Diancecht, the Celtic Irish god of medicine, had several children, of whom two followed their father’s profession as healers. These were Miach and his sister Airmid, and were considered as seen as a god and goddess of healing.
Healing the hand of King Nuada Airgetlam
When the Tuatha Dé Danann arrived in Ireland, they fought with the native inhabitants of the island, the Fir Bolgs, for control. During the battle, the King of the Tuatha Dé Danann, Nuada, lost his hand.
The god of medicine, Diancecht, then replaced Nuada’s hand with one made of silver. Thus, King Nuada became Airgetlam, or Nuada “Of the Silver Hand“.
However, according to Tuatha Dé Danann custom, having lost his hand Nuada was considered blemished and unfit to rule, so he was deposed.
The Tuatha Dé Danann then replaced Nuada with Bress as their king. Bress however, was a Fomorian, a race of giants that were enemies of the Tuatha Dé Danann. Soon, Bress had turned into a tyrant and enslaved the Tuatha De.
Airmid and Miach heal Nuada’s hand
It was at this crisis that two physicians, Miach, the son, and Airmid, the daughter, of Diancecht, the god of medicine, came to the castle where the dispossessed King Nuada lived.
Nuada’s porter, blemished, like himself (for he had lost an eye), was sitting at the gate, and on his lap was a cat curled up asleep. The porter asked the strangers who they were.
“We are good doctors.” they said.
“If that is so,” he replied, ” perhaps you can give me a new eye.”
“Certainly,” they said, ” we could take one of the eyes of that cat, and put it in the place where your lost eye used to be.”
“I should be very pleased if you would do that,” answered the porter.
So Miach and Airmid removed one of the cat’s eyes, and put it in the hollow where the man’s eye had been.
The story goes on to say that this was not wholly a benefit to him; for the eye retained its cat’s nature, and, when the man wished to sleep at nights, the cat’s eye was always looking out for mice, while it could hardly be kept awake during the day.
Nevertheless, he was pleased at the time, and went and told Nuada, who commanded that the doctors who had performed this marvelous cure should be brought to him.
As they came in, they heard the king groaning, for Nuada’s wrist had festered where the silver hand joined the arm of flesh.
Miach asked where Nuada’s own hand was, and they told him that it had been buried long ago.
But he dug it up, and placed it to Nuada’s stump; he uttered an incantation over it, saying:
“Sinew to sinew, and nerve to nerve be joined!”
And in three days and nights the hand had renewed itself and fixed itself to the arm, so that Nuada was whole again.
Soon after, the Tuatha Dé Danann deposed Bress and reinstated Nuada as their king.
Diancecht kills his son Miach out of jealousy
When Diancecht, Miach’s father, heard of this he was very angry to think that his son should have excelled him in the art of medicine.
He sent for him, and struck him upon the head with a sword, cutting the skin, but not wounding the flesh. Miach easily healed this. So Diancecht hit him again, this time to the bone. Again Miach cured himself.
The third time his father smote him, the sword went right through the skull to the membrane of the brain, but even this wound Miach was able to leech.
At the fourth stroke, however, Diancecht cut the brain in two, and Miach could do nothing for that. He died, and Diancecht buried him.
And upon his grave there grew up three hundred and sixty-five stalks of grass, each one a cure for any illness of each of the three hundred and sixty-five nerves in a man’s body. Airmid, Miach’s sister, plucked all these very carefully, and arranged them on her mantle according to their properties.
But her angry and jealous father overturned the cloak, and hopelessly confused them. If it had not been for that act, says the early writer, men would know how to cure every illness, and would so be immortal.
Diancecht and Airmid save Goibniu & others
During the final battle between the Tuatha Dé Danann, the tribe of Gods, and the Fomors, a race of sea giants, the Fomors sent a spy into the Tuatha De camp, to uncover how the Gods were able to repair their weapons and make them like new, and also how they could seemingly resurrect their dead fallen wariors.
Ruadan [the Fomorian spy] reappeared at the forge, and asked for a javelin. Without suspicion, Goibniu gave him one, and, as soon as he got it into his hand, Ruadan thrust it through the smith’s body. But Goibniu plucked it out, and, hurling it back at his assailant, mortally wounded him.
Ruadan went home to die, and his father Bress and his mother Brigit mourned for him, inventing for the purpose the Irish “keening”.
Goibniu, on the other hand, took no harm. He went to the physician Diancecht, who, with his daughter Airmid, was always on duty at a miraculous well called the “spring of health”.
Whenever one of the Tuatha Dé Danann was killed or wounded, he was brought to the two doctors, who plunged him into the wonder-working water, and brought him back to life and health again.
- 14 Fascinating Facts about Yggdrasil (Norse Mythology) - January 31, 2023
- 7 Fascinating Facts about Fenrir (Norse Mythology Wolf) - January 30, 2023
- 9 Fascinating Facts about Jormungandr (Norse World Serpent) - January 28, 2023
1 thought on “All about Miach & Airmid: Celtic Irish Gods of Healing”
There are two (at least) points that could be made from the study of mythologies.
One is that Nuada and his porter form a pair in a mytheme called by Dumézil “le borgne et le manchot”, the one-eyed and the one-armed. Other examples include Mucius Scaevola and Horatius Cocles, and Odin (who lost an eye) and Tiw (the god of war who lost a hand to Fenris wolf). See G. J. Larson, C. S. Littleton, and J. Puhvel, eds., Myth in Indo-European antiquity, University of California Press: Berkeley, CA 1974. Dumézil came to doubt whether many of his suggested examples truly represented organically-linked pairs. And in the Irish case the situation is complicated by the example of Balor, whose injured eye was caused by a druid’s broth/potion, and the deformities of the race of Fomorians.
There is an old joke about the old fellow at the pub who is being teased about his failing eyesight. The old fellow says that his eyesight is perfectly good, unlike the cat coming into the pub who has only one eye. One of his teasers says “That cat ain’t coming in, it’s going out.”.
The other point I was thinking of is the quaternity of wounds that kill (finally) Miach. This is similar to the death of Paris of Troy, who is killed by the arrows of Philoctetes (the arrows being inherited from Heracles, who had dipped them in the poisonous blood of the hydra). From Wikipedia –
* In one telling it was Philoctetes who killed Paris. He shot four times: the first arrow went wide; the second struck his bow hand; the third hit him in the right eye; the fourth hit him in the heel, so there was no need of a fifth shot. *
See Quintus Smyrnaeus (1913). The Fall of Troy. Loeb Classics. Vol. 19. Translated by Way, A.S. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press. Book 10.
The notion of a trinity of items, supplemented by a (possibly) slightly different fourth, was a notion explored by Jung (see some of the sources given by googling “Jungian quaternity”). I jokingly refer to the notion as a “Douglas Adams trilogy” after the four books (later five) in Adams’ trilogy A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.