Monday, October 2, 2000

Irish Cures, Mystic Charms & Superstitions, Lady Wilde, summary

Klar, Celtic Romanticism 170

by Lady Wilde

This new compilation of Irish folklore from Lady Wilde’s two collections over 100 years after first US publication, is arranged and compiled for the modern reader by Shiela Ann Barry, which made me suspect the authenticy of the texts. The recipes are in Lady Wilde’s style, but it feels as if I’m viewing them through a Victorian Celtic Twilight veil—occluded by a New Age shroud. 

I don’t know how much of a scholar Lady Wilde was, or if she knew Irish (the internet yielded little). I recognize some proverbs from the Irish, but translations differ. Is binn béal ina thost/ a mouth is melodious in its silence becomes: “A silent mouth is musical” Some sean fhocail seem to have been “Bowlderized” (to borrow an Irish term). Too bad the Irish originals (or where she collected them) weren’t available. 

And who is writing the introductions, Wilde or Barry? “All nations... have held the intuitive belief....” or that myth and superstition become fixed that they “...form a national character and cannot be dissevered from it. ...especially...the Irish who have been wholly separated from European thought and culture for countless centuries...clinging to old traditions with a fervor and faith that cannot be shaken by any amount of modern philosophic teaching.” Yikes! 

The landscape is comprised of 18th c. antiquarian scholarship where the superstitious peasants hold sacred/arcane knowledge of a Golden Age. Themes: pre-Christian and Christian. Druid/aristocratic, peasant: The banshee only appears to aristocrats. “Ancient Druid charms...continued to hold their power over the people who believed in them with undoubting faith. ...and they are used to the present day amongst the peasants, who consider them as talismans of amount of argument would shake their faith...” She’s referring, in essence, to my great-grandparents! I can hear my grandmother grumbling, even now. 

I find the Cures to be the most genuine. They also have the most druid/healer references. The snail and insect recipes seem to be authentic folklore as I’ve browsed the Rosa Anglica (14th c.) by Chaucer’s immortalized “docktor of physik” (sic) John of Galen. 

Spider butter sandwiches and poitín cures aside, I’m insulted, by the fact that Wilde suggests that we Irish are indebted to Egypt for herb lore, festivals and even gods. I be alarmed by the foxglove and nightshade cures as my grandmother insisted upon their poisonous nature. 

I found the reference to the magpie as frankach (p. 92) interesting, as “Frenchman” is also the name of the Norwegian rat that stowed away to Ireland with the Vikings. (No rats, snakes, or magpies are native to Ireland). 

My grandmother said if a bird flies into the house, it was a portent of death, but the towhees, like small chickens, who came to peck the crumbs at her feet, were said to be “lucky.” Approaching 80, she once risked life and limb returning baby tree swallows to their nest under the eaves-—two stories up a broken ladder. And our cats were never thought of as evil, though Lady Wilde asserts that all the Irish believe this to be true.

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