Wið Ymbe

Nim eorþan, oferweorp mid þinre swiþran handa under þinum swiþran fet, and cwet:

Fo ic under fot,         funde ic hit.
Hwæt, eorðe mæg         wið ealra wihta gehwilce,
and wið andan         and wið æminde,
and wið þa micelan         mannes tungan.

Forweorp ofer greot, þonne hi swirman, and cweð:

Sitte ge, sigewif,         sigað to eorþan,
Næfre ge wilde         to wuda fleogan!
Beo ge swa gemindige         mines godes,
swa bið manna gehwilc         metes and eþeles.

Bee on Yarrow, Boulder CO (USA)

Against a Swarm of Bees

Take earth, throw it with your right hand under your right foot and say:

I take it under foot; I found it.
Lo! the earth is strong against all kinds of creatures,
and against malice and against forgetfulness
and against the mighty tongue of man.

Throw dirt over them when they swarm, and say:

Sit, O victory-women, sink to the earth,
never flee, wild to the wood!
Be as mindful of my good
as each man is of food and nation.

This is a fun little charm! For once my edition is not from classwork, but rather from a paper from the turn of the previous century.1 Grendon goes into some detail about the manuscript provenance of the charms in the opening pages of his discussion. Not knowing anything about the subject, I will say no more upon it. It is worth noting that he translates micelan mannes tungan ‘mighty tongue of man’ as ‘spell of man’. I presume this is a common kenning of some kind, although I do not think I have previously encountered it.

I remember reading once, somewhere, about this charm. Whoever it was, they noted that the charm would actually work to pin down a swarming hive of bees.2 From what the murky backwaters of my mind recall, the bee swarm would cluster and drop to the ground in order to protect the queen. Is there any truth to this? I urge my readers to turn to the Swedish beekeeper Melliferax for answers. Alternatively, the biologist Myrmecos has a post on several bee-keeping sources. I am naturally too busy to do any research for myself.

Always wanted to keep bees. So far my flatmates have been noticeably reticent to accompany me on my quest, probably because we live on the second story of an apartment complex with a strict ‘no pets’ clause. Bah.

The photo is courtesy of my friend A. Jaszlics, who wondered why I had translated no medieval poetry about insects. You ought to check out their blog, Worm Salad, for all your herpetological and entomological needs: with photographs! Everyone loves photos.

1: Grendon, Felix. “The Anglo-Saxon Charms.” Journal of American Folklore 22 (1909): 105-237, p. 168. [JSTOR]

2: On the one hand, I am a bad academic. On the other hand, it was something like five years ago.