Witchcraft Reappears In County Kerry

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A recent UPI story written by Donal O'Higgins was headlined "Witchcraft Reappears in County Kerry". Date-lined Dublin, the story details the re-emergence and resurgence of "ancient signs and symbols of pishoguery, Irish sorcery and witchcraft - Are reappearing in lonely, coastal areas of the county."

The Irish clergy are up in arms. "Some people seem to be indulging in pishoguery around here," canon Peter O'Sullivan of Listowel said, "and some of my parishioners are disturbed." Irish witchcraft is thousands of years old and predates Christianity. St. Patrick once publicly burned the written incantations of the Druids. Though many of the city dwellers laugh at it it's no joke to the rural clergymen.

Among some of the witchcraft rituals are the following: A bleeding carcass of a sheep is left in the middle of the night at the doorstep of a prosperous farmer ... a dozen eggs are hidden away in a corner ... a lump of hairy bacon is found in the hay ... a dozen eggs are arranged in a magic circle ... and to the believing Kerryman these mean that they've been cursed with a broken arm or leg, an accident, livestock dying, or some other harm either to themselves, their property or their farm animals.

The belief in the "evil eye" still persists ... "the power to destroy by a glance" ... it can wither crops, dry up a cow's milk supply, cause a house to become afire, or other kind of disaster that should befall a believer.

One of the more interesting things about this story is that to qualify as a veterinarian in Ireland the prospect must have an extensive knowledge of all the ancient beliefs and witchcraft practices. This is in addition to a university degree. The writer quotes one such veterinary surgeon with a big practice in the Kerry area as saying: "Many people are simply terrified by these symbols when they find them on their land. I come up against it every other day ... and they don't teach you at the university how to treat an animal that just sickens for no medical reason.

"If a cow goes dry or is taken ill many a farmer will search for a symbol first and call the vet later," he said. As to the reasons why there is so much of this the veterinary surgeon said: 'The prosperity of one farmer rankles with another, so in the dead of night a bleeding carcass of a sheep is tossed onto his land and with the carcass goes a curse that misfortune will strike him."

While writing this book I showed this clipping to a client who originally came from Ireland. She verified the above, citing a few instances in her early childhood. She told me that she vividly remembers when her parents had the local catholic priest visit her home and he performed an "exorcism" ceremony, chanting prayers and sprinkling various parts of the house with holy water. Every member of her family wore "blessed" religious scapulars, as well as medals, to protect them from the "evil eye" and witchcraft. The "exorcism" was not limited to the house itself but included the barn and the animals therein. The dictionary definition of exorcise is 'To expel or drive off (an evil spirit) by adjuration, especially by use of a holy name; to deliver from an evil spirit." The person who does this is an exorcist or exerciser (can be spelled as exorcizer too).

Reporter Donald O'Higgins said that in his research into the origins of poshoguery he discovered what he thought was one sensible practice which seems to have died out. "Back in the days of yore it was customary to give the newly born child a mixture of whisky and earth as a safeguard against the fairies stealing the baby and substituting a 'changeling.'" He concludes "It may or may not have worked but it seems a splendid idea. The whisky, of course, was Irish."

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