copyright Searles O'Dubhain, Samradh 1997 - I use this story in my classes to teach my students.
The story of Airmid's Apron begins with a battle between gods and not-gods, which is a strange beginning for a story of healing herbs. You might ask, "How can an apron possibly determine the fate of the universe and what associations can an apron, much less the universe, have to herbs and healing? And you would be very right in the asking of those questions, as we also hope that we will be granted much truth in our telling of the answers to you.
In the beginning times of the Three Worlds, there were those beings of the Sky who ruled with skill and light, and then there were those others of the Depths who created and destroyed in never ending Chaos and darkness. Between these two worlds was a third world known as the Earth which was without much life upon it. That is, there was not much life upon it until the gods of the Sky took an interest in it. Though the not-gods of Chaos had often cast their multitude of creatures upon its face, most did not live. Those that did tended to frequent the depths of the Seas and the extreme reaches of the Earth's caverns. The gods of Light were called the People of Danu (The Sky River) or the Tuatha Dé Danann. The not-gods of Darkness were the children of Domnu (The Abyss) and known as the Fomorii. After Brighid threw her mantle down upon the Earth and after the children of the Sky River descended in a mist to its surface,. there was light upon creation and there was an order brought to the created chaos of existence. What the Tuatha Dé found to be good and pleasing, the Fomorii found to be disgusting and horrible. It was only natural that battle should ensue between the two groups, and that is exactly what happened. Two battles were fought to determine the fate of the earth. These two battles were both called Moytura after the Great Plain of the Pillar, which in Old Irish is known as Maige Tuired. This is the plain were the pillar that suspends the Earth between the Heavens and the Pit still exists and is to be found in the West of Ireland.
The First Battle of Moytura was fought between the Tuatha Dé and the Fir Bolg, a vassal tribe of the Fomorii. The gods had offered to divide the land into two parts, allowing both people to lead peaceful lives and have a prosperous coexistence. The Fir Bolg would have none of this (for how would they pay their yearly tribute to the Fomorii at Samhain if they possessed only part of the Land?) In the battle that resolved the issue, the Tuatha Dé were victorious. The price in lives was high on both sides and Nuada, the king of the People of Danu, lost his right hand in personal combat with Sreng, king of the Fir Bolg. Thus, the stage was set for the story of how Airmid's Apron became the cradle of life and healing to all the world.
Nuada was the best man qualified to be king among the children of Danu (next to Her Three Sons and The Dagda, that is). A king he would have remained, except that a king must remain unblemished in his truth and his form among the People. No matter how wise or good or strong a man might be, he could not be the king if he had only one good arm. It is for this reason that the God of Medicine, DianCécht, and the God of Craftsmen, Creidne, were summoned to the Hill of Tara (home of kings). They were brought to the king so that his arm might be healed and made whole again. Creidne said he could make a new arm for Nuada of silver but that it would only be a mechanical device, not as good as the original. This was still considered a blemish and was therefore no solution to the problem of being a king without blemish. DianCécht said he could not regrow the arm or restore it completely by his healing powers. The problem of the blemish remained. To resolve this dilemma, the two gods worked together and it was determined that Creidne could make an arm of silver in the likeness of the original, and that DianCécht could give this arm the life and movement of a real arm. This compromise, coupled with Nuada's kingly abilities, was enough to regain him the kingship of the Tuatha Dé (for he was, in truth, a king better than any other).
Nuada reigned supreme and wisely for many days thereafter. One day, a young healer approached the company of Tara accompanied by his sister, a fair maiden with wisdom beyond her years and a heart that could not be contained within a single body. The door keeper challenged them for their names and their skills (for no unskilled person could enter the hall of the king). To which, the young man replied, " I am Miach, son of DianCécht and this is my sister Airmid." We have come to the court of Nuada Argetlamh at the Mound of Tara to work a healing. We have come from our studies and our workings among the families of the healing gods" "Then you may enter!" said the door keeper (for, in truth Nuada's silver arm was not *really* considered to be entirely fitting for a king of the gods). So, enter they did, walking into the banquet hall of the heroes, where Nuada sat in the King's Seat and Ogma sat in the Sages' Seat. When told that Miach, Mac DianCécht and Airmid Ni DianCécht were present, Nuada rose before them in kingly fashion and inquired of them their purpose. When he was told that they had come to work a complete healing of his arm, he beamed a silver rayed smile throughout the land (brighter than two suns in a Mid-June sky on a clear day along the River of Bóann).
All of the company of Tara was assembled to witness the working and this is what was done: The true arm of Nuada was brought from the place of great value and presented to the healers. Miach took the silver arm from Nuada's body, sending it back to the room of trophies. He placed the withered arm of the king back upon his body, connecting bone to bone, sinew to sinew, and skin to skin. For three days it was connected to Nuada's skin, with Miach, chanting,
"Skin to Skin and Skin again!"
... and the skin of the arm regrew and was as pink as a baby's skin! Next, Miach placed the arm against Nuada's side for three days and chanted,
"Sinew to Sinew and Muscle anew!"
...and the arm regained its true form and strength! Miach next held the arm between his hands for three days and chanted the Chant of Life into it,
"Breath to Breath and Blood to Blood and Mind to Mind,
Life upon thee, I threefold *BIND*!
All the gods gathered around the wonder that had been done by Miach. They praised him and marveled at his skill, extolling him as having been a better healer than DianCécht himself. Miach had succeeded where DianCécht had failed and the tribe was once again led by a king without a blemish!
Each word of praise turned a heart that should have been glad into a seething pit of burning coals. Words upon words caused the fires to leap higher until they raged through DianCécht's very being! An unconquerable fury came upon the god of all healing and he smote his son with his sword, so that it cut the skin of his head. Miach, in the glory of his healing, said that it mattered naught and healed the wound instantly so that it left no mark upon him. DianCécht's fury rose higher and he smote his son with the sword a second time, cutting the flesh of his head down to the bone. This wound, Miach dispatched as easily as the first with the same ease and skill. A third time the furious sword lashed out and pierced both skin and sinew, even through the skull itself, yet once again Miach's wizardry of healing availed against the wounding. Now, DianCécht rose in all his godly power and smote Miach such a blow with his sword that his brain was pierced and removed from his head. From this blow there was to be no healing, for the soul and the brain both departed from his body at the same time. Even the god of medicine could not have healed such a wound. Even the Well of Slán could not have returned life to a person whose soul had flown. Miach was truly dead. None dared raise their hands to DianCécht as he stood with bloody sword in hand and the blood of his son upon his hands,a badge of dishonor. The full blood price was due to Miach's family from the same person that had killed him, DianCécht, his father, head of that same family, a sad irony and a deed wrought by a blade, hot with anger.
The body of Miach was taken to the Plain of Brega the Mighty and buried within a mound of honor. When the shock of this tragedy finally released her, Airmid was overcome by waves of sadness and much longing for her brother. For these reasons, she went to his grave every day and sang him the secret songs of the beloved sisters and brothers. The words of such songs are not to be heard, yet the sound of them travels throughout worlds. A brother never had a finer sister, nor one so skilled in the healing arts. The burial place of Miach was on the Plain of Brega and it was there that Airmid came to watch over him and his grave. Each day that she came, a small miracle occurred. A new herb would spring up from a different place on the grave mound! Miach's healing powers were manifesting themselves as individual herbs, each with its own correspondence to the parts of the body and each marking a special cure for its ailments.
For a year and a day Airmid attended her brother Miach's grave, and for a year and a day herbs grew from it in answer to his healing spirit. On the last day of that vigil, she gathered all the herbs within her apron, each with its special place marking its usage and its powers. Within the contents of her apron, her brother's gift would live again, through the healing knowledge and power of the herbs. As fate would have it, this last day was the very day that DianCécht missed Airmid at the Well of Slán and began to search for her. Knowing her as he did, he immediately went to the site of Miach's grave to bring her home again. The Well of Slán required himself and three other healers in order to maintain its healing flow. With Miach gone, Airmid was sorely missed and the Well could not be brought to its full healing potential. When he arrived at the grave and found her standing there, apron filled with 365 healing herbs and all alone, he scattered its contents in another out-of-control fury! "This knowledge is not for the world to have!" he shouted. "If Miach's knowledge is received into the coimgne (common knowledge), then everyone will become a healer and our kind shall surely vanish from the hearts of men and the ways of the Earth forever!" After that outburst, he stalked away in a thunder, assured that the secrets of healing were safely preserved to the healers. Alone and afraid, crying tears for her brother and the fury of here father that had killed him, Airmid could only stare at his back as he departed. She stood there in wonder and sorrow at the ways of gods and men, gazing all the while at the many scattered herbs upon the grave.
Was the healing knowledge truly lost to the ways of the People and the coimgne?
Was the healing power only to be used through the good will of DianCécht?
Was the Well of Slán to be the only place for obtaining healing and re-birth?
As she began to gather the herbs of her brother's gift, and even through her streaming tears:
She smiled a smile as only a goddess can smile.
She smiled the smile of knowing.
She smiled the smile of giving and receiving.
She smiled a smile as one who never forgets a brother.
She smiled the smile of sisterhood.
She smiled the smile of one who never forgets their duty.
She smiled a smile as she once again gathered the herbs of her apron.
She smiled the smile of a year and a day of remembering.
She smiled the smile of Miach and his healing gifts.
and she began to sing this song ...
" I am the secret of Airmid's Apron.
I am the healing herbs.
I am the sister of Miach.
I am the keeper of his gift.
I am a year and a day of vigil.
I am all of time and beyond.
I am a knower and a healer.
I am a living memory that never forgets.
I am the mark of each and every one.
I am a secret garden and its bed of honor.
I am many and I am also one.
What is the secret of Airmid's Apron?
Who is it that honors a brother's gift?
When is this herb gathered and What is that one's use?
Words of healing!
Marks upon a sister's cloth!"
And that my friends, is the story of Airmid's Apron.