The Preserving Shrine - Erynn Rowan Laurie - Poet, Fili- Priestess - Articulating the Unspeakable Since 1961
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Goddess of the Growing Green: Airmid of Ireland
Previously published in SageWoman #25, Spring 1994
The Celts honored hundreds of deities throughout the British Isles and Western Europe. A few are known through tales and poetry, but of most, little is known beyond the names, taken from inscriptions in stone. When thinking of Irish healing Goddesses, most minds turn immediately to Brighid, but she is not the only healing Goddess of the Irish. The stories of Airmid are few. She is mentioned only two orthree times in all the translated Irish tales. Airmid is an herbal healer, part of a family of healers among the Tuatha de Danann, one of the groups of Gods and Goddesses of Pagan Ireland. Together with her father Dian Cecht and her brother Miach, a God of surgery, she tended a sacred spring that brought the dead back to life. The tales tell us:

"The slain and mortally wounded were cast into a healing well over which Dian Cecht, his sons Miach and Octriuil, and his daughter Airmed sang incantations, and all were restored to full vigor." [1]

As a healer, Airmid surpassed her father in power, for while Dian Cecht replaced the severed arm of the de Danann king Nuadha with one of silver, she and Miach regenerated the flesh arm to perfect health. The healing charm they recited remains in Celtic folk use even today.

Bone to bone
Vein to vein
Balm to Balm

Sap to Sap
Skin to skin
Tissue to tissue

Blood to blood
Flesh to flesh
Sinew to sinew

Marrow to marrow
Pith to pith
Fat to fat

Membrane to membrane
Fibre to fibre
Moisture to moisture [2]

Folk tradition is powerful, remaining in the memory of the people for generations after the reason for the traditions die away. There may be no explanation, only that "this is the way it has always been done." Such is the power of the growing green. Cut down a rowan tree and a dozen young saplings arise from the stump to take its place.

As the origin of the charm was lost from memory, so the secret of the healing herbs was lost to the people as well. Dian Cecht, jealous because he could not compete with Miach's surgical skills or Airmid's powers of regeneration, killed his son and confused the herbs that grew from his grave so that mortal humans would not share in the power and immortality of the Gods.

After that, Miach was buried by Dian Cecht, and three hundred and sixty-five herbs grew through the grave, corresponding to the number of his joints and sinews. Then Airmed spread her cloak and uprooted those herbs according to their properties. Dian Cecht came to her and mixed the herbs, so that no one knows their proper healing qualities unless [she] taught them afterwards. And Dian Cecht said "Though Miach no longer lives, Airmed shall remain" [3]

Airmid's herbs, spread upon her cloak, were scattered by her father. Yet Airmid still remembers the powers of the herbs, and can teach us their secrets. Through her, we may learn to use and appreciate the sacred power of plants and healing waters. Her medicinal herbs were powerful, offering cures for every part of the body. The symbolic number 365 tells us that, with time, Airmid's herbs can heal all wounds. Airmid's herbs have power throughout the solar year, whether in seed and root, bud and stem, or flower and leaf. Fresh in spring or dried in the dead of winter, the herbs have effect. She works through nature's cycles, and through the energy that connects the body's joints and sinews in lines of power.

Is Airmid, the Goddess of medicinal plants, only a healer of the body? The simple answer is no; the healing power of every green place looms palpably within it. We have but to stand in a grove of trees or listen to the rush of a fern-circled waterfall to feel the weight of our spiritual and emotional wounds begin to lift from our shoulders. The healing power of plants goes far beyond their physical effect on human biochemistry. When we delight in the color and scent of blooming flowers, the heady green scent of pines and cedars, the healing power of Airmid is there. In our cup of honeyed tea, she resides. She dwells in forest and field, and for those of us living in cities, she dwells in the potted herbs of garden shops, the apartment window box, and the stubborn yellow dandelion pushing out of a crack in the sidewalk. The essence of Celtic religion is found in contradictory states, in the neither/nor, the liminal fringe. Airmid is that Celticly odd balance of toughness and delicacy that manifests in the blackberry -- bright, fragile blossom and tangling thorn. She creates life from death, bringing healing from the grave of Miach. Three kinds of medicine were recognized in Brehon law; [4] surgery, dietary control, and herbal healing. Herbalists were greatly respected and had a fairly high status in Celtic society. The "women-physician of the tuath" or tribe (banliaig túaithe) was considered independent of her husband and commanded her own honor-price, [5] unlike many other women in Celtic society. Thebanliaig túaithe was most likely an herbal healer and midwife. Herbalism was considered a very important part of Irish medicine, and this would have made Airmid a Goddess of some stature, despite the few mentions of her in the Irish mythological texts.

"The sagas and law-texts agree in stressing the medical importance of herbs. Tain Bo Cualigne describes how a poultice of healing herbs was placed in Cu Chulainn's wounds. Bretha Crolige states that the purpose of herb-gardens is the care of the sick, and refers the the great service given by garden herbs in nursing." [6]

Our window boxes and backyard herb gardens can be shrines to Airmid. The groves and all wild places where plants grow are her natural temples. Rites of healing, trance induction and meditation are all appropriate devotional work for this Goddess of the Green. Work to preserve wilderness areas is a form of devotion to her as well, for many medicinal plant species are still found only in the wild, or cannot be successfully cultivated.

A home altar for Airmid should be covered with a cloth, symbolizing the cloak on which she laid out the healing herbs. It can be scattered with dried or fresh plants of all types. Flowers in vases, bunches of herbs, potted plants, wreaths of branches or piles of berries could all be placed on its surface. A bowl or cauldron of spring or rain water can symbolize her well of healing and regeneration. Incenses for her should be floral or earthy scents redolent of growth and verdant green, pine or fir resins, or the elegant sweetness of amber. If you use candles, they should be of beeswax to symbolize the fertilizing work of the bees and the curative powers of honey. If you feel a need for a blade on the altar, consider using a sickle for its close association with agricultural work, rather than an athame. Bronze, silver, stone or wood are preferable to iron, for the folklore tells us that the de Danann dislike iron. Your indoor temple can be decorated with bunches of drying herbs hanging from the ceiling, herbal wreaths on the walls, baskets of dried flowers, with indoor herb gardens in pots and under sunlamps, with bottles filled with your dried herbs, and mortars and pestles for their preparation.

If you have space in your yard for a garden, it would be highly appropriate for you to devote an area to be her special shrine and ask her blessings for the growth and preparation of your herbs. Celtic deities were often represented by a rough-hewn face in a log or by a small standing stone. With a little inspiration and some care you can create a similar stone or wooden icon for yourself. A bowl or birdbath set into the ground before the image can serve as her healing spring. Scrying and healing meditations can be done by gazing into the reflective surface of the water. For those with some money available and a taste for something unusual, small fountains of rough natural stone can sometimes be found in garden shops. The initial cost may be a few hundred dollars, but a fountain pump runs on less electricity than it takes to run a fish tank air purifier. The musical sound of moving water can deepen meditation and provide a refuge from the distraction of everyday activities. If you are not fortunate enough to live close to a river or waterfall, this might be a useful alternative. Inspiration is one of the roots of Celtic worship. No scripted rites are necessary for the worship of Celtic Goddesses. Poetry is their preferred form of invocation. Time spent in an herb garden or among the wildflowers could easily inspire you, as it has many poets over the centuries. Even if you are not feeling particularly inspired, there are a number of books available with samples of Celtic poetry that can be used or modified for your rituals.

"I will pluck the yarrow fair,
That more benign shall be my face,
That more warm shall be my lips,
That more chaste shall be my speech,
Be my speech the beams of the sun,
Be my lips the sap of the strawberry." [7]

Many Celtic poems exist which are centered around the harvest of particular herbs for healing or magickal purposes. The Carmina Gadelica, originally a compilation containing poetic material in both Scottish Gaelic and English translations, was recently re-released in an all-English format,[8] and is a rich source that contains many plant charms and folk-beliefs concerning plants, from late 19th-century Scotland. Other folk poems use herbs and plants as a part of their symbolism, even if they are not directly related to the use and cultivation of healing plants. These can also be modified for use in rituals.The triad is a traditional form of wisdom text in Celtic Ireland. One of the Irish triads speaks of the attributes of a healer, saying "Three things that constitute a physician: a complete cure, leaving no blemish behind, a painless examination." [9] Through our work in ritual with Airmid, we can strive to fulfill these conditions. In devotion to her, we can work to heal ourselves, and through the knowledge of her herbs, those close to us as well. Through our gardens and our devotion to the green world of plants, we can move the circle outward and work to heal our planet.

1. The Healing Gods of Ancient Civilizations, p. 514. Walter Addison Jayne, MD, Univeersity Books, New Hyde Park, NY 1962

2. Carmina Gadelica, volume IV, pp. 215-217, Alexander Carmichael, Scottish Academic Press, Edinburgh 1970

3. Cath Maige Tuired: The Second Battle of Mag Tuired, p. 33, ed. Elizabeth A. Gray, Irish Texts Society, Naas 1982

4. The Brehon laws are a traditional body of religious and secular law whose source texts are largely in the Old Irish language. Preserved by Druids and Brehons (law-givers), they were eventually absorbed and modified by the Celtic Christians, who added a great deal of Biblical material to them. Despite this, the law texts are a rich source of information on the social context of Celtic Paganism and the status of women in Celtic Ireland.

5. A Guide to Early Irish Law, p. 77, Fergus Kelly, Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, Dublin 1988

6. Ibid, pp. 58-59

7. Carmina Gadelica, Voume II, P. 95, Alexander Carmichael, Scottish Academic Press, Edinburgh 1972

8. Carmina Gadelica, Alexander Carmichael, Lindisfarne Press, 1992

9. The Triads of Ireland, Todd Lecture Series vol XIII, Kuno Meyer, Royal Irish Academy, Dublin 1906

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