Horse motif broach

The Merseburger Incantations
(Merseburger Zaubersprüche)

Two magic poems from pre-Christian Germany

The first poem describes the activities of valkyrie-like sorceresses called "the Idisi" who have the power to bind or to free battling warriors.

Once the Idisi set forth, to this place and that;
Some fastened fetters; some hindered the horde,
Some loosed the bonds from the brave --
Leap forth from the fetters! Escape from the foes!

The second poem tells how a number of these goddesses unsuccessfully attempt to cure the injured leg of Balder's horse. Wodan, with his unfailing magic, knows the right charm, and the horse is healed. This pre-Christian incantation is similar to charms against sprains recorded in the Orkney and Shetland Islands during the nineteenth century.

The second poem, the one dealing with sprained ankles, is supposed to work by the magic of analogies: the story about Pfohl and Woden, who cured Balder's horse, is assumed to repeat itself when the story is magically retold. Note the alliteration in the High German text. This is typical of the poetry of the era. End rhyming did not appear until several centuries later.

Phol ende Uoden vuorun zi holza
duuart demo Balderes volon vuoz birenkit.
thû biguolen Sinthgunt Sunna era suister;
thû biguolen Frîia, Volla era suister;
thû biguolen Uodan, sô hê uuola conda;
sôse bênrenki, sôse bluotrenkî, sôse lidirenki:
bên zi bêna, bluot zi bluot.
lid zi geliden, sôse gelîmida sîn!

Phol and Wodan rode into the woods,
There Balder's foal sprained its foot.
It was charmed by Sinthgunt, her sister Sunna;
It was charmed by Frija, her sister Volla;
It was charmed by Wodan, as he well knew how:
Bone-sprain, like blood-sprain,
Like limb-sprain:
Bone to bone; blood to blood;
Limb to limb -- like they were glued.

Poetry & Magic

"Poetry was a powerful weapon in the northern magician's armory, and the majority of charms and incantations were in verse. The is one area where northern magic differs radically from the reliance on long lists of names of evocation which were the stocks-in-trade of the Qabalist or medieval sorcerer.

"Two possible metres can be used for charms. The first, incantation metre, is composed in the following manner. Lines one and three have four stresses, and are divined by a caesura (a pause in a line of verse dictated by sense or natural speech rhythm rather than by metrics) into two half-lines with two stresses in each. The first stressed syllable of the second half-line had to alliterate with either or both of the stresses in the first half-line. Lines two and four were not broken and contained only two or three stressed syllables, not four. Line five would be the same as line four, but with slight verbal variation in the content.

"The second form was chant metre. This varied from incantation metre only that it did not use a fifth line."

Excerpt from Bernard King, Elements of the Runes.


King, Bernard: The Elements of the Runes, .Element Books, 1993, ISBN=1852304200.