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Shingles is a painful skin rash around the area of a nerve infected with a virus called varicella-zoster. It is very unpleasant for sufferers, usually lasts from 2-4 weeks, and can be treated with anti-viral medication. About 1 in 4 UK citizens will suffer from it at some time in their lives. In Welsh Folk-Lore: a Collection of the Folk-Tales and Legends of North Wales (1888), Elias Owen gives the following curious, Eagle-related cure for shingles:

"The manner of proceeding can be seen from the following quotation taken from 'The History of Llanrhaiadr-yn-Mochnant,' by Mr. T. W. Hancock, which appears in vol. vi., pp. 327-8 of the Montgomeryshire Collections.

“This custom (charming for the shingles) was more prevalent in this parish than in any other in Montgomeryshire. A certain amount of penance was to be done by the sufferer, who was to go to the charmer in the morning fasting, and he was also to be fasting. The mode of cure was simple - the charmer breathed gently on the inflamed part, and then followed a series of little spittings upon and around it. A few visits to the charmer, or sometimes a single one, was sufficient to effect a cure.
“The power of charming for the 'Ryri' is now lost, or in any event has not been practised in this parish, for several years past. The possession of this remarkable healing power by the charmer was said to have been derived from the circumstance of either the charmer himself, or one of his ancestors within the ninth degree, having eaten of the flesh of the Eagle, the virtue being, it was alleged, transmitted from the person who had so partaken to his descendants for nine generations. The tradition is that the disorder was introduced into the country by a malevolent Eagle.
“Some charmers before the operation of spitting, muttered to themselves the following incantation:-

Yr Eryr EryresEarly 12th cent Irish MS Eagle crop
Mi a'th ddanfonais
Dros naw mor a thros naw mynydd,
A thros naw erw o dir anghelfydd;
Lle na chyfartho ci, ac na frefo fuwch,
Ac na ddelo yr eryr byth yn uwch.”

Male Eagle, female Eagle,
I send you (by the operation of blowing, we presume)
Over nine seas, and over nine mountains,
And over nine acres of unprofitable land,
Where no dog shall bark, and no cow shall low,
And where no Eagle shall higher rise.”

The charmer spat first on the rash and rubbed it with his finger over the affected parts, and then breathed nine times on it.”

W. Jenkyn Thomas, writing in The Welsh Fairy Book (1908), tells us that:

"Huw Llwyd of Cynfael was the seventh son of a family of sons, and therefore he was a conjurer by nature. He increased his knowledge of the black art by the study of magical books, and he ate Eagle's flesh, so that his descendants could for nine generations charm for the shingles."

Golden_Eagle_flying-whiteLet me make it absolutely clear that I am in no way encouraging anyone to eat Eagle flesh. Eagles are a beautiful and endangered species and should not be harmed in any way at all. I should also remind readers that Eagles are legally protected and damaging them or their nests is a criminal offence. I'm posting this for its historical interest, and its interest in linking Eagles with healing. As to the form of the healing, note the repetition of the number nine in the incantation, reminiscent of similar repetition in the Anglo-Saxon 'Nine Herbs Charm.' The 'Nine Herbs Charm' also includes blowing the poison out from the afflicted person. I have yet to try the shingles charm, but it may be that it works without the necessity for you, or one of your ancestors, to have eaten Eagle flesh. I suspect that, as with many unconventional healing methods, the real key lies in the strength of belief of both the charmer and the charmed. Indeed, the same applies to conventional medicine more than some doctors care to admit.
The idea that Eagles offer a cure for shingles may owe its origins to the similarity between the Welsh words eryr, 'Eagle,' and (swyno'r) ryri, 'shingles,' but no doubt also relates to an archaic belief encountered elsewhere, including in the 'Nine Herbs Charm,' that disease can be caused by the attack of malignant serpent spirits. In native British tradition, shingles was referred to as a serpent wrapped around the body. There is a long and widespread tradition that Eagles will attack and kill snakes. Put the two together, and the idea that an Eagle could attack and kill the disease makes mythical sense. William Elliott Griffis, in his Welsh Fairy Tales (1921), says that shingles -

“... is called also by a Latin name, which means a snake, because, as it gets worse, it coils itself around the body. Now the Eagle can attack the serpent and conquer and kill this poisonous creature.”

Sadly, Eagles have long been persecuted by farmers and game-keepers. Golden Eagles were driven to extinction two centuries ago in England and Wales, though one or two have recently been seen again and there are said to be one or two breeding pairs in the Lake District. In Scotland, they're doing better, with estimates of up to 450 pairs. There are, however, still instances of game-keepers poisoning them. Ironically, much of their diet consists of rabbits, which farmers view as pests.

There is a legend that thunderstorms are created by the beating of the wings of great Eagles who circle in the clouds that shroud the high peaks of Snowdonia, called Eryri in Welsh, 'the Place of Eagles.' I have flown with them, and know it to be true. One day, I trust that physical Eagles will return to Eryri. Until then, here is a picture created digitally to show how magnificent they will look when they do. They are big, with a wing span up to 8 feet. They are also fierce, intelligent, powerful and beautiful. Long may they continue to soar the skies!SnowdonEagles
This piece is extracted from a booklet in the forthcoming British Druid Order Druid course. The drawing accompanying the charm is from a 12th century Irish manuscript.

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In researching and writing for the British Druid Order's Druid course, I've been working on the sub-stratum of spiritual beliefs and practices that underlies just about every religion there is. This seems to have emerged about 40,000 years ago in Central Asia. By 35,000 years ago, it had spread across a territory extending from Spain to Siberia. A central feature consists of ways in which humans and other animals relate spiritually. I've identified seven animals, or groups of animals, that have maintained key roles in human spirituality for millennia - at least among peoples who have either retained ancestral ways or are seeking to renew them. The seven are:

eaglehuman temple woodeaton oxonEagles: - Eagles are royal birds, linked with the Sun, sometimes regarded as ancestors, and are messengers between our Mid-world and the Upper-world of the sky gods. Because of this, they are often regarded as bringers of storms and winds. They are also invoked for healing and in childbirth. (Picture: shape-shifting Eagle from Woodeaton in Oxfordshire. Late Iron Age)

Ravens: - Highly intelligent birds, Ravens are noted for their wisdom and also regarded as creators, shapers and shape-shifters, culture-bringers, teachers and tricksters. They are invoked, and their movements studied, for divination. As carrion-eaters, they are associated with the Otherworld of the dead and seen as messengers between worlds. What goes for Ravens applies to some extent to most other members of the Corvid family, Crows, Magpies, &c..

Brandsbutt_Stone_serpentSerpents/Dragons/Wyrms, &c.: - By many names are they known. Serpents are chiefly seen as Under-world beings, receptacles of very strong power that can cause earthquakes or volcanic eruptions. Some are winged and create thunder-storms. Serpents can also create disease and injury in humans and other animals. Conversely, people of sufficient strength can 'tame' the serpent power and use it just as powerfully for healing. Serpents have long been associated with the Moon, their ability to shed and renew their skins being likened to the lunar cycle. (Picture: Pictish stone with carved Serpent, Moon, lightning bolt and Oghams. Brandsbutt, Scotland. c. 6th century.)

Artio Bear Goddess 2Bears: - Bear cults and societies are pretty much universal wherever there are bears. The bear is seen as a powerful protective spirit, teacher and guide, also as an ancestor, healer and culture-bringer or enhancer. Considered human-like because they sometimes rear up on their hind legs, bears were also invoked by warriors for their courage, strength and stamina. (Picture: The Bear goddess, Artio - from Celtic 'Artos,' 'Bear' - feeds one of her kin. Bern, Switzerland. Late Iron Age.)

 

PictishWolfWolves: - Wolves are powerful teachers and guides, also revered as ancestors. Their pack behaviour teaches us the benefits of community. Wolves, like Bears, were also invoked by warriors, Wolf warrior societies having been common in Europe, Asia and America. Like the others mentioned so far, Wolves are hunters or scavengers, invoked to bring success in hunting. (Picture: Pictish Wolf. Ardross, Scotland. c. 7th century.)

 

Burghead Bull Brit MusBovines: - The primal bovine of ancient Eurasian cultures was the Aurochs, an animal considerably bigger and stronger than the modern-day cattle descended from it. Its hide was usually black. The other major bovine spirit of our ancestors was the Eurasian Bison. Bulls and Cows are both associated with powerful deities, often the parents of divine dynasties. The first, largest and most powerful prey animal on the list, hunted for meat, skins to make clothing and shelters, bones and horns to make a wide variety of practical or decorative objects. Bovine skulls were often buried as spirit guardians of sacred sites. (Picture: Pictish Bull from Burghead, Scotland, now in the British Museum. c. 7th century.)

cerf2 stagCervids (Deer): - Like bovines, the Deer family have long been a major prey species for humans and wolves. Like bovines, their skins have provided shelter and clothing, their bones tools and ornaments. They are often connected with via antlered deities who ensure their health as a species while giving humans permission to kill individual animals. (Picture: Bronze Stag from Nuevy-en-Sullias, France. Late Iron Age.)

If they were still around, I'd have added an eighth: Mammoths. I like Mammoths. I hope researchers find a way to bring them back...

We humans connect with these and other animal spirits in a variety of ways. They often appear to their chosen humans first during life-transforming visions. After the first appearance, their aid can be invoked by mimicking their behaviour and cries and/or dressing as them in ceremonies, by using a feather, tooth, claw or some other token, usually kept about the person for this purpose, by painting them on a drum or making a rattle in their image, or by placing images of them on an altar in the home.

Alexander_CarmichaelIn looking at the copious folklore attached to all these creatures in cultures around the world, I am struck by the fact that folk who study such 'oral texts' these days seem to readily accept them as evidence of ancient beliefs and practices if they are found in, say, Siberia, Nepal or New Mexico. Some of the same researchers then seem oddly reluctant to make the same assumption when very similar folk tales and customs are found in Britain and Ireland. This even applies when the British and Irish tales were collected at the same time and their Asian or American counterparts, usually the late 19th century when interest in folklore was at its height. The folklorists who collected this material at the time mostly believed that it related to ancestral cultures in the same way wherever it was found. Some undoubtedly overstated the case, but the suspicion that overstatement caused doesn't seem to apply to 'exotic' cultures. Could it be that some European scholars, at this point in the 21st century, still feel deep in their bones that 'those people' are 'primitive' whereas our fellow-countryfolk couldn't possibly harbour beliefs similar to ones our shared ancestors held 35,000 years ago? I sincerely hope this isn't so, but the differing attitudes towards different cultures do make me wonder.

The picture is of Alexander Carmichael, who collected folklore in the highlands and islands of Scotland in the late 19th century. He was definitely one of the good ones. His Carmina Gadelica remains a fine source of arcane lore. You can access two volumes of it for free here: http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/celt/cg.htm

There are, however, more modern researchers who revert to the older notion of accepting folk tales, specifically those written down in the medieval era, as preserving genuine ancient beliefs. One such is Irish archaeologist, John Waddell who, In his recent book, Archaeology and Celtic Myth (Four Courts Press, 2014), quotes his colleague, Tomás Ó Cathasaigh's opinion that: "what is remarkable about the Irish situation is the extent and richness of the vernacular literature which has come down to us from the early medieval period. Much of this literature is firmly rooted in ancient myth and remains robustly pagan in character."

Awen to that... /|\

For more on Animal Spirits, see my previous post, http://greywolf.druidry.co.uk/2014/11/animal-spirits/