18 April, 2017 by katelaity
‘They seem to have had a grand time with their magic,’ Tansy said, ‘Could they not do anything useful with it, or was it all for idle pleasures and malicious sport?’
Dunbar gave her a curious look. ‘It’s well you said that, for I had nearly forgot that Isobel mentioned many healing charms they had as well, and accounted for the mending of broken bones and stopping blood flow from a wound. There were more practical charms, too, like whispering some words over a feather and then attaching it to a cow sold at market to get the best price. But the healing charms are very much like the ones my grandmother used.’
‘My grandmother was the same,’ Tansy said. ‘Though our nurse would use her own people’s charms, words I never knew the meaning of though she explained the gods appealed to for the healing. I remain fond of the elephant-headed Ganesh, who so charmed me as a child for a mouse was his charioteer. He is Avighna, the One Who Removes Obstacles.’
‘For us it was an appeal to Nicnevin, the Elf Queen or Fairie Queen, depending upon where one lived. She was said to be fearsome at Samhain, or as you southern folks call it, All Hallow’s Eve. But at other times of the year she was kinder and might be sought for a kind boon. For the sea-fevers and the quaking fevers there was none better to appeal to though of course one tacked on a request to the holy trinity if one were wise or in the hearing of the devout.’
‘That seems horribly blasphemous,’ I could not keep myself from saying. ‘I am a bit shocked that things remain so wild and untamed in this land.’
Dunbar only laughed. ‘Scratch a modern man and you’ll find the wildness beneath the suit. Give him something to fear and he is just as likely to recall a childhood rhyme of protection whether it is to his good lord or to the fair lady of the fey.’
I could feel my collar warm. ‘I think we are good bit more civilized in London.’
Tansy sighed and Dunbar gave me a funny look. I would say he seemed amused but there was something grave in his expression that gave me pause. ‘Modern medicine shows that the ancients were right all along in understanding disease as tiny creatures too small to see invading the body to injure it. We imagine ourselves superior to the past when we laugh at its magic and ignore its sense.’
I did not know what to make of his words, so I said nothing. Yet I could not deny they made me uncomfortable. If we have come no further than chanting magic charms where are we then? I want to believe in progress.
‘Do you remember any of Gowdie’s healing charms?’ Tansy asked, deftly managing the awkward moment as usual.
‘There is a fine one I can remember. The charm Isobel said they used for the boneshaw or as the medical profession calls it now in their Latin way, sciatica. They would put their hands over the aching haunch—all three together for the charm was stronger that way—and repeat three times:
We are three maidens charming for the boneshaw,
By man of Middle-earth, blue beaver, land fever, all manner of sickness –
The Lord scared the Fiend with his holy candles and yard foot stone!
There the pain is, there it‘s gone! Let her never come again!’
‘And it was said to work?’ Tansy asked, pencil at the ready to record this strange practice.
‘Indeed. Most efficacious.’
I didn’t believe a word of the nonsense, but I must admit to being a little intrigued by the nature of it. ‘Blue beaver? And Middle Earth?’
‘The beaver was thought blue because it was always wet and reflected the sky. If you see them quite dry, they are obviously brown. Middle Earth is the name the ancients always used to talk about this world, long before the Christians came along. A world above, a world below and this one in the Middle. Now, I have taken up enough of your time so I will say thank you for the whisky and the listening ears.’ Dunbar rose up, shook our hands briskly and sauntered away.
‘What a strange man.’ I shook my head.
‘Yes, quite interesting,’ Tansy said, missing my point again.