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Clefyd Yr Ede Wlan Or Yarn Sickness


Source: Welsh Folk-lore

About twenty years ago, when the writer was curate of Llanwnog,
Montgomeryshire, a young Welsh married woman came to reside in the parish
suffering from what appeared to be that fell disease, consumption. He
visited her in her illness, and one day she appeared much elated as she
had been told that she was improving in health. She told the narrator
that she was suffering from Clwyf yr ede wlan or the woollen thread
sickness, and she said that the yarn had lengthened, which was a sign
that she was recovering. The charm was the same as that mentioned above,
supplemented with a drink made of a quart of old beer, into which a piece
of heated steel had been dipped, with an ounce of meadow saffron tied up
in muslin soaked in it, taken in doses daily of a certain prescribed
quantity, and the thread was measured daily, thrice I believe, to see if
she was being cured or the reverse. Should the yarn shorten it was a
sign of death, if it lengthened it indicated a recovery. However,
although the yarn in this case lengthened, the young woman died. The
charm failed.

Sufficient has been said about charms to show how prevalent faith in
their efficiency was. Ailments of all descriptions had their
accompanying antidotes; but it is singularly strange that people
professing the Christian religion should cling so tenaciously to paganism
and its forms, so that even in our own days, such absurdities as charms
find a resting-place in the minds of our rustic population, and often,
even the better-educated classes resort to charms for obtaining cures for
themselves and their animals.

But from ancient times, omens, charms, and auguries have held
considerable sway over the destinies of men. That charming book,
Plutarch's Lives, abounds with instances of this kind. Indeed, an
excellent collection of ancient Folk-lore could easily be compiled from
extant classical authors. Most things die hard, and ideas that have once
made a lodgment in the mind of man, particularly when they are connected
in any way with his faith, die the very hardest of all. Thus it is that
such beliefs as are treated of in this chapter still exist, and they have
reached our days from distant periods, filtered somewhat in their
transit, but still retaining their primitive qualities.

We have not as yet gathered together the fragments of the ancient
religion of the Celts, and formed of them a consistent whole, but
evidently we are to look for them in the sayings and doings of the people
quite as much as in the writings of the ancients. If we could only
ascertain what views were held respecting any particular matter in
ancient times, we might undoubtedly find traces of them even in modern
days. Let us take for instance only one subject, and see whether traces
of it still exist. Caesar in his Commentaries states of the Druids
that, One of their principal maxims is that the soul never dies, but
that after death it passes into the body of another being. This maxim
they consider to be of the greatest utility to encourage virtue and to
make them regardless of life.

Now, is there anything that can be associated with such teaching still to
be found? The various tales previously given of hags turning themselves
and others into various kinds of animals prove that people believed that
such transitions were in life possible, and they had only to go a step
further and apply the same faith to the soul, and we arrive at the
transmigration of souls.

It is not my intention to make too much of the following tale, for it may
be only a shred, but still as such it is worthy of record. A few years
ago I was staying at the Rectory, Erbistock, near Ruabon, and the rector,
the Rev. P. W. Sparling, in course of conversation, said that a
parishioner, one Betsy Roberts, told him that she knew before anyone told
her, that a certain person died at such and such a time. The rector
asked her how she came to know of the death if no one had informed her,
and if she had not been to the house to ascertain the fact. Her answer
was, I knew because I saw a hare come from towards his house and cross
over the road before me. This was about all that the rector could
elicit, but evidently the woman connected the appearance of the hare with
the death of the man. The association of the live hare with the dead man
was here a fact, and possibly in the birthplace of that woman such a
connection of ideas was common. Furthermore, it has often been told me
by people who have professed to have heard what they related, that being
present in the death chamber of a friend they have heard a bird singing
beautifully outside in the darkness, and that it stopped immediately on
the death of their friend. Here again we have a strange connection
between two forms of life, and can this be a lingering Druidic or other
ancient faith?

In the Dictionary of the Welsh Language by the Rev. Canon Silvan Evans,
part i., p. 8, under the word Abred, we have an exhaustive statement on
the subject of transmigration, which I will take the liberty to
transcribe, for it certainly throws light on the matter now treated of.

Abred . . . 1. The state or condition through which, by a regular
upward gradation, all animated beings pass from the lowest point of
existence in which they originate, towards humanity and the highest state
of happiness and perfection. All the states of animation below that of
humanity are necessarily evil; in the state of humanity, good and evil
are equally balanced; and in all the states above humanity, good
preponderates and evil becomes impossible. If man, as a free agent,
attaches himself to evil, he falls in death into such an animal state of
existence as corresponds with the turpitude of his soul, which may be so
great as to cast him down into the lowest point of existence, from which
he shall again return through such a succession of animal existences as
is most proper to divest him of his evil propensities. After traversing
such a course, he will again rise to the probationary state of humanity,
where according to contingencies he may rise or fall; yet, should he
fall, he shall rise again, and should this happen for millions of ages,
the path of happiness is still open to him, and will so remain to all
eternity, for sooner or later he will infallibly arrive at his destined
station or happiness, from which he can never fall. This doctrine of
metamorphosis or evolution, attributed to the Druids and the Welsh bards,
is succinctly but fully stated by its hierophant, Iolo Morganwg, in his
'Poems' (1794), ii., 195-256, and elucidated by documents which had not
previously been made public, but of which none are of an early date.

Thus writes the Welsh lexicographer on this matter. The word abred is
archaic, as is the idea for which it stands; but as already said, very
little has been lost of ideas which were once the property of kindred
races; so here we have no exception to the general rule, though the word
abred and the theory it represented come down to modern times
strengthless, resembling the lifeless mummy of an Egyptian king that once
represented a living people and principle. Still, the word and the idea
it stands for have descended, in form, to our days, and tell us something
about the faith of our forefathers regarding the immortality of the soul.

Next: Rhamanta Or Omen Seeking

Previous: Charm For Clefyd Y Galon_ _or Heart Disease

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