Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Nine Herbs Charm

The Nine Herbs Charm is an Old English charm recorded in the 10th century "Lacnunga manuscript."

The title "Lacnunga," is an Old English word meaning 'remedies', the word itself is not in the manuscript. The title was given to the collection by its first editor, Oswald Cockayne, in the nineteenth century, and has since stuck.

Cockspur Grass

The Nine Herbs Charm is intended for treatment of poison and infection through the preparation of nine herbs. The numbers nine and three are mentioned frequently within the charm and are significant numbers in Germanic paganism and later Germanic folklore. The poem contains references to both Christian and English Pagan elements, including a mention of the major Germanic god Woden.

According to R.K. Gordon, the poem is "clearly an old heathen thing which has been subjected to Christian censorship." Malcolm Laurence Cameron proposes a psychological value to the poem for ancient patients, stating that chanting the poem aloud results in a "marvellously incantatory effect".

The charm references nine herbs: Mucgwyrt (Mugwort), Attorlaðe (identified as Cockspur Grass by R.K. Gordon; but defined by others as Betony), Stune (Lamb's Cress or Corn salad), Wegbrade (Plantain), Mægðe (Mayweed or Matricaria (Chamomile)), Stiðe (Nettle), Wergulu (Crab-apple), Fille (Thyme), and Finule (Fennel). At the end of the charm, prose instructions are given to take the above mentioned herbs, crush them to dust, and mix them with old soap and apple juice. Further instructions are given to make a paste from water and ashes, boil fennel into the paste, bathe it with beaten egg - both before and after the prepared salve is applied.

The instructions also direct the reader to sing the charm three times over each of the herbs as well as the apple before they are prepared, into the mouth of the wounded, both of their ears, and over the wound itself prior to the application of the salve.

The " loathsome foe roving through the land" may be a reference to disease or specifically the plague.

Nine Herbs Charm
Translated from old Saxon

Remember, Mugwort, what you made known, What you arranged at the Great proclamation. You were called Una, the oldest of herbs, you have power against three and against thirty, you have power against poison and against infection, you have power against the loathsome foe roving through the land.

And you, Plantain, mother of herbs, Open from the east, mighty inside.
over you chariots creaked, over you queens rode, over you brides cried out, over you bulls snorted. You withstood all of them, you dashed against them. May you likewise withstand poison and infection
and the loathsome foe roving through the land.

'Stune' is the name of this herb , it grew on a stone, it stands up against poison, it dashes against poison, it drives out the hostile one, it casts out poison. This is the herb that fought against the snake, it has power against poison, it has power against infection, it has power against the loathsome foe roving through the land. Put to flight now, Venom-loather, the greater poisons, though you are the lesser, you the mightier, conquer the lesser poisons, until he is cured of both.
Remember, Chamomile, what you made known, what you accomplished at Alorford, that never a man should lose his life from infection after Chamomile was prepared for his food. This is the herb that is called 'Wergulu'. A seal sent it across the sea-right, a vexation to poison, a help to others. it stands against pain, it dashes against poison, it has power against three and against thirty, against the hand of a fiend and against mighty devices, against the spell of mean creatures.

There the Apple accomplished it against poison that she [the loathsome serpent] would never dwell in the house. Chervil and Fennell, two very mighty ones. They were created by the wise Lord, holy in heaven as He hung; He set and sent them to the seven worlds, to the wretched and the fortunate, as a help to all. These nine have power against nine poisons. A worm came crawling, it killed nothing. For Woden took nine glory-twigs, he smote the adder that it flew apart into nine parts.

Now there nine herbs have power against nine evil spirits, against nine poisons and against nine infections: Against the red poison, against the foul 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 worm-blister, against water-blister, against thorn-blister, against thistle-blister, against ice-blister, against poison-blister. Against harmfulness of the air, against harmfulness of the ground, agaist harmfulness of the sea.

If any poison comes flying from the east, or any from the north, or any from the south, or any from the west among the people. Christ stood over diseases of every kind. I alone know a running stream, and the nine adders beware of it. May all the weeds spring up from their roots, the seas slip apart, all salt water, when I blow this poison from you.

Mugwort, plantain open from the east, lamb's cress, venom-loather, camomile, nettle, crab-apple, chevil and fennel, old soap; pound the herbs to a powder, mix them with the soap and the juice of the apple.

Then prepare a paste of water and of ashes, take fennel, boil it with the paste and wash it with a beaten egg when you apply the salve, both before and after. Sing this charm three times on each of the herbs before you (he) prepare them, and likewise on the apple.

And sing the same charm into the mouth of the man and into both his ears, and on the wound, before you (he) apply the salve.

Sources include:

Wikipedia:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Page
Walking the Hedge:  http://walkingthehedge.net/wildgeekhang/

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