase to some flurry of activity, but I hope for one-a-week, if lucky.

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]". 

Despite that last hint of herbal remedies, there were no cauldrons nor ominous pots, nor hanging strange plants inside. As the lady wrote: if this was a witch, she was the "whitest magical" witch one could picture. Nevertheless, as the conversation piled up, it was clear that the wise woman had a great many cures that she could [in her mind at least] cure, even if she was not empowered to handle just anything. In her mind, the main key was the secret charm, which could not be revealed to an outsider or it lost its potency. It also lost its ability if used for something deemed trivial, like using it on an animal. The lady gathered that the charm was some combination of words from basic Catholic prayers, but did not pry further.

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.....


  1. Howdy Prof. A point that often catches my attention is that of special days. In this case, she cites Sunday, Monday and Thursday as being the better for her procedures. What principle would make the Monday better than, say, Friday? There's also the old 'UFO Law' that they prefer Wednesdays.

    That Sunday is in there possibly supports your conjecture that her skills go further back than missionary visitors. The strength of the tradition seems to, at least, take precedence over the Catholic day of rest.

    Have you ever taken the time to read about 'bog bodies?' Some of the preserved bodies have darker iterations of the number 3. For example, 'Yde girl' was killed with a belt wrapped 3 times around her throat and 'Clonycavan man' was struck 3 times on the head. I guess that for every 'good magic' someone has the flip-side and subverts it to intentionally darker ends? Not knowing the exact circumstances of these ancient deaths - we can only speculate.

    Regarding the point of how women might have fitted in? It's tough to call after so many years. The Galicians of N. Spain retain some traditions from their Celtic ancestry and include matriarchal features like allowing women to be independent. This isn't wholly unique in Spain, but it's more distinctive to the region. Some also venerate moving water and the out of the way places.

    I like to think that centuries of nonsense have obscured what was once a reasonably equitable arrangement between the genders. Rather than limiting folk according to their sex, I suspect life was tough enough to make the most of a person's abilities. If 'magick' was held in great esteem then why not the women too? Young Katey Allana then would be like a bright bead on a cord that reaches back to the year dot through the female line.

    If the traditions were ever passed through male lines, one can invoke an image of such a cord being repeatedly snapped....beads cast in the dirt. In conflict not only might the fitter menfolk be more likely to go and fight, they were more likely to be killed by conquerors as safe-guards against revolt. That chain of oral history and patriarchal knowledge would be broken too often.

    I'm waffling and will leave it at that! Good day.

  2. Always interesting thoughts. Since we're BSing a bit here: The druids "liked" the gods/goddesses of the Sun, Moon, and The Light. The Sun's-Day, The Moon's-Day, and "Thor's"-Day. We know all about the Megalithic rings and the Sun and the Moon. The druid equivalent [closest anyway] to Thor was Lugh --- their Light-slinging hero. The actual weekday pattern stretches back with easy reading of it to Mesopotamia, and so was around to be "utilized" by Celtic and Scandinavian cultures from far early times. They were always representative of the Fortunate [Lucky] Seven, the Powers of Nature and Destiny.

    Regarding anything to do with ritual: It is difficult for me to go with anything but a means of getting everyone involved to Believe. Once the minds are "willing" for something special to happen, it might actually do so. This is a somewhat simplistic paranormal explanation of Faith and Folk-healing, but some non-physically-generated effect coming from the general category of PK fits a lot of what I think I read in these situations.

    As to women vs men in a fatal-accident-liklihood theory... maybe. I don't see it such. In technologically primitive societies the women often die more quickly than the men. And the rule in druidism was that the druid was out-of-bounds in war. My guess it that it's pretty much a wash as to threat that any individual would take critical knowledge to the grave with him/her. The only way to ensure preservation of the knowledge is to have it widespread and the "spread" organized into some [at-least-communicating] "community". That is what I think British Isles druidism was best at, and why they amassed such an amount of knowledge. It's what we found we must do in our Universities ... too bad that we're only allowed to address materialist possibilities.

  3. The Professor states: "In technologically primitive societies the women often die more quickly than the men." - - -

    Oh yes indeed. I'm a member of my town's historical commission. As such, amongst things to do is inspecting the older part of the town cemetary - which dates back to the early 1600s.

    It's astounding to look at tombstones and see the man's name and a number of wives in successive order, as well as babies and children. Pregnancy and childbirth killed off women. That was the harsh reality for who knows how long. It wasn't until after WWI, in western culture, that we saw a decreasing number of death rates for women.

    ~ Susan

  4. My great-grandmother, who was a very famous village wise woman (in Romania) and a healer, "specialized" in certain respiratory syndromes like quinsey (the closing-off of the airway due to adjacent abcesses). In her time (the late 19th/early 20th centuries), quinsey couldn't even be treated by lancing the abcess--there was something trickey about the lancing process that wasn't figured out 'til later. She was very reluctant to work on any other conditions, and told most such supplicants to try someone else. My grandmother didn't learn the ritual, though she wrote it down, because she didn't like the fuss, the constant stream of strangers (some had to be put up in the barn), and the expense of feeding the very poor & their children (my great-grandmother could not take any cash payment, only payment "in kind", i.e. produce mostly and not much of it, very rarely a chicken). But when I was three (in 1943), I had one of the respiratory ailments, and my grandmother (though diffident) gave it a go; but the doctor came (they then made house calls!) and gave me...well, a sulfa drug, or earthworms ground up in laudinum, or whatever. So I don't know what cured me. My great-grandmother claimed that anyone, knowing the exact ritual and laying hands on the sick one, could do what she did. These were Banat Germans, and I doubt proper Druids had any connection to them, but it was probably a Christianized but ancient ritual....

    Frank John Reid

  5. Thanks, Frank. Those of us who know you really know that this event took place in the 13th century and that you are actually the Comte de Saint-Germaine.

    Just kidding an old friend, folks. Frank has been a life-long student of these Fortean matters. And honest, even.

  6. This is a lovely post, thanks for this.

  7. Great post. I thought you might like my machinima animation about The Wise Woman, The Witch
    Bright Blessings

  8. I would like to quote from page 288 of "The Paranormal, A Bishop Investigates" by Hugh Montefiore (2002):
    "I remember an occasion when I fell ill with gastric influenza on the eve of a great festival at which, as vicar of the church, I knew I had to be present. The chaplain of a local school came and laid hands on me, and I felt a flow of cold air from his hands, which caused convulsive movements of my stomach, after which I was able to get up and officiate. The chaplain assured me that his ability to heal had nothing specifically to do with religion: it was a paranormal power with which he happened to be endowed."
    (If you are interested, the author came from a prominent Jewish family. At the age of 16, when he was boarding at Rugby school he had little interest and less knowledge of Christianity. He was simply minding his own business in his room when Jesus suddenly appeared, and said: "Follow me!" And what else could he do?)



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