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Posted by on in Studies Blogs

AGAINST A SWARM OF BEES
Ms. 41, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

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Posted by on in Studies Blogs
Anglo-Saxon Charm Against a Wen

The Anglo-Saxons often explained disease and inflammation by the presence of small creatures or their “weapons.”A well-known charm seeks to remove the evil influence of “elf-shot” and several others fight the effects of other poisonous arrows.  This may seem quaint to our modern sensibilities—unless we consider this to be a metaphorical understanding of germs and viruses. Maybe our medieval forebears weren’t so naïve after all. 

The following charm appears in a manuscript that dates to the 12th century (BL Royal MS 4 A xiv).  It tries to cajole and threaten a wen (“a lump or protuberance on the body” per the Oxford English Dictionary) to take up residence elsewhere and leave the afflicted person.The tokens of the wolf and the eagle may well have been used in the healer’s ceremony—many scholars believe the Anglo-Saxons to have had a shamanic  tradition.  This charm can easily be adapted to remove from your life any unwelcome presence (and works well, in my experience!).  Underlines indicate the alliterating pairs of words: the primary arrangement of Anglo-Saxon poetry is repeated sounds at the beginning of words (as opposed to end rhyme, the more familiar "moon/june" type of rhyming). It helps that any vowel alliterates with any other vowel.

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