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Styptic Charms

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 a
ure 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

Filii," etc.

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

following lines:

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 ground."

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.