On Serendipity and Iron

On Serendipity and Iron

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.

Nine Irons Amulet compared with Viking Amulets

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.

Blacksmithing images by Steve Ford Elliot and Jorge Royan.

Related Post:

The Shrine at the Crossroad

Author Sarah

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Join the discussion 12 Comments

  • Shannon says:

    Wow! This was so fascinating! I’m originally from Ottawa so…I don’t know, kinda makes me home sick and see my home-town in a different way. 🙂

  • Soli says:

    A good day indeed. And always nice to see you posting.

  • That’s all so lovely! Blessings to the Smith!

  • Lady Demelza says:

    That’s so wonderful, all of it.

  • dre says:

    All so wonderful. I’m still sitting with fact that you have a local blacksmith. That is fab. Not many places where that is true anymore.

  • Jennifer says:

    In Central Kentucky, where my family has lived for thirteen generations, I grew up surrounded by a large and loving extended family. We were told many marvelous stories and much was made if the fact that my grandmother and grandfather married shortly before World War Two. The reason? My grandmothers’s family is Scottish, Papa’a Irish. He was named for the Shannon River, from where his mother’s family came from, way back in the Colonial days. My grandmother sounded very much like the Canadian Scottish immigrants that came to Canada in the 1920s but her family came to the Carolinas in the 16th century.

    As everyone knows, the horse people have never really stopped the old ways, as Papa called them. He was an amazing master of horses and all animals. His father was a builder along with being a farmer and several of his homes are still in excellent shape and use. My great-grandfather would carefully survey a home or barn site and leave a small cairn of stones on any property he was working on and leave it overnight. If the stones were disturbed or fallen or scattered when he returned, he would not build on that site.

    As a baby and child and young married girl, I was gently shown so many of the old ways and how to grow things, to soothe babies and children and adults (a soothing) and many things about the weather and water. When my parents moved us to Texas(ugh), MamaMk gave me an old bitters bottle filled with water from a spring fed well on their farm and asked me to keep it on my dresser. I kept it and brought back water to refill it until a mover shattered the bottle when my husband and our family were transferred by the company he worked for. It broke my heart! Later, my aunt explained to me just what that bottle was for.

    Something I found interesting, was there was an old gentleman that lived so far back in the country, by the banks of a wide rushing stream, no one could hardly tell how to find him. Out of all the sixteen grandchildren, I was the only one they took along to Mr. Ike and we brought big baskets of Papa’s own five yeR old hams, made in the old family smokehouse from his special old breed hogs, black walnuts shelled, eggs from their hens, home canned goods, pound cakes and cheese, etc! Mr. Ike always spent some time talking to me, showing me little bundles of “Yerbs”: herbs. He seemed to consult with my granparents and discussions went on that fascinated me before I was sent outside or into the next room. Mr. Ike had been a very winning jockey in his younger years and of course, shared all the mysticism of the horse breeding and racing world.

    Oh, I could almost write a book of all my experiences and memories! My aunts to this day tease me about being “fey” and knowing things. When I finally moved back home, I have had so many experiences that really make me wonder and wish I could spend more time with my granparents, great-grandfathers and of course, Mr. Ike!

    As the first day of summer approaches, we get ready for our own take on the big bonfires my grandparents and others had, as they still do on the big local horse farms to this day. Late at night, one can sometimes hear haunting mElouise from the violins drifting on the night air and I always cry a little, wishing I had not had my life interrupted by all those awful years in a boring suburb and sitting in scary mega churches surrounded by rootless, materialistic and very scary people!

    The farriers that serve the farms are fascinating people and I can listen to their stories for hours, along with the blacksmiths and watch them work! A few years ago, one told me a story of the “witches’ of Finland, I think and how iron came about and the mystery and methods of smithing! He took one look at my husband and said, “there is so much Norse blood in the veins of the Irish!” We all laughed, my husband’s very “Irish” last name comes from Norman raiders that settled not far from Dublin over 900 years ago. His family did not come to North America until well after the Civil War but they still look very Irish but yet, Scandinavian! Our sons, now full grown sport red gold Viking beards and look like extras on Vikings! However, to many of my family, they both have their great-grandfather’s Scott’s blue eyes and silver streaks in their hair at a very young age…and are very talented musically as well as in other traits “born in the blood and bone” as my beloved Papa said.

    I wish I could go spend time with my grandmother’s baby sister, the last one alive at 101 and get her to talking but alas, as the wife of a business executive and very conservative man, and many years living in urban areas, she is very easily upset by any talk of the old ways!

    Thank you for such a wonderful article!

  • Maureen says:

    There was one of these in our barn when I was a kid but we didn’t know what it was, thanks so much for sharing this! It almost certainly would have remained there when my parents sold the farm. I thought of the Viking pieces immediately on seeing the picture you posted too, they also remind me of some of the iron Ogun amulets I’ve seen with miniature tools and weapons first forged by this God of iron and war. It never ceases to amaze me how these common threads span the world. If your blacksmith friend makes any for sale I would be very interested!

    I love what Jennifer shared too. It doesn’t matter how ‘modern’ we become people working the land, with animals and with tools in the old ways have such an amazing wealth of knowledge. I get a thrill when people share it.

  • jo says:

    this is so wonderful; thank you for sharing!!
    I yearn for a life in an area that supports the old ways,
    but alas I’m stuck in Kansas. I’ve decided to get schooled
    as an herbalist as what you do, along with other healers,
    has always been a passion of mine.

  • Andrea says:

    Oh…that’ s so lovely dear Sarah <3 I will make one of this for my boyfriend!!

  • Skye Grimm says:

    That’s fantastic. I remember seeing those items at the museum, too. It’s amazing to think that people are still making such trinkets!

  • Michele says:

    It’s amazing that you are only a couple hours south of me and you have all these rich stories, history, and magic all around you. It’s not that way here sadly.