13 May 2015

Aboriginal English


I love a plantain.

Ribwort, to be precise. Greater always looks like it's been trodden on.

I think it's my spirit weed. It comes to me in my dreams where it gives convoluted, metaphor-rich messages about Truth, Beauty, and The Meaning Of Life.

No, not really. But I do like them.

They are however an ingredient in an Anglo-Saxon magical charm against poisoning. The Nine Herbs Charm is found in The Lacninga, a collection of ancient medical writings and prayers.

Directions are given on how to make a salve with the nine herbs that involve mixing with soap and ash, and boiling up a paste. This isn't a simple recipe though. Once you've made the salve you have to recite a charm to the patient before you apply the remedy.

Sing that charm on each of the herbs thrice before he prepares them, and on the apple also, and sing into the mouth of the man and both the ears and on the wound that same charm before he puts on the salve.

This sounds very shamanistic to me. It opens a window onto our deep roots.

When I think of traditional herbal medicine I first go to an imagine of some sort of Elizabethan proto scientist weighing and distilling. Or maybe I think of a peasant woman who used weeds that grew round her cottage because her mother told her they work, in a chain of practical women doing the best they could. The idea that medicine was applied with set prayers or charms, which is just another word for spells, has previously seemed too Other. Either fantastical, or aboriginal. And yet here's the Anglo-Saxons being not us-a-long-time-ago but Very Different.


And, you, Waybread, mother of herbs,    open to the east, mighty within;

carts rolled over you,    women rode over you,

over you brides cried out,    bulls snorted over you.

All you withstood then,    and were crushed;

So you withstand    poison and contagion

and the loathsome one    who travels through the land.


Given my uncharitable feelings about Greater Plantain, I wonder if this was the species used in the charm.

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