The Power of Words

The Power of Words: Studies on Charms and Charming in Europe

James Kapaló
Éva Pócs
William Ryan
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 336
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  • Book Info
    The Power of Words
    Book Description:

    n medieval and early modern Europe, the use of charms was a living practice in all strata of society. The essays in this latest CEU Press publication explore the rich textual tradition of archives, monasteries, and literary sources. The author also discusses texts amassed in folklore archives and ones that are still accessible through field work in many rural areas of Europe.

    eISBN: 978-615-5225-48-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-IV)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. V-VIII)
    (pp. 1-12)

    This book of essays is the third in a series of books published as part of the on-going international cooperation of members of the Committee for Charms, Charmers and Charming established six years ago as a part of the International Society for Folk Narrative Research (ISFNR).¹ Joint research had in fact begun earlier, in 2003, and continued in 2005 in the form of conferences held at the Warburg Institute of the University of London and organised jointly with the Folklore Society. The cooperation that developed in this way culminated in 2007 in the conference held in Hungary at the Department...

    • Chapter 1 A Genre in the Making. The First Study of Charms in Norway
      (pp. 15-26)
      Arne Bugge Amundsen

      In Norway, as in most other European countries, the nineteenth-century collection and analysis of the older parts of the oral and written popular culture took Romantic national ideas as their point of departure. This meant, among other things, that collectors and scholars in the field of folklore were interested primarily in finding or extracting those traces of national identity that were of historical, moral and aesthetic value. Through the systematic study of popular narratives and practices Norwegian scholars aimed at understanding, interpreting and reinforcing notions of historical continuity and cultural contingency within the framework of Norwegian history.

      Parts of this...

    • Chapter II The Making of a Charm Collector. Alexander Carmichael in Uist, From 1864 To 1882
      (pp. 27-70)
      Domhnall Uilleam Stiùbhart

      Contemporary scholarship on charms tends towards the analytic and synchronic, focusing upon the creation and refinement of universal typologies. Given the exceptionally multilingual and disparate nature of this particular branch of folklore scholarship, and indeed the lack of crucial contextual information in many older folklore archives, it could hardly be otherwise: a necessary search for cross-border commonalities and common origins, culminating, it is to be hoped, in an international charms database, which promises to revolutionise the field. Nevertheless, on the rare occasions when sufficient contextual information is available, when, assisted by the in-depth knowledge of local historians and genealogists, we...

    • Chapter III Charm Indexes: Problems and Perspectives
      (pp. 71-100)
      Tatiana Agapkina and Andrei Toporkov

      In the past twenty years interest in the study and publication of verbal magic texts has increased considerably. Quite a number of collections of Belarusian, Bulgarian, Czech, French, German, Hungarian, Romanian, Russian, Serbian and Ukrainian charms have been published. But the more frequently new texts in various countries are published, the more difficult it is to see the overall picture. The problem consists not only in the language barriers that prevent scholars from analysing charms from other traditions, but also in the differing ways of understanding problems and methods of research. This last point is largely determined by professional preferences...

    • Chapter IV Medieval Narrative Charms
      (pp. 101-116)
      Edina Bozóky

      Many of the narrative charms that have been collected by European folklorists can be traced back to medieval or ancient models. In this paper I present a brief survey of medieval narrative charms considered from four points of view: a) thematic classification; b) occurrence; c) language; d) efficiency.

      An important element of medieval charms is the historiolae, brief anecdotes preceding a command addressed to evil forces. They invoke from the past a miraculous incident—most commonly a miraculous healing—that presents analogous circumstances to the situation of the patient. The event or the miracle related in the story represents a...

    • Chapter V The Historical Development of “Charm” Terminology in Hungarian
      (pp. 117-132)
      Vilmos Voigt

      1. Our beloved Hungarian folklore and language offer a treasure house for comparative philology and religion—but only if scholars examine the facts without bias and are not fooled by false preconceptions. One of the most common fallacies is the way of thinking that asserts that all Hungarian words, texts and rituals are historically invariable, and that they automatically represent something prior to the Hungarian Conquest of the Carpathian Basin in AD 896. (See, for example, the endless literature concerning Hungarian “shamanism” from the remote past of Siberia up to the recent Harnerian trance workshops on Villányi road, Budapest.) On...

    • Chapter VI The Marginality of Charms in Medieval England
      (pp. 135-164)
      Lea Olsan

      At the bottom of a page in a fourteenth-century copy of Gilbert the Englishman’s academic medical book, a reader has written the following charm:

      Take these two verses and tie them on the right arm

      with the Lord’s Prayer. And these [verses] are,

      “Amara. tum. taturi. postos. sicalos. sicaluri.

      Ely. poli. caritas. polyly. pilinique. linarras.”¹

      This charm, introduced as a practical cure (empericum) for mania, is added to copies of Gilbert’s influential thirteenth-century Compendium medicine. The lengthy and learned medical treatise itself contains only ten charms within the text.²

      The marginal placement is in one sense characteristic of medieval academic...

    • Chapter VII Church Benedictions and Popular Charms in Hungary
      (pp. 165-198)
      Éva Pócs

      In this paper I am going to examine the Hungarian aspects of the connections between benedictions and charms. In Hungary, just as in the whole of Europe, charms as a form of verbal magic were once present in the practice of all social strata. In the latter centuries, however, they lived on mainly among the peasantry. In the early twentieth century the use of charms was still prevalent in practically all spheres of private life. Most of the surviving texts were healing charms, but in fact almost all the activities of village life that were related to meeting everyday needs,...

    • Chapter VIII Benediction and Exorcism in Early Modern Hungary
      (pp. 199-210)
      Dániel Bárth

      The textual relationship between medieval ecclesiastical benedictions and exorcisms and modern peasant incantations that have the function of benediction or malediction has long been recognised in European cultural history. Relying on the analyses and collections published at the beginning of the twentieth century, researchers of the history of incantations accept without dispute the influence that the ecclesiastical texts had on peasants’ texts. It is also well known that early medieval ecclesiastical benediction and curse liturgy relied heavily on ancient Greek and pre-Christian traditions. In Hungarian scholarship, the achievements of two scholars in research into the history of incantations and the...

    • Chapter IX Baltic and East Slavic Charms
      (pp. 211-236)
      Daiva Vaitkevičienė

      This article examines the parallels between Baltic (Lithuanian and Latvian) and East Slavic charms. Charm texts characterised by their common semantic and/or syntactic structure are regarded as typological parallels; along with them, universal charm motifs and complexes of images are also investigated.

      With regard to origins, three groups of the Baltic-Slavic charm parallels can be distinguished:

      1) Genetic origins (relics of the Balto-Slavic culture);

      2) Substratum origins (the cultural substratum of the Eastern Balts, assimilated by the East Slavs between the sixth and eighth centuries AD in present-day Belarus and south-eastern Russia (Toporov and Trubachev 1962; Gimbutas 1962), and the...

    • Chapter X The Năjit Between Prayers and Charms: A Study of the Romanian Manuscript Tradition
      (pp. 239-256)
      Emanuela Timotin

      This study focuses on charms that are intended to treat a disease named nãjit in Romanian, and more particularly a version of such charms illustrated by six texts preserved in manuscripts of the Romanian Academy Library in Bucharest. The analysis places particular importance on the textual motifs and, subsequently, on their preservation or rearrangement through the manuscript transmission, on the prototype of the Romanian version and on the relation between the particular characteristics of these writings and the milieu in which they were employed.

      1. In contemporary Romanian, the polysemous word nãjit is used mainly in popular language. Its principal...

    • Chapter XI Charming The Moon: Moon Charms for Sick Children in Portuguese Ethnography
      (pp. 257-264)
      Francisco Vaz Da Silva

      In this paper I draw attention to a set of moon charms performed for sick children, which I propose to interpret in the light of the fundamental link between water, soul cycles and lunar phases. Let me start with the longstanding notion of water/soul oscillations between this world and the otherworld in the longue durée of European cultures.

      Homer (Iliad 8.552) depicts Tartarus as “the pit of earth and sea”, and Socrates (Phaedo 112 a–b) affirms that into Tartarus “all the rivers flow together, and from it they flow forth again” in a back-and-forth movement. The same crucial notion...

    • Chapter XII “Dear Merciful Mother”: The Virgin Mary in Finnish and Karelian Birth Incantations
      (pp. 265-280)
      Maarit Viljakainen

      In her monograph Mythic Images (Siikala 2002), Anna-Leena Siikala points out that in order to perform a task successfully, a tietäjä, a specialist in a rite tradition, summons her or his assistants in the form of various supernatural beings. Siikala analyses a bathing formula recorded by Elias Lönnrot from a well-known tietäjä, Juhana Kainulainen, in Kesälahti, Finnish North Karelia, in 1828. There can be no doubt that some of the most eloquent and wide-ranging appeals for assistance in Finnish incantation materials are to be found in Kainulainen’s incantation. It should be noted that the incantation is really long, over 300...

    • Chapter XIII The Power of Words in Miracles, Visions, Incantations and Bewitchments
      (pp. 281-304)
      Gábor Klaniczay

      In the canonisation process of Saint Elizabeth of Hungary one of her maids reported the following story when once she met “a young man by the name of Berthold, who was dressed in a worldly manner”:

      Calling him to her Elizabeth said: “You seem to be living your life less discreetly than you ought to. Why do you not serve the Creator?” The youth responded: “O my lady, I beg you, pray for me, so that the Lord will give me His grace for serving Him.” And she said: “Do you really want me to pray for you?” And he...

  7. About the Editors
    (pp. 305-306)
  8. About the Contributors
    (pp. 307-310)
  9. Index
    (pp. 311-326)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 327-327)