Sources: Primitive Psycho-therapy And Quackery
Fancy can save or kill; it hath closed up wounds, when the
balsam could not, and without the aid of salves, to think hath
been a cure.
With bandage firm Ulysses' knee they bound;
Then, chanting mystic lays, the closing wound
Of sacred melody confessed the force;
The tides of life regained their azure course.
The Odyssey, XIX, 535.
Probably the stanching of blood sometimes ascribed to the power of a
verbal charm should be accredited to the vis medicatrix of Dame Nature
herself. The mere sight of blood, as well as its loss, may induce
syncope, a condition favorable to the cessation of hemorrhage. Where
faith in a magic spell is strong, it is conceivable that a psychic or
emotional force should influence the circulation of the blood, and
affect its flow locally by a contraction or dilatation of the
arterioles, through the agency of the vaso-motor nerves. Familiar
instances are to be seen in the sudden glow or pallor of the cheek,
under the stress of intense emotion.
In a curious English manuscript, thought to be of the fourteenth
century, which is preserved in the Royal Library at Stockholm, are to
be found many specimens of healing-spells; and among them one which was
to be repeated in church, as follows: "Here bygynyth a charme for to
staunch ye blood. In nomine Patris, etc. Whanne oure Lord was don on
ye crosse yane come Longeus thedyr and smot hym yt a spere in hys syde.
Blod and water yer come owte at ye wonde, and he wyppyd hys eyne and
anon he sawgh kyth thorowgh ye vertu of yat God. Yerfore I conjure the
blood yat yu come not oute of yis christen woman. In nomine Patris et
The following "Charme to Stanch Blood" is taken from a manuscript of the
fifteenth century: "Jesus, that was in Bethlehem born, and baptyzed was
in the flumen Jordane; as stente the water at hys comyng so stente the
blood of this man N. thy serwaunt, throw the virtu of thy holy name,
Jesu, and of thy cosyn, swete sente Jon. And sey thys Charme fyve tymes,
with fyve Pater Nostirs, in the worship of the fyve woundys."
A popular medieval narrative charm for healing wounds and arresting
hemorrhage, is to be found in the "Compendium Medicinae" of Gilbertus
Anglicus, physician to the Archbishop of Canterbury toward the close of
the twelfth century. The work was first published at Lyons, France, in
the year of 1500.
"Write a cross of Christ, and sing thrice over the place
these words, and a Pater Noster: Longinus miles lancea punxit
Dominum, et restitit sanguis et recessit dolor."
Longinus or Longeus is the traditional name of the Roman soldier who
pierced with a spear the side of our Lord, upon the Cross.
Verbal styptic charms were much in vogue among the Irish people in early
times. Translations of two such charms may serve as examples. "A child
was baptized in the river Jordan; and the water was dark and muddy, but
the child was pure and beautiful." These words were repeated over the
wound, a finger being placed on the site of the hemorrhage; and then:
"In the name of God, and of the Lord Christ, let the blood be stanched."
Another similar charm was as follows:
"There came a man from Bethlehem to be baptised in the river Jordan; but
the water was so muddy that it stopped flowing: So let the blood! Let it
stop flowing in the name of Jesus, and by the power of Christ!"
Homer tells in the Odyssey how the sons of Autolycus cured Ulysses, who
had been injured while hunting the wild boar, by stanching the blood
flowing from a wound in his leg, by means of a verbal charm. "With
nicest care the skilful artists bound the brave, divine Ulysses'
ghastly wound; and th' incantations stanch'd the gushing blood."
We have also the testimony of the Grecian lexicographer, Suidas, that
various maladies were cured by the repetition of certain words, in the
time of Minos, King of Crete.
In Sir Walter Scott's "Lay of the Last Minstrel," there are frequent
references to the use of curative spells; as for example in the
She drew the splinter from the wound,
And with a charm she stanch'd the blood.
Again, in "Waverley," the hero of that name, while on a stag hunt with
some Scottish chieftains, had the misfortune to sprain an ankle. The
venerable Highlander, who officiated as surgeon, proceeded to treat the
injury with much ceremony. He first prepared a fomentation by boiling
certain herbs which had been gathered at the time of a full moon, a
charm being recited the while, of which the following is a translation:
"Hail to thee, thou holy herb, that sprung on holy ground! All in the
Mount Olivet, first wert thou found. Thou art boot for many a bruise,
and healest many a wound; in our Lady's blessed name, I take thee from
The leech next applied the lotion to Waverley's ankle, at the same time
murmuring an incantation; and to this latter procedure, rather than to
the medicinal virtue of the herbs, the subsequent alleviation of pain
and swelling was attributed by all who were present.
In the rugged, mountainous districts of western Ireland, a region
inhabited mostly by shepherds and fishermen, medical practice still
devolves largely upon "fairy-women" and "witch-doctors," who rely upon
herbs, prayers, and incantations in their treatment of the sick. In
Ireland, too, are individuals reputed to be masters of the art of
"setting" charms for controlling hemorrhage; their method being the
repetition of certain words arbitrarily selected, whose weirdness tends
to impress the patient with a sense of the mysterious.
Spells for checking the flow of blood are plentiful in the early
literature of Germany, and are still employed to some extent. In Dr. G.
Lammert's "Volksmedizin in Bayern" (Wuerzburg, 1869), many hemostatic
formulas are given, which are popular among the peasantry in various
portions of the empire. They are usually adjurations or commands
addressed to the blood, considered as a personality. Thus a spell in
vogue in the mountainous region of Odenwald in Hesse, is as follows:
"Blood, stand still, as Christ stood still in the river Jordan."
In "Folk-Lore," March, 1908, reference is made to a styptic spell in use
at the present time in northern Devonshire, among wise women who are
skilled in the art of controlling hemorrhage by psychic methods. The
spell consists in repeating the verse, Ezekiel, XVI, 6. In the locality
above mentioned it is customary to seek the aid of one of these
professional "stenters," instead of a surgeon or veterinarian, and the
people have implicit faith in this mode of treatment. The presence of
the wise woman is not essential. She merely pronounces the spell
wherever she may happen to be, with the assurance that it will be found
effectual, on the return of the messenger to the patient.
The prevalence of similar beliefs is shown in the following verse from a
popular poem of the seventeenth century:
Tom Pots was but a serving-man;
But yet he was a Doctor good;
He bound his kerchief on the wound,
And with some kind words stanch'd the blood.