Thursday 23 May 2013

Luibh bheag bheag, luibh bheannaichte / A small small plant, a blessed plant

There are numerous accounts of plant lore noted in Carmina Gadelica and within the notebooks at the Centre for Research Collections, and a previous blog highlighted some of the key plants for popular herbal remedies. This blog notes some uses for am mothan / pearlwort including a method for securing a spouse!

The 'mothan' (bog violet?) is one of the most prized plants in the occult science of the people. It is used in promoting and conserving the happiness of the people, in securing love, in ensuring life, in bringing good, and in warding away evil.

When the 'mothan' is used as a love-philtre, the woman who gives it goes upon her left knee and plucks nine roots of the plant and knots them together, forming them into a 'cuach' - ring. The woman places the ring in the mouth of the girl for whom it is made, in the name of the King of the sun, and of the moon, and of the starts, and in name of the Holy Three. When the girl meets her lover or a man whom she loves and whose love she desires to secure, she puts the ring in her mouth. And should the man kiss the girl while the 'mothan' is in her mouth he becomes henceforth her bondsman, bound to her everlastingly in cords infinitely finer than the gossamer net of the spider, and infinitely stronger than the adamant chain of the giant.

The 'mothan' is placed under parturient women to ensure delivery, and it is carried by wayfarers to safeguard them on journeys. It is sewn by women in their bodice, and by men in their vest under the left arm.
An old woman in Benbecula said: - 'thug mi am mothan beannaichte do Ruaraidh ruadh mac Roaghail Leothasaich as a Cheann-a-deas agus e air a thuras do Loch-nam-madadh, dol ga fhiachain air bialabh an t-siorram agus fhuair e dheth ge do bha e co ciontach 's a chionta ri mac peachaich' - 'I gave the blessed 'mothan' to red Roderick son of Ranald of Lewis from the South-end (of Uist), and he on his journey to Lochmaddy to be tried before the sheriff, and he got off although he was as guilty of the guilt as the son of a sinner.'  'Ach a Chairistine carson a thug sibh am mothan dh'an duine agus fios agaibh gun robh e ciontach? Saoilidh mi fein nach robh e ceart dhuibh a dhol ga dheanamh' - 'But, Christina, why did you give the 'mothan' to the man when you knew that he was guilty? I think myself it was not right of you to go and do it!'  'O bhidh 's aodaich! a ghraidhean mo chridhe agus a ghaoilean mo dhaoine, cha b' urra dhomh fhein dhol ga dhiultadh. Bhoinich e orm, agus bhochain e orm, agus bhoidich e orm, agus chuir e rud am laimh, agus O! a Righ na gile 's na greine, agus nan corracha ceuta, curra, de b' urra dhomh ghein a gh' radh no dheanamh agus an duine dona na dhubh-eigin na dhear-theinn agus na chruaidh-chas' - 'O food and clothing! thou dear one of my heart, and thou loved one of my people, I could not myself go and refuse him. He beseeched to me, and he swelled to me, and he vowed to me, and he placed a thing in my hand, and oh! King of the moon, and of the sun, and of the beautiful, sublime stars, what could I myself say or do, and the bad man in his black trouble, in his red difficulty, and in his hard plight!' I remembered Bacon and was silent.

To drink the milk of an animal that ate the 'mothan; ensures immunity from harm. If a man makes a miraculous escape it is said of him. 'Dh' ol e bainne na bo ba a dh' ith am motha ' - 'He drank the milk of the guileless cow that ate the "mothan"'. 

Buainidh mi am mothan ,                                                             Pluck will I the ‘mothan,’
Luibh nan naodh alt,                                                                      Plant of the nine joints,
Buainidh agus boinichidh,                                                           Pluck will I and vow me,
Do Bhride bhorr 's dh' a Dalt.                                                      To noble Bride and her Fosterling.

Buainidh mi am mothan,                                                              Pluck will I the ‘mothan,’
A dh’ orduich Righ nam feart,                                                     As ordained of the King of power,
Buainidh agus boinichidh,                                                           Pluck will I and vow me,
Do Mhoire mhor ‘s dh’ a Mhac.                                                   To great Mary and her Son.

Buainidh mi am mothan,                                                              Pluck will I the ‘mothan,’
A dh’ orduich Righ nan dul,                                                         As ordained of the King of life,
Bheir buaidh air gach foirneart,                                                 To overcome all oppression,
Is ob air obi shul.                                                                               And the spell of evil eye. 

Laomachan. 'Little mouldy one', was a rind of cheese used for divination. The cheese must be made on one of the four old festivals of the year: Bealltain, Beltane; Lùnasd, Lùnasdal or Lùnasdain, Lammas; Samhain, Hallowtide; and Fèille Brighde, the Feast of Brigit; but on which of these is now uncertain. The milk used was that of a cow which had eaten the mòthan, pearlwort, for since the plant was sained the cheese was sained also. twelve months after the cheese was made it was used. A small hole was made through the rind, and through this the diviner looked down through the fàrlas, smoke-vent of the house. The name of the first person thus seen through these two orifices was the name of the future spouse. When the loamachan was placed under the pillow, the sleeper would in dreams see his future spouse coming towards him with gifts; were the person seen receding, it indicated a parting. the laomachan safeguarded its wearer from the wiles of the fairies of the mound, from the venom of the hosts of the air, and from the misleading light of the teine mòr or teine sionn, will o' the wisp. For naming, for dreaming and for safeguarding, the laomachan was effective only on the anniversary of the fesitval on which it was made, and only to those who had faith and sincerity of heart; only to those who bowed to them were the names true. Many curious rites and ceremonies connected with the laomachan and its use are now but dimly to be descried through the darkness of ages. 

Carmina Gadelica ii, 110-113.
Carmina Gadelica vi, 94-95.
© Carl Farmer   

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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). [©]