Sunday, January 19, 2020

Happy Mad-Doctor Day

According to my Calendar of Forgotten English, which reminds me that "mad-doctor" is an early term for an alienist, now called psychiatrist, today is the feast day of St Fillan. Other calendars disagree, but I want to recollect this Irish-Scots priest who operated a healing sanctuary centered on a sacred pool in Perthshire. 
     There were healing stones, resembling major organs, where the sick hoped to secure relief from symptoms afflicting those organs.
     Fillan's Pool was used for cleansing and purification. It became famous for rituals to cure the insane. They were dunked in the water after sunset and told to bring three stones from the bottom. They had to place these on cairns in a ritual fashion. They were then conducted to a ruined chapel where they were laid out like corpses on a stone slab - Fillan's Bed - and bound tight with ropes. If they had managed to get loose from the ropes by sunrise, they were pronounced sane and well.
     I found an interesting 1863 essay on these practices by Professor J.Y Simpson in the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, quoting a man who was dunked in Fillan's pool and swore he only got free from the bonds because a dead relative turned up to help him.
     Fillan, by the way, means Little Wolf in Gaelic. His left arm was supposed to glow in the dark and was brought to Robert the Bruce, at his demand, as a charm on the eve of his victory at Bannockburn.

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