The other day I had a serendipitous morning of finding datura and brugmansia plants at a local nursery and the ladies who work there gave me all the seeds they’d collected after hearing about the pain ointments I make with them. Shortly after, I had another “hmm this can’t be coincidence” encounter. I went to a local farmers’ market to get some of my favourite pig’s lard and lye soap from a local blacksmith and went home with the recipe and a traditional Irish “nine irons” amulet instead. He learned how to make them online, but after bringing them to a farmers’ market last year, a local little old Irish lady made a happy fuss over them and gushed out lore form her childhood. She told him the farmers and farm hands would put the amulet on their belts before going to work the farm or go into the woods and at the end of the day would hang it up by the door or over the bed. It was for luck and protection and was used in folk magic charms of healing, curse breaking, and keeping away evil spirits and fairies. The amulet seemed to have the biggest popularity in the 1800s, but the old woman told him no one was really making them anymore. He sent me home with a homemade pamphlet of its folk uses.
The nine amulets from right to left: Skillet, saw, plow coulter, spade, plowshare, cross, axe, horseshoe nail, and shovel. The skillet was heated to red to ward off enemies, the saw and axe ward off evil spirits, the plow coulter and plowshare were used to soothe children who had trouble sleeping, the shovel and spade were used to find lost or stolen property, the cross to bless holy water and protect from spirits, and a horseshoe nail was worn for good luck.
This is a farmer’s charm, crafted and consecrated by a local blacksmith who is also a farmer, made with re-used iron from antique farm tools. What blew me away even more about its magical potency is how much it resembles early Scandinavian tool amulets from archaeological digs. The one on the left is an 8th century piece found in Hesselbjerg, Denmark and the axe head amulet on the right is from the same time period. I saw many such amulets with different every day tools on them at the touring Vikings exhibit at a museum when it was in Victoria; some for the gods, some just for luck and protection like the nine irons amulet. The possibility of a connection between Ireland and Scandinavia fascinates me as my father’s father is Black Irish and the Lawless name supposedly originated from the southeast coast of Ireland where Vikings raided mercilessly…
I love seeing folk practices with early modern and ancient roots still in use here in the Ottawa Valley. I told the blacksmith if he were alive a couple centuries ago he’d be as good as the village priest: blessing babies, consecrating tools and amulets, and protecting people from curses and evil fairies. “And don’t forget the old practice of marrying people over the anvil,” he added. I told him my friends found a dried cat purposely sealed into the wall of their home when they were renovating. He told me when he was renovating an old house in the Glebe in Ottawa he pulled up the lintel of the front door, which hadn’t been moved since the house was built, and found a corked witch bottle with hair in it and an old leather shoe. The blacksmith isn’t even Pagan, he is just a local farmer. Magic is bizarrely normal out here and my rural area is full of ghosts, vampires, fairies, witches, folk magic, and epic crossroads superstitions that the Irish, Scottish, Polish, and German settlers brought with them. My curiosity is only just wetted, now to hone the blade with more research on local folk magic and folk belief.