Nine Herbs Charm

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The Nine Herbs Charm is an Old English charm recorded in the 10th century[1] Lacnunga manuscript.[2] The charm is intended for treatment of poison and infection through the preparation of nine herbs. The numbers nine and three are mentioned frequently within the charm and are significant numbers in Germanic paganism and later Germanic folklore.[2] The poem contains references to both Christian and English Pagan elements, including a mention of the major Germanic god Woden.

According to R.K. Gordon, the poem is "clearly an old heathen thing which has been subjected to Christian censorship."[1] Malcolm Laurence Cameron proposes a psychological value to the poem for ancient patients, stating that chanting the poem aloud results in a "marvellously incantatory effect".[3]

Poem contents[edit]


The charm references nine herbs:

At the end of the charm, prose instructions are given to take the above mentioned herbs, crush them to dust, and to mix them with old soap and apple juice. Further instructions are given to make a paste from water and ashes, boil fennel into the paste, bathe it with beaten egg - both before and after the prepared salve is applied.

Further, the charm directs the reader to sing the charm three times over each of the herbs as well as the apple before they are prepared, into the mouth of the wounded, both of their ears, and over the wound itself prior to the application of the salve.


The poem contains one of two Old English mentions of Woden in Old English poetry, the other being Maxims I of the Exeter Book. The paragraph reads as follows:

A snake came crawling, it bit a man.
Then Woden took nine glory-twigs,
Smote the serpent so that it flew into nine parts.
There apple brought this pass against poison,
That she nevermore would enter her house.[1]

Suggestions have been made that this passage describes Woden coming to the assistance of the herbs through his use of nine twigs, each twig inscribed with the runic first-letter initial of a plant.[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Gordon (1962:92-93).
  2. ^ a b Macleod (2006:127).
  3. ^ Cameron (1993:144).
  4. ^ OEME Dictionary
  5. ^ Mayr-Harting (1991:27).


External links[edit]