Wednesday 15 June 2011

How to Cure a Cow: Silver Water

Silver Water
A well-known cure for any ailing cow was picked up by Alexander Carmichael from John Cameron (1805–1889) in Borve, Barra. This practice, it seems, would have been widespread throughout the Highlands and Islands as well as in other parts of Scotland. Such a method was usually referred to traditionally as uisge-airgid and the silver agent was used for its apotropaic qualities in order to avert the evil-eye or droch-shùil (usually the agency to have caused the cow to fall into ill-health in the first place):

Cattle Cure – An old dairy
maid request[ed] John Cameron
Borve to go to a tobar fior
uisg nach tra'adh [traghadh] or to a
stream forming a march &
to take home water from that –
To go ere sun rise or sun
set with an eye of man
or woman to see Place
silver in the dish & sprinkle
this 3 times on the cow.

The remarkable ability of people to remember such folk-cures is demonstrated by the following example which was taken down in Easter Ross by Prof. Seosamh Watson some three decades ago:

Bha bobhla mor fiodh aca agus bhitheadh leth-chrun anns am bobhla agus, reist, bhitheadh sia sgilling anns am bobhla agus bonnan tì sgilling anns am bobhla. Bheireadh iad sin dut a dh'ol agus nan fhastadh an t-airgead ri toin am bobhla se buidsidheachd a bha ann, buidsidheachd. Nan fhastadh an t-airgead gu toin am bobhla bhitheadh fhios aca, reist, gur buidsidheachd bha deis dut. A bheil thu tuigeil? Agus nis, rachadh e tron aite.

This above narrative is given in translation as follows:

They had a big wooden bowl and there would be a half-crown in the bowl and then there would be sixpence in the bowl and a little threepenny piece in the bowl. They would give you that to drink and if the money stuck to the bottom of the bowl it would be witchcraft, witchcraft. If the money stuck to the bottom of the bowl then that witchcraft had been done on you. Do you see? Now that news would go trough the locality.

CW90, f. 59v.
Watson, Seosamh, ‘Saoghal Bana-Mharaiche: Oral Accounts of Life in an Easter Ross Community’ (Part II), Béaloideas, vol. 72 (2004), pp. 99–218.
Image: Silver Water.

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Stone whorls WHM 1992 13 2.4

Stone whorls WHM 1992 13 2.4
Stone whorls collected by Alexander Carmichael, held by West Highland Museum (ref. WHM 1992 13 2.4). [©]