Monday, March 9, 2009

Biddy Early, Irish Healer and Seer


I have always had a great fascination with Biddy Early. I devour everything I can about her and call on her when doing any type of healing work.
I would like to share a little about Biddy and her life with you and perhaps she will spark an interest in you about healing and how you can aid those around you in a natural and loving way.

Biddy was born Bridget Ellen Connors in lower Faha near Kilanena in 1798. Biddy was the daughter of a small land farmer, John Thomas Connors and his wife Ellen Early. Biddy is described as being small in statue and pretty, a woman who kept her good looks throughout her life. While married four times, she always used her mother's maiden name, believing that her gifts were inherited through the female line. Her mother taught her all about herbs and how to make potions, just as her own mother had taught her.

As a child, Biddy wore clothes that her mother made by weaving fibers from the flax that was grown nearby. She spent most of her time alone and was said to "talk to the fairies". She was good humored and showed a keen intellect but, like most people of her time, she did not learn to read or write. With her family and friends she spoke Irish, but she also had some knowledge of English. She may also have spoken Shelta, the language of ancient mystics and Irish Travellers, but it is unknown where or how she would have learned it.
Biddy's Mother, Ellen Early was well known for her exceptional herbal cures and taught her daughter many of her recipes. These recipes were regarded as family secrets, as was common for the time. When Biddy was 16 years old, her mother died of malnutrition, leaving Biddy in charge of the household. Just six months after her mother's death, Biddy's father died of typhus. Unable to pay the rent, Biddy had no choice but to leave her childhood home. Little is known about this period of her life, but for the next two years she probably wandered the county roads, working where she could along the way and experimenting with herbal cures.

When Biddy was 18, she began working for a landlord in Carheen near Limerick, but she was often taunted for her aloof behavior. She left after a short time and went to live in the local poorhouse, where she was treated even more poorly. During this period, she would often walk into Gurteenreagh on market days, and it was there that she met her first husband, Pat Malley of Feakle. The couple faced a number of obstacles: Pat was twice Biddy's age and already had a son named John, and Biddy had no dowry to offer. However, there were advantages to the relationship as well, such as the security that Pat could offer, so they married. After their marriage, Biddy gave birth to a son and they named him Paddy. This would be Biddy’s only child.

The family lived in a three room cottage in Feakle, and this is where Biddy began to earn a reputation for her cures. Biddy never requested money for her services, but allowed her clients to decide how to compensate her. Whiskey and poitín were common trade items in those days, so her house was frequently stocked with an abundance of alcohol and eventually became known as a place where people could go to drink and play cards. This ready availability of poorly distilled alcohol may have contributed to the death of Pat Malley five years into the marriage. Biddy became a widow for the first time at age 25.

Biddie married her stepson, John Malley, shortly after Pat’s death. John was closer to her age than Pat had been, and the two of them got along well. During this marriage, Biddy's fame was increasing but her family life was frequently disrupted by large numbers of people coming and going at various times of the day and night. Her son, Paddy, left home some years after her marriage to John and never returned. John died in 1840 due to a liver ailment that developed from excessive consumption of alcohol, and Biddy was a widow again at 42.

One of the mysterious and interesting things about Biddy was her magick bottle. There are different stories on how she acquired the bottle and I will share them here with you.
At some point Biddy acquired a bottle that became as famous as she was. She would frequently look into the bottle, which contained some sort of dark liquid, when considering possible cures for her visitors. She took the bottle everywhere, and it was even with her when she died.

Biddy’s powers of clairvoyance are credited to this mysterious dark bottle. How this “magic” bottle came into her possession, has since become part of her myth and legend. Some believe her late husband Pat Mally gave it to her before he died, others believe it came to her from the “sidhe” (fairies). There are some stories that say she was away with the sidhe, and went to live among them for a time as a child. As a little girl it was said she could see and talk to the sidhe in their own language, which was different from Gaelic and that they taught her how to use her gifts.

She was instructed that by looking into the bottle with one eye and keeping the other eye open, she would be able to see what ailed people and view the future. In exchange for this ability, she was never to charge money for her services, or she would lose the power. She could accept gifts, but was to give away whatever was left over from her own needs. She must never allow others to look into the bottle, or else they would either die or go mad.

Biddy also brought relief to animals, and treated them with great care. In her time, the death of an animal could bring particular hardship to people living in a mainly rural farming community. Animals were relied upon for everyday living, and to lose one could lead to eviction if farming chores were not completed. Many of the stories about Biddy include tales of her healing a family’s most important horse or cow. She also helped many people restore their wells, often the only source of clean water, to solve problems that women ran into while churning butter. Water and butter were also vital to a peasant’s everyday life.

During the nineteenth century, superstitious belief in fairies and all things apparently supernatural was very strong, and when something happened that appeared to be miraculous, without the aid of the church, it was commonly and easily attributed to witchcraft and the devil. As such the local church viewed Biddy with suspicion, and all the local clergy were totally opposed to her. As her fame spread they even tried to warn off people who went to visit her. One story of the churches opposition occurred in 1865. While visiting friends in Ennis, Biddy was charged with Witchcraft under the 1586 statute, however the case was dismissed due to a lack of sufficient evidence. Many of the local people stood their ground against the clergy, maintaining she did nothing but good works.

In 1868, her third husband Tom died, but Biddy now seventy years old, still only looked fifty, and a year later married her fourth husband Thomas Meaney. However he too got sick and died within the year. Many believed her husbands all died from alcohol abuse, as there was so much whiskey and other strong liquors brought to her in payment. Her husbands did not need to work as she herself provided everything through her healing work. After her last husband died, Biddy’s own health slowly deteriorated, she died in April 1874 with a rosary around her neck and her mysterious dark bottle wrapped in a red shawl beside her.

Before her death and despite their differences, Biddy had befriended one of the local priests and asked him not to let her bottle fall into the wrong hands when she died. According to her wishes, the priest took the bottle and hurled it into Kilbarron Lake. Since then, such was the belief in Biddy’s legend, many attempts to trawl the lake in search of the bottle have been made, but to this day it has never been found.

So there is Biddy Early's story. It is by no means complete and there are different versions of her life of course. I invite you to do your own research into Biddy's life.
Last year I acquired a large blue glass bottle that I made into my own version of Biddy Early's Bottle. As soon as my computer is fixed I will add the pictures of it here for you to see.
So what did you think of Biddy Early's story? Do you find it inspiring?
I encourage you all to look to Biddy at times when you need healing knowledge, she has been a wonderful addition to my life and I wish the same for you all.
As always, I look forward to your thoughts on this blog entry.
Brightest Blessings,
The Celtic Witch
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p.s. I will be announcing the winner of the Magickal Morning Glory Seeds this week as well. I have decided to pick two winners as I have quite a bit of seeds that I collected last season.

8 comments:

Jeanette said...

How very interesting. I could picture this as I read your story. What a fascinating life for a fascinating lady.
Thankyou for sharing :)

I'm So Pretty said...

That was wonderful and fascinating to read. Thank you for posting it!

Sandi said...

Thank you so much for sharing the story of Biddy. I won't forget it.
VictorianGypsy

Magickal Enchantments said...

Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on my Biddy Early post!
Wishing you all a wonderful week.
Kat

Merrie magick said...

Thank you for your research and for sharing this great read. I learned a lot and now I am going to be looking into Biddy for more info. Bright Blessings!

Magickal Enchantments said...

I am so glad you enjoyed the read Merrie Magick and I am thrilled that you are going on to your own research into Biddy!
Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us!

Princess61470 said...

This was such an interesting story, it inspires me to want to look more into her life. Definately a fascinating life. Thanks for sharing.

Witch Hollow Primitives said...

I love when I stumble upon you somewhere unsuspecting. So glad to see you here.
hugs,
Heather