The More Things Change…

Many charms show up in widely separated contexts, both in time and space.  Here’s an example I just found:

Tenth-century France, Occitan language:

The pain goes out

from bone to flesh,

from flesh to skin,

from skin to hair,

from hair to grass,

let Mother Earth receive the pain.

(Paden and Paden, “Swollen Woman, Shifting Canon…” PMLA 12.5)

1784 Pennsylvania, German language:

Sweeny, I conjure thee,

Pass out of the marrow into the bone,

Pass out of the bone into the flesh,

Pass out of the flesh into the skin,

Pass out of the skin into the hair,

Pass out of the hair into the earth,

In the name X X X

(Brendle and Unger, Folk Medicine of the Pennsylvania Germans)

Published in: on May 17, 2010 at 12:32 pm  Comments (2)  

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  1. In his translation of the Galdrabók, Stephen Flowers points out the similarity between the Old High German “Contra Vermes” spell, which he gives as:

    Go out, worm, with nine wormlings,
    out of the marrow into the bone, from that bone into the flesh,
    out from the flesh into the skin, out from that skin into this arrow.
    Lord, so will it be!

    and the Vedic equivalent, Rg Veda X, 163, which is given here as:

    1. FROM both thy nostrils, from thine eyes, from both thine ears and from thy chin,
    Forth from thy head and brain and tongue I drive thy malady away.
    2 From the neck-tendons and the neck, from the breast-bones and from the spine,
    From shoulders, upper, lower arms, I drive thy malady away.
    3 From viscera and all within, forth from the rectum, from the heart,
    From kidneys, liver, and from spleen, I drive thy malady away.
    4 From thighs, from knee-caps, and from heels, and from the forepart of the feet,
    From hips from stomach, and from groin I drive thy malady away.
    5 From what is voided from within, and from thy hair, and from they nails,
    From all thyself from top to toe, I drive thy malady away.
    6 From every member, every hair, disease that comes in every joint,
    From all thyself, from top to toe, I drive thy malady away.

    Both of which, of course, are very similar to the spell you mention here. It seems, then, to be one that goes back at least to the Proto-Indo-European language speakers, whoever they might have been. It might be an interesting exercise to collect variations of this spell from around the world (though I imagine that it would be a very time-consuming and difficult one).

  2. Not to forget Dem Bones with its roots in Ezekiel.

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