The Family Healers

A village in Carmarthenshire in Wales, at the end of the 12th century. One day, grazing cattle in the hills, the son of a widow came upon a small lake, where he beheld the most beautiful sight that mortal eyes had ever beheld…a lady sitting on the unruffled surface of the water, arranging her hair with a comb, using the glassy water as a mirror. She caught sight of the young man staring at her. He saw that she saw him, and held out a piece of bread with the hope of bringing her to shore. She approached, but refused the bread as too hard, and when he tried to grasp her, she dived back under the water.
Llyn y van fach - the source of Welsh herbalism

The lake, Llyn y van fach, nr.myddfai

He returned home, and brought back the next day, on his mother’s advice, some unbaked dough to offer the lady. The result was no better, so he returned the 3rd day with half-baked bread, and the lady accepted it, and
encouraged him to take her hand.

After a little persuasion,she agreed to become his bride, but only on the condition that they would live together  until she received from him three blows without cause. He accepted this very willingly, whereupon she vanished again beneath the water.

Immediately after, two identically beautiful ladies appeared, together with a bristly headed man of imposing stature and untamed beard, who introduced himself as the lady’s father. He said he would consent to the union, and bless the marriage if the young man could choose the right lady of the two. This was no easy task as they were so much alike. But after a little time, he chose one because of recognizing how she tied her sandals.

Then her father promised her a dowry of as many sheep, cattle goats and horses as she could count in one breath, and as she counted the animals rose up from the lake. The couple went to live on a nearby farm, and dwelt there in happiness and prosperity, and three sons were born to them.

One day they were invited to a Christening. The wife had no desire to go, but the husband insisted, and when she was slow to bring the horses in from the field, he gave her a gentle slap of his glove upon her shoulder, for he had forgotten the agreement. “This is the first blow” she told him, and he resolved to do so never again.

Brecon beacons nr.Myddfai

The Brecon Beacons, near to Myddfai

On another occasion they were together at a wedding , when in the middle of the cheerful company she burst into tears. The husband tapped her on the shoulder, asking why she cried. “Because now, trouble begins for this couple, and for you too, for this was the second blow.”
A time later they were together at a funeral, and as the corpse was burned, while all were in deep mourning, she burst into laughter, fits of pealing laughter. The husband, very much ashamed, hit her, saying ‘Stop that!
Stop that!’. She stopped, and said “Those that die are rid of their cares, as we are of our marriage, for now the last blow has been struck. Our marriage is broken and I must now go. Farewell.” And she got up and left the house.

She called together all the animals on the farm, and wended her way to the lake, where they all jumped in together.

Whatever happened to the husband, none knew. But the three sons, in years to come, often wandered around the lake, and oftentimes their mother appeared to them there. The eldest son, one day, she told

“You will benefit humanity by becoming a healer.” She gave him a sack of herbs, with their prescriptive uses marked by sign on each one, and promised she would come back whenever he needed advice.

She did this frequently, and taught all her sons the properties of many healing herbs, so that they won great renown by their medical knowledge and skill.

The last descendent of this family of physicians, it is said, died between 1719 and 1739.

For more information on the physicians and their cures, there’s a great translation of their works by John Pughe called The Physicians of Myddfai.

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