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Archive for the ‘practice’ Category

Charm-of-the-Sprain

Barbara Hillers (Harvard University) gave a wonderful presentation, entitled “Joint to joint and sinew to sinew”: an international healing charm in medieval Irish literature and modern folklore.  She began the talk discussing the connection between mythology and folklore, reminding us of the use of the bone charm in Miach’s cure in the Irish mythological cycle — pointing out that this tale comes from a single 16th century MS that uses some 9th century language.  This charm is also found in Germanic and Vedic sources.

There was some time spent dissecting the structure of charms and folk prayers.  Namely, that in charms the speaker affects the cure, aided by supernatural powers, and in folk prayers the cure is accomplished by the supernatural power.  The bone to bone charm is an epic, or narrative, charm.  The event or story told around the charm, which includes its narrative structure, is actually part of the charm itself, and includes formula transference where the speaker – the charmer — impersonates a divine being.

Part of Professor Hillers focus was in connecting the bone charm to IndoEuropean roots.  She explained that within scholarship three cultural sources are needed to substantiate such a connection.  The charm is found in Germanic, Vedic, and Irish sources, though scholars do not view the Irish source as ‘distinct.’  There is an additional Hittite variant of the charm, but it is not similar enough to supply the needed third cultural connection because it combines parts from different bodies, while the other two share the same function – repairing a single body.

Looking at the charm from a modern ethnographic perspective, we see more of a fusion of the charm across Europe, which indicates a non-IndoEuropean root.  The Irish folkloric sources are underwhelming. It is found in clusters in the SW and North of the country, which links it to Viking settlement areas.  This is important, because Scandinavia has a predominance of the charm; indicating a Viking source with diffusion spreading the charm in Europe.

I.  Irish Source

Miach went to the hand which had been replaced by Diancecht, and he said, ‘Joint to joint of it and sinew to sinew,’ and he healed Nuada in thrice three days and nights.
 The Second Battle of Moytura

II. Germanic Source

Phol and Wodan rode into the woods,
There Balder’s foal sprained its foot.
It was charmed by Sinthgunt, her sister Sunna;
It was charmed by Frija, her sister Volla;
It was charmed by Wodan, as he well knew how:
Bone-sprain, like blood-sprain,
Like limb-sprain:
Bone to bone; blood to blood;
Limb to limb — like they were glued.
second Merseburg Incantation  (another source: wikipedia)

III.  Vedic Source

Let marrow be put together with marrow,
let bone grow over with bone;
we put together sinew with sinew,
let skin grow with skin
Atharva Veda 4.15.2=4.12.4

NOTE:

The identification of Scandinavia (and Vikings) as a source for this charm is significant when you consider the political discourse of the “stranger” and “foreigner” so prevalent in the narrative of the 2nd Battle of Moytura.  If you have not listened to the Story Archeology podcast which covers Lugh’s identity as a ‘shiny foreigner’ (i.e. non-Irish origin), I highly recommend it!! 

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http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01rdzx0

Episode five of a thirty-part series made in collaboration with the British Library Sound Archive.

Around the world charismatic individuals claim the ability to change the weather, heal illness and help crops grow. Professor David Hendy explains how sound – and its manipulation – is central to the shaman’s power.

David introduces the eerie rituals of Siberian reindeer herders as they summon spirits, before coming closer to home to hear a mysterious singing angel high in the facade of Wells Cathedral.

 

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This weekend I attended an excellent multi-disciplinary symposium on Charms and Magic in Medieval and Modern Ireland, organized by the Department of Early Irish at the National University of Ireland Maynooth.  Scholars from so diverse backgrounds as religious studies and archeology, linguistics and philology, and from applied disciplines likes herbal healing and veterinary medicine presented enlightening glimpses into their own work, as it related to the topic.  I hope to share what I took away from these talks.

Image

Worm and Snake Charms

The first speaker of the morning was Jacqueline Borsje (University of Amsterdam and University of Ulster), who delved into Irish snake and worm charms as export products.  She outlined the importance of charms as words of power, and how important context is when seeking to understand them.  Cultural, textual, and situational context is everything; in other words, don’t necessarily take them at face value.

Professor Borsje has written extensively about the evil eye in Ireland, and she brought this connection with “supernatural theft” into her discussion of snake and ‘wyrm’ charms.    Her reference to Professor Kelly’s work on medieval Irish Law tracts dealing with the stealing away ‘through envy,” with such concerns of butter and milk, was the thrust of her argument here.  A Babylonian incantation from the 2nd millennium BCE, in which women, babies, storage rooms, the god of the house, were all mentioned in their need for protection against this ‘supernatural theft.’

An interesting point connected ‘evil eye cultures’ — those cultures expressing a concept such as the evil eye or supernatural theft — with unstable ecological environments dependent on crop or cattle economies, with a concern over scarcity of resource.

Another non-Irish source mentioning supernatural theft are the 12 Roman Tables.  These tables talk of bewitched crops, evil spells, and the removal of crops by incantation.  In medieval Ireland, a particular concern was ‘stealing through the evil eye on the corriguinech (on May Day) — which seemed connected to milk theft.

Anglo-Saxon MS have references to Irish snake and wyrm charms that focus on remedies for swallowing a ‘wyrm’ and for ‘penetrating wyrm.’  These charms normally entailed singing the charm in various ways, and using saliva.  For example:

Wyrm Charm (MS  remedies)

Sing the charm 9 times, in either the right or left ear

Penetrating Wyrm

Sing the charm directly on the wound, then anoint with saliva. 

The charms are ‘aggressive’ in imagery, using the language of battle.  During this time, worms were seen as the cause of ailments as diverse as toothache and migraine, to pregnancy and actual disease.  An example of some of this language can be found in Lady Wylde’s writing, which, though not scholarly, does offer a glimpse into modern usage:

 for the Great Worm

 I kill a hound….

I kill a worm…..

for Pains:

evil worm

venomous charm….

rub with butter, etc.

The tendency of these charms is to treat like with like, similar to homeopathy.  The idea of a ‘snake charm’ was to use something venomous (the word of power) to treat a venomous disease (caused by a worm).  Another very interesting thing was the use of singing.  These charms, by and large, were sung, and often over the wound or over the water / liquid which held the charm and was then drunk.  If the patient could not drink, then the incantation of the charm was sung into the patients mouth.

Snake charms were used against illnesses associated with poison.  The absence of snakes on the island of Ireland was seen as a special property of this island.  This is why most of the snake charms found in continental Europe contain a portion written in Old Irish.  The really interesting thing to note here, is that the Irish found written in these charms was so garbled, it’s almost unintelligible.  Why?  Because it had been told to an original scribe by an Irish speaker, but had been handed down to non-speakers who were simply trying to copy, from memory, a phonetic representation.  They didn’t understand the Irish they were saying, but it was a Word of Power that held the protection of the ‘land without snakes.’  A potent charm against poison diseases!

A fun side note mentioned the old Irish hex of placing 13 eggs in someone’s haystack on Bealtaine.

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[youtube http://youtu.be/sniM8XIqWIg]

Cummer, go ye before, cummer go ye
If ye willna go before, cummer, let me
Ring-a-ring-a-widdershins
Linkin lithely widdershins
Cummer, carlin, crone and queen
Roun go we

Cummer, go ye before, cummer, go ye
If ye willna go before, cummer, let me
Ring-a-ring-a-widdershins
Loupin lightly widdershins
Kilted coats and fleein hair
Three times three

Cummer go ye before, cummer, go ye
If ye willna go before, cummer, let me
Ring-a-ring-a-widdershins
Whirlin skirlin widdershins
De’il tak the hindmost
Wha e’er she be

WITCHDANCE_SM

Translation using the Dictionary of the Scottish Language:

Witch go you fast, witch go you
If you will not go fast, witch let me
Circling a circle widdershins (counter-clockwise)
Linking hands quickly and merrily widdershins,
Wives, crones, mothers and young lasses

Round go we!

Witch go you fast, witch go you
If you will not go fast, witch let me
Circling a circle widdershins
Looping (or weaving) easily and swiftly
Tucked up skirts and flying hair
Three times three!

Witch go you fast, witch go you
If you will not go fast, witch let me
Circling a circle widdershins
Whirling (rotating) screaming louder, widdershins
Devil take the last one (furthest behind)
Whoever she be!

[Background: excerpt from  Sangstories – Stories of Scottish Songs]

Words:
Carlin: old woman, witch
Cummer: woman friend, witch
Deil: devil
Fleein: flying
Hindmost: last, furthest behind
Kilted: tucked up
Loupin: jumping, leaping
Queen: quean or quine, girl, woman
Skirlin: screeching
Widdershins: anti-clockwise; opposite to the sun’s movement; against nature,  so used by witches

Christine Kydd brought this song to Sangschule. She recorded it along with Corrina Hewat and Elspeth Cowie as Chantan on their CD Primary Colours. Their notes say: “A song from 1591 and the witch trials of King James 6th of Scotland. A time when any woman could be accused of being a witch on a whim. The words come from the transcripts of one of the trials in connection with a plot, by Francis Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell, and others to kill the king. It is the first written record of a reel in Scotland.”

Witches were supposed to meet and dance in a circle going “widdershins”, against the sun, as part of reversing what was natural or holy.  They were naked or immodestly dressed  – Burns’ “cutty sark” is like the “kilted coats” – revealing a lot of leg. “Three times three” was a magic number. And the devil would sometimes join the dance, though here the old saying “Deil tak the hindmost” suggests fear of this event rather than a welcome for the master.

A ‘thread’ of entries on www.mudcat.org attempts to pin down more of the sources and Jack Campin’s entries say that the first two lines do appear in the transcript of the witch trials, but “ the rest was obviously made up in the 20th century”.

James 6th himself was present at the North Berwick witch trials where the accusations against his cousin, Bothwell and the “other witches” were dealt with, and he took part in interrogations. Two of the accused women were Geillis Duncan and Agnes Sampson. They did not survive, but Bothwell escaped.  Excerpts from trial papers are available on…

http://homepages.tesco.net/~eandcthomps/Chronology1.htm

…a website belonging to Dr E H Thompson of the University of Dundee e.g.:

Agnes Sampson “admitted healing the sick by natural remedies and prayer, helping people who had been bewitched and having dealings with the devil in the form of a dog.”

She confessed to the King that she had been moved to serve the devil by poverty after the death of her husband and had received the devil’s mark. (This mark hidden on the body was said to be impervious to pain, and led to ‘witches’ being pierced all over with a pin by accusers trying to find it.)

Reading between the lines from our present-day standpoint, it is easy to see how superstitious fears led to ordeal and death for many poor and helpless women, but James 6th pursued the prosecution of witches with determination and wrote his own book on the subject, Demonologie, published in 1597.

 [The Music]
 X: 1
T: The Witches
R: reel

M: 4/4
L: 1/8
K: Edor
EBBG FDDF|EBBF GABc|d2 AG FEDF|EBAF GE E2:|
gfeg Bgeg|fdad bdaf|gfeg Bgeg|fdaf fee2|
gfeg Bgeg|fdad bdaf|gaeg deBd|ABFA BEE2||
The Witches (reel) on The Session

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Giorria skull peers out from the talamh 

under the Hedge;

the only part left by the sionnach.

An equinox gift of the gloamingImage

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help, protect, and defend thy Brothers and Sisters of the Art

There is an ancient story that in days long ago Wytches met in secret.  That to come among them, you swore a fearsome Oath.  Your measure was taken, with cord Hallow and Mighty, upon your promise to “keep Secret” and “Protect” the Art and those who practiced it.

A dread Oath to swear.  For, if the oath be broken by a Witch, his or her cord was buried with curses, so that as it rotted the traitor would too.

How many of you have mused on that time, and imagined yourself called to betray the names of your coven or your neighbors?  Would you…under torture, speak their names?

Bessie Dunloptumblr_m5gzspxhAN1qatqtto1_400

Elizabeth Knap

Marigje Arriens

Johann Albrecht Adelgrief

Goodwife Bassett

Giovanna Bonanno

George Burroughs

Lasses Birgitta

Michée Chauderon

Nyzette Cheveron

Elizabeth Clarke

Helena Curtens

Jean Delvaux

Catherine Deshayes

Thomas Doughty

Anna Eriksdotter

Ann Glover

…..

Perhaps we understand, all too well, what heinous physical cruelty these healers, midwives, cunning folk, and mystics endured.

                       Perhaps we hold mercy for those who screamed the names of others.

But in our day and age?

What is our modern equivalent?

A subpoena?

Would you “out” your brothers and sisters if a court demanded it?

What of MONEY?

Would you make known the secrets of the Art for payment?

What of prestige?

“I am High Muckety Muck Raven Claw” …. “I was told by the Goddess Spank Me that THIS is the only correct way”

I am a Witch heart-broken, enraged, and determined.  Someone has revealed.  Someone has made known.  Someone has not protected her brothers and sisters of the Art.

What would you do?

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