The RTÉ website carries news of a man who lost 4 stone in 12 weeks, by buying blue crockery. Apparently, because the blue is not the colour of any popular foodstuff, it has the effect of suppressing the appetite. Certainly, the man has mastered his weight problems, but one suspects that the power of his own mind was more significant than any crockery he might have bought.
The blue crockery seems a throwback to an ancient Irish tradition of objects being efficacious in restoring one’s health.
My first encounter with a holy well was on a late December afternoon at Old Leighlin in Co Carlow. Beside the holy well, there was a heavy iron box fixed to the ground. Perhaps it had once been for offerings people might make; it was covered with an odd assortment of items – memorial cards, funeral notices, prayer cards, a picture of Padre Pio, hand written requests, a child’s doll, the plastic cover from a Ventolin inhaler. It was like some religious version of Kim’s Game. Everything was soggy and the print had run on some of the cards.
To a hard-nosed English rationalist, there had seemed a deep sadness about the eccentric collection; those leaving items could not have failed to notice the esoteric quality of the thing, was this some last throw of the dice? Was it a case of everything else had failed, so what was there to lose in going to the well and leaving a symbol of one’s hopes? A tree stood nearby, skeletal, gaunt in deep midwinter, its branches were tied with strips of cloth of varying ages and colours. Why would anyone want to tie coloured rags to a tree? What deity was there that responded to such gestures?
Nor was it just objects that could achieve the desired result. A conversation among church members one afternoon showed a still strong belief that individuals might possess a “cure.”
“Didn’t his mother have a cure for eczema”
“She did, but I don’t think she passed it on.”
“Didn’t your mother-in-law have a cure?”
“Her cure was for burns.”
“I remember a man who had the cure for shingles. I went to see him. He sprinkled water on and healed me. Some people just pray to heal someone.”
“It’s a pity the cures were not passed on.”
“I think the son or daughter need to want to have the cure for it to be passed on to them.”
The conditions may have been the sort that would have disappeared themselves, others may have had a strong psychosomatic dimension so that the place of the object or the cure was that of a placebo which prompted a belief in healing; but whether its blue crockery, ribbons on a tree, or splashes of water, isn’t it the result that matters?