Celtic Herbs and Cu Tailtan Magic
Updated: Jul 4
Everything has value. At least according to Brehon Law (the ancient Irish legal system). In Celtic philosophy everything, from a person to a potato, contains a spark of the divine. If someone injures or steals anyone or anything, there must be a compensation. The price paid might be in the form of crops, cattle, or even a human life. This is not simply for the sake of justice, but to restore order and balance. The Celts believed these were essential to keeping society, even the universe, operating properly. Sickness also was seen as a sign of imbalance. The source often was attributed to the magic of faeries or witches. A counterbalance required magic too. Frequently, herbs were part of the magical solution. I’ve written a number of posts, such as last week’s, about the use of herbs in Celtic folk medicine and magic. This week, I’d like to show plant magic in action by sharing an excerpt from my novel Music of Dragons. And to celebrate the magic of herbs, I’m having a contest for an herbal gift. See the end of the post for details.
Music of Dragons starts in Cu Tailte, a country comprised of magical races, such as Faeries, Trolls, Goblins, and Unicorns. Previously, I wrote a post about Cu Tailte’s legendary faerie queen, Eithne. If you’d like to read that post, click here. The main character of the novel (and this excerpt) though is Siobhan, Eithne’s great-granddaughter. She is neither legendary nor a queen. Still, Siobhan is a Faerie and has magic. But Cu Tailtan law prohibits anyone from learning magical skills before the age of seventeen. Siobhan has a couple months to go before she reaches that milestone. Still, she practices magic anyway. In secret.
Siobhan has another secret too. She is planning to run away to the Dragon Kingdom. (You’ll have to read the book to discover why.) But going there requires traveling through a notoriously dangerous forest. Just as she is trying to develop a defensive magical skill, her mother sends her to spend the summer with Aunt Keena. Although initially frustrated, Siobhan soon sees an advantage to the situation.
She and her family are Arda Si, human-looking, wingless Faeries. Her aunt lives in the human world and works as an Alternative Medicine Practitioner. Herbs are at the heart of her healing practice. She has an extended herb garden in her basement and a huge tome on Cu Tailtan plant magic. Siobhan realizes herbs are the answer to getting safely through the forest. In the scene below, Siobhan uses a recipe from the plant magic book and her aunt’s herbs to make a healing drink and a protection satchel while Aunt Keena’s at work.
After covering one-half of the table with a green cloth, Siobhan placed a glass jar, the bowl of herbs, and a silver napkin on it. Then she put the thread and scissors on the uncovered part of the table and started heating the water in the pot. While she waited for the water to boil, she dropped the herbs into the jar one by one, double-checking the recipe as she did so.
Yarrow. Three elderberries. Seven hawthorn berries. Clove buds, check. Nettle leaves. Definitely got them. Siobhan frowned at her inflamed left palm. And they got me. She now understood how stinging nettle had gotten its name. Sweet fennel. Siobhan dropped the seeds into the jar. Nine peppermint leaves. Next she encircled the jar with five stalks tipped with dark purple flowers. Surrounded by foxglove.
A rattling of the pot on the stove told Siobhan the water was boiling. She brought the pot over to the table, held it above the jar and read the next part of the recipe. As you pour the water into the jar, fill the room with blue light from your aura.
“My what?” She slammed the pot onto the table, sloshing water onto the cloth. “How in the name of Tus-gra do I do that?”
Willing herself to calmness, she snatched up the pot and again held it over the jar. Closing her eyes, she reached out with her intuition. Colors came into focus in her mind. A pulsating ring of lights, mostly violet and red specked with green. Blue.Where’s the blue! Siobhan fought to settle her rising frustration. You can do it. Ciaran can see your aura and he’s half-human. Just relax. She studied the ring with her mind’s eye then she saw it. A thin ring of light blue encircling the rest of the colors. Concentrating, she pictured it expanding, radiating outwards. Peace filled her. She opened her eyes, gasped, and nearly dropped the pot. A delicate blue light had inundated the basement and glowed brightly inside the jar.
“I did it!” she shouted, wanting to dance. Controlling the impulse, she poured the water slowly into the jar, saying the incantation from the book aloud as she did so.
“Ag solas agus fae-as n’Gaela
Glach-mé sinall an nearth cosana de na plandaí.
N’gach į solas bech de cúra mahair.
Be se sin nes solas nacht-mé
Nos an t-airm de mahair, sciath-mé ó gach docar.”
The words called upon Gaela’s nurturing essence, present in each herb, to combine into a light that would encircle Siobhan like a mother’s embrace and shield her from all harm.
She recited the next two stanzas, which called on the spirits of the plants and the Ancient Ones to come to Siobhan’s aid in times of danger. She read each word clearly, carefully, until she came to the final three lines:
Má tá mé dochar ábail-ar na plantaí,
bí se sín an tae-ol nach fúl-ar chorabith
agus bí sé sín a scrios-mé thar lea-häs!
Translated, the words meant: If I have harmed anyone in obtaining these herbs, may their magic utterly fail me and my enemies injure me beyond remedy.
Siobhan hesitated. She hadn’t actually harmed anyone. I’m only borrowing the herbs from Aunt Keena, not stealing them. Still…. Siobhan decided to omit the three lines. They probably weren’t necessary anyway. She hoped.
She placed the empty pot down on the uncovered part of the table, set the jar with the herbal mixture aside to steep, and began working on the Satchel of Defense.
She spread the silver napkin out on the center of the green cloth then obtained nine gems from the equipment cabinet. Gently, she placed three sets of three gems on the napkin. First she laid out the three Lasair Atho crystals in a vertical line. The Cu Tailtan name meant “Burning Flame” in the human language. It was a lovely stone, deep red streaked with lighter red and glowing yellow at its center. It not only provided protection but bestowed strength and vitality to travelers.
Taking the next set of gems, she placed them beside the Lasair Atho, making a line slanted slightly to the left of the red stones. The new gems were Súl Na’haer, Eye of Serpent. A sparkling jewel of smooth, clear green. It would increase awareness and intuition, alerting her to any dangers along her journey.
Siobhan made a third line, slanted to the right of the center line, from Anám na Gaela, her favorite gem. Milky white but with a deep blue light dancing across its top. It provided protection, decreased stress, and gave clarity of thought. In Cu Tailtan culture, it symbolized new beginnings. A perfect stone for her trip to the Dragon Kingdom.
Two more items were needed: white willow bark and juniper berries. Carrying bark from the White Willow, Gaela’s sacred tree, was said to ensure the moon goddess’ protection. Juniper berries, according to the book, kept one safe from serpents.
This time, Siobhan read every word of the incantation, ending with a proclamation of trust in Gaela’s protection: “Monon-mé an Gaela a consaint-mé.”
After folding the napkin into a pouch, she tied it with thread, making nine knots and saying an invocation each time. Then she snipped the thread with the scissors and examined the satchel. It looked unimpressive. But Siobhan could feel its power tingling in her right palm.
Her own energy was dwindling, though, and the magical light in the room was fading. That meant sunset was near.Aunt Keena could be home at any moment. That realization energized Siobhan. She sealed the jar of herbal mixture with a lid. Tomorrow, she could pour the liquid into vials for easy carrying. Siobhan took the jar and satchel up to her bedroom and placed them on the floor of her closet, hiding them under two blankets.
Of course, the magic rituals described in the scene come from my imagination. Please be aware that the herbal formula described will not result in magical healing or protection. Never use herbs without knowing what you’re doing. Some, such as foxglove, can be harmful. I chose each herb in the healing mixture based on the powers attributed to them in Celtic folklore. The Cu Tailtan gems for the protection satchel are modeled on red tiger stone and sunstone (for Lasair Atho), emerald (Súl Na’haer), and moonstone (Anám na Gaela). The attributes listed, again, are from folklore.
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FREE DRAWING: This month, the names of all subscribers will be put into a drawing for an herbal gift worth approximately $15-20. So if you haven’t already subscribed, do so by clicking the “Sign Up” button in the upper right corner of this page. The only requirements are a name and email. Subscribing is FREE! The drawing will take place on August 6th and the winner will be announced in the August 7th post. Good luck!
Slan go foil!
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