The Second Merseburg Incantation

The Merseburg Incantations (German: die Merseburger Zaubersprüche) are two medieval magic spells, charms or incantations, written in Old High German. They are the only known examples of Germanic heathen belief preserved in this language. They were discovered in 1841 by Georg Waitz, who found them in a theological manuscript from Fulda, 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 of Merseburg, hence the name.

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 alliteration but also the end-rhymes developed in the Christian verse of the 9th century.

Phol (possibly another name for Balder) is with Woden when Balder’s horse dislocates its foot while riding through the forest (holza). Woden is saying as a result: “Bone to bone, blood to blood, limb to limb, as if they were glued”. Images from the 5th-6th century show Odin/Woden healing a horse. Unfortunately, the other gods’ names cannot be identified inequivocally; the only clear names are “Uuôdan” (Odin/Woden), Balder (Baldæg), Sunna (Likely Sunne) and “Frîia” (Possibly Frīg or Freyja from ON). As for the other names, it is not even sure whether they really are names of gods, since different interpretations of their translation are available.

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 Woden went to [the] woods
Now Baldæg’s foal wrenched its foot
Sinthgunt charmed it, Sunne’s sister
Frīg charmed it, Volla’s sister
Woden charmed it as well he could;

As bone-wrench, so blood-wrench, so limb-wrench
Bone to bone, blood to blood,
Limb to limb, so they may be joined

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