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THE NINE HERBS CHARM
Šas VIIII ongan wiš nygon attrum.
Gemyne žu, mucgwyrt, hwęt žu ameldodest,
hwęt žu renadest ęt regenmelde.
Una žu hattest, yldost wyrta.
Šu miht wiš III ond wiš XXX.
žu miht wiš attre ond wiš onflyge,
žu might wiš ža lažan še geond lond fęrš.
Ond žu, wegbrade, wyrta modor,
eastan opone, innan mihtigu,
ofer šy cręte curran, ofer šy cwene reodan,
ofer šy bryde bryodedon, ofer šy fearras fnęrdon.
Eallum žu žon wišstode ond wišstunedest,
swa žu wišstonde attre ond onflyge
ond žęm lašan že geond lond fereš.
stune hętte žeos wyrt, heo on stane geweox,
stond heo wiš attre, stunaš heo węrce.
stiše heo hętte, wišstunaš heo attre,
wreceš he wrašan, weorpeš ut attor.
Žis is seo wyrt seo wiž wyrm gefeaht.
Žeos męg wiš attre, heo męg wiš onflyge,
heo męg wiš ša lažan še geond lond ferež.
Fleoh žu nu, attorlaše, seo lęsse ša maeran,
seo mare ža lęssan, oššęt him beigra bot sy.
Gemyne žu, męgše, hwęt žu ameldodest,
hwęt šu geęndadest ęt alorforda,
žęt nęfre for gefloge feorh ne gesealde
syžšan him mon męgšan to mete gegyrede.
Žis is seo wyrt še wergulu hatte,
šas onsęnde seolh ofer sęs hrygc
ondan attres ožres to bote.
Wyrm com snican, toslat he nan,
ša genam Woden VIIII wuldortanas,
sloh ša ža nęddran žęt heo on VIII tofleah.
Žęr geęndade ęppel and attor
žęt heo nęfre ne wolde on hus bugan.
Fille and finule, felamihtigu twa,
ža wyrte gesceop witig drihten,
halig on heofonum, ža he hongode,
sette and sęnde on VII worulde
earmum and eadigum, eallum to bote,
stond heo wiš węrce, stunaš heo wiš attre,
seo męg wiš III and wiš XXX,
wiš žęs hond and wiš frea begde,
wiš malscrunge minra wihta.
Nu magon žas VIIII wyrta wiš nygon wuldorgeflogeum,
wiš VIIII attrum and wiš nygon onflygnum,
wiš šy readan attre, wiš šy runlan attre,
wiš šy hwitan attre, wiš šy wedenan atttre,
wiš šy geolwan attre, wiš šy grenan attre,
wiš šy wonnan attre, wiš šy wedenan attre,
wiš šy brunan attre, wiš šy basewan attre,
wiš wyrmgeblęd, wiš wętergeblęd,
wiš žorngeblęd, wiš žys geblęd,
wiš ysgeblęd, wiš attorgeblęd,
gif ęnig attor cume eastan fleogan
ošše ęnig noršan cume
ošše ęnig westan ofer weršeode.
These nine stand against nine poisons.
Remember, mugwort, what you declared,
what you established at the great council.
Unique you are called, eldest of herbs.
You prevail against three and against thirty,
you prevail against poison and against infections,
you prevail against the hateful one that travels throughout the land.
And you, plantain, mother of herbs,
open to the east, inwardly powerful,
over you carts traveled, over you women rode,
over you brides wept, over you bulls snorted.
All you then withstood and crushed against,
so you withstand poison and infections
and the hateful one that travels throughout the land.
Lamb's cress this herb is called, it grows on stone,
it resists poison, dashes on pain.
it is called effective, it assails poison,
it drives away the angry one, casts out poison.
This is the herb that fought against the serpent.
This prevails against poison, it prevails against infections,
it prevails against the hateful one that travels throughout the land.
Fly you now, Poison-loather, the lesser the greater,
the greater the lesser, until he is cured of both.
Remember, chamomile, what you declared,
what you asserted at Aldorford,
that never for infection should life be given up
After chamomile has been prepared for them to consume.
This is the herb called nettle,
this sent the seal swimming over the ridge (horizon)
to undo the other poison as a remedy.
The serpent came crawling, he destroyed none,
then Woden named nine glory-twigs,
and then struck the adder which flew into nine pieces.
There ended apple and poison
that it never would inhabit the house.
Chervil and fennel, very mighty two,
the herbs created by the wise lord,
holy in the heavens, when he was hanging,
he appointed and sent these into the Seven Worlds
for the wretched and the prosperous, a remedy for all,
it resists pain, it dashes against poison,
it prevails against three and against thirty,
against the hand and against trickery,
against the enchantments of vile beings.
Now prevail these nine herbs against nine evil spirits,
against nine poisons and against nine infections,
against the red poison, against the foul poison,
against the white poison, against the blue poison,
against the yellow poison, against the green poison,
against the dark poison, against the blue poison,
against the brown poison, against the crimson poison,
against serpent-spirit, against water-spirit,
against thorn-spirit, against thistle-spirit,
against ice-spirit, against poison-spirit,
whether any poison comes on the eastern air
or any come from the north
or any from the west upon the people.
The Nine Herbs Charm was used while making a healing paste for treating wounds. This charm was supposed to be sung over the herbs three times. Notice how the healer speaks directly to the herbs. Mugwort and chamomile are both entreated to "remember". Whether or not the herbs were expected to literally respond in some way, it is clear that they were perceived as more than just simple ingredients. The spirit of each herb is honored as the charm is sung.
Disease, too, was seen to have a spiritual component. It was hoped that the herbs would protect the wound from both poison and infection, and also a "hateful" or "angry" spirit "that travels throughout the land". The Nine Herbs Charm was recorded by Christian scribes, so this angry spirit may have been perceived as their devil, but it could as easily be a type of baneful dwarf (see Charm Against a Dwarf).
The herbs work against evil spirits (wuldorgeflogenum) as well as poisons (attrum) and infections (onflygnum). The charm claims to prevail against nine evil spirits, and six of these are mentioned: serpent-spirits, water-spirits (see For the Water-Elf Disease), thorn-spirits, thistle-spirits, ice-spirits and poison-spirits.
Divine references in most Anglo-Saxon charms were often converted to the new religion of Christianity (with invocations to Jesus, Mary and various saints), but in this charm the god Woden is referred to by name. In the same passage the threat of disease is depicted as a poisonous serpent, an adder, which Woden breaks into nine pieces with an equal number of "glory-twigs". A later mention of "the wise lord" in the charm is likely another reference to Woden. This time he is credited with creating the herbs chervil and fennel "when he was hanging". Some might see this hanging as a description of Jesus' crucifixion, but nowhere in Christian theology or folklore is Jesus depicted as creating while he suffered on the crucifix. In Norse lore, however, Woden (called Odinn) sacrifices himself by hanging on the World Tree to gain magical knowledge. Through this means he obtains the runes, which he subsequently shares with humankind. In the Nine Herbs Charm we see a similar acquisition and dissemination of knowledge, only here the magic comes in the form of two herbs.
The Nine Herbs Charm is one source of information about Anglo-Saxon cosmology. After creating chervil and fennel, Woden disperses these herbs into the Seven Worlds. Although the number nine figures prominently in the charm (nine herbs, nine poisons, nine infections, nine evil spirits) the cosmos itself is defined as seven worlds rather than the nine worlds of the Norsemen.
Those interested in working healing magic within an Anglo-Saxon context would do well to consider this charm. There may be seven worlds in Anglo-Saxon cosmology, but we see the numbers nine and three invoked repeatedly in this healing charm. The herbs, poisons, infections and evil spirits are all numbered nine (three times three). Elsewhere in the charm, the herbs are said to prevail "against three and against thirty". Again, multiples of three. Finally, the instructions for performing the charm state that it should be sung over the herbs three times. In this charm, at least, the number three is an empowering component of healing magic.