Making Medieval Magic: Countering Infections and Poison with Nine Potent Herbs - RiseEarth

Making Medieval Magic: Countering Infections and Poison with Nine Potent Herbs


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by Natalia Klimczak; Ancient Origins

Many old spells have been lost or forgotten over the years, but careful readers of medieval books can still recognize some of them tucked within old tomes. There is a spell from a 10th-century book which was one of the most wanted recipes for medical emergencies - it was created to cure poisoning and infections.

Magic spells are mentioned in some of the world’s oldest resources. It also seems that people had practiced magic even before they learned how to write. Seeking spiritual or divine aid is still popular today and many people turn to the old beliefs when they face hardship. The traditions and practices that were cultivated before the appearance of Christianity or Islam seem to be making a particular resurgence.

The Tractatus de herbis, a thirteenth-century manuscript of herbs in the collection of the British Library.

Due to this, old spell books have become more and more popular once again. During the 19th century, publishing houses were also very interested in reprinting old books with ''remedies'' for many different troubles. One of them was a book that contained the Nine Herbs Charm, a concoction that may have been used to save many lives.

Nine herb charm (incendiaryarts)

A Book of Spells

With the growing number of spells, people started to sort them and create ''volumes'' with specific remedies for different spiritual and physical issues. Cures for poisons and infections were always important for all members of society – from the farm to the battlefield to the royal court, anyone could be struck with one of these ailments.

The Nine Herbs Charm has been discovered in a book known as “The Lacunga.” This volume contains medical “spells” and recipes that were written in Latin and Old English. It is unknown how many of the old prayers and recipes are ancient, how many were created by Druids, and how many come from other sources.

This text was named ''remedies'' during the 19th century. The newer name came from the editor who reprinted it, Oswald Cockayne. It is not the only medical charm in the book, but the Nine Herbs Charm is one of the best documented examples of herbs that have also been linked to witchcraft for centuries. This recipe seems to have its roots in Germanic paganism, but the text also suggests some Christian influence.

A page from the nine herbs charm. (Incendiary Arts)

Herbs Used by Old Witches

The spell is unique because the recipe consists of many important herbs. Instructions on how to combine the ingredients are also presented, so it would be relatively easy to recreate the mixture used in the Nine Herbs Charm. However, casting spells always involved a ritual and unfortunately “The Lacnunga” doesn't explain the ceremonial side of healing in much detail.

In the medieval text, the author mentioned the herbs: Mucgwyrt Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris), Attorlaðe (cockspur grass (Echinochloa crus-galli), Stune Lamb's cress (Cardamine hirsuta), Wegbrade Plantain (Plantago), Mægðe Mayweed (Matricaria), Stiðe Nettle (Urtica), Wergulu Crab-apple (Malus), Fille (Thyme), and Finule Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare).

These herbs are still in use today and are well-known in spiritual practices, but also in the kitchen. Mugwort is one of the most mystical herbs to have been used in witchcraft and it is famous for its healing properties.

Modern day Mugwort. (CC BY-SA 3.0)

The old charm saved by medieval writers explains the procedure to create the mixture. The spell’s author or authors claimed that the charm was very strong and they succeeded in healing many poison victims.
''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 white poison, against the pale 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 worm-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 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 form 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 oaf 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.''
Recovering Ancient Remedies

This poetic charm still sounds very potent centuries later. According to the author of the recipe, the charm should be chanted three times over each one of the herbs. The number three is very meaningful in pagan beliefs and witchcraft as it relates to the power of the triple goddess.

With the growing popularity of paganism, spells like the Nine Herbs Charm are being brought back to light. Although witchcraft has never been forgotten, the growing interest in these practices is helping to recover old magic volumes from dusty bookshelves and they are becoming new treasures for the ones who seek them.

References:
The Nine Herbs Charm in modern English, available at:
http://www.odins-gift.com/pclass/nineherbs.htm
The Missing Anglo Saxon Herb, available at:
http://www.pagannews.com/cgi-bin/articles1.pl?60
The Nine Worts Galdor (The Nine Herbs Charm), available at:
https://ealdrice.org/the-nine-worts-galdor-the-nine-herbs-charm/
Plants in the Saxon World, avaiblae at:
http://www.psumedievalgarden.com/sacred_saxon_herbs.html
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