The magic of iron and of the blacksmith
The magic of iron and of the blacksmith
Through the ages iron had a special role in popular belief and folk medicine. People believed iron had magical and healing powers. The blacksmith – who created objects from iron by forging the metal - was surrounded by magic and mystery. He was in close contact with the magical iron.
Iron was regarded as a good repellent against different kinds of magic. It provided protection against witches and the devil. In the course of time and in different regions iron was used in various ways for this purpose. But essentially it was all the same. In certain regions people put a piece of iron under the doorstep. Or they put it under the bed of midwives. They also put it in the cradle of newborn children. In all cases this was done as a protection against misfortune and evil. Diseases, bad luck and the evil had to stay outside the door! Often it were those evil entities like demons, witches and the devil himself who brought diseases and misfortune among the people. If they could stop them before they entered the house they were already pretty far. And if you also wanted protection when you were outside of the house, you wore a piece of iron on the body. But the evil was a master in disguise. People believed that witches could change themselves in different kinds of animals. If you touched such an animal with a piece of iron it transformed again in the original witch. It was also believed that whirlwinds were nothing but the dance parties of witches. If you threw a piece of iron in such a whirlwind it died down because the iron wounded the witches. And if a piece of iron was added to the milk during the churning the witches couldn’t screw things up.
The evil eye
Iron was also used as a protection against the evil eye. For example witches could have this evil eye. With the evil eye they could make innocent people sick, bring them misfortune or even kill them. If you suspected someone had the evil eye you could protect yourself with iron. In such case you had to hold a piece of it in the hand. Grabbing something made of iron was also good. In some regions people wore an iron ring. In that way you had a 24/7 protection! Also cows and horses wore as protection a piece of iron around the neck. If you were building an new house you needed also to protect it against evil and misfortune. Therefore people hung an iron kettle or pan in the vicinity during the construction time.
Nails for healing purposes and enchantment
Iron nails often had a relation with magic, healing and enchantment. People hammered nails in trees for healing purposes. They believed it could cure illnesses. They also hammered nails in trees to enchant someone.
The origin of certain (forged) nails could intensify their magic power. If you had a nail that was used to crucify somebody you had something very powerful in your possession. But also nails from a decayed coffin were an excellent repellent against evil and other misfortune. Such nails were hammered in the wooden beams of the stable to protect the animals. If they were hammered in the feeding-through they also gave protection. If you touched somebody with the evil eye with such a nail, he or she couldn’t harm you anymore.
We call trees in which people hammered nails for the above mentioned purposes nail trees. There weren’t many of them in The Netherlands. Nowadays we only find one in Yde in the province Drenthe. In Belgium the use of these trees was more common. But not many of those trees are left. We can count them on two hands.
The opposite world
But at certain times in certain regions it was like the opposite world. Bringing old iron in the house caused bad luck. And for ploughing you better used wooden plowshares because iron plowshares caused crop failure. And dropping a piece of iron on the ground on Good Friday meant bad luck for that day. So in the opposite world it essentially was also all the same: better stay away from iron.
But one thing is for sure. If iron gave protection against all bad and evil or if just the opposite was the case: in one way or another it had magical power.
For writing this item about the magic of iron the following literature has been used in part.
Text: Jan Weertz
Pictures: Jan en Els Weertz
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