Hohman’s book has a number of puzzling passages. Some have meanings that can be teased out with a little effort, some might elude all analysis. One that’s puzzled me for quite some time is this admonition at the end of a charm for the “77-fold fevers”:
Neither dare the sick person speak to any one till after sunrise ; nor eat pork , nor drink milk, nor cross running water , for nine days.
One can understand the dietary prohibition against pork, and perhaps even the drinking of milk, but what’s with the running water? As any vampire fan knows, crossing running water is a good way to ward off dark spirits and the like. If a sick person was supposedly attacked via evil spirits, then one would think that the person should cross a stream to ward off these creatures. So, why the opposite prohibition?
Using the Handworterbuch, which describes a good number of cases of running water warding off spirits, I was able to track down a mention in Theodor Bindewald’s Oberhessiches Sagenbuch on the topic. One story therein tells of a folk belief in Hesse that one who is followed by an evil spirit should not cross running water, as that will place the person completely under the spirit’s sway. An example is given of a gentleman pursued by a ghost who, when he came to running water, turned to confront the spirit, thereby driving it off.
It’s an explanation, but it’s not a particularly good one, I believe. Does anyone else want to take a stab at it?