Druidical Magic

From Irish Druids and Old Irish Religions, 1894

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As to magical arts, exercised by Druids and Druidesses, the ancient Irish MSS. are full of stories about them. Joyce has said, "The Gaelic word for Druidical is almost always applied where we should use the word magical—to spells, incantations, metamorphoses, &c." Not even China at the present day is more given to charms and spells than was Ireland of old. Constant application of Druidic arts upon the individual must have given a sadness and terror to life, continuing long after the Druid had been supplanted.

It was a comfort to know that magician could be pitted against magician, and that though one might turn a person into a swan or horse, another could turn him back again.

Yet, the chewing of one's thumb was sometimes as effectual a disenchanter as the elevation or marking of the cross in subsequent centuries; Thus, when Fionn was once invited to take a seat beside a fair lady on her way to a palace, he, having some suspicion, put his thumb between his teeth, and she immediately changed into an ugly old hag with evil in her heart. That was a simple mode of detection, but may have been efficacious only in the case of such a hero as Fionn. Certainly, many a bad spirit would be expelled, in a rising quarrel, if one party were wise enough to put his thumb between his teeth.

Charm-mongers, who could take off a spell, must have been popular characters, and as useful as wart-removers. It is a pity, however, that the sacred salmon which used to frequent the Boyne is missing now, when examinations are so necessary, as he or she who bit a piece forgot nothing ever after. Balar, the Fomorian King, was a good-natured fellow, for, finding that a glance from his right eye caused death to a subject, he kept that eye constantly closed.

One way of calling spirits from the deep, to do one's will, was to go to sleep with the palms of both hands upon the cheek. The magic cauldron was not in such requirement as with the Welsh. But it was a Druidic trick to take an idol to bed, lay the hands to the face, and discover the secret of a riddle in dreams. Another trick reminds one of the skill of modern spiritualistic mediums, who could discover the history of a man by a piece of his coat; for, Cormac read the whole life of a dog from the skull.

Healing powers were magical. Our forefathers fancied that a part of enjoyment in heaven was fighting by day and feasting at night, the head cut off in daylight conflict resuming its position when the evening table was spread. The rival forces of Fomorians and Danaans had Druids, whose special work was to heal the wounded at night, so as to be ready for the next morning's battle.

In the Story of Deirdri it is written, "As Conor saw this, he went to Cathbad the Druid, and said to him, 'Go, Cathbad, unto the sons of Usnach, and play Druidism upon them.'" This was done. "He had recourse to his intelligence and art to restrain the children of Usnach, so that he laid them under enchantment, that is, by putting around them a viscid sea of whelming waves."

Nothing was more common than the raising of Druidic fogs. It would be easier to do that in Ireland or Scotland than in Australia. The Story of Cu speaks of a King Brudin who "made a black fog of Druidism" by his draoid-heacht, or magic. Druidic winds were blasting, as they came from the East. The Children of Lir were made to wander on the Irish Sea till the land became Christian.

A wonderful story in an old MS. respecting Diarmuid is connected with the threatened divorce of the lovely Mughain, as no prince had appeared to her husband the King. "On this," says the chronicler, "the Queen went to Finnen, a Magus (Druid) of Baal or Belus, and to Easbad, named Aedha, son of Beg, and told them she was barren. The Reataire (chief Druids) then consecrated some water, of which she drank, and conceived; and the produce of her womb was a white lamb. 'Woe is me!' said Mughain, 'to bring forth a four-footed beast.' 'Not so,' replied Finnen, 'for your womb is thereby sanctified, and the lamb must be sacrificed as your first-born.' The priests blessed the water for her, she drank, and conceived. Say the priests, 'You shall now bring forth a son, and he shall be King over Ireland.' Then Finnen and Easbad Aedha blessed the Queen and the seed of her loins, and giving her more consecrated water, she drank of it, and called his name Aedh Slaines, because he was saved from the sacrifice."

Well might Vallencey exclaim, "The whole of this story is strong of Chaldaean Paganism, and could not have been invented by any Christian monks whatever."

Cuchulainn of Ulster was much given to magic. He caught birds by it. He left his wife to be with a lady in fairy-land. Caught by spells, he was brought back home. He drank the draught of forgetfulness that he might not remember fairy-land, and she drank to forget her jealousy. All this is in Leabhar na-h-Uidhré.

When the Danaans raised a storm to drive off the invading hosts of Milesians, this was the spell used by Milesius, as told in the Book of Invasions:—"I pray that they reach the land of Erinn, these who are riding upon the great, productive, vast sea—that there may be a King for us in Tara,—that noble Erinn be a home for the ships and boats of the son of Milesius."

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