Pearlwort

(Sagina procumbens) A tiresome weed in gardens, but far from tiresome in the Scottish Highlands and Islands, for it was said to have been blessed by Christ, St Bride and St Columba, and it was also reckoned that this was the first plant Christ stepped on when he came to earth, or perhaps when he arose from the dead (J G Campbell. 1902). Most authorities agree that this is the mystical plant known as Mothan, which protects from fairy changing, etc., (Wentz; Carmichael). It was put in the milkpail as 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 (J G Campbell. 1902). 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" (MacGregor). There is an old saying in the Hebrides that, when a man has a miraculous escape from death, that he must have drunk of the milk of a cow that ate the mothan (MacGregor), and cows were given a little mothan to eat around Beltane Eve (31 April) and Samhain (31 October), to give them protection against the fairies at these times when they would be most active (MacGregor). Put on the door lintel, it prevents the sprits of the dead from entering the house, or for more generalised good luck (Murdoch McNeill).

Of course, such a plant had to be pulled with the proper incantations, of which the Gaelic has a number of examples (for examples, see J G Campbell. 1902; W Mackenzie; Carmichael). W G Stewart gave further instructions: "Go to the summit of some stupendous cliff or mountain where any species of quadruped never fed or trod, and gather of that herb in the Gaelic language called mothan ... The herb you will give to a cow, and of the milk of the cow you are to make a cheese, and whosoever eats of that cheese is for ever after, as well as his gear, perfectly secure from every species of fairy agency".

Pearlwort also gives the power of fluent speech. The fairies would bestow this gift on a child who "has drunk of the milk of the cow that ate the mothan" (McGregor). Girls drank the juice of this plant, or at least wet their lips with it, to attract lovers. If they had a piece in their mouth when they were kissed, the man was bound for ever (Grigson. 1955), and, under the right knee of a woman in childbed, it soothes her mind and protects her child and herself from the fairies (J G Campbell. 1902).

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