Nine Herbs Charm
first posted July 2004 at burpingtroll.com
“Apple, mayweed and waybread
Against the evil hand.
Fiddlewood, nettle and cress
Against the evil eye.
Mugwort, fennel and chervil
Against the evil breath.”
Careful to keep the words within his mind, Rince repeated the charm three times before melting back into the thicket. No fool, he would bide his time and allow this company to pass. If luck were with him, his fingers stroked the pouch on its leather cord, he would take to the trees and deliver the news to those better able to deal with their presence.
Rince watched as the last of the troop disappeared into the gloom. Only a flutter of leaves marked his retreat from the thicket. Close set here, with branches intertwined, the trees provided an upper road for those nimble of foot. North he headed, moving without hesitation and with far greater speed than the group below.
Once, he detoured around an enormous oak, whispering the words of the charm as he swung to a perch out of reach of grasping branches. A shadow deeper than that elsewhere within the woods hung about the oak’s trunk. There was no time to deal with the venom festering in the heart of the tree while a more mobile force followed behind him. If all went well, he and the lords of this forest would return ere dawn to deal with this evil.
“Learn the rhyme; it will protect you from the enemy, boy. You will be shielded from witchcraft and have power against the nine venoms. You will see what is unseen; but none will see you, whilst you believe.”
His muscles tightened as dry, thin fingers slid around his neck to tie the cord. He recited the words without any true belief until his grandmother rapped his knuckles and pointed toward the forest looming beyond the clearing.
“Look there, tell me what you see,” she demanded.
“Trees and shadows,” he had replied sullenly, refusing to rub his stinging fingers.
The old woman had mumbled the words of the spell with her hands over his eyes, then commanded, “Look again.”
Jerking from her touch, he turned toward the forest. For an instant only, he saw it: a shadow creature with piercing red eyes and batlike wings crouched on the highest branch of the tallest pine. Then his sight shifted, and there was only a crow.
“There are more of them each day, if you know how to look. Servants of the Darkness. They spy out our ways, and seek ever to learn of those who dwell in the forest.” She patted the bag about his neck softly. “With this and the power of belief, you will see the truth behind the glamour they use to disguise themselves.” Her voice sank to a cackling laugh. “And if you are careful, they will never see you.”
Kervan had hooted with laughter when he first saw the worn leather bag, for few believed in the old ways. But Rince had determined he would take whatever protection he could get from the prey they stalked and had not responded to the catcalls and teasing. Though he would never allow himself to trust only to the power of the nine herbs, it did seem the enemy turned a blind eye to his presence. Whether the charm or his own skills, he had survived when others, including the derisive Kervan, had not.
No witchspell could cloak the shadow creatures from his sight, Thus, he earned the duty of scout for those few of his own folk still clinging to their settlements on the borders of the great wood. A task he continued when those who had ruled these woods for years uncounted came from their hidden fortresses to join with men from the lake, wood and dale. United against a common enemy, they fought with knife and bow, sword and spell to defeat the creatures of the Dark Lord.
Rince dropped to the ground and ran along the path. Ahead, a glimmer of light marked the clearing where the lords of the forest were encamped tonight. No fire glow, but rather the clear inner light of the denizens of the woods.
As the sentry rose up before him, he halted. Touching the bag at his throat, he sent thanks to the spirit of his grandmother for giving him the sight that allowed him to see both the evil shadows and the shimmering beauty of the elves of the Greenwood as few mortal men ever had.
His granny always liked to say, “For every bad, there is some good.”
Author’s Note: Inspiration for this is owed to Sillimarilli and Brother Cadfael’s Herb Garden by Talbot and Whiteman.
From: Lacnunga: Woden’s Nine Herbs Charm appears to date from around the 10th- or 11th-c.
It stands against pain, stands against poison,
has might against three and against thirty,
Against devil’s hand and against deception,
Against the witchcraft of the wicked ones.
These nine herbs have power against nine horrors.