Charms and incantations⁠—​How Cato cured sprains⁠—​The secret name of God⁠—​Secret names of cities⁠—​Abracadabra⁠—​Cures for cramp⁠—​Mr. Wright’s sigil⁠—​Whiskerifusticus⁠—​Witches’ horses⁠—​Their curses⁠—​How to raise the devil.

It is worth while to print in plain English for my readers a good selection of the very words which have been believed, or are still believed, to possess magic power. Then any who choose, may operate by themselves or may put some bold friend up in a corner, and blaze away at him or her until they are wholly satisfied about the power of magic.

The Roman Cato, so famous for his grumness and virtue, believed that if he were ill, it would much help him, and that it would cure sprains in others, to say over these words: “Daries, dardaries, astaris, ista, pista, sista,” or, as another account has it, “motas, daries, dardaries, astaries;” or, as still another account says, “Huat, huat, huat; ista, pista, sista; domiabo, damnaustra.” And sure enough, nothing is truer, as any physician will tell you, that if the old censor only believed hard enough, it would almost certainly help him; not by the force of the words, but by the force of his own ancient Roman imagination. Here are some Greek words of no less virtue: “Aski, Kataski, Tetrax.” When the Greek priests let out of their doors those who had been completely initiated in the Eleusinian mysteries, they said to them last of all the awful and powerful words, “Konx, ompax.” If you want to know what the usual result was, just say them to somebody, and you will see, instantly. The ancient Hebrews believed that there was a secret name of God, usually thought to be inexpressible, and only to be represented by a mystic figure kept in the Temple, and that if anyone could learn it, and repeat it, he could rule the intelligent and unintelligent creation at his will. It is supposed by some, that Jehovah is the word which stands for this secret name; and some Hebraists think that the word “Yahveh” is much more nearly the right one. The Mohammedans, who have received many notions from the Jews, believe the same story about the secret name of God, and they think it was engraved on Solomon’s signet, as all readers of the Arabian Nights will very well remember. The Jews believed that if you pronounced the word “Satan” any evil spirit that happened to be by could in consequence instantly pop into you if he wished, and possess you, as the devils in the New Testament possessed people.

Some ancient cities had a secret name, and it was believed that if their enemies could find this out, they could conjure with it so as to destroy such cities. Thus, the secret name of Rome was Valentia, and the word was very carefully kept, with the intention that none should know it except one or two of the chief pontiffs. Mr. Borrow, in one of his books, tells about a charm which a gypsy woman knew, and which she used to repeat to herself as a means of obtaining supernatural aid when she happened to want it. This was, “Saboca enrecar maria ereria.” He induced her after much effort to repeat the words to him, but she always wished she had not, with an evident conviction that some harm would result. He explained to her that they consisted of a very simple phrase, but it made no difference.

An ancient physician named Serenus Sammonicus, used to be quite sure of curing fevers, by means of what he called Abracadabra, which was a sort of inscription to be written on something and worn on the patient’s person. It was as follows:


Another gentleman of the same school used to cure sore eyes by hanging round the patient’s neck an inscription made up of only two letters, A and Z; but how he mixed them we unfortunately do not know.

By the way, many of the German peasantry in the more ignorant districts still believe that to write Abracadabra on a slip of paper and keep it with you, will protect you from wounds, and that if your house is on fire, to throw this strip into it will put the fire out.

Many charms or incantations call on God, Christ or some saints, just as the heathen ones call on a spirit. Here is one for epilepsy that seems to appeal to both religions, as if with a queer proviso against any possible mistake about either. Taking the epileptic by the hand, you whisper in his ear “I adjure thee by the sun and the moon and the gospel of today, that thou arise and no more fall to the ground; in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost.”

A charm for the cramp found in vogue in some rustic regions is this:

“The devil is tying a knot in my leg,
Mark, Luke and John, unloose it, I beg,
Crosses three we make to ease us⁠—
Two for the thieves, and one for Christ Jesus.”

Here is another, often used in Ireland, which in the same spirit of superstition and ignorant irreverence uses the name of the Savior for a slight human occasion. It is to cure the toothache, and requires the repeating of the following string of words:

St. Peter sitting on a marble stone, our Savior passing by, asked him what was the matter. ‘Oh Lord, a toothache!’ Stand up, Peter, and follow me; and whoever keeps these words in memory of me, shall never be troubled with a toothache, Amen.”

The English astrologer Lilly, after the death of his wife, formerly a Mrs. Wright, found in a scarlet bag which she wore under her arm a pure gold “sigil” or round plate worth about ten dollars in gold, which the former husband of the defunct had used to exorcise a spirit that plagued him. In case any of my readers can afford bullion enough, and would like to drive away any such visitor, let them get such a plate and have engraved round the edge of one side, “Vicit Leo de tribus Judae tetragrammaton A single symmetrical cross is formed of vertical and horizontal strokes..” Inside this engrave a “holy lamb.” Round the edge of the other side engrave “Annaphel” and three crosses, thus: A triple cross is formed of three symmetrical crosses, arranged horizontally.; and in the middle, “Sanctus Petrus Alpha et Omega.

The witches have always had incantations, which they have used to make a broomstick into a horse, to kill or to sicken animals and persons, etc. Most of these are sufficiently stupid, and not half so wonderful as one I know, which may be found in a certain mysterious volume called The Girl’s Own Book, and which, as I can depose, has often power to tickle children. It is this:

“Bandy-legged Borachio Mustachio Whiskerifusticus, the bald and brave Bombardino of Bagdad, helped Abomilique Bluebeard Bashaw of Babelmandel beat down an abominable bumblebee at Balsora.”

But to the other witches. Their charms were repeated sometimes in their own language and sometimes in gibberish. When the Scotch witches wanted to fly away to their “Witches’ Sabbath,” they straddled a broom-handle, a corn stalk, a straw, or a rush, and cried out “Horse and hattock, in the Devil’s name!” and immediately away they flew, “forty times as high as the moon,” if they wished. Some English witches in Somersetshire used instead to say, “Thout, tout, throughout and about;” and when they wished to return from their meeting they said “Rentum, tormentum!” If this form of the charm does not manufacture a horse, not even a sawhorse, then I recommend another version of it, thus:

“Horse and pattock, horse and go!
Horse and pellats, ho, ho, ho!”

German witches said (in High Dutch:)

“Up and away!
Hi! Up aloft, and nowhere stay!”

Scotch witches had modes of working destruction to the persons or property of those to whom they meant evil, which were strikingly like the negro obeah or mandinga. One of these was, to make a hash of the flesh of an unbaptised child, with that of dogs and sheep, and to put this goodly dish in the house of the victim, reciting the following rhyme:

“We put this until this hame
In our Lord the Devil’s name;
The first hands that handle thee.
Burned and scalded may they be!
We will destroy houses and hald,
With the sheep and nolt (i.e. cattle) into the fauld;
And little shall come to the fore (i.e. remain,)
Of all the rest of the little store.”

Another, used to destroy the sons of a certain gentleman named Gordon was, to make images for the boys, of clay and paste, and put them in a fire, saying:

“We put this water among this meal
For long pining and ill heal,
We put it into the fire
To burn them up stock and stour (i.e. stack and band.)
That they be burned with our will,
Like any stikkle (stubble) in a kiln.”

In case any lady reader finds herself changed into a hare, let her remember how the witch Isobel Gowdie changed herself from hare back to woman. It was by repeating:

“Hare, hare, God send thee care!
I am in a hare’s likeness now;
But I shall be woman even now⁠—
Hare, hare, God send thee care!”

About the year 1600 there was both hanged and burned at Amsterdam a poor demented Dutch girl, who alleged that she could make cattle sterile, and bewitch pigs and poultry by saying to them “Turius und Shurius Inturius.” I recommend to say this first to an old hen, and if found useful it might then be tried on a pig.

Not far from the same time a woman was executed as a witch at Bamberg, having, as was often the case, been forced by torture to make a confession. She said that the devil had given her power to send diseases upon those she hated, by saying complimentary things about them, as “What a strong man!” “what a beautiful woman!” “what a sweet child!” It is my own impression that this species of cursing may safely be tried where it does not include a falsehood.

Here are two charms which the German witches used to repeat to raise the devil with in the form of a he goat:

“Lalle, Bachea, Magotte, Baphia, Dajam,
Vagoth Heneche Ammi Nagaz, Adomator
Raphael Immanuel Christus, Tetragrammaton
Agra Jod Loi. Konig! Konig!”

The two last words to be screamed out quickly. This second one, it must be remembered, is to be read backward except the two last words. It was supposed to be the strongest of all, and was used if the first one failed:

“Anion, Lalle, Sabolos, Sado, Poter, Aziel,
Adonai Sado Vagoth Agra, Jod,
Baphra! Komm! Komm!”

In case the devil stayed too long, he could be made to take himself off by addressing to him the following statement, repeated backward:

“Zellianelle Heotti Bonus Vagotha
Plisos sother osech unicus Beelzebub
Dax! Komm! Komm!”

Which would evidently make almost anybody go away.

A German charm to improve one’s finances was perhaps no worse than gambling in gold. It ran thus:

“As God be welcomed, gentle moon⁠—
Make thou my money more and soon!”

To get rid of a fever in the German manner, go and tie up a bough of a tree, saying, “Twig, I bind thee; fever, now leave me!” To give your ague to a willow tree, tie three knots in a branch of it early in the morning, and say, “Good morning, old one! I give thee the cold; good morning, old one!” and turn and run away as fast as you can without looking back.

Enough of this nonsense. It is pure mummery. Yet it is worth while to know exactly what the means were which in ancient times were relied on for such purposes, and it is not useless to put this matter on record; for just such formulas are believed in now by many people. Even in this city there are “witches” who humbug the more foolish part of the community out of their money by means just as foolish as these.