Emerald Isle


Irish and Celtic myths and legends, Irish folklore and Irish fairy tales tales of Ireland

When words may very well hurt you!

Much has been said but little written of the old Irish piseóg, the word of the curse. Now the same term is often used to refer to general traditions and superstitions in Ireland, things like if you're ever lost, turn your socks inside out to find your way home, or opening the back door if you hear a knock at the front door, to let the fairy out, but in reality the piseóg has a far older and darker meaning.

More than just wishing someone ill, a foe, a begrudging neighbour, or even the fairies themselves might cast a piseóg in order cause real harm to someone, and breathe life into it by using something that once lived or might have lived.

The piseóg was said to be most powerful when cast on May's eve, from the time when the clock chimed midnight to the first light of dawn. If at this time and during those hours you were to cast your piseóg, most often using an egg, raw or rotten, but also a piece of old meat, a raven carcass, or something similar, you could be certain of success. Some say it was the breaking of the egg that released the curse, so it might be put on a path or outside a doorway.

Farmers used to walk around their farms on those nights from dusk to dawn, for fear that someone might lay the piseóg in the hay their cattle would eat, or in their fields! For it was most often farmers that were targeted, back when Ireland was more rural and agricultural.

Piseógs were blamed for cattle falling sick, for stillbirths and crop failures, for milk turning sour and all manner or rustic misfortunes. And if it worked, some held that the stolen luck would go to the one who laid the piseóg, for they believed that there was only so much luck in the world, and what was lost by one must be gained by another.

And it's not so long ago that piseógs were used in Ireland, for there is a story of a couple who purchased a field and found several eggs placed in the middle of it the very next day, surrounded by a well-made súgán rope, which is a kind of straw rope you may have seen used to make the seats of chairs chairs or sometimes beds in old cottages. The word súgán also means weakness, as a term of contempt, and sometimes a woven straw doll was used instead, particularly in the south of the country.

Bound together with the rope and eggs was a piseóg and an intention of malevolence!

Protection from piseógs was afforded by sprinkling holy water in the four corners of your property, or water from a place where three rivers meet, or by dragging a gorse bush around the borders of your land.

Piseógs were the most common form of curse used in old Ireland, and they shouldn't be confused with the mallacht, which was a more powerful and direct form of curse used by bards and druids in battle, but whether there was anything to them or they were simply used as effective tools to terrorise your enemies is a different question!

The people of the Claddagh in Galway, marked on the map below, are said to know much of piseógs.

Further Folk and Faerie Tales of Ireland

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