A Blessing For The Night

– from the end of 13th or beginning 14th century AD –

translated from Latin and old German by Hamsadevi Claudia

mariamarburg
church window, 13th century, Marburg
    1. By the sacred treasure,
    2. By the highest name of God
    3. By the Holy Spirit
    4. By the salt of the Holy Lord
    1. May I be protected tonight
    2. From evil nightly travellers;
    3. And may I be safe from
    4. the black and the white,
    1. Who are called “the Good Ones”
    2. And have run to the Brocken mountain.
    3. (May I be protected from) the pilwizze,
    4. Protected from the eaters of men,
    1. Ghosts, haunting the ways,
    2. Riders on fences,
    3. Golden blades,
    4. Evil sprits,
    1. Glistening and blazing,
    2. Crouching and furious,
    3. The Wild Hunt and all his men,
    4. Carrying the wheels and the slings,
    1. (Being) broken on the wheel or hung,
    2. Who guilty left the world,
    3. And all elves,
    4. You shall no longer stay here.
    1. Elves and forest spirits
    2. You shall leave this place over the border fence.
    3. You elves, truuts and nightmares,
    4. You shall leave through the roof top.
    1. Not shall I be pressed by nightmares,
    2. Not shall I be pinched by truuts,
    3. Not shall I be ridden by nightmares,
    4. Not shall the elves cast spells on me.
    1. I forbid you to blow evil on me,
    2. I forbid you to press me,
    3. Scratch me, jump on me;
    4. Children of elves and gnomes,
    1. Leave me alone.
    2. And you, mourning mother,
    3. Think good of me.
    4. Valkyries and warrior brides,
    5. Go to another country;
    6. You, who are stealing milk
    7. You shall not find my door.
    8. Illness, that comes in footprints
    1. Shall stay away.
    2. You shall not touch me,
    3. not choke me,
    4. not look at me,
    1. Not cut off my foot,
    2. Not suck off my heart,
    3. Not send me a broom of straw.
    4. I ban you for today and all days,
    1. I kick you off, if I am carrying you;
    2. Now leave, you impure entourage,
    3. If you beings still won’t go,
    4. I conjure you monster
    1. By water and fire
    2. And all your companions
    3. By the Great Name
    4. Of the fish, who is celebrated in mass,
    1. I conjure you with all power
    2. By the suffering,
    3. By the praise of god,
    4. By the call,
    1. By the confession,
    2. By the anointed one,
    3. By the blessed one,
    4. By the praised one,
    1. By the Holy Trinity,
    2. By Heavenly Jerusalem
    3. That you leave and
    4. flee away above me and
    5. Never more haunt or touch me.Amen

      butterfliesxs

The text of the medieval blessing for the night presented here introduces to us the world of spirits, who populated the medieval world and is exemplaric for the country folks’ beliefs in the Middle Ages.

The blessing starts with the praying individual’ s taking refuge to the sacred powers of Christian belief:

The ” sacred treasure” refers to the consecrated host as a symbol for the last supper and the resurrection of Christ.

The following two lines refer to the Father god and the Holy Spirit. So refuge is taken to the Holy Trinity.

After ensuring himself of the assistance of these the praying person lists several spirits, against whom protection shall be provided: “evil nightly travellers”, “black and white” beings, who are “called The Good Ones” and travel to Brocken mountain.

These lines reflect the mix of Christianisation preceding pagan ideas with Christian superstitions: evil nightly travellers, who travel to the mountain Brocken reflect the idea of witches riding on their broomsticks to some mountain as their meeting point. The term “Brocken” in German originally did not point exclusively to the mountain of that name in the Harz mountains; it only described a mountain with a rocky hilltop, a place, where boulders of stone, in German “Felsbrocken” lay around. It had been Goethe, who made in his drama of Dr. Faust the mountain Brocken in the Harz near the small village of Thale the meeting point of witches for their Walpurgisnight celebrations.

The addressing of those “who are called the Good Ones” are an example for the mix of the ideas of nature spirits or even local goddesses with witches.

The “Good Ones”, in German “Holden”, appear in northern mythology and German folklore as female spirits, dressed in white garments, surrounded by a shining aura of clear light, helpful and friendly to those, who are in need. The quintessence of these friendly local goddesses, is the Goddess Hulda or Holda, made immortal as an echo of the memory of the White Goddess in the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tale of Frau Holle.

hulda2xs

Lines 11 – 16 list some of the evil spirits, who populated the world of medieval folk beliefs in Germany: it starts with the “pilwizze” or “bilwiz” – this being appears with different spellings all over Germany. Grimm describes him as the memory of an ancient spirit of vegetation.

Children, who were raised in the countryside along the Teutoburger Forest were warned by their grandmothers of the bilwiz. The bilwiz, so they were told, is sitting hidden in the crop fields, lying in wait for children, who would go into the crop field. He catches them and carries them away to eat them.

We could read into this price of folklore ancient memories of human sacrifices to grant rich harvests.

We also may find a more practical explanation for the bilwiz – guardian of the crop fields.

Little children are attracted by crop fields: one may hide there or walk in them unseen.

  1. The crops don’t become nicer from being trampled down.
  2. Whoever stepped into a field on a warm sunny day in summer knows how the air becomes of and humid and even breath taking between the blades.
  3. For a small child these circumstances may become really life threatening. It may faint, get a sunstroke and die, if not found early.

A child, being found dead without any outer sign of violence in the crop field may well have lead to the idea of an evil spirit, luring in the crop field to take away the life’s of children.

“Ghosts, haunting the ways” refers to the restless souls of those, who have in their lifetime shifted boundary stones to enlarge their property and now must walk along the boundaries for all eternity.

“Golden blades” are thought to be the weapons which are thought to be used as means to hurt or even kill victims over some distance.

Now follows a descriptive listing of spirits, who are “glistening and blazing, crouching and furious”. According to their description they are belonging to the Wild Hunt as elemental spirits, producing thunderstorms and hailstorms, often threatening or destroying whole harvests.

More participants of the Wild Hunt enter the scene: the restless souls of men, who were sentenced to death, either being hung or broken on the wheel, now carrying the instruments, that had brought them to death with them for all eternity.

This is followed by another listing of nature spirits, who are not only ordered to leave the place, but also instructed about which way they shall leave the place: “over the border fence”. As border fences often border the wilderness from the „domesticated“ area, where people felt safe, this is also an instruction to leave the people´s habitation to go where these spirits belong according to the people´s belief: the wildwood.

Others, “elves, truuts and nightmares, are instructed to leave “through the roof top”, which is fitting for them, as they were thought having the ability to fly.

Lines 29 – 35 describe the different ways, in which different evil spirits act on their victim: “press” them, “scratch” them and “jump on” them, such giving bad dreams and difficulty in breathing.

Elves cast spells, blow evil on their victims, press them, scratch them, and jump on them, which describes some of the medieval ideas about the transfer of illness.

Spirits, who brought illness were often thought to lure in dark, desolate and gloomy places – old tracks, half hidden and overgrown, ancient burial mounds, graveyards and moorlands. These evil spirits jump on their victim’ s shoulders or shoot invisible arrows, which cause illness, into their victims. Those, who jump on their victim’s shoulders are described in folklore as being invisible, but becoming heavier with every step, their victim is making.

In medieval healing spells the illness is often addressed as an individual and ordered to leave the patient’s body.

After the repetition of the order to leave in lines 36 and 37 now lines 38 and 39 are an appeal to the “mourning mother” to “think with kindness” of the person, speaking the blessing.

With the “mourning mother” the Holy Virgin of Christian belief may be addressed, perhaps replacing a pagan goddess, one of those, who occasionally appeared to the wanderer on the old trackways in changing shape: as the White Lady in brightly shining silvery robes, appearing on the moonlit path or as an old hag, asking for help and granting blessings and material rewards to the helpful and punishing those, who are without compassion.

Lines 40 – 45 present another mix of ideas, typical for the folk beliefs of the Middle Ages.

“Valkyries and warrior brides” are ordered to “go to another country”. This may reflect a wish for peace.

In line 42 some spirits are accused to “steal milk”.

moth1xsIf we follow the development of the idea of milk stealing spirits throughout the history of folk beliefs an interesting development may be seen:

In a lot of fairy tales from all over Europe we meet friendly spirits, often belonging to the house or place, who get their daily share of milk and cares for the well being of human and furry inhabitants of the farm.

Later fairy tales present milk stealing elves and gnomes, in short, all kinds of inhabitants of the elemental spheres and world of nature spirits. To steal milk they change their shape.

The idea is reflected in the English word “butterfly” – a nature spirit in the shape of a fly with the intention to steal butter.

butterfly3xs

Much later the idea of milk stealing witches came up.

Lines 44 – 52 offer another listing of evil spirits’ activities and the forbiddance to do any of these to the person, who is speaking the blessing.

We may recognise in this listing a description of medieval ideas about illness causing spirits’ activities. They “shall not come in footprints”, “touch”, “choke”, “look at” the praying person or “cut off the foot” or “suck off the heart”.

Against accidents during harvest time as well as against illness of the heart protection was needed.

The order not to be send a broom of straw refers to the idea of evil wishes being bound into a bundle of straw and being deposited near the victim’s home by the evil wishing person.

From line 52 – 57 the malevolent spirits are threatened and addressed with unfriendly words, being called “impure entourage” and “monsters”, who will be “kicked off” and “driven away with water and fire”, if they won’t leave at the instant.

In lines 60 – 70 the Christian sacraments are listed with the intention to drive away the evil spirits. “The great name of the fish, who is celebrated in mass” is “conjured with all power” “by the suffering” and “the praise of God”, etc., etc. the listing ends with conjuring the Holy Trinity and “Heavenly Jerusalem”.

The text ends with the instruction to the evil spirits to “flee above” the person, who is speaking this lines and never to return again to the person or place.

The original text is an example for the spirit world of German folklore during the Middle Ages.

The language is a mixture of cod Latin and old German. It has end rhymes as well as alliterations, the latter often appearing in old German healing spells and poems.

A long blessing as the one presented here, has in parts all attributes of a conjuration. It was not used as an all day rite and daily prayer.

Such a blessing usually had been part of an elaborated purification and / or banishing ritual, either executed when thought necessary or on Christian holidays, which varied in different regions.

We may visualise the procession of the farm’s inhabitants, lead by the head of the family, making their way through the rooms of the farmhouse, through stables and barns, stopping in each building to repeat the litany of the blessing. The participants are carrying a candle, dedicated to the Holy Virgin, who had replaced the protective mother goddess. On the farms along the slopes of Teutoburger Forest the female participants also carry vessels, filled with water, that had been ladled silently on Easter morning from one of the many wells of the region, which are sacred to the Goddess. These vessels have a round bottom, as they shall not touch the earth. They hang under the ceiling, and the water is used to be sprinkled on humans and animals, who were ill or thought to be bewitched. But not only in the blessed light and the holy water the blessing energies of the Goddess are present.

During such a purification rite also herbs were burned as incense.The ingredients of these incenses varied in different regions. Some of them came from the bouquet of healing herbs, that had been blessed during mass on Assumption Day in August.

Instead of an incense burner the farmers used a dustpan, reserved for that purpose. The direction to which the clouds of the herbal incense swirled was interpreted as a hint to which direction the evil spirits were leaving the place.

These kind of exorcism or purification rites were still executed in some rural regions of Germany in the 50ties and 60 ties of the past century.

 

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