[The Charms preserve much superstitions and folklore. In them Christian and pagan elements are curiously mingled. They show how the old beliefs and customs were gradually overlaid and transformed by the hew faith. The Church won men away gradually, not abruptly. The clergy themselves were often credulous. Pope Gregory, in giving advice to the English missionaries, recommended them not to destroy the old temple, but merely the idols. Holy water should be sprinkled in the old places of worship and altars and relics placed there, ‘that the nation, seeing that their temples are not destroyed, may remove error from the hearts, and knowing and adoring the true God, may the more familiarly resort to the places to which they have been accustomed.’ Later the attitude towards heathen practices became less conciliatory, and laws were passed against the old usages. The Charms are difficult to date. They are preserved in manuscripts of the tenth century or later, but the passages in them untouched by Christian beliefs are probably among the oldest lines in the English language.]
FOR A SUDDEN STITCH
[This charm offers considerable difficulty. The first part describes the attack of the spirits which cause the pain. The exorcist hears and sees them from where he stands under the safety of his shield. He calls upon the pain to leave the sufferer by repeating the formula, ‘Out, little spear, if herein thou be!’ The exorcist has three retaliatory measures – the arrow, the knife forged by the smith, and the spears wrought by six smiths. Then having driven the pain forth he proceeds to heal the wound by naming its situation and author. Perhaps each formula is accompanied by application of the salve the ingredients of which are given at the beginning of the charm. Finally the pain is banished to the mountain. The last line is a final direction to the exorcist. The knife, ot would seem, is to be used as a dummy representing the evil spirits.]
Feverfew and the red nettle which grows through the house and plaintain; boil in butter –
Loud were they, lo! When they rode over the hill, Resolute were they when they rode over the land. Fend thyself now, that thou mayest survive this violence! Out, little spear, if herein thou be! I stood under the targe, beneath a light shield, Where the mighty women made ready their strength And sent whizzing spears; I will send them back another Flying arrow in their faces. Out, little spear, if herein it be! The smith sat, forged his little knife, Sore smitten with iron. Out, little spear, if herein it be! Six smiths sat, wrought war spears. Out, spear, not in, spear! If herein be aught of iron, Work of witch, it shall melt. If thou wert shot in the skin, or if thou wert shot in the flesh, Or if thou wert shot in the blood, or if thou were shot in the bone. Or if thou wert shot in the limb, thy life shall never be harmed. If it were the shots of gods, or if it were hot of elves. Or if it were shot of witch, now I will help thee. This to relieve thee from shot of gods, this to relieve thee from shot of elves. This to relieve thee from shot of witch; I will help thee. Flee to the mountain-head. Be thou whole; may the Lord help thee.
Take then the knife; plunge it into the liquid.
AGAINST A DWARF
[The dwarf, against whom the charge is directed, apparently represents some convulsive disease. The names invoked at the beginning are those of the Seven Sleepers whose influence may be expected to soothe a violent sufferer. The charm, it seems, is to be sung over the patient and then hung round his neck. The spider is most easily explained as identical with the dwarf. The creature lays on its bonds on its victim, but its power is checked away and leaves the sufferer’s wounds to cool.]
You must take seven little wafers, such as one uses in worship, and write these names on each wafer: Maximianus, Malchus, Johannes, Martinianus,Dionysius, Constantinus, Serapion. Then afterwards you must sing the charm which is given below, first into the left ear, then into the right ear, then over the man’s head. And then let a maiden go to him and hang it upon his neck, and do this for three days; he will straightway be better.
Here came a spider creature stalking in; he had his dress in his hand. He said that thou were his steed. He puts his bonds on thy neck. They began to sail from the land. As soon as they left the land, They began then to cool. Then came the beast’s sister stalking in, Then she made an end and swore these oaths: That this should never hurt the sick, Nor him who could acquire this charm, Nor him who could chant this charm.
[In this charm the exorcist in a tone of command (lines 1 – 3); then (lines 4 – 5) he becomes persuasive. In lines (6 – 7) he is once more stern. The charm ends with a series of similes.]
Wen, wen, little wen, Here thou shalt not build, nor have any bode. But thou must pass forth to the hill hard by, Where thou hast a brother in misery. He shall lay a leaf at thy head.
Under the foot of the wolf, under the wing of the eagle, Under the claw of the eagle, ever mayest thou fade. Shrivel as coal on the hearth. Shrink as muck in the wall, And waste away like water in a bucket. Become as small as a grain of linseed, And far smaller also than a hand-worm’s hip-bone, And become even so small that thou become naught.
FOR A SWARM OF BEES
[The purpose of this charm is not so much to prevent a swarm as to keep the bees from going too far when they do swarm. The man referred to may be the sorcerer who is thought to have caused the swarm. The flattery about his mighty tongue may be intended to mollify him, just as the phrase ‘victorious women’ is meant to flatter the bees.]
Take earth, cast it with thy right hand under thy right foot, and say:
‘I put it under foot; I have found it. Lo, the earth can prevail against all creatures, And against injury, and against forgetfulness, And against the mighty tongue of man.’
Cast gravel over them when they swam, and say:
‘Alright, victorious women, descend to earth! Never fly wild to the wood. Be as mindful of my profit As every man is of food and fatherland.’
[In this charm Christianity and paganism stand side by side. The new faith has partly transformed the old heathen beliefs and customs. First the ceremonial is explained. This is followed by a prayer that the land may be blessed. Then comes more ceremonial; and then the chief incarnation – an address to Mother Earth. The first furrow is then to be made, and Mother Earth again entreated. In the closing lines an attempt has been made to offset the heathen tone of the charm by a Christian prayer.]
Here is the remedy with which thou canst mend thy fields, if they will not produce well, or if anything harmful is done to them by sorcery or witchcraft. Take then at night before dawn four sods from four sides of the land and observe their former position. Then take oil and honey and yeast and milk of all cattle which are on the land, and part of every tree which grows on the land, except hard trees,(1) and part of every known herb, except burdock only; and then put holy water thereon, and then let it (2) drop thrice on the bottom of the sods, (3) and say then these words: ‘Crescite grow, et mulitiplicamini and multiply, et replete and replenish, terram the earth. In nomine patris et filii et spiritus sancti sitis benedicti.’ And Paternoster as often as the other. And afterwards carry the sods to church, and let the mass-priest sing four masses over the sods, and let the green be turned to the altar, and later let the sods be brought ere sunset to where they were before. And I let him have four crosses of aspen wood and write on each end Matthew and Mark, Luke and John. Lay the cross on the bottom of the pit; then say: ‘Crux Mattheus, Crux Marcus, Crux Lucas, Crux Sanctus Johannes.’ Then take the sods and place them thereupon, and then say these words nine times: ‘Crescite . . .’ and as often a Paternoster, and then face east and bow humbly nine times, and then say these words:
‘Eastward I stand, I pray for mercies; (4) I pray the great Lord, pray the mighty God, I pray the holy Guardian of heaven, I pray earth and sky And the righteous Holy Mary And the might of heaven and the lofty temple, That this charm by the grace of God I may utter; by strong resolve Raise crops for worldly use, Fill these fields by firm faith, Make beautiful these meadows; as the prophet said That he found favour here on earth who gave Alms wisely, according to the will of God.’ (5)
Then turn twice with the course of the sun, then stretch thyself flat and repeat the litanies; and then say Sanctus, sanctus, sanctus, to the end. Then sing Benedicite with arms extended and Magnificat and Paternoster thrice, and entrust it to the praise and honour of Christ and holy Mary and the sacred cross and to the profit of him who owns the land, and of all those who re under him. When all that is done, let unknown seed be taken from beggars, and let there be given them double what was taken from them. And let him gather all his ploughing tools together; then bore the beam and put in incense and fennel and holy soap and holy salt. Then take the seed, place it on the body of the plough, then say:
‘Erce, Erce, Erce, (6) mother of earth, Mary the Almighty, the Lord everlasting, grant thee Fruitful and reviving, Store of gleaming millet-harvests, And broad barley-crops, And white wheat-crops, And all the crops of the earth. May the Lord everlasting And his saints who are in heaven Grant him that his land be kept safe from all foes And may it be guarded against all evils, Witchcrafts sown throughout this world Now I pray the Ruler who wrought this world That no witch be eloquent enough, no any man powerful enough To pervert the words thus pronounced.’
Then let the plough be driven forth and the first furrow made. Then say: ‘Hail to thee, Earth, mother of men! Be fruitful in God’s embrace, Filled with food for the use of men.’
Then take meal of every kind and let a loaf be baked as broad as the inside of the hands and knead it with milk and holy water, and lay it under the furrow. Then say:
‘Field full of food for mankind, Brightly blooming, be thou blessed In the holy name of Him who created this heaven And this earth we live on. May God who wrought these lands grant us growing gifts, So that every kind of grain may prove of use.’
Then say thrice. ‘Crescite, in nomine patris sitis benedicti.; Amen and Paternoster thrice.
1 Hard wood did not need sanctification.
2 Probably this refers not only to the holy water, but also to the liquids (oil, honey, etc.) mentioned above.
3 The placing of things on the sods is a symbol of the desired fruitfulness; it is also intended to sanctify the samples of all the things the field produces.
4 This may originally have been a pagan prayer to ‘the maturing sun.’
5 Up to this point the charm refers to pasture land; what follows, to ploughed land.
6 Perhaps a meaningless formula.
A JOURNEY SPELL
[A charm to be recited by a man about to set on a journey and intended to protect him from all dangers by land or sea. St. Eligius (588-659) said in a sermon: ‘But whether you are setting out on a journey, or beginning any other work, cross yourself in the name of Christ, and say the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer with faith and devotion, and then the enemy can do you no harm.’]
I guard myself with this rod and give myself into God’s protection, Against the painful stroke, against the grievous stroke, Against the grim dread, Against the terror which is hateful to each, And against all evil which may enter the land. I chant a charm of victory, I bear a rod of victory, Word-victory, work-victory, May they be of power for me; That no nightmare hinder me, nor belly-fiend afflict me, Nor ever fear fall upon my life; But may the Almighty save me, and the son and the Holy Ghost, The Lord worthy of all glory, And, as I heard, Creator of the heavens. Abraham and Isaac, Jacob and Joseph, And such men, Moses and David, And Eve and Hannah and Elizabeth, Sarah and also Mary, Christ’s mother, And also the brethren, Peter and Paul, And also thousands of the angels, I call upon to fend me against all fiends. May they lead me, and guard me, and protect my path, wholly preserve me and rule me, Shaping my work; may I have the hope of heaven, A hand to guard my head, saints to shield me, A company of conquering, righteous angels. Glad in heart I pray to them all, that Matthew be my helm, Mark my breastplate, gleaming life’s covering, Luke my sword, sharp and bright-edged, John my shield, made beautiful in glory, Seraph of those who travel. Forth I fare; I shall find friends, All the inspiration of angels, the counsel of the blessed. I pray now to the God of victory, to the mercy of God, For a good journey, a mild and gentle Wind from these shores. I have heard of winds Which rouse whirling waters. Thus ever preserved From all fiends may I meet friends, So that I may dwell in the Almighty’s protection, Guarded from the enemy who seeks my life, Set amid the glory of the angels, And in the holy land of the Mighty One of heaven, Whilst I may live in this life. – Amen.
FOR THEFT OF CATTLE
May naught of what I own be stolen or hidden any more than Herod might do to our Lord. I thought of St. Helena, and I thought of Christ hanging on the cross; so I look to find this cattle,(1) not to have then borne away, and to learn of them, not to have them injured, and to have them cared for, not led off.
Garmund, servant of God, Find those cattle and fetch those cattle, And have those cattle and hold those cattle, And bring home those cattle. So that he may never have land to lead them to, Nor ground to bear them to, Nor houses to keep them in. If any should do so, may he never thrive by it! Within three nights I shall know his powers, His strength and his skill to protect. May he wholly wither as fire withers wood, As bramble or thistle hurts thigh, He who may purpose to bear off these cattle, Or think to drive away these kine.
NINE HERBS CHARM
[Some lines in this charm are now meaningless. It is clearly an old heathen thing which has been subjected to Christian censorship.]
Forget not, Mugwort, what thou didst reveal, What thou didst prepare at Regenmeld.(1) Thou hast strength against three and against thirty, Thou hast strength poison and against infection, Thou hast strength against the foe who fares through the land. And thou, Plantain, mother of herbs, Open from the east, mighty within, Over three chariots creaked, over three queens rode, Over thee brides made outcry, over thee bulls gnashed their teeth. All these thou didst withstand and resist; So mayest thou withstand poison and infection, And the foe who fares through the land.
This herb is called Stime; it grew on a stone, It resists poison, it fights pain. It is called harsh, it fights against poison. This is the herb that strove against snake; This has strength against poison, this has strength against infection, This has strength against the foe who fares through the land.
Now, Cock’s-spur Grass, conquer the greater poisons, though thou art the lesser; Thou, the mightier, vanquish the lesser until he is cured of both.
Remember, Mayweed, what thou didst reveal, what thou didst bring to pass at Alorford: That he never yielded his life because of infection, After Mayweed was dressed for his food.
This is the herb which is called Wergulu; The seal sent this over the back of the ocean To heal the hurt of other poison.
These nine sprouts against nine poisons.
A snake came crawling, it bit a man. Then Woden took nine glory-twigs, Smote the serpent so that it flew into nine parts. There apple brought this to pass against poison, That she nevermore would enter her house.
Thyme and Fennel, a pair great in power, The Wise Lord, holy in heaven, Wrought these herbs while He hung on the cross; He placed and put them in the seven worlds To aid all, poor and rich
It stands against pain, resists the venom, It has power against three and against thirty, Against a fiend’s hand and against sudden trick, Against witchcraft of vile creatures.
Now these nine herbs avail against nine evil spirits, Against nine poisons and against nine infectious diseases, Against the red poison, against the running poison, Against the white poison, against the blue poison, Against the yellow poison, against the green poison, Against the black poison, against the blue poison, Against the brown poison, against the crimson poison, against snake-blister, against water-blister, Against thorn-blister, against thistle-blister, Against ice-blister, against poison-blister; If any poison comes flying from the east or any comes from the north, Or any from the west upon the people.
Christ stood over disease of every kind. I alone know running water, and the nine serpents heed it; May all pastures now spring up with herbs, The seas, all salt water, be destroyed, When I blow this poison from thee.
Mugwort, plantain which is open eastward, lamb’s cress, cock-spur grass, mayweed, nettle, crab-apple, thyme and fennel, old soap; crush the herbs to dust, mix with the soap and with the apple’s juice. Make a paste of water and of ashes; take fennel, boil it in the paste and bathe with egg-mixture, either before or after he puts on the salve. Sing that charm on each of the herbs; thrice before he works them together and on the apple likewise; and sing that same charm into the man’s mouth and into both ears and into the wound before he puts on the salve.
1 that is, may my cattle be saved as Christ was from Herod, and may I recover them as St. Helena did the cross of Christ.
2 This and Alorford, mentioned later, are apparently names of places.