Monday, March 15, 2010

Recels : Teutonic Smudging Customs

Did the Teutonic tribes smudge themselves with incense and smoke to ward off ill and bring about healing? Indeed they did. Our references are sparse, but very real. We find, geréc þone man mid þám wyrtum, "smoke that man with the herbs" (Bald's Leechbook, III.62), and recelsa hine, "fumigate him" (Bald's Leechbook, III. 61.)

Amongst the plants mentioned for fumigation are fennel, wormwood, hops, vervain, bilberry shoots, betony, leeks, garlic, enchanter's nightshade, and burdock. (Henbane and corn cockle are also mentioned, but these could have powerful toxic effects and are probably best avoided except by a skilled pharmacist.) Vervain, leeks, garlic, betony, fennel, and wormwood are all herbs traditionally used to ward off negative entities and sorcery. Enchanter's nightshade has strong associations with magic. Hops is a sedative (usually used to flavor beer) which smoked brings a slight euphoric effect. Since this mixture was recommended for those bewitched or subject to nightmares, it was probably a powerful warding-off fumigation ; less potent mixtures could be derived for lesser conditions.

These are the plants mentioned for encounters with elves and other night-goers, but this is probably a small sample of a much larger base. Indeed, within the leech-books we find many other herbs that would be suitable for smudging. Wormwood points to the Artemisia family which includes mugwort, one of the nine holy herbs of Woden, as well as the American sagebrush. Since many of the plants are warding-off herbs, one might well substitute local herbs known for this purpose as well. Nothing prevents one, for example, so long as one is respectful to the plant and to the land, from using white sage as a smudge. Rosemary was also used. The Stockholm Herbal of medieval provenance states that rosemary "kepyth hym fro thresse", "protects him from thurs", malicious giant-folk. St. John's Wort, most probably an herb of Baldur, was burned to purify and strengthen animals at Midsummer. The possibilities are only limited by the wisdom of your leechdom. Utilize rede and care in selecting your best choice.

There is a specific procedure mentioned in Bald's Leechbook, III.62 for preparing the smudge : do aelcre handfulle . bebind ealle þa wyrta on claþe bedyp on fontwaetre gehalgodum þriwa . Eft wit þon, lege under weofod þas wyrte laet gesingan ofer, "Take a handful of each, bind all of the herbs in cloth, dip into hallowed spring-water three times. After this, against that (illness), lay these herbs under an altar and let them be sung over."

So, when a smudge is to be made, a handful of each of the herbs is to be bound up within a cloth, and then dipped into hallowed water three times. Then they should be laid upon a horg, an altar, and galdur (prayers, hymns, enchantments) should be sung over them. They are then ready to fumigate.

Both the individual and the entire house may be fumigated. In fact, an almost sauna or sweat-lodge like procedure is described. 7 þonne he restan wille haebbe gleda þaerinne lege stor 7 alfþonan on ta gleda . 7 rec hine mid þaet he swaete 7 þaet hus geond rec, "And when he wishes to rest, have coals brought in there and lay incense and elfthon on the coals, and fumigate him with that so he sweats and fumigate around the house."

Since fire is being utilized, Heimdall in particular ought to be invoked, with the prayers and intentions being carried up to the rest of the Gods in the smoke, and Heimdall's warding powers to keep away ill wights, and enhance discernment and perception, specifically called in. In my experience, smudges have powerful Qi or maegen, and you might be surprised as you pass the smoking bundle over your body how prominently you feel the energy or power passing over you.

Smudging can be a powerful way of consecrating and warding a space. We know that fire was often carried around a piece of land to hallow it and banish ill wights. Thialfi, Thor's servant, is spoken of as carrying fire around an enchanted island that constantly sunk into the ocean, and in so doing, preserving it from that witchcraft, and rescuing it from the realm of utgard to a place of inhabitation. Many Teutonic temples kept an eternal fire burning. Thus fire and smoke have hallowed associations in Teutonic lore, and are most appropriate for healing.


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