Tuesday 13 March 2012

Prayers, blessings, charms, and incantations: What Carmichael did and didn't print before Carmina Gadelica - II

In this blog and the next one we’d like to take a look at how Alexander Carmichael was first inspired to publish charms he had collected, in the ‘Nether-Lochaber’ column of the Inverness Courier, compiled by his friend the Rev. Alexander Stewart (1829–1901).

Stewart was always looking for fresh material for his newspaper column, a compendium of local anecdotes and observations, mainly concerning natural history and folklore, whose lively conversational style and curious subject matter had won a wide readership throughout the country. For many readers, ‘Nether-Lochaber’ was the Inverness Courier. Among the myriad topics broached by Stewart were proverbs, riddles, songs, and charms: short, unusual items which could fill a column and were almost guaranteed to elicit a response from readers, encouraging them to send in examples of their own.

From September 1871 ‘Nether-Lochaber’ began to mine a productive lode, printing a series of Gaelic riddles and other linguistic curiosities together with English translations. Among them was a healing charm, ‘taken down for us a short time ago by a gentleman in a neighbouring district from the recitation of an old woman on his property. It bears internal evidence of being intended for use only in the case of sprains, bruises, and dislocations.’ This was printed, together with a translation, in the Inverness Courier for 9 November 1871:

Esan a mharcaich gu stòld’,
Air an asail dheas òg a bha grinn;
A leighis gach creuchd ’s gach plàigh,
’S a dh-aisig gu slaint’ na bha tinn;
Leighis E sùilean an doill,
Do’n bhacach rinn rathad réidh;
Le Peadair ’s le Pàl, ’s le Muire bean àigh,
Biodh dlu an drasd’, a leigh[e]as nan cnamh ’s nam féith’.
Suathadh a’s sile a’s luibh Challam-chille
   (’An ainm an Athair),
Suathadh a’s sile a’s luibh Challam-chille
   (’An ainm a Mhic),
Suathadh a’s sile a’s luibh Challam-chille
   (’An ainm an Spioraid Naoimh),
Suathadh a’s sile a’s pòg ’o bhilibh –

He that rode with dignity
On the fine young ass that was handsome;
Who healed every wound and plague,
And restored the sick to health;
He healed the blind man’s eyes,
And made a level path for the crippled man;
With Peter and Paul, with Mary, blessed woman,
May [He] be near now, to heal the bones and sinews.
Rubbing and spittle and Saint Columba’s wort
   (In the name of the Father),
Rubbing and spittle and Saint Columba’s wort
   (In the name of the Son),
Rubbing and spittle and Saint Columba’s wort
   (In the name of the Holy Ghost),
Rubbing and spittle and a kiss from the lips –

On 20 June 1872, after the interest in riddles had run its course, Stewart published another four charms, including the two taken from Caraid nan Gàidheal. These were Rann Galar nan Sùl (‘A Rhyme for Sore Eyes’); Eòlas air a’ Ghréim-Mhionaich (‘A Charm for the Colic’); Eòlas an t-Snìomh (‘A Charm for a Sprain’); and Eòlas an Tairbhein (‘A Charm for the Tairbhean’). One reader in particular was inspired by the column to send in some charms from his own collection: Alexander Carmichael.

‘Nether-Lochaber’, Inverness Courier, 9 November 1871 & 20 June 1872.

Rev. Alexander Stewart, ‘Nether-Lochaber’, Celtic Monthly, ix (1901), 19.

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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). [© carstenflieger.com]