Professor Fergus Kelly’s (Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies) presentation on Early Irish Charms for Animals came with an extensive reference handout. Because the two keynote speakers had run over time, Prof. Kelly sped through his offering. I would have enjoyed hearing more from this distinguished scholar, but I am thankful to have his list of sources.
The thrust of the presentation concerned the narrative of a hunter-gatherer people, transitioning and transitioned to a life dependent on agriculture and animal husbandry. Where once the herd animals had been robust in size and number, with domestication, their physical size and numbers were reduced. This necessarily increased concern over disease, which was directly linked to domestication.
This new concern can be seen in the highly significant burden placed upon local Kings, which tied the health of the land and animal population to the King’s justice, as well as the compensation an animal healer was entitled to, as outlined in the law tracts (1/4 of the wound price). It is from this concern that the use of animal charms arises.
Language of the Literary Sources:
Seirthech, a disese of horses (seir ‘heel, hock’)
Sinech, a disease of cattle, perhaps ‘cow-pox’ (sine, ‘teat’)
Conach ‘rabies’ (disease affecting dogs, cattle, pigs, poultry, etc.), derivative of cú, con ‘dog’
Liaig ‘animal doctor’
gono míl, orgo míl, marbu míl “I would the worm, I strike the worm, I kill the worm”
Milliud ‘destruction, bewitching’
mart leicter la sruth .i. ar g(l)einntlecht leicter ‘an animal which was swept away in a stream, i.e. it is swept away by sorcery with g(l)einntlecht being associated with paganism
mimir do cor do coin ‘giving a bad morsel to a dog’; froma uptha dus inbud amainsi: lethdiri ind, uair ni fo fath narbtha .i. fromad felmais .i. fromad na pisoc, anfot indethbiri he ‘trying out the spell to find out whether it is magic: half penalty-fine for that, because it is not with the intention of killing, i.e. trying out a magic spell i.e. testing the charms, and that is culpable inadvertence’
There was mention of the use of charms, in general, with an interesting note concerning marriage.
bean dia tabair a ceile upta oca guide co mbeir for druis “a wife whose husband gives her love charms while wooing her so that he brings her to lust” is entitled to a divorce, and to keep her bride price!
Corrguine(ch) ‘crane / heron-slayer, sorcerer’ could be one who practices the crane stance, etc.
Herbs in Charms
An incredibly interesting portion of the talk skimmed over the different uses of herbs, specifically, that each class used a different herb for the same problem. There is an indication that certain plants were only used for the noble class, etc.
Ar ni inun cosc sair  dair  leth[s]air: ‘for the prevention of [the evil eye from ?] the noble and base and half-noble is not the same’
Tri losa atheclthar and: righlus  tarblus  aitheclus: righlus do righaibh guna comhgradhaibh  tarblus do gradhaibh flatha, aitheclus do gradaib deine “Three herbs are recognised here: royal herb and bull herb and plebeian herb: royal herb for kings and those of equal rank with them, bull herb for the grades of lord, and plebeian herb for the grades of commoner’
Time, and it’s connection with Charms
Another topic, which could have received its own treatment, was the notion that time mattered: that when you plucked or cut an herb was associated with status, of the herb and the person it was to be used on.
is ed dleghar a buain ‘maseach  in lus resa[rai]ter is ed dleghar a buain cach nuairi do ‘it should be plucked in turn and the herb which is said [to correspond to his rank ?] is that which should be plucked every time for him’
 is airi danither sen mada teccmadh a athair do gradhaibh flatha  a mathair do gradhaibh feine ‘and it is for that reason that that is done, if his father should belong to the grades of lord, and his mother to the grades of commoner’
Agricultural Year ?
Prof. Kelly mentioned the lack of information present in early Irish MS regarding cereal crops. He indicated that the climate here was never fit for them, and even the more hearty barley can be a struggle. It is interesting to me that there should be a lack of literary reference to cereal crops in the early period, when they seem to overshadow the current practitioner (pagan) mindset of an agricultural (harvest based) year. It puts me in mind of the theory espoused by Barry Cuncliffe of the university of Oxford and Social anthropologist Lionel Sims, that the transition to agriculture from a hunter-gather way of life was motivated by a reduction in large game after the last ice-age, and that turning to stationary lifestyles which required more intensive periods of work, and dependence on climate, was resisted. This subject needs further practitioner (pagan) scholarship, if it has not already been done.
A modern festival which I had read about previously was mentioned: Féil na nairemon ‘the festival of the ploughmen’ Prof Kelly indicated that this festival took place in mid June, when the crops had reached full growth, after 3 months of tending.
Additional Time related activities mentioned by audience members:
At Bealtaine – hawthorn was collected after sunset, placed on house before sunrise.
Vervaine is only collected when Sirius is rising, which is sometime in July.
Roots are collected after the November full moon.
The majority of Irish texts cited are from Corpus iuris hibernici (Dublin 1978) D.A. Binchy