Mythical Healers: Background information when reading Follow Me to Ground

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Follow Me to Ground

by Sue Rainsford

Follow Me to Ground by Sue Rainsford X
Follow Me to Ground by Sue Rainsford
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2020, 208 pages
    Jan 2021, 208 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Dean Muscat
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About this Book

Mythical Healers

This article relates to Follow Me to Ground

Print Review

World Health Organization logo with staff and snakeThe central characters in Follow Me to Ground are two human-like beings with mystical powers to heal all illnesses and even resurrect the dead. It seems we have forever been fascinated by the magic of healing and the ability to cheat our own mortality. Ancient mythologies from across the globe featured powerful healers that humans turned to in search of cures and remedies for all kinds of sicknesses.

One of the most widespread symbols of the medical world today is derived from the Greek myth of Asclepius, the god of medicine who brandished a serpent-draped staff—the image of which can be seen in medical and pharmaceutical logos across the globe, including that of the World Health Organization. As a child, Asclepius was rescued by the god Apollo, who taught him about medicine. Asclepius went on to receive further instruction in the art of healing from the centaur Chiron. Another story goes that in return for an act of kindness, a snake taught Asclepius the secret knowledge of healing and resurrection. This is why Asclepius bore a rod wreathed in a snake.

Ultimately, Asclepius' healing prowess would be his downfall. After Asclepius learned to resurrect people, god of the underworld Hades went to his brother Zeus and complained that his dead subjects were being stolen from him. Because of Hades' protestations and because he was afraid that Asclepius would teach the art of resurrection to others, Zeus killed Asclepius with his thunderbolt.

In Celtic myth, Airmed was one of the Tuatha de Danaan ("the folk of the goddess Danu"). Irish mythological stories claim that when Airmed wept over the grave of her brother Micah—who was killed in a fit of rage by their father—her tears caused all the healing herbs of the world to spring from the earth over Miach's body. Airmed collected these 365 herbs, spread them on her cloak, and went on to learn the mysterious healing properties of herbalism, a knowledge she then shared with her followers.

Legend also has it that Airmed was an enchantress capable of resurrecting the dead who fell in battle by singing over the well of Sláine. She guarded the well, along with springs and rivers known for their healing properties, and was worshiped as a goddess of witchcraft and magic.

The Yoruba people of western Africa believe in a powerful healer named Aja. Aja is an Orisha, a spirit sent by higher divinities to guide humans on how to live successfully on Earth. She is regarded as a patron of the forest and all the creatures within. She also holds the secrets of botany, having knowledge of potions and herbs used for healing.

She passes on her wisdom and skills by carrying chosen Yoruban people away into the depths of the forest. The journey supposedly lasts between seven days and three months, and the person carried away is said to visit the land of the dead or the afterlife. When they return, they are blessed with the healing gifts of Aja's magic and become known as powerful "jujuman" or "babalawo."

Curiously, there's a churchyard in Fermanagh County in Northern Ireland where the soil has long been held to have healing properties, similarly to the Ground in Sue Rainsford's Follow Me to Ground, and scientists recently found it contains a previously undiscovered microorganism used to produce antibodies. Rainsford is Irish, so this may have served as inspiration for her book, and it makes you wonder how much of the mythical is actually based in reality!

World Health Organization logo

Filed under Cultural Curiosities

Article by Dean Muscat

This "beyond the book article" relates to Follow Me to Ground. It originally ran in February 2020 and has been updated for the January 2021 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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