Spells designed to bring about a difference in
bodily appearance in order to dissolve
mischievous enchantments by the fairy folk or
frequenters of the lower world were legion in
most cultures. In Celtic lore for instance, during
the process of dissolving the enchantment,
having cast a magic circle, the rescuer had to
keep repeating the name of the enchanted
person to remind them of who they truly were.
Traditionally the enchanted one would go
through several metamorphoses or shape shifts
in the following order: esk, adder, lion and finally
a bolt of red-hot iron. Then returning to human
form, they were left completely naked. They had
to be covered by a cloak – thus rendered invisible
– and washed in milk and then hot water.
If we accept the idea of the evolution of the
soul, the stage of heating iron until it is red hot
represents the process of transmutation from
animal to human. The final purification in milk
(which in Irish mythology is a healing
substance) and water restores the victim to his
normal self – he is reborn.
In many cultures iron is regarded as a tool of
purification. It was, and still is, dreaded by the
darker powers and many amulets and charms
fashioned from the substance were used to avert
evil. Iron pins or brooches were stuck in
headgear, a piece of iron was often sown into the
clothes of children and horseshoes were often
used to protect the homes and byres (cowsheds).
Women in childbirth were also said to be
protected with iron (see the iron protection
incense on p 57), sometimes by a row of nails
and at other times by a scythe or pitchfork. This
was so that mother and baby were protected
from evil spirits, particularly from the night

demons who were said to steal babies. Up until
quite recently in Scotland in some areas, it was
considered highly unwise to leave a baby alone
at all, lest it be stolen away by the faeries.

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