Celtic healing magic, like all Celtic folk magic, relies on some basic principles: use of objects, both natural and man made, transferring the spirit of one thing - in this case the illness - into nature, and the power inherant in certain items. By understanding these principles and how to apply them in different situations a person may effectively use folk magic healing in a Celtic style whenever there is a need for it.
Many types of Celtic folk healing relies on the use of objects and these fall into two categories: man-made and natural. In many spoken charms a metal knife, pin or other sharp object is used to threaten the afflicted area with the belief that this action will drive out the spirit that is the source of the affliction; there are several examples of this in the Carmina Gadelica. Another example of a man made charm used in healing is the brat Bhride, or Bride's Mantle, a piece of cloth that is left out on Imbolc eve with the belief that the goddess Brighid (or Saint Brigit) will pass by in the night and touch the mantle imparting some of her healing power to it. The Mantle can then be used throughout the year for healing people or animals by placing it over them, generally over their head. The Mantle is recharged each year on Imbolc by being left out; some believe the Mantle attains full power after seven years, while others say that after seven years it should be destroyed and a new Mantle created. In Scotland there is also the use of different colored thread for healing purposes. Red thread was worn during childbirth, and was worn with amber beads for protection. As well Rowan twigs were formed into a solar cross and wrapped with red thread for protection, especially of the home. Blue thread was worn as a charm against fevers, particularly in nursing mothers, and often these threads were passed down through a family. Black thread was tied with 9 knots and worn as a cure for a sprain, something that could easily be ocmbined with any of the spoken charms for sprains.
Natural objects were also commonly used for healing purposes. One common item thought to have healing powers were herbs, but not taken as a medicine, rather worn on the body often by being sown into the clothes. Several of th eherbal charms in the Carmina Gadelica refer to this practice, but the herb was believed to work only if no one else knew you were wearing it. In addition there were very specific ways te herb must be gathered, generally before breakfast and without intent - meaning that you could not go out meaning to find that particular herb, but must find it as a lucky accident. All herbs gathered on Beltane have great power for good or ill, but they must not be pulled or broken by hand so the folklore discusses several means of gathering the herbs safely, such as tying a string to the herb and a dog so that the dog is the one to pull the herb, or else putting your right hand out through your left sleeve and then pulling th eherb back through your garment. Lady Wilde lists 7 herbs of great value in her book, and these are: ground ivy, vervain, eyebright, groudsel, foxglove, the bark of the elder tree, and the young shoots of the Hawthorn. Additionally several sources list Yarrow was the most powerful healing herb for any purpose.
Another natural object used in healing are stones. These seem to fall into two categories, clear quartz stones and natural river or ocean stones. Round quartz stones were used for both healing and cursing. In Scotland such a stone might be set in silver and several examples of these were passed down as relics within different clans. Called Clach Bhuai (powerful stone) or Clach Buaidh (Victory stone) they were believed to grant victory in battle and cure diseases. The stone would be dipped in water while a prayer was recited and then the ill person or animal would drink the water, or else the stone would be touched to the afflicted body part. When used on Beltane it was believed that such stones could cure elfshot or any type of bewitchment. In contrast curing stones were stones that were found in a river, stream, or the ocean and were believed to have healing powers. Curing stones are often white, sometimes green or black, and less often red or blue. The use was similar to the Clach Bhuai, with the stone being dipped in water which is then drunk, or else rubbed on the injured area; if applied to a specific area a prayer would be said three times, ending with "This day well, next day better, after that naught but a scar." according to George Fraser Black. Curing stones were used for sterility in women, with the stone being placed in a south flowing stream in which the woman washed her feet. Generally obtaining a curing stone meant going out between midnight and dawn to a south flowing stream in total silence, finding the stone, and returning again also in silence. Even a single word would dispel any healing magic the stone possessed before it was safely acquired. Such stones were kept wrapped in wool or linen cloth when not in use.
Often any charm that used an object would also involve a spoken component, either a prayer or a spoken charm. Examples of such were given in teh last blog. The words of the chram were combined with the proper action to achieve the desired result.
Part 3 of this will look at healing water, sacred wells, and the clootie trees
Irish Cures, Mystic Charms, and Superstitions by Lady Wilde
Scottish Charms and Amulets by George Fraser Black
The Silver Bough, volume 1 by F. Marian McNeill
Carmina Gadelica by Alexander Carmichael
Lore of Ireland by Daithi O hOgain