A mystical herb called Mothan or Moan in Scotland and Ireland. Lewis Spence (Spence. 1945) reckoned it was the THYME-LEAVED SANDWORT (Arenaria serpyllifolia), though a likelier candidate is PEARLWORT (Saginaprocumbens); but the Bog Violet, or Butterwort (Pinguicula vulgaris) has also been put forward. Spence described the Mothan as being given to cattle as a protective charm, and people who ate cheese made from the milk of a cow that had eaten the plant were secure from witchcraft. The Mothan was to be picked on a Sunday as follows: three small tufts to be chosen, and one to be called by the name of the Father, one by that of the Son, and one by the Holy Ghost. The finder would then pull the tufts, saying (in translation):
I will pull the Mothan
The herb blessed by the Domnach;
So long as I preserve the Mothan
There lives not on earth
One who will take my cow's milk from me.
The three tufts were then pulled, taken home, rolled up in a piece of cloth, and hidden in a corner of the dairy. Gaelic has a number of versions of the incantation, some very lengthy. Such a plant had to be pulled with the suitable verses if only out of respect (see, for examples J G Campbell. 1902; Carmichael).
Mothan was put in the milkpail as a means of restoring virtue to the milk, and at the time of mating, a piece was put in the bull's hoof, so that no witch could touch the calf's milk. It protects from fire, and from the attacks of fairy women (J G Campbell. 1900). Anyone carrying this plant, or having drunk the milk of a cow that had eaten it is "immune from harm" (McGregor). There is an old saying in the Hebrides that, when a man has a miraculous escape from death, he must have drunk of the milk of a cow that ate the mothan (McGregor).
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