Wednesday, October 14, 2009


The wind untwists her hair
and lets it wander
into a woolen updraft, a cloak
she wears near dawn.

One hand carries a pouch
where herbs exhale
their pungent scent,

the other pulls down
a string of stars, a sinew of light
from this holy leg
of Autumn's journey North.

Slowly, she laces the bag
with her stellar cord and faces
the distant cliff
slightly eroded, casting its stone dice
into the sea.

A toss of blue shale,
a shake of blossomed weeds,
and she gambles on magick
invoking the body to heal
and softly breathe in
the pipe song of spinning leaves, passing souls.


Goddess of the Growing Green: Airmid of Ireland
By Erynn Rowan Laurie

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"

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.

1 comment:

socalsmiles said...

I stumbled upon your site while looking for pictures and information about Airmid. You have a beautifully written retelling of Airmid. I can feel the respect in your words. Thank you.