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PHILTRES, CHARMS AND POTIONS
WERE it not that dogs and horses have frequently been observed to express their fear of ghosts, an apt definition for man would be "the superstitious animal." Certainly no human feeling is more universal or more enduring. If, as I have endeavoured to prove, the first mother was the first witch, she must have brought superstition with her as a legacy from the unknown world. Not only is it universal in mankind, it is also essential to mankind, if only that it is the one barrier between them and the tyranny of fact. As many-headed as a Hydra, it is to be found in one form or other, in the composition of every human being, from the sage to the savage. Dr. Johnson's idiosyncrasy for touching every post he passed upon his walks abroad, Napoleon's belief in his star, the burglar's faith in his lump of coal as his surest safeguard against discovery, and the bunch of bells which every Italian waggoner hangs about his team to scare away errant demons, are all alike variations upon the one theme — humanity's revolt against the tyranny of knowledge. Our boasted education avails nothing against the rock upon which superstition is securely based. The Girton girl who wears a bracelet hung with lucky-pigs, or rejoices when she finds white heather growing upon a brae-side, may not perhaps consciously accept them as capable of influencing her fortunes, any more than does the card-player believe with his head that if he wins when not playing for money that his next gamble will result in loss, or the race-course punter that a horse whose name includes some particular word such as gold, or love, or black will, for that reason, win races. But all alike have in their hearts this unexpressed belief, and though they may not admit it, does any unexpected good fortune befall them, their mascot has some share of their thanks. Few of us but hold that a certain colour, as, for instance, green, or a certain stone, as the opal, is unlucky. Many of us would not pass under a ladder if we could help it, even though we know that we are thus upholding a superstition based upon a former connection between a ladder and a gallows. In Paris, fashionable people carry little images of their special friends and in case of their illness mutter prayers or charms over the part affected. Indeed, those who protest most strongly their freedom from such degrading weakness thereby show themselves the more believing — he who resolutely walks under every ladder he passes as a mute protest is but acknowledging the faith heseeks to outrage.
All these modern forms of civilised superstition are, of course, survivals from a former age. Some of them, as, for instance, that of spilling salt or sitting thirteen at table, can be traced back to religious or other sources. Others, again, have endured from the earliest days of the human race. Many directly emanate from the art of witchcraft. A full-fledged witch must have her regular recipes and prescriptions — the first witch as much as the last. With the genius that made her a witch, she must seize and formulate the shadowy conceptions that form so large a share of her clientele's beliefs; with her power of organisation, she must elaborate and adapt them to individual needs; in answer to the primitive appeal, she must return the full-fledged spell or charm. As we have seen, her magical powers were exercised in various directions; her methods were consequently as variant. In her capacity as healer, and conversely as disease-inflicter, her various spells must cover all the ills that flesh is heir to. She must be able to cure the disease she inflicts; more, those who combat her must have their own ammunition of the like kind. To the Greek Abracadabra the Church must oppose the sign of the Cross or the mention of the Trinity. Thus in time arose an enormous store of such early methods of faith cure — a store which has since accumulated to such vast proportions as make it hopeless to do more than enumerate a few gleaned from various ages and countries as examples of the rest.
A great number of these charms are given by Wierus, who is severely reprobated by Bodin for propagating such iniquities. Toothache being a common and distracting complaint, there were various recipes for its cure. To repeat the following was found to be very efficacious: —
Or it was equally good to write the following on a piece of paper, and then to hang it round your neck: —
Strigiles, falcesque, dentatae.
Dentium, dolorem persanate.
Another and more religious means was to quote John, ch. ix., concerning the curse of the blind man, and Exodus, ch. xii., where it is written that no bone of the Passover shall be broken; and then to touch your teeth during Mass, by which time it was more than probable that your pains should cease. Ague, another common complaint, had several remedies. You might either write Abracadabra triangularly and hang it round your neck, or visit at dead of night the nearest crossroad five different times, and there bury a new-laid egg (this has never been known to fail), or emulate Ashmole, the astrologer, who wrote in 1661: —
I took early in the morning a good dose of elixir and hung three spiders about my neck; they drove my ague away.
Against mad-dog bite there were more complicated methods than mere Pasteurisation, and what is more, you had a large choice. A cure was effected by writing on a piece of bread the words: —
Irioni Khiriori effera Kuder fere.
then swallowing it; or writing on a piece of paper or bread the words: —
Oh, King of Glory, Jesus Christ, come in peace in the name of the Father + max in the name of the Son + max in the name of the Holy Ghost, prax, Gaspar, Melchior, Balthasar + prax + max + God imax + .
Some people were known to have been cured by a man who wrote
Hax, pax, max, Deus adimax
on an apple, which he gave the patient to eat; but this, says Wierus, was very impious.
According to Cato, bones out of joint could be put back into place by the charm: —
Danata, daries, dardaries, astataries.
Divers were but little distinguished from one another, and we find a number of cures for fevers included under one generic form. Several cures are given by Wierus: —
Wash your hands with the patient and say Psalm 44. "Exaltabo te, Deus meus Rex."
Or : —
Take the invalid's hand and say "Acque facilis tibi febris haec fit, atque Mariae Virgini Christi partus."
Take three holy wafers, and write on the first, "So is the Father, so is Life"; on the second, "So is the Son, so is the Saint"; on the third, "So is the Holy Ghost, so is the remedy." Take these three wafers to the fever patient and tell him to eat them on three consecutive days, neither eating nor drinking anything else; also say fifteen times daily the Pater and the Ave.
A similar prescription is found in the following: —
Cut an apple in three pieces and write on the first, "Increatus Pater"; on the second, "Immensus Pater"; and on the third, "Aeternus Pater"; then let the patient eat them fasting on three different days.
The following savours little less of religion: —
For fever wryt thys words on a lorell lef + Ysmael + Ysmael + adjuro vos per angelum ut soporetur iste Homo. And ley thys lef under hys head that he mete not thereof and let hym ete Letuse oft and drynk Ip'e seed smal grounden in a mortar and temper yt with ale.
A cure for epilepsy was contained in the following words: —
Gaspare fert myrrham, thus Melchior, Balthasar aurum Haec tria cui serum portabit nomina regum
Soluitur a morbo Christi pietate caduco.
Another remedy was to take the hand of the patient and say in his ear: —
I conjure you by the Sun, the Moon, the Gospel of the Day, given of God to Saint Hubert, Gilles, Corneille and Jein, that you get up without falling again, in the name of the Father, the Sonn and the Holy Ghost. Amen.
For the cure of headache Pliny recommends a plant growing on the head of a statue (i.e., that has never touched the ground), gathered in the lappet of any one of the garments, and attached to the neck with a red string.
Against the King's Evil, vervaine, plucked with the root, wrapped in a leaf, and warmed under cinders, was considered efficacious. This might at first sight seem to differ little in character from a medical prescription, whether useless or no, but to be efficacious certain conditions must be complied with. It must be applied, that is to say, by a young and fasting virgin, and the patient must receive it fasting. While touching his hand the virgin must say, "Apollo, let not the plague increase which a virgin has allayed." And thereafter she must spit three times.
Pliny also provides us with a recipe against accidents in general, originally taken from the Druids of Gaul: — "Carry about your person the plant selago, gathered without the use of iron and with the right hand passed through the left sleeve of the tunic, as, though committing a theft. When you gather it your clothing must be white, your feet bare and clean, while a sacrifice of bread and wine must be offered previously."
There were also many specific cures for different accidents. An incantation for thorn-pricks is found in the recorded case of one Mr. Smerdon: — "When our Saviour Christ was on earth He pricked His forefinger on the right hand with a black thorn, or whatever it may be, and the Blood sprang up to Heaven, nor moath, nor rust, nor canker did corrupt, and if Mr. Smerdon will put his trust in God his will do the same. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost." This is to be repeated three times, and at the end Amen and the Lord's Prayer are to be said.
A once-popular "prayer" for a "scalt" is the following: —
Their was two angels came from the East.
One carried Fire, the other carried Frost.
Out Fire. In Frost. Father, Son and Holy Ghost.
A more modern version runs thus: —
There were three Angels came from East and West,
One brought Fire and another brought Frost,
And the Third it was the Holy Ghost.
Out Fire. In Frost, &c., &c.
A simple way of extracting an arrow is: —
Say three times, while kneeling, the Pater and Ave, and then + add these words: — "A Jewish soldier evilly inclined struck Jesus Christ + Lord Jesus Christ I pray Thee + by this iron + by this lance + by this blood + and by this water, draw out this iron + in the name, &c., &c.
There are several charms useful for stanching blood. One runs: —
Jesus that was in Bethlehem born and baptized was in the flumen Jordane, as stinte the water at hys comyng, so stinte the blood of thys Man N. thy servaunt throw the vertu of Thy Holy Name, — Jesu — and of Thy cosyn swete Saint Jon. And sey thys charme fyve tymes, with fyve Paternosters in the worschip of the fyve woundys.
Another runs: —
In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti, carat, Cara, sarite, confirma oonsana imabolite.
And another: —
Sepa + sepaga + sepagoga + Blood cease to flow. All is consummated in the Name of the Father + podendi + and of the son + pandera + and of the Holy Spirit + pandorica + peace be with you. Amen.
following simple charm may be found efficacious against the assaults of
Nettle in, Dock out,
Dock in, Nettle out,
Nettle in, Dock out,
Dock rub, Nettle out.
The famous Nothhemd, or "chemise de necessite," had such magical qualities that it was worn alike by men to protect them against arrows and other weapons in battle, and by women to assist them in their delivery. It was spun by virgins upon a night in Christmas week. On the breast were two heads: on the right side that of a bearded man wearing a morion, that on the left being hideously ugly and having a crown like that of Beelzebub. By a curious confusion of thought, a cross was placed on either side of these heads.
From spells and charms against disease and accident we may turn to those intended to protect against injury from outside agencies, as, for example, caterpillars, serpents, and particularly thieves.
Were your cabbages or roses suffering from the over-attentive caterpillar you had no need to approach the chemist for a remedy. In Thuringia, for example, they might be banished from the cabbage-patch if a woman could be found to run naked round the field or garden before sunrise on the day of the annual fair. In Cleves it was sufficient to say: — "Beloved caterpillar, this meat that you are having in the autumn profits you as little as it profits the Virgin Mary when, in eating and drinking, people do not speak of Jesus Christ. In the name of God. Amen."
Yet another infallible cure was to pick a switch in the neighbourhood of an adulterer's house, or, by a curious contrast, that of an upright magistrate, and to strike with it the infected cabbages. Provided you walk straight through and across the cabbage-bed, the caterpillars will faint and fall away, but if you turn round you lose all chance of getting rid of them.
A good way of exterminating serpents, toads, lizards, and other vermin was to obtain a supply of the herb called "serpentine." When making use of it you must draw three rings on the earth, and say: — In nomine Paris an+ et Filii elion + et Spiritus sancti tedion + Pater Noster." Then say three times: — "Super aspidem et basilicum ambulabis et conculcabis leonem et draconem."
The numerous aids towards discovering thieves seem to indicate that the difficulty of distinguishing between meum and tuum is of no modern growth. Many religious formulae were, of course, pressed into the detective service, perhaps the most famous being the curse of Saint Adalbert. Such value was placed upon it that the Church only permitted its employment with the licence of the Bishop under pain of excommunication. It is of interminable length, and commences as follows: — "In the authority of all-powerful God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost and of the Holy Virgin Mary, mother of our Lord Jesus Christ and of the holy angels and archangels, and of Saint Michael and of John the Baptist, in the name of the apostle Saint Peter and of the other apostles, of Saint Sylvester, Saint Adalbert, and of all Confessors, of Saint Aldegonde, of holy virgins, of all the saints which are in Heaven and on the earth to whom power is given to bind and unbind, we excommunicate, damn, curse, and anathematise and forbid the entrance into Holy Mother Church of these thieves, 'sacrilegists,' ravishers, their companions, coadjutors, and coadjutrices who have committed this theft, or who have taken any part in it," &c., &c.
Another method combines an invocation with the use of a crystal: —
Turn towards the East; make a cross above the crystal with olive oil, and write the name of Saint Helen below this cross. Then a young boy of legitimate birth must take the crystal in his right hand, while you kneel down behind him and say three times devoutly, "I pray you, holy Lady Helen, mother of King Constantine, who have found the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, that in the name and favour of this very holy devotion and invention of the cross; in the name of this very holy cross; in favour of this joy that you experienced when you found this very holy cross; in consideration of the great love you bore your son, King Constantine; in short, in the name of all the good things you enjoy for ever, may it please you to show in this crystal what I ask and am longing to know." Then the boy will see the angel in the crystal, and you will ask what you want, and the angel will reply. This should be done at sunrise and when the sun has risen.
A simpler and more homely means runs thus: —
Go to a running river, and take as many little pebbles as there are suspected people. Carry them to your house and make them red-hot; bury them under the threshold over which you most commonly pass into the house, and leave them there three days. Then dig them up when the sun is up, then put a bowl of water in the middle of the circle in which there is a cross, having written upon it: "Christus vicit, Christus regnat, Christus imperat." The bowl having been set and signed with the cross, with a conjuration by the passion of Christ, by his death and resurrection, &c., throw the pebbles one after the other in the water, each one in the name of the suspects, and when you come to the pebble of the thief, it will make the water boil.
Wierus sagely adds the comment that it is not "difficult for the Devil to make the water boil in order to convict the innocent."
A means of getting a little private revenge upon the thief or the witch, even if the harm they have done you has ceased, is as follows: —
Cut on Saturday morning, before sunrise, a branch of nut-tree a year old, saying, "I cut you, branch of this summer, in the name of him whom I mean to strike or mutilate." Having done that, put a cloth on the table saying, "In nomine Patris + et Filii + et spiritus sancti." Say this three times with the following, "Et incute droch, myrroch, esenaroth, + betu + baroch + ass + maarot." Then say "Holy Trinity punish him who has harmed me, and take away the harm by your great justice+ eson elion + emaris ales age "; then strike the cloth.
The numerous proverbs dealing with the tender passion seem to imply that it is inclined to go by contraries, which perhaps accounts for the particular nastiness of the ingredients composing love-philtres. Another constant feature is that they are all double-edged, so that the slightest deviation from the prescribed course may turn love into hate, or vice versa, and thus bring about a catastrophe, whereby, doubtless, hang several morals. The "louppe" of a colt is a powerful philtre. It must be ground to powder and drunk with the blood of the beloved. Other specific means are the hair on the end of a wolf's tail, the brain of a cat and of a lizard, certain kinds of serpents and fish, and the bones of green frogs which have been eaten inside an ant-heap. The frogs' bones must be treated thus: — "Throw the bones into water, so that one part floats above water and the other sinks to the bottom. Wrap them in silk, and hang them round your neck, and you will be loved; but if you touch a man with them, hate will come of it."
Another prescription hard to equal runs thus: —
Take all the young swallows from one nest; put them into a pot, and bury them until they are dead of hunger. Those which are found dead with open beaks will excite love, and those with closed beaks will bring hatred.
If two people hate each other, write the following words, "Abrac, amon, filon," on a consecrated wafer, and if it be given them to eat they will always be friends.
The use of images to work death and destruction upon your enemies has been the subject of tales from time immemorial. Some kinds of images are, of course, much more deadly than others, according to their differences of construction; and whereas some may only subject the victim to great discomfort, others have far more awful results. In any case, a victim will do well to take every means of discovering his enemy should he suffer such pains for which he can in no wise account. Happier still is he who gives no provocation for the use of this deadly and secret means of vengeance.
Images were sometimes made of brass or the dust of a dead man, as well as of wax. The limbs were often interchanged and inverted, a hand being in place of a foot, and vice versa. The head was also turned backwards. The worst kind was given the form of a man with a certain name — Wierus hesitates to give it — written above the head and the magic words, "Alif, lafeil, Zazahit mel meltat leuatam leutare," then it should be buried in a sepulchre.
Reginald Scot gives the following variation: —
Make an image in his name whom you would hurt or kill, of new virgine wax; under the right arme poke whereof a swallowes hart, and the liver under the left; then hang about the neck thereof a new thread in a new needle, pricked into the member which you would have hurt, with the rehearsalle of certain words (which for the avoiding of superstition are omitted).
This was probably taken straight from Wierus' book, with which it corresponds almost exactly, and the following instructions are, with some changes in the magic words, identical with those given above. This does not, however, by any means exhaust Wierus' list, as will be seen by the following: —
Take two images, one of wax and the other of the dust of a dead man. Put an iron, which could cause the death of a man, into the hand of one of the figures, so that it may pierce the head of the image which represents the person whose death you desire.
Charms for taciturnity under torture, or against feeling the pangs of torture itself, were obviously very freely bestowed by Satan upon his servants. As an enlightened and advanced thinker Wierus remarks that the merit of the spells does not lie in the words which compose them, but is merely a piece of Devil's work. One of these spells against the torture runs thus: —
To three unequal branches, three bodies are hung, Dismas, Gestas, et Divina potestas, which is in the middle. Dismas is condemned, and Gestas has flown to Heaven.
Scot's version of this is: —Three bodies on a bough doo hang, For merits of inequalitie.
Dismas and Gestas, in the midst The power of the Divinitie.
Dismas is damned, but Gestas lifted up Above the starres on hie.
Paul Grilland, a jurisconsult, tells a story of a thief who had concealed in his hair a little paper on which he had written, "+ Jesus autem + transiens + per medium illorum ibat + os non cornminuitis ex eo +." He was marked with the cross, and was thus immune from torture.
Much of this is, of course, mere gibberish, in which the original idea may or may not be traceable. The divorce of the sense from the words gradually led people to believe that the words themselves contained peculiar merit, and that absurd reiteration of meaningless sounds sufficed to give them their heart's desire. This attitude accounts, of course, for the many spells which recall the patter song in character. Their main feature consists in the repetition or rhyming of certain syllables, as in the cure of toothache, "Galbas galbat, galdes, galdat"; or against mad-dog bite, "Irioni Khiriori effera Kuder fere." This characteristic doubtless made them easy to remember, while the confusion of meaning no doubt added to their value in the eyes of the faithful. Witches, too, were probably as susceptible to the fascination of jingle and alliteration as is the poet of to-day.
It will have been noticed that religion and magic are curiously mingled in many of the spells — Wierus, indeed, states specially that numbers of those given by him were taken secretly from the book of a priest. By degrees, however, they became so much used and altered that the witch herself might frequently use spells which had originally been formulated by the Church. There are, of course, spells against the witch herself. A preventive against witchcraft was to carry a Bible or Prayer-book; mistletoe, four-leaved clover, and a rowan that is found growing out of the top of another tree, are esteemed exceedingly effective. In Mecklenburg, herbs which protect people against witches are gathered on midsummer night. "If you wish to hang a witch by the hair," says Wierus, "take an effigy made of the dust of a dead man's head, and baptise it by the name of the person you wish to hang, perfume it with an evil-smelling bone, and read backwards the words Domine, dominus noster; dominus illuminatio mea; domine exaudi orationem meam; Deus laudem meam ne tacueris.' Then bury it in two different places." If you meet a witch you should take the wall of her in town or street, and the right hand of her in lane or field, and when passing you should clench both hands, doubling the thumbs beneath the fingers. Salute her civilly before she speaks to you, and on no account take any present from her. Finally, the dried muzzle of a wolf is recommended by Pliny as efficacious against enchantments.
Certain stones and vegetables were part of the stock-in-trade of the witch or wizard. The power of mandragore as a philtre was unequalled cinquefoil was used for purification; while olive branches are so pure that if planted by a rake they will be barren or die. Jasper is powerful against apparitions, and coral, worn by infants or mounted in bracelets, protects against charms. Perfume made of peewits' feathers drives away phantoms; antirrhinum worn in a bracelet ensures against poison; a lemon stuck full of gaily-coloured pins, amongst which are no black ones, brings good luck; while the horseshoe has long been used for the same purpose. Against chafing of the thigh while riding Pliny recommends that a sprig of poplar should be carried in the hand.
On the whole, the means of enchantment were very easily procured, and they were generally most efficacious when most nasty. While some of them, such as hellebore, which secured beneficial rest, had real medicinal value, others were adopted for some trivial reason of growth, form, or time of year. As much stress was laid on the words that accompanied them as on a doctor's prescription, and the strength of the appeal to the imagination was only equalled by the openness of the imagination to that appeal.
One other point is to be remembered ere we close the chapter: that these charms and philtres very often served their purpose. Though there may have been little value for thief taking in the monotonous repetition of a meaningless jingle, it by no means follows that it would be equally useless in the cure of, say, toothache. Only get your patient to believe, or believe yourself, that the pain is on the point of vanishing and — but are not Faith Healers and Christian Scientists a power in the land to-day. So, again, if a young woman should get to hear that a young man was so impressed by her charms as to seek diabolical assistance in gaining her smiles, he would in all probability assume a position in her thoughts more prominent than that held by his rivals — with a possible sequel in matrimony. Let us laugh at the folly of our forefathers by all means — no doubt they set us the example — but it does not therefore follow that our means to an end are always the more efficacious through being presumably more sensible.