The story I was told goes like this.
Way back when illness ravaged towns and cities and left nothing but legends in its wake lived a deadly illness. It consumed whole populations and rode on the backs of those fleeing to fresh flesh to ravage yet more lives. And so, moves all that is sent by death. There was a time, probably in France or maybe it was Italy we can’t say for sure for we weren’t there that a deadly sickness devoured lives faster than they were created. Yet one woman wise with knowledge began to understand this death and the way it moved.
In a time when the doctors dressed in a fearsome manner to scare death itself this woman watched. She watched the doctors’ stuff rosemary and lavender and other herbs into the beaks of their fearsome masks. She understood the hope and the lack of understanding and what we would call superstition. This woman with understanding sent her sons to watch. The sons that kept her alive for many years not by honesty but by thievery.
As the deadly plague scoured more villages and cities the wise mother gave her sons a list. The men left their mother yet again, for her many sons often left her alone as they performed their trade, yet this time the desired items were of a different kind. Days passed before they slowly returned home, each bringing one item from the list however, some of the sons didn’t return home. The wise woman with understanding began a new trade. To plant, to brew, and to teach. Her sons learned the mother’s new business for she was old.
A few months passed as the mother taught her sons, as they drank and bathed in the brew she concocted. When the time was right, they moved, not as they had done before lurking in the shadows and in the cover of darkness but in the light. They, of course, continued to be watchful as they entered homes with the cross painted on the doors. They entered and took what was of value, even taking gold from rotting fingers. A death sentence. For even the bird-like doctors feared such contact as they found the black spots on their own flesh and stopped contact with the condemned.
These men, brothers, thieves, were death themselves. How could they touch the infected and not become infected themselves, how did they sell the infected goods without the buyer becoming ill? For a time, they were free to move and roam as they wanted, taking what they wanted and never being embraced by death, for a time. Soon they were known far and wide. A trap was set for them.
When they were captured the lawmen, the villagers, and the doctors all wanted to know how it was possible they could be so close to the sick and the dead without falling prey to the illness themselves. It took time before the brothers finally broke and gave away their mother’s recipe. A long list of herbs was provided the herbs were to seep in vinegar for the cycle of the moon. One of the brothers, the youngest and so the weakest gave the family’s final secret during torture, the brothers were given a list but only four items from the list were found and used in the garlic vinegar the mother always had.
Four Thieves Vinegar was made with four ingredients and garlic vinegar, and we follow this recipe and allow the moon and sun to cook it from full moon to full moon to remind us of the cycle of life.