Monday, December 27, 2010
Moll Anthony. The Witch of Red Hills.
Moll Anthony: The witch of the red hills.
Celtic society had a very strong impression of female power, indeed, many Celtic deities were female and women played a central role in Celtic society. Amongst the early Celtic religious leaders were a number of druidesses (Bandraoithe) who were direct conduits to the gods /goddesses and custodians to a secret knowledge that lay beyond normal mortals.
Most of this knowledge was about herbs and the elements and a great number of these women acted as healers and midwifes. In later years such women often remained central figures within their community. People still looked to them for their healing powers and powers of divination.
Every locality has its wise woman, herb lady or fairie doctor, people who seemed to have supernatural skills but where had these powers come from? For some such as the Church there was only one explanation-the devil. Others believed that they came from the fairies. The people believed that these wise women and fairie doctors drew their powers from the dark elements, from the older powers that dwelt in the trees and stone or in the rivers and hills.
One of the most famous of these women was Moll Anthony of Kildare. Like Biddy Early, accounts of her life are fragmentary and contradictory but there is no doubt that she was held in awe and even a little terror by those who knew her. Her story is difficult to piece together due to the fact that nobody really knows exactly who she was.
One evening a man and a woman were having their evening meal in their small cottage near Punchesgrange, County Kildare, when they were interrupted. The door opened and in walked four men, all dressed in black. They were tall, pale and not one said a word. The woman placed her hand over her mouth to stifle a scream for her and her husband knew that these were the fairie folk and no good could come from this visit. The tallest of the men was carrying a box shaped like a small coffin within which something was stirring. He placed it upon the table and all four men turned and left the cottage. The whole encounter lasted a couple of minutes.
Opening the box, the couple found a small baby girl wrapped in a red shawl. The child was human and as the couple were childless they decided to bring the child up as their own. She grew up to become a legendary wise woman and throughout her long life, she kept in touch with the fairies that had carried her to the house. The people who knew her say it was because of this contact with the gentry, she had such great powers, the power of healing, the power of curing sick animals, the power of foretelling the future, the power of finding lost or stolen objects. Her fame spread and everyone knew her name. She was Moll Anthony.
It is said that from a very early age, Moll displayed super-natural powers. Whether this came about through a contact with the fairies when an infant or whether, as the Kildare clergy suggested, It was through her worship of the evil one, is a matter of debate. However, it branded her as a ‘special person’. She also had a physical attribute that set her apart, halfway up her right arm, it was said, she had an oddly shaped strawberry coloured birthmark, which never seemed to fade as she grew older. Many people said this was a ‘fairy mark’ given to her by the little people, in fact, some said that it had been given to her by the most powerful fairy of all-the Fool of the Forth.
The Fool was said to be a being that could bestow great power or take away a person’s wits simply by a stroke of a rod which he carried. This is the origin of the description for the medical condition of a ‘stroke’.
Like many other ‘wise women, Moll Anthony, the Kildare witch, remains a hazy and mysterious figure. Nevertheless, this enigmatic woman was undoubtedly part of a tradition that stretched back into the mists of antiquity.