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Iron in soul of smith forging career as healer

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I call a place where I sometimes go for a walk 'Goose Lane', after the farm there that keeps geese and ducks

I call a place where I sometimes go for a walk 'Goose Lane', after the farm there that keeps geese and ducks

I call a place where I sometimes go for a walk 'Goose Lane', after the farm there that keeps geese and ducks

I call a place where I sometimes go for a walk 'Goose Lane', after the farm there that keeps geese and ducks. However, that farm is, in fact, a former forge, which makes sense. For in old days a forge was situated, as this one is, just off a road, as well as likewise being near a crossroads, and close to running water. 

The owner also breeds horses, which is why I recently met him with a strong-looking man who was shoeing one of his horses. That also fits the bill, for a smith was likely to be powerfully built, given he could swing a sledgehammer or lift the anvil from its block with his left hand while holding a hammer in his right. 

But a smith was also a healer of ailing humans as well as horses, and able to tackle the sort of tough love treatments that hurt as much as the disease, by being the dentist of the district. His usual method of tooth extraction was often caricatured in cartoons, involving as it did tying the offending fang by a strong string to the anvil and then surprising the victim with a red-hot iron so he, in effect, pulled his own tooth. 

Little wonder that the poor patient sometimes had to be held down by two men, while the smith pulled the tooth with specially shaped iron forceps.

To help things along, he might place a small block of wood against the tooth and tap with a hammer to loosen it. 

Some smiths, apparently, pulled teeth with their fingers, while others are alleged to have used a horse-shoe tongs. Like the smith who whipped out a patient's tooth, only to be told it was the wrong one. "Never mind, man, I was clearing the way to it," came his smooth reply. 

The smith also cured skin troubles such as warts, boils and eruptions, by applying forge water. Folk would call to the forge to fill up their bottles with this well-known elixir for those who could not travel, or to dip a cut or sprained hand into the trough. Forge water was also considered effective for styes in the eye and was even said to cure a squint, provided it was applied unseen by the smith on three mornings in succession. 

The latter reflects how a smith's healing powers were thought to hinge on the supernatural, for it was widely believed that he could lay charms and spells, although always for a good purpose, such as curing illness. 

Maybe it stemmed from the fact that a smith worked all day with iron, which was believed to safeguard against the forces of evil. A smith could undo spells cast to steal produce from the fields, or butter from the dairy by a liberal sprinkling of forge water, accompanied by magic words known only to himself. He could cut and sear a sore on a horse's back or leg, and the horse stood quietly for him all through the operation. No ordinary man could do things like that. 

The smith's curse on the oppressor or evildoer, especially if solemnly pronounced by three - or better still, seven - smiths, while one of them turned the anvil, was also said to avenge any wrong. 

It's enough to give you goose bumps. 

Sunday Independent