Ann Ross in The Folklore of the Scottish Highlands writes that sinister powers were always in play in our earlier daily rounds. Someone with the Evil Eye casts an askance look at one of your prize cows, and the poor thing falls dying; another with the gift of charming would weave words upon an amulet, and Daisy would rise again with a huff and a fart and resume chewing her cud, delivering again the milk of human happiness. Thus darkness and light spiraled through the day and life and beyond.
Here is one example:
Carmichael records how in February 1906 a Benbecula man came across to North Uist in order to buy a horse. Observing a fine animal outside the house of a certain crofter, he praised the beast and continued on his way. He had hardly passed out of sight when the horse had fallen to the ground and was rolling in agony. People knew this Benbecula man was reputed to have the 'Eye', so the owner of the horse immediately went to a woman versed in counteracting this distressing power. She twined with her teeth three threads of three ply, and different colours, and instructed the owner of the animal to tie these, one after the other, round the base of the horse's tail, in the name of the Trinity. He did as the woman advised, and at once the animal recovered.
Ross then delves into the charmer’s gift:
The charmer told the horse's owner that she had inherited this knowledge and power from her father, a very devout Christian, much given to prayer. She apparently was able to ascertain from the beginning of her prayer whether the illness had been brought about by natural sickness or by the Evil Eye. If the sickness was natural, then she would advocate conventional cures; if due to witchcraft, then she brought about the remedy by the power of her prayer.
She maintained that the Evil Eye of a man, although less venomous than that of a woman, was more difficult to counteract then that of a woman. A common effect of their powers on all true charmers or healers, is the illness and weakness that they themselves experience after having performed their cure, sometimes almost to the point of death. To remove the damage brought about by witchcraft involved a severe struggle against the powers of evil and inevitably resulted in total mental and physical exhaustion. Such white witches, or charmers believed that their power came from God and that it was incumbent upon them to use it, no matter how unpleasant the consequences to themselves may be. Not to use the gift would involve its weakening and ultimate loss.
At times I think of writing poetry that way, as physic against an ill, shaping something tight and magical which restores the balance of a day, a life, a world, if only in the saying.
For this mini-challenge write a short poem (10 lines or less) binding up a spell or charm for something that plagues some aspect of daily life. Invoke a depth or shade or deity of heart and cast it over an ailing.
Maybe the Eye is a new unaccountable ache, or something chronic and cresting or just getting old. Maybe it’s the shadows lengthening behind a beloved pet. Maybe it’s for the lingering sorrow for those lost in Chicago’s incessant South Side gunfire, or the children of Aleppo, or the ghosts of those still walking where the World Trade Center towers fell 15 years ago today.
The charm is what you weave around that chill shadow from whatever strands of poetry you have learned—whatever inner well of inspiration you carry in your words.
Name it, claim it—let it go here—but use the gift, else it fade away.
A bag of charms for a brooding Sunday, yes: Let’s see how we can restore that milk!