It was a cool spring evening in the villages surrounding Dunlavin when Iona, a village priestess left her thatch-roofed home and began her daily journey to Brigid's alter.
A chilling northern breeze brought with it the echoes of fear still remnant from the bloodshed at the Battle of Clontarf, on the outskirts of Dublin. The Vikings had plundered and destroyed the Irish Legion leaving behind a plague that now ravaged the land.
Underneath her arm, Iona carried a basket brimming with fruit and flowers for her goddess, Brigid. Every day she would bring something and pray for her family's survival. Galen, her husband, and her children: Keane, Kerry and Awen were stricken with illness, and Iona was losing faith for their survival.
Iona, being a Druid priestess, had faith in her Goddess Brigid, and so she pressed on, climbing the granite steps into the valley with slumped shoulders and head hung low. She entered a thicket of trees and stopped by a gnarly oak infested with ivy. A statute of Brigid stood adjacent to the tree, wrapped in vines. Iona placed the fruits on the altar in front and hung Brigid’s cross, a square-shaped emblem, she had made from reeds, on the branches of the oak.
She knelt to pray for a moment. But after a while, she tucked her chin to her chest and wept.
"My divine Brigid, bringer of good harvest and protector of the realm. Why does it have to be this way? Is there no hope?"
Under the shelter of the woods, the air felt stagnant, but still the wind whistled through the canopy above.
"Every day I dedicate myself to you, but no help comes. Is there nothing you can do?"
A chill enveloped Iona and cut through her woolen cloak. Her hands trembled in the realization of what she had done. She had doubted her goddess and now her family would be surely punished.
Just as Iona rose to leave, a humid mist developed at her feet and a shiver ran up Iona's body as the vapors rose. Soon enough, the mist had completely veiled the altar and the statue. Through the curtain, Brighid's face took shape and her whole apparition appeared through the fog, wispy like a specter
"My priestess," the goddess said. "I have heard your lament."
Iona had visited this shrine every day since childhood, but never had she known Brigid to take such form. She swallowed her fear and prepared the question that seemed most urgent.
"What can I do for them?" Iona asked. "My family has been stricken ill and I fear that they are surely doomed."
"You must become strong," Brigid said. "Your family's well-being depends on your strength, attitude, inspiration and encouragement."
"But I tend to them every day."
A golden aura began to emanate from Brighid's image. "There is another way. Go out to the wilds and bring me twelve flowers of Anise, twenty-one flowers of Jasmine, nine flowers of Cassia, and place them here before me at dawn tomorrow. Do this, and you shall learn."
"But those plants don't grow here." Iona could always buy these plants from traders at the marketplace. But these men traveled in from warmer climes and at a safer time so she knew it would be months before they would arrive in her village again.
"Have faith as your sense of smell will guide you." With those words, the apparition of Brigid disappeared.
The sun had started to set and the moon had begun to rise when Iona reached the steps from the valley. She glanced upwards towards her village and considered walking where inviting smoke rose from the chimneys. But it seemed better to heed Brighid's words.
Upon the hills, flowers grew amongst the heather and wild grasses. Iona knew the clover, and daisies, and dandelions. She even tried getting close to test their smell. But everything reminded her of the smell of war and sickness.
The night grew colder as she trudged on and she pulled in her cloak for warmth. Out in the distance she heard the wail of wolves, and she wanted nothing but to return to bed. But still she persevered until her legs grew tired and she began to ponder upon Brigid's words. "You must be strong and provide inspiration and encouragement for your family’s well-being."
But it was Iona who gave them hot tea and kept the fire warm at night and fed them as much stew and soup as she could make. Wasn't that nurturing and encouragement? Wasn't that benefit enough?
As the night wore on, the breeze became colder and cut through her cloak and Iona was ready to give up. But then she remembered: Brigid had sent her on this quest with the order to follow her sense of smell. So instead of turning away from the wind, Iona lifted her head to it and inhaled the frigid air.
It was as if the wind had suddenly changed. It brought an aroma like honey and bark and lemon mixed into one. Iona picked up on the scent broke into a run, shrubs of heather scraping against her calves as she went.
Occasionally she would lose her path, then look around lost for a moment, and pick up the scent again. It carried her far over the hills where the scent became stronger and stronger. Wolves cried in the background, but their voices now seemed part of the melody of the night.
Iona's journey soon took her to a clearing where the moonlight shone bright. There she saw a tall tree with grayish bark and hard, elongated leaves. Iona knew this to be Cassia. Iona needed to take some of the delicate yellow flower buds off the low hanging branches as this is what Brigid needed. Climbing up the trunk of the Cassia tree was a vine full of beautiful sweetly-fragrant white flowers. With the wisdom of Brigid inside her, she knew this to be Jasmine and collected clusters of the little white flowers. Not far from the Cassia tree was another tree no taller than Iona with feather-like bright green leaflets and unique light brownish flowering clusters that were shaped like stars. It was the star clusters that Iona needed as she knew the Aniseed was highly valued for healing properties. Together the Cassia buds, the Aniseeds and the Jasmine flowers produced the most beautiful aroma Iona had ever smelled.
Just before the moon set, Iona picked twelve flowers of the first, twenty-one of the second, and nine of the third. With these in her basket, she sprinted off down the hills back into the valley.
A mist had settled in the valley. Although visibility was difficult, Iona knew the way by heart. But as she descended the stone steps into the low clouds, a chill wrapped around her and she began once again to doubt.
Had she done the right thing leaving her family alone at night? It had been cold and she hadn't fed the hearth. Cold enough to rid her husband and children eternally from this world. Was this Iona's punishment for her doubting?
The shrine was empty. Brigid's Cross had mysteriously vanished and the fruit was nowhere to be seen. The oak tree now stripped of ivy, had a gray statue next to it, and the altar was almost bare except for a pestle and mortar which rested on the stone slab.
Still apprehensive, Iona placed the flowers in the mortar and began pressing the oil from them. Doubts still lingered in the corners of her mind. But as she worked, the thoughts started to float away as the aromas rising from the pounded plant materials soothed her.
Her senses soon filled up with the sweet, spicy, floral fragrances as they washed out all her negativity and doubts. For the first in a long time she felt full of energy, vibrant and bursting with a new kind of power. Iona knelt-down before the statute of Brigid.
"My divine Brigid, founder of spring and protector of the light. I have brought what you need. What must I do now?"
The air around Iona took on a mantle of warmth. The scents from the mortar became headier than ever and the mist began to fade. Brigid's apparition started to pulse through the waning wall of white.
"You have done well, dear priestess." The Goddess had abandoned her wispy appearance for a more human, material form. She stood naked except for the vines that wrapped around her body and braided through her golden hair. She reached down and picked up the mortar, then cupped her hands around it revealing a brilliant white light.
"Anise, Jasmine and Cassia," she said, "are the seeds of an ancient powerful herbal blend called Anjaca. This blend has special life saving energies including protection, healing, and health immunity properties. With this, I will also forge you seven life empowerment charms – they are the Guardian, Wellness, Passion, Prosperity, Vitality, Power, and Happiness lifescent pendants. Wear these in earnest for a rich life. Remember, the first two of these will protect you always."
The light began to fade and Brigid's gaze wondered out towards the hills.
"Dark times are ahead, but I gift you and your family these lifescent pendants which are infused with the path of light and inspiration as well as the protective power of good health. Go now in peace and serve your life with purpose for the greater good."
Brigid reached down and placed the pendants in Iona's open hands. The priestess opened her mouth to thank her, but before the words could even come out, Brigid had vanished into the dawn as sunlight now peeked through the canopies, painting the scene with an amber, balmy hue.
Iona put on the seven pendants in turn. They shone brightly in the early morning sunlight. They were beautifully crafted and her spirit seemed to blossom with a new sense of hope and purpose.
Suddenly she realized that she was the victim of a ravaged land no longer, but an independent woman in control of her own destiny.
Iona entered her thatch-roofed cottage to find her husband and three children on death's door. Sunlight had not yet entered the home and the air inside was as cold as the hewn stone walls outside.
Galen lay on the main bed, Keane, Kerry and Awen on a sheepskin mat lain over piles of hay. None of them stirred. Beads of sweat covered their foreheads and their clothes were damp from the night's fevers.
Iona eyed the empty, ashen hearth and considered piling up the firewood. She should stay, tend to them, try to rid the sickness within these walls.
But the scent of Anjaca reminded her of her purpose. She lifted the Guardian and Wellness pendants off her neck and examined the design on them a moment before rushing out the door.
She passed houses and villagers, both men and women looking as gloomy as she had just the previous day. The village metalworker looked just as apathetic as he examined the two pendants. But he agreed to work with them nonetheless once Iona promised her family's life savings as payment.
The artisan hammered the metal into place on his anvil and melted down what he needed in the smelter. He worked through the morning and afternoon and while this once might have seemed a long time to Iona - the remaining five pendants around her neck and the scent that rose from them gave her patience.
Eventually, the metalworker produced four perfect copies of both pendants and Iona paid him. Each had a small inner container with vent holes, in which Iona placed absorbent pads with the remaining oil from the pressed plant materials. Infused with the power of the Anjaca blend, she rushed them home and placed two pendants on her husband's and each of her children’s necks.
Where before there had been no life, only ghastly whiteness, now color sprung into their faces. First the husband, then the eldest, second eldest, and finally youngest child stirred in turn.
Although their eyes did not yet open, Iona had complete faith that their health would soon return.
The village of Dunlavin eventually did fall to the Vikings as well as to the deathly sickness and scourge of the plague. But through it all, Iona and her family escaped the chaos and the resulting darkness and upheaval as they kept their special gifts from Brigid close to their beating hearts.
Thanks to the Anjaca blend and the powers of the lifescent pendants, Iona and her family eventually came to lead long and fruitful lives.
Indeed, along her life's path, Iona realized that while spirituality was very important - feeling strong, confident, capable, and healthy was vitally essential too.
In this way, Iona readily understood that the aromatherapeutic benefits of the special lifescent pendants not only provided a sense of well-being and inspiration to her and her family but truly promoted a healthy lifestyle and positive mental attitude as well. And for Iona that was the most special gift of all.
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