The Long-Lost Friend: Never Appease the Mice!

It’s been a snow day, so while M. cooks up some delicious stir-fry, I’ll give you another charm from The Long-Lost Friend with commentary:

A good method of destroying Rats and Mice

Every time you bring grain into your barn, you must, in putting down the three first sheaves, repeat the following words:  “Rats and mice, these three sheaves I give to you, in order that you may not destroy any of my wheat.”  The name of the kind of grain must always be mentioned.

This doesn’t sound as if it’s the sort of charm that really is going to cause the rats and mice to die horribly, does it?

In effect, this is a watered-down version of a charm that was still prevalent in southern Germany in the late 19th century.   Many of the sources of folk charms cited in the Handwörterbuch des Deutschen Aberglaubens are in Google Books – not all, mind you, but enough that I can get a good grasp of the context of a particular charm.  For example, consulting the first volume of Anton Birlinger’s Volksthümliches aus Schwaben turns up this much more explicit charm:

Here I put the people’s bread,
And the mice and vermin to death.

Most of the charms from other sources explicitly mention the deaths of the little critters, as well as providing other details not in Hohman, such as calling upon the names of the Trinity and laying the sheaves of grain crosswise on the floor.

One quick reflection before I go:  I don’t want to rule out any Native American material in Hohman, but the more I look at the German sources, the clearer it becomes that his work is essentially German in character.  The incantations are a given, with their explicit references to Christian figures, but even the plants employed in many of the remedies are Old World transplants to the New World.  I can’t speak to all of powwowing, of course, but Hohman’s work is very much rooted in his country of origin.

Published in: on February 25, 2010 at 7:47 pm  Comments (1)  

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  1. […] that explain some baffling puzzles in Hohman’s book.  I’ve already talked about Hohman’s mouse charm and its German predecessors.  Here’s another one I […]

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