Merseburg Incantations
Overview
 
The Merseburg Incantations are two medieval
Middle Ages
The Middle Ages is a periodization of European history from the 5th century to the 15th century. The Middle Ages follows the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 and precedes the Early Modern Era. It is the middle period of a three-period division of Western history: Classic, Medieval and Modern...

 magic spells, charms or incantation
Incantation
An incantation or enchantment is a charm or spell created using words. An incantation may take place during a ritual, either a hymn or prayer, and may invoke or praise a deity. In magic, occultism, witchcraft it may be used with the intention of casting a spell on an object or a person...

s, written in Old High German
Old High German
The term Old High German refers to the earliest stage of the German language and it conventionally covers the period from around 500 to 1050. Coherent written texts do not appear until the second half of the 8th century, and some treat the period before 750 as 'prehistoric' and date the start of...

. They are the only known examples of Germanic pagan belief
Germanic paganism
Germanic paganism refers to the theology and religious practices of the Germanic peoples of north-western Europe from the Iron Age until their Christianization during the Medieval period...

 preserved in this language. They were discovered in 1841 by Georg Waitz
Georg Waitz
Georg Waitz was a German historian and politician.He was born at Flensburg, in the duchy of Schleswig and educated at the Flensburg gymnasium and the universities of Kiel and Berlin...

, who found them in a theological manuscript from Fulda
Fulda
Fulda is a city in Hesse, Germany; it is located on the river Fulda and is the administrative seat of the Fulda district .- Early Middle Ages :...

, written in the 9th or 10th century, although there remains some speculation about the date of the charms themselves. The manuscript (Cod. 136 f. 85a) was stored in the library of the cathedral chapter
Cathedral chapter
In accordance with canon law, a cathedral chapter is a college of clerics formed to advise a bishop and, in the case of a vacancy of the episcopal see in some countries, to govern the diocese in his stead. These councils are made up of canons and dignitaries; in the Roman Catholic church their...

 of Merseburg
Bishopric of Merseburg
The Bishopric of Merseburg was a episcopal see on the eastern border of the mediæval Duchy of Saxony with its centre in Merseburg, where Merseburg Cathedral was constructed...

, hence the name.
Among the early Germanic peoples
Germanic peoples
The Germanic peoples are an Indo-European ethno-linguistic group of Northern European origin, identified by their use of the Indo-European Germanic languages which diversified out of Proto-Germanic during the Pre-Roman Iron Age.Originating about 1800 BCE from the Corded Ware Culture on the North...

, incantations (Old Norse galdr
Galdr
Galdr is one Old Norse word for "spell, incantation", and which was usually performed in combination with certain rites. It was mastered by both women and men and they chanted it in falsetto .-Etymology:...

) had the function "of rendering usable, through binding words, the magic powers which people wished to make serve them" They have survived in large numbers, particularly from the area of the Germanic languages
Germanic languages
The Germanic languages constitute a sub-branch of the Indo-European language family. The common ancestor of all of the languages in this branch is called Proto-Germanic , which was spoken in approximately the mid-1st millennium BC in Iron Age northern Europe...

.
Encyclopedia
The Merseburg Incantations are two medieval
Middle Ages
The Middle Ages is a periodization of European history from the 5th century to the 15th century. The Middle Ages follows the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 and precedes the Early Modern Era. It is the middle period of a three-period division of Western history: Classic, Medieval and Modern...

 magic spells, charms or incantation
Incantation
An incantation or enchantment is a charm or spell created using words. An incantation may take place during a ritual, either a hymn or prayer, and may invoke or praise a deity. In magic, occultism, witchcraft it may be used with the intention of casting a spell on an object or a person...

s, written in Old High German
Old High German
The term Old High German refers to the earliest stage of the German language and it conventionally covers the period from around 500 to 1050. Coherent written texts do not appear until the second half of the 8th century, and some treat the period before 750 as 'prehistoric' and date the start of...

. They are the only known examples of Germanic pagan belief
Germanic paganism
Germanic paganism refers to the theology and religious practices of the Germanic peoples of north-western Europe from the Iron Age until their Christianization during the Medieval period...

 preserved in this language. They were discovered in 1841 by Georg Waitz
Georg Waitz
Georg Waitz was a German historian and politician.He was born at Flensburg, in the duchy of Schleswig and educated at the Flensburg gymnasium and the universities of Kiel and Berlin...

, who found them in a theological manuscript from Fulda
Fulda
Fulda is a city in Hesse, Germany; it is located on the river Fulda and is the administrative seat of the Fulda district .- Early Middle Ages :...

, written in the 9th or 10th century, although there remains some speculation about the date of the charms themselves. The manuscript (Cod. 136 f. 85a) was stored in the library of the cathedral chapter
Cathedral chapter
In accordance with canon law, a cathedral chapter is a college of clerics formed to advise a bishop and, in the case of a vacancy of the episcopal see in some countries, to govern the diocese in his stead. These councils are made up of canons and dignitaries; in the Roman Catholic church their...

 of Merseburg
Bishopric of Merseburg
The Bishopric of Merseburg was a episcopal see on the eastern border of the mediæval Duchy of Saxony with its centre in Merseburg, where Merseburg Cathedral was constructed...

, hence the name.

History

Among the early Germanic peoples
Germanic peoples
The Germanic peoples are an Indo-European ethno-linguistic group of Northern European origin, identified by their use of the Indo-European Germanic languages which diversified out of Proto-Germanic during the Pre-Roman Iron Age.Originating about 1800 BCE from the Corded Ware Culture on the North...

, incantations (Old Norse galdr
Galdr
Galdr is one Old Norse word for "spell, incantation", and which was usually performed in combination with certain rites. It was mastered by both women and men and they chanted it in falsetto .-Etymology:...

) had the function "of rendering usable, through binding words, the magic powers which people wished to make serve them" They have survived in large numbers, particularly from the area of the Germanic languages
Germanic languages
The Germanic languages constitute a sub-branch of the Indo-European language family. The common ancestor of all of the languages in this branch is called Proto-Germanic , which was spoken in approximately the mid-1st millennium BC in Iron Age northern Europe...

. However, they all date from the Middle Ages
Middle Ages
The Middle Ages is a periodization of European history from the 5th century to the 15th century. The Middle Ages follows the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 and precedes the Early Modern Era. It is the middle period of a three-period division of Western history: Classic, Medieval and Modern...

 and therefore bear the stamp or show the influence of Christianity. What is unique about the Merseburg Incantations is that they still reflect very clearly their pre-Christian origin (from before the year 750). They were written down for an unknown reason in the 10th century by a literate cleric, possibly in the abbey of Fulda
Fulda
Fulda is a city in Hesse, Germany; it is located on the river Fulda and is the administrative seat of the Fulda district .- Early Middle Ages :...

, on a blank page of a liturgical book, which later passed to the library at Merseburg
Merseburg
Merseburg is a town in the south of the German state of Saxony-Anhalt on the river Saale, approx. 14 km south of Halle . It is the capital of the Saalekreis district. It had a diocese founded by Archbishop Adalbert of Magdeburg....

. The incantations have thus been transmitted in Caroline minuscule on the flyleaf
Flyleaf
Flyleaf is an American alternative metal band, formed in the Belton and Temple, Texas regions in 2000. The band has charted on mainstream rock, Christian pop and Christian metal genres. They performed around the United States in 2003 until releasing their eponymous debut album, Flyleaf, in 2005....

 of a Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

 sacramentary
Sacramentary
The Sacramentary is a book of the Middle Ages containing the words spoken by the priest celebrating a Mass and other liturgies of the Church. The books were usually in fact written for bishops or other higher clegy such as abbots, and many lavishly decorated illuminated manuscript sacramentaries...

.

The spells became famous in modern times through the appreciation of the Grimm brothers, who wrote as follows:
Lying between Leipzig
Leipzig
Leipzig Leipzig has always been a trade city, situated during the time of the Holy Roman Empire at the intersection of the Via Regia and Via Imperii, two important trade routes. At one time, Leipzig was one of the major European centres of learning and culture in fields such as music and publishing...

, Halle
Halle, Saxony-Anhalt
Halle is the largest city in the German state of Saxony-Anhalt. It is also called Halle an der Saale in order to distinguish it from the town of Halle in North Rhine-Westphalia...

 and Jena
Jena
Jena is a university city in central Germany on the river Saale. It has a population of approx. 103,000 and is the second largest city in the federal state of Thuringia, after Erfurt.-History:Jena was first mentioned in an 1182 document...

, the extensive library of the Cathedral Chapter of Merseburg has often been visited and made use of by scholars. All have passed over a codex
Codex
A codex is a book in the format used for modern books, with multiple quires or gatherings typically bound together and given a cover.Developed by the Romans from wooden writing tablets, its gradual replacement...

 which, if they chanced to take it up, appeared to offer only well-known church items, but which now, valued according to its entire content, offers a treasure such that the most famous libraries have nothing to compare with it...


The spells were published later by the Brothers Grimm in On two newly-discovered poems from the German Heroic Period (1842).

The manuscript of the Merseburg Incantations was on display until November 2004 as part of the exhibition "Between Cathedral and World - 1000 years of the Chapter of Merseburg", at Merseburg cathedral. They were previously exhibited in 1939.

Incantations

Each charm is divided into two parts: a preamble telling the story of a mythological event; and the actual spell in the form of a magic analogy (just as it was before... so shall it also be now...). In their verse form, the spells are of a transitional type; the lines show not only traditional alliteration
Alliteration
In language, alliteration refers to the repetition of a particular sound in the first syllables of Three or more words or phrases. Alliteration has historically developed largely through poetry, in which it more narrowly refers to the repetition of a consonant in any syllables that, according to...

 but also the end-rhymes introduced in the Christian
Christian
A Christian is a person who adheres to Christianity, an Abrahamic, monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as recorded in the Canonical gospels and the letters of the New Testament...

 verse of the 9th century.

1. Liberation of prisoners

The first spell is a "Lösesegen" (blessing of release), describing how a number of "Idisen" free from their shackles warriors caught during battle. The last two lines contain the magic words "Leap forth from the fetters, escape from the foes" that are intended to release the warriors.

Eiris sazun idisi

sazun hera duoder.

suma hapt heptidun,

suma heri lezidun,

suma clubodun

umbi cuoniouuidi:

insprinc haptbandun,

inuar uigandun.

Once sat women,

They sat here, then there.

Some fastened bonds,

Some impeded an army,

Some unraveled fetters:

Escape the bonds,

flee the enemy!


2. Horse cure

Phol is with Wodan
Woden
Woden or Wodan is a major deity of Anglo-Saxon and Continental Germanic polytheism. Together with his Norse counterpart Odin, Woden represents a development of the Proto-Germanic god *Wōdanaz....

  when Baldur's horse dislocates its foot while riding through the forest (holza). Wodan is saying as a result: "Bone to bone, blood to blood, limb to limb, as if they were glued".

Figures that can be clearly identified within Continental Germanic mythology are "Uuôdan" (Wodan) and "Frîia" (Frija). Depictions found on Migration Period
Migration Period
The Migration Period, also called the Barbarian Invasions , was a period of intensified human migration in Europe that occurred from c. 400 to 800 CE. This period marked the transition from Late Antiquity to the Early Middle Ages...

 Germanic bracteates are often viewed as Wodan (Odin) healing a horse.

Comparing Norse mythology
Norse mythology
Norse mythology, a subset of Germanic mythology, is the overall term for the myths, legends and beliefs about supernatural beings of Norse pagans. It flourished prior to the Christianization of Scandinavia, during the Early Middle Ages, and passed into Nordic folklore, with some aspects surviving...

, Wodan is well-attested as the cognate of Odin
Odin
Odin is a major god in Norse mythology and the ruler of Asgard. Homologous with the Anglo-Saxon "Wōden" and the Old High German "Wotan", the name is descended from Proto-Germanic "*Wodanaz" or "*Wōđanaz"....

. Frija the cognate of Frigg
Frigg
Frigg is a major goddess in Norse paganism, a subset of Germanic paganism. She is said to be the wife of Odin, and is the "foremost among the goddesses" and the queen of Asgard. Frigg appears primarily in Norse mythological stories as a wife and a mother. She is also described as having the power...

, also identified with Freyja.
Balder is apparently Norse Baldr. Phol is apparently the masculine form of Uolla, but the context makes clear that it is another name of Balder.
Uolla has been linked to Fulla
Fulla
In Germanic mythology, Fulla or Volla is a goddess. In Norse mythology, Fulla is described as wearing a golden snood and as tending to the ashen box and the footwear owned by the goddess Frigg, and, in addition, Frigg confides in Fulla her secrets...

, a minor goddess and a handmaid of Frigg. Sunna (the Sun) in Norse mythology is Sól, though her sister Sinthgunt
Sinthgunt
Sinthgunt is a figure in Germanic mythology, attested solely in the Old High German 9th or 10th century "horse cure" Merseburg Incantation. In the incantation, Sinthgunt is referred to as the sister of the personified sun, Sunna , and the two sisters are cited as both producing charms to heal...

 is otherwise unattested.


Phol ende uuodan uuorun zi holza.

du uuart demo balderes uolon sin uuoz birenkit.

thu biguol en sinthgunt, sunna era suister;

thu biguol en friia, uolla era suister;

thu biguol en uuodan, so he uuola conda:

sose benrenki, sose bluotrenki,

sose lidirenki:

ben zi bena, bluot zi bluoda,

lid zi geliden, sose gelimida sin.

Phol and Wodan were riding to the woods,

and the foot of Balder's foal was sprained

So Sinthgunt, Sunna's sister, conjured it.

and Frija, Volla's sister, conjured it.

and Wodan conjured it, as well he could:

Like bone-sprain, so blood-sprain,

so joint-sprain:

Bone to bone, blood to blood,

joints to joints, so may they be glued.


Similar charms in Norwegian folklore

Two "horse cure" incantations strikingly similar to the Merseburg incantation are recorded in 19th and 20th century Norway. In the 19th century charm, the invocation is to Jesus
Jesus
Jesus of Nazareth , commonly referred to as Jesus Christ or simply as Jesus or Christ, is the central figure of Christianity...

, whereas the 20th century charm invokes the 11th century Norwegian king Olaf II of Norway
Olaf II of Norway
Olaf II Haraldsson was King of Norway from 1015 to 1028. He was posthumously given the title Rex Perpetuus Norvegiae and canonised in Nidaros by Bishop Grimkell, one year after his death in the Battle of Stiklestad on 29 July 1030. Enshrined in Nidaros Cathedral...

. The 20th century spell was collected in Møre
Møre og Romsdal
is a county in the northernmost part of Western Norway. It borders the counties of Sør-Trøndelag, Oppland and Sogn og Fjordane. The county administration is located in Molde, while Ålesund is the largest city.-The name:...

, Norway, where it was presented as for use in healing a bone fracture. The charms read:

19th century charm:
Jesus himself rode to the heath,
And as he rode, his horse's bone was broken.
Jesus dismounted and healed that:
Jesus laid marrow to marrow,
Bone to bone, flesh to flesh.
Jesus thereafter laid a leaf
So that these should stay in their place.

20th century charm:
Saint olav rode in
green wood;
broke his little
horse's foot.
Bone to bone,
flesh to flesh,
skin to skin.
In the name of God,
amen.


Adaptations

Many German rock groups and musicians have been inspired by the Merseburg Incantations and produced their own settings. The already "classic" adaptation of the first incantation comes from the group Ougenweide
Ougenweide
Ougenweide is a progressive rock band from Germany. They are notable for being pioneers of the medieval folk rock subgenre. The name comes from Middle High German ougenweide .- The beginning :...

; it is a free invention based on no real musical tradition. The group In Extremo
In Extremo
In Extremo is a German medieval metal band originating from Berlin. The band's musical style combines metal with medieval traditional songs, blending the sound of the standard rock/metal instruments with historical instruments...

, whose song "Küss mich" ("Kiss me") was in the 2003 charts, included a version of the first incantation in their album Verehrt und angespien (Adored and spat at) in 1999 and of the second in their album Sünder ohne Zügel (Sinners without reins) in 2001. Also in that year the project Helium Vola
Helium Vola
Helium Vola is a German Darkwave or "Electro-Medieval" band founded in 2001 by Ernst Horn, who was also one of the founding members of Qntal. In the contract with Chrom Records Horn insisted on Helium Vola not being seen as a successor of Qntal nor being marketed as such...

 did the same in a quite different context. The band Corvus Corax
Corvus Corax (band)
Corvus Corax is a German band known for playing Neo-Medieval music using an abundance of authentic instruments. Their name is the latin name for the Common Raven. The band was formed in 1989 by Castus Rabensang, Wim and Meister Selbfried in East Germany...

 features both charms in a single song on the album Ante Casu Peccati (Before the Fall). Yet another adaptation was featured by Tanzwut
Tanzwut
Tanzwut is a German Neue Deutsche Härte and medieval metal band which originated as a sideproject of Corvus Corax-members.- History :Their name is the German term for "dancing mania", but is directly translated with "dance-rage". Tanzwut are known for their heavy use of bagpipes, an unusual...

, a musical project of Corvus Corax, in the album of the same title. A further band, Nagelfar
Nagelfar
Nagelfar were a German black metal band founded in 1993 by Zorn and Rhyktius V. Grhabakk von Meilenwald . After a long search for a lead vocalist, Smaug was selected; Sveinn von Hackelnberg became acquainted with Smaug and Rhyktius at a party and entered the band's lineup as bassist in 1995...

, has included the incantations on Die Sprüche auf Virus West. The group Eirisproject features both charms on their album Germanic Mantra from 2007. There is also an interpretation by Saltatio Mortis
Saltatio Mortis
Saltatio Mortis is a German medieval metal group. They are recognized as one of the leading bands of the genre. The latin name means "dance of death".- Studio albums :* 2001: Tavernakel* 2002: Das zweite Gesicht...

 from the 2003 album Heptessenz. German group Ignis Fatuu recorded a song "Zauberspruch" on their 2009 album Es Werde Licht.
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