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Nordic Magic Healing:
runes, charms, incantations, and galdr

Baltic Healing Charms

 

These charms have been gathered with the help of Neringa Jablonskyté, a Lithuanian college student. She translated the charms into " her " French, and, after some discussion, we agreed on a definitive version that follows more of the constraints of the French language. I have translated some of them into English while trying to stay as close as possible to the Lithuanian original. Some of the grammatical forms I am using are hardly English, they are rather Lithuanian. I hope you can appreciate some of the Lithuanian ways of speaking, even when they sound a bit strange.

The charms here are mostly Lithuanian, but some are Latvian or Russian. Neringa found, in the " rare books " section of Kaunas’ town library, many books dedicated to Baltic charms and incantations.

In Lithuania, the Pagan tradition has been kept quite strongly, and christianity has been introduced less brutally than in most of the other countries, and very late at that (14th century).

For instance, Pagan traditional ceremonies are still held in Lithuania today, during the month of August. Most of the traditional feasts, such as when the cows are put back to pasture, or Saint John’s feasts, are still held these days.

These charms are still used for healing in many places. Obviously, none of the charms given here are still in use: because they have been made public, their power is gone. Following tradition, the witch gives his/her charms to his/her inheritor while dying.

We have lost much of our knowledge about charms and incantations, and the two words now have the same meaning. In Lithuanian, they still use two different words to designate two different behaviors.

What I call " charms " aims at enveloping the patient as if in a tissue that is wrapped around the patient. Most healing is done in this way. The witch mutters the charm between clenched teeth, and in one breath, with the goal of burying the patient (and the sickness) under a load of words.

What I call " incantation " is howled in the face of the bewitched. The bewitched will be overwhelmed and carried away by the shout of the incantation. Incantations are mostly used to bewitch, for instance in order to compel one to love.

The following charms and incantations were chosen from a much larger collection because they speak of the old Gods. I avoided the ones calling for Christ, Holy Mary, or their saints. The actual statistics are opposed to the ones of my selection.

Coming from Kaunas’ Museum of Pharmacy

Lithuanian Charms

 

You are wrong, rue,
You are wrong, rue,
You oppose an innocent
You oppose an innocent
Take back your ill,
Take back your ill since [this time]
Since this day
Since this sigh.
I command you, rue, by this word,
I command you, rue, by the earth’s word,
I command you, rue, by Indraja’s* word,
I command you, rue, by the sun’s word.
If you don’t take back your ill,
The earth will open itself under you,
The clear waters will become muddy for you,
The shining sun will be clouded for you,
Take back your ill ...

[*Indraja is the daughter of the sun, the fairy of the waters, and perhaps Perkunas’ wife; see later comments on Perkunas]

Note : the plant " rue " is full of meaning in Lithuanian mythology. It can be best understood by considering a small scene of everyday life that happened to Neringa. She was going out of a bus when an old woman behind her called upon her : " Help me, rue ! ". She did, and was thanked by a " Thank you, green rue ! ".

The dainos or popular songs that are given on this site (still only in German and French) also show how often people refer to the rue: the dead hero wants to be buried in the " rue garden " (meaning : near my family home, in a cozy place), or the young girl complains that her crown of rue is shaking (meaning that she is about to lose her virginity).

In the following charm, the sickness (or the adder that just bit a human or a cow) is called " rue " in order to speak to it sweetly.

 

J. Cicénas " Daugeliskiniai burtai ", (Charms coming from the Daugeliski region) 1934

Lithuanian Charms

Charms against the vipers’ bites

Earth, where you are so wide,
My own unrest
Soft-skinned frogs and toads
I vow that no one bites nor stings the all-white human.
The worm crawls out of the woods
Crossing the river’s bed.
The worm will dig its own grave.
O you, white head, I free you from it.

 

This charm does not explicitly say what is the " it " the white man is freed from. It is understood that a worm ( = a viper) has been biting the white man. This charm aims at replacing the death of the white man by the death of the worm. There are several charms against the infection of wounds that equate skin whiteness to good health. The " all-white human " points certainly at someone who is still in good health.

 

Various Charms

 

Earth, Little Earth
Produce the good
Swallow the bad,
Save the white head!

Thus, this charm sends the sickness into the earth which is seen here as helping to heal.

The good comes from the skies
The bad comes from the earth
Take the good of the skies,
Let the earth’s badness go to the devil !

This charm shows Earth as being responsible for the ill, it takes thus exactly the reverse point of view as compared to the charm before.

 

 

Baiba Meisteré; " Perkuno funkcijos latviu, folklore " (Perkunas’ functions in Latvian folklore)

 

Latvian Charms

 

Sting and sting, sickness,
Be three times stricken by Perkunas’ thunder
Sting while stinging, stinger,
Be nine times stricken by Perkunas’ thunder
Sting while piercing, stinger
Be three times nine times stricken by Perkunas’ thunder !

The Lithuanian original uses the form "perkunai " meaning exactly " the thunders " ; it is normally used to evoke Perkunas’ thunder. Perkunas is the god of thunder, who appears very often in Lithuanian mythology.

In the old man’s armpit
Dwells Perkunas’ bullet.
He could have quenched the pain
By uttering divine words.

[Lithuanians do not say here " under the armpit ", they insist on " in the armpit "]

" Perkunas’ bullet " is a kind of fossilized stone, called a belemnite, quite ordinary in Europe. The English " thunderstone " applies to this fossil as well as to any other, while, for instance, in French the " thunderstone " ("pierre de foudre")  designates only the belemnite, as it does in Lithuanian. In order to cure an adder’s bite, this stone is brushed on the swelling caused by the bite, while uttering these charms. This also explains the next charm: the " swelling under the stone " is the swelling due to the bite which is being brushed by a belemnite.

 

Three times nine times comes Perkunas’ thunder from the sea
Three times nine times bullets strike the swelling under the stone.
This man regains the health he enjoyed before !

 

 

Prania Dunduliené ; " Lietuvos etnologija " (Ethnology Lithuania)

 

Lithuanian Charms

 

Leave the man, cursed slug
Because you have already soiled him
Now that you took him as dwelling,
You cause great ill.
The sun hates you, the moon hates you,
The stars hate you, the stars hate you,
Man hates you, children hate you,
The whole family hates you, and, me, I hate you.

Against fever

In the name of the sun,
In the name of Perkunas,
By thunder
I control you, fever,
I drive you away from humankind, animals, birds, from each living being,
Towards the green woods, the deep ponds, the dark swamps
Where the sun does not look,
Where no human walks,
Where no animal wades,
Where no bird flies.
If you disobey,
I will dry you in the sun’s rays,
I will exhaust you by sun’s fieriness
I will drown you with bitter dew,
I will feed you bewitched bread.
I demand you to leave [name of the sick person]
To stop bothering this person.

 

In order to stop the flow of blood

Valiuli Dievuli, stop the blood
Do not hunt the spirit out of the body,
Don't let it go away with the blood,
Don't let it leave the body alone,
By the hard stone, by the large oak, Valiuli Dievuli, by the blood,
I command, I hold blood in the veins.

Valiuli Dievuli is the name of an entity which is " God " in general.

 

Against adders’ bites

 

Svaistikas [a star God] would ride through the flat land, the green forest. His horse stepped on it, crashed it in the middle. The viper twists, winds around the leg, above the hoof, stings the horse, wounds the carrier, poisons the carrier ‘s blood. The horse neighs, makes Svaistikas aware by his complaints. Svaistikas stepped down from his horse, spoke to the adder : " I wounded you, you stung me. Pardon me, excuse me, because I pardon you, I excuse you. "

[this verse follows the Lithuanian original for tense and structure.]

 

Prané Stukénaié-Decikiené "Svencioniu apskrities uzkalbéjimai" (Charms from the Svencioniai region) (1941)

 

Lithuanian Charms

 

There are many charms, each of them has been given a number by the author. It is understood that each charm is supposed to be uttered over some food (bread, or honey, for instance) that will have to be eaten later by the sick person. This information is available for some of the charms, as given below.

7.

Earth within earth, I pray that your will might not be done on this earth [3 x 9 times]; Why did you break my cow (black, white, light gray, or spotted) [this is the color of the sick cow]. Let it be always as it was in the beginnings.

This charm must be uttered in one breath.

 

8.

Sun belongs to sun, moon belongs to moon, worm belongs to worm, it walked away in the dew. Let it walk since it walked, and do no harm to the one whose hair is (white, brown, etc. [color of the sick person or animal hairs)

This charm must be uttered while watching the sun.

 

Charms to heal wounds that start rotting

Such bad wounds are called " a rose " in Lithuanian.

 

45.

On the flat ground of the lawn, grew two roses, one white, one red. The red one will disappear, the white one will blossom. Amen, amen, amen.

46.

Rose, the rose, get out of here, so that thesun shines and chases away the foreign rose to the waters. I beg that it be plagued.

Uttered on fat or butter which is afterwards spread on the wound.

 

Charms against the " mother "

The " mother " is probably a way to talk about feminine illnesses, such as painful periods, for instance.

 

51.

Great-mother, the great-mother, beautiful one still virgin, clean yourself, stop here, lie here. Gray stones, white roots. Amen, amen, amen.

As far as I can say, the " virgin " here is any young girl, there are no allusion to Holy Mary. Since a mother hardly can be a virgin, this means that the charm calls upon a mother and a virgin.

The way of saying : " gray stones, white roots " is very common. The white color always points to some healthy part of the body. Thus, it is quite possible that the gray stones might point to the medicine, and the white roots allude to becoming healthy again.

 

52.

Queen, the mother, stop at once !

 

Charms against diarrhea

 

54.

Diarrhea has its castles. Quiet down, roll on the ground and take back your place.

Uttered on vodka that will be drunk by the sick person.

The words express the action performed when lying on the ground, and then rolling over it, such as when, as in a child’s game, one rolls down a hill. Two different words are used here, one to speak of rolling down fast, the other for rolling down slowly.

 

56.

Diarrhea, quiet down !

Uttered 3 x 9 times.

 

58.

Diarrhea and between-the-legs have their homes. Lie down, sprawl on. As a stone sinks in water, sink the diarrhea.

 

 

Charms against tooth-ache

 

64.

A-usi -i bie-la -hi-i bez me-la-hi ra-cha-li ra- chim

Touch the sick tooth with your finger while uttering this charm.

The " h " of " hi " is strongly blown, as the German do, for instance.

 

Charms against the flow of blood

 

66.

Burning blood, fern flower, slows down the river, blood stop flowing.

The fern flower is important in Lithuanian myths. It brings luck and happiness to those who deserve it, and find it. It is supposed to blossom only once a year, during Saint John’s night.

 

69.

Sun’s milk, sun’s eclipse, blood’s stop.

Uttered three times in one breath.

 

Charm against styes

 

72.

Stye, stye, here is a fig for you, fu, fu, fu!

Uttered three times while showing a fig, and spitting on the stye.

The sound "fu" expresses disgust, it could thus be translated by "blah, blah, blah".

 

Charms against cracking joints

 

76.

The cracking is gnawed, it is even more gnawed. [repeat nine times]

Then, wrap the joint with a thread, saying : not one, not two, ..., not nine. Amen, amen, amen.

 

77.

Crunch, Crunch, I gnaw, I gnaw,
Crunch, Crunch, so as to gnaw well.
Knot, knot, I knot, I knot,
Knot, knot, so as to knot well.
While saying this charm, the healer must do 3 x 9 knots on a red thread.

Lithuanian :"Kremc, kremc, kremtu" is rendered by " Crunch, Crunch, I gnaw," and " riš, riš, rišu" by " Knot, knot, I knot".

 

78.

What are you nibbling on ? The creaking. [Of the joints]
Nibble, nibble, so as to nibble well.
What are you knotting? The creaking.
Knot, knot, so as to knot well.
What are you biting ? The creaking
Bite, bite, so as to bite well.

 

79.

What are you knotting ? The creaking.
What are you biting ? The creaking
Bite stronger, so as to bite well.

80.

What are you knotting ? The creaking.
Knot, so as to knot well.
What are you biting ? The creaking
Bite, so as to bite well.

 

81.

 

Exactly as 80, except that it is said that " it must be entwined with a string of red wool ".

 

82.

You are the creaking, I am Krisius*. You will run I will bite you, and when I bite you, then I will bite you fully. Amt, amt, amt.

[*ad’hoc name, used nowhere else]

Uttered three times while " biting the creaking " [obviously, biting the sick joint].

 

83.

Get away from [name of the sick person], creaking, do not stay here, do not sit here, go away on the blue sea, on the gray stone. Amen, from this day, amen, from this hour, amen, from this very moment. Nibble, nibble, so as to nibble well. What ? The creaking !

 

85.

Crazy king, slightly touched one, go away from me, I will not touch you !

" Don’t touch me, I’ll not touch you " is what seems to be being said by this charm.

 

 

Charms against mycosis

 

86.

Branch, branch, the branch, here is a twig for you. It is beauty for you, neatness for me.

Uttered three times.

The mycosis is transferred to the branch that gets a new twig for it, " thus " it increases the beauty of the branch, and it cleans the sick (making him/her " neat ").

 

87.

Before dawn, in the morning, and the evening, after sunset, wipe the steam off the windows with your smallest finger, and brush the mycosis afterwards with this humidity. Do this three times.

 

95.

Thunder growls, lightning shines, lightning crashes down, lightning falls, nobody can oppose God’s words, nothing is to be feared, no eye, no look, might it be gray, or blue, or brown.

 

Charms in K. Strauberg "Latviesu buramie vardi"

 

Latvian Charms

 

The story of the translation of these charms is even more complex than for the others : Latvian is different from Lithuanian, so Neringa had these charms translated into Lithuanian from the original Latvian, then we discussed a French translation, and finally you get this English one. Sorry, I could not do better !

Charms to stop the flow of blood

 

1.

The sons of God cut with their axe
The gray stone
From this gray stone flows fat,
It greases your body.
This charm is to be sung.

The " sons of God " are more than simple humans, they are mythical beings that are found in many folklore songs.

 

2.

The sons of Gods built the barn,
They decorated it with golden V-shaped stripes*.
I shall key-lock the copper carriage door
Not a single droplet will flow out.

[*also called " chevrons "]

 

3.

God sits on the hill,
The small mountain,
In his hand he holds a sword,
Holy Mara gathers herbs
From the tip of the sword

The name of Mara has been sometimes identified with the name of Holy Mary. Nevertheless, Mara also designates the primitive Mother who distributes life and death to everything. Actually, the Lithuanian word mara means " death ". Remember also that one of the possible meanings of the Proto-Germanic root *ehw- (giving its name to rune Ehwaz) is " mare ", (I hope that the link between "mara" and "mare" is obvious enough!), as in " nightmare ". This is an allusion to our primitive fears.

There are still many disputes about the exact nature of Mara. One of the arguments is that there still exists traditional Shrove festivities in Lithuania, similar to those so abundantly described by Frazer, and that took place all over the Latin/Germanic/Celtic world around this date, or the first of May, or during Saint John’s feast. Frazer most often describes a ceremony during which a male straw effigy is walked around before being burned.

In Lithuania, the effigy is one of a woman, " Moré " (and this name calls for Mara in Neringa’s mind, but I don't have any serious ethnographic proofs), a straw statue representing a woman fully breasted and hipped. Her face is drawn with wood coal, and she wears clothes soaked in oil. She is supposed to sweep away the winter. This last function explains why the wagon she is put upon is conceived in such a way that she spins on herself when the wagon moves, and her arms move up and down, in this way moving brooms that are attached to each arm. The children pay a visit to the town’s citizens and ask for sweets. The Moré is finally burned.

 

4.

Perkunas goes to the skies in a skiff of clouds. One of his hands is white, the other one is red. One hand carries, the other one heals. Come and take me in one hand, and then in the other hand, so that my blood stops flowing out, and that my body heals.

 

5.

The river flows in the middle of the mountains, winding as it flows. The lovely Mara ran, and she stopped the stormy river.

 

 

Charms against boils

 

6.


Sitting on a stone.
God went by the hill,
In his hands, vipers steer him
Heal, heal, repi, repi*
The red dog on the high hill.

[*" repi " has no special meaning in Lithuanian]

This " red dog " is the boil and God is asked to heal it. Why a she-goat has been pounding salt before hand, I have no idea.

 

7.

Run abscess, run boil, run to the sea, sink into the sand of the sea. Here is your dwelling, here you lie down. Perkunas chases you with three times nine strengths.

 

Charms to help women giving birth

 

10.

Mother, the mother, give me your keys,
That will open Mara’s door,
That the sons and the daughters may go out !

 

11.

Lovely Mara, Mara lovely
Put on golden clothes,
Open the door
Open the door,
A gentleman farmer is now coming
He must be able to go out.

 

 

Charms for the beginning of gangrene ("the rose")

 

12.

Perkunas crosses the sea. In his hands, three times nine roses : three roses of lightning, three roses of thunder, three roses of anger, three rose of fright, three roses of mourning. All roses and your flowers, whoever you might be, I will find your name to call you, so that you will follow she who created you. Leave the legs of [name of the sick one].

 

 

13.

I will make this rose disappear by going naked in fire and water. While I dry myself, I’ll dry it as well. Going I was, gathering Perkunas’ bullets, gathering three times nine bullets of Perkunas, and now I am the one who dried three times nine roses, the one who made flee three times nine roses, three times nine roses from the expanse of the lakes, from the expanse of the rivers, from the expanse of the springs, from the expanse of the lakes, from the expanse of the stones, from the expanse of the sand.

 

Charms against pain

14.

I took the splinter, I pierced the devil. The black dog ran, he bit the pain. The black she-cat ran, she bit the pain. The hare ran, he bit the pain.

 

Charms against fractures

15.

Marina walks around the green wood of birches. Bone is at the end of bone, blood in the middle. Nine smiths hammer with nine chisels. I hammer you, I wrap you up, so that you stay hard like iron or steel.

 

16.

This charm is the longest one where Perkunas is spoken of. It was gathered in 1925 in Piebalga.

From Alusksné; to Nytauré; nine bells, and the three times nine bells of Riga, are able to make the sicknesses of this poor man [or, animal] ring. Bad spirits, leave him in peace, bad spirits, go in the lush trees, in the large furrows, in the deep valleys, in the storms, in the seas, in the hurricanes. Come three times nine men, and let them cut with the same strength, speaking the same words, come three times nine Perkunai [Perkunas, plural], and let them strike the bad spirits, so that they leave this man here, so that they leave for the lush trees, for the rowans, for the aspens, for the roots. You dawdle and you shiver, but leave this poor man [or, animal] so that he stops being sick.

Uttered on salt.

Alusksné, Nytauré, and of course Riga (Latvia’s capital) are three Latvian towns.

The rowan is called šermukšnie in Lithuanian.

 

French version

more charms....

Runic charms; The Magical Healing Charms of Hildegard von Bingen; Lithuanian Charms; Anglo-Saxon Charms; Charms from the Scottish Highlands; Charms from the Kalevala

Baltic Healing Charms; Charmes Baltiques pour la guérison

 

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