View Full Version : The Lorsch Bee Charm

Thursday, February 16th, 2006, 04:51 PM
The Lorsch Bee Charm, a late ninth- or early tenth-century entry, written upside-down in a sermon manuscript, typifies the way in which survival can verge upon the fortuitous:

Kirst imbi ist huc(z)e. nu fliuc du uihu minaz. hera fridu frono. In munt godes gisunt heim zi comonne. sisisizi bina inbot dir sancte maria hurolob ni habe du. zeholce ni fluc du. noh du mir nin drinnes. noh du mir nint uuin nest sizi uilu stillo vuirki godes uuillon.

[Christ, the bee-folk is out! Now fly, my cattle, back /
In holy peace, in God's authority, so that you may arrive home hale. /
Alight, alight, bee: the Virgin Mary commanded you. May you have no leave: To the wood /
flee not, nor escape me, nor deprive me of anything. / Sit quite still, work God's will.]

Here, unusually, a link exists between the proscriptions of the Church and the survival of a charm. The Decretal of Burchard of Worms and the Arundel Penitential condemn as "maleficium" the use of "incantantiones" to steal bees or honey. Honey was as essential to the diet of the monastery as sugar is to the modem kitchen, and it is perhaps surprising that so little early
literature relating to bees has survived. The Lorsch Bee Charm makes no specific reference to theft; it is presumably intended to control a swarm.

However, in the Anglo-Saxon bee-charm (Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS. 41, p.182) there is a suggestion that the charm is intended to ward off a thief, a hostile magician:

Wiš ymbe nim eoržan, oferweorp mid žinre swižran handa under
žinum swižran fet, and cwet:
Fo ic under fot, funde ic hit.
Hwęt, eorše mreg wiš ealra wihta gehwi1ce
and wiš andan and wiš ęminde
and wiš ža micelan mannes tungan.

And wiššon forweorp ofer greot, žonne hi swirman, and cweš:
Sitte ge, sigewif, sigaš to eoržan!
Nęfre ge wilde to wuda fleogan.
Beo ge swa gemindige mines godes,
swa biš manna gehwi1c metes and eželes.

[Concerning a swarm of bees. Take earth in your right hand, cast it under your right foot and say:

'I have it under foot; I have found it.
Behold! Earth avails against all kinds of creatures,
it avails against malice and evil jealousy,
and against the mighty tongue of man.

When they swarm, scatter earth over them and say:
'Alight, victorious women, alight upon the earth!
Never turn wild and fly to the woods!
Be just as mindful of my benefit
as is every man of his food and his fatherland.]

The Anglo-Saxon charm lacks the buzzing alliteration of its OHG equivalent. Like the Lorsch charm, however, it is a marginal entry. The manuscript is an e11th-century copy of the Anglo-Saxon translation of Bede's Historia Ecclesiae, which also contains the poem Soloman and Saturn. Its margins preserve a large number of shorter texts, all written in a neat eleventh century hand. Among these are three other metrical charms. Two of these are, like the Vienna Dog Charm, intended to prevent theft of cattle. A third is intended to guarantee safe-conduct on a journey.

The Anglo-Saxon bee-charm is written in the left margin of the page, following a Latin prayer. Neither the German scribe who recorded the Lorsch charm nor the Anglo-Saxon scribe saw any ideological discrepancy between recording a charm and recording a theological text.

[The reference to eorše, earth, is often used to proof the existence of an A-S deity. RR]

From: Bee Charms: The Beginnings of German Literature - Comparative and Interdisciplinary Approaches to Old High German (by Cyril Edwards; 2002; ISBN 157113235x)