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The English word "charm" is derived from the Latin carmen, a verse; and the magical potency of a sentence used as a charm was believed to rest in the words themselves, and not in the person who uttered them. In the opinion of the cabalistic magicians of the Middle Ages, the power of a charm of words depended upon its being unintelligible.

The Latin poet, Varius, wrote in the first century B.C. that old women, by the sole use of words as charms, were able not only to restrain and subjugate wild animals and serpents, but also to drive away noxious creatures and vermin. Few early writers allude to this practice, which appears, however, to have been much in vogue in different countries towards the close of the mediaeval period. The Swiss theologian, Felix Hammerlein (1389-1457), wrote of a peasant living near Zurich who was able, by repeating a magic formula, to rid infested premises of adders, vipers, lizards, and other reptiles; and in some parts of Normandy it was a custom formerly to place small rolls of bay under the fruit trees. The hay was then set on fire by means of torches carried by young children, who repeated meanwhile: "Mice, caterpillars, and moles, get out of my field; I will burn your beard and your bones; trees and shrubs, give me three bushels of apples." Hampson remarks that this incantation somewhat resembles one employed by the ancient Grecians against beetles, whom they held responsible for the destruction of their corn. These magical lines are thus translated: "Fly, beetles, the ravenous wolf pursues you."

It was currently reported among the ancients that the famous philosopher, Pythagoras, not only possessed the faculty of predicting storms and earthquakes, but that he had by a magical word been enabled to tame a Daunian bear, and had also prevented an ox from eating beans by whispering in his ear.

Antoine Mizauld, the French physician and astrologer, affirmed that, according to Ptolemy, in order to drive away serpents, one should prepare a talisman by engraving the figure of two serpents upon a square piece of copper and pronouncing a charm of words as follows: "With this image I forbid serpents to harm any one, and command them to leave the place where it shall be buried." In like manner, says the same authority, to expel rats and mice, one has only to represent an image of one of these creatures upon a piece of tin or copper, and at the proper time, as determined by astrology, command them to depart.

In order to expel snakes, insects, and vermin from their dwellings, the Bulgarian women of Turkey, on the last day of February, endeavor to frighten the creatures by beating copper vessels all over the house, while shouting, "Out with you, snakes, scorpions, flies, bugs, and fleas!" One of the vessels is then taken into the court-yard, the pests being expected to follow it. And in Serfo, an island of the Grecian archipelago, at the commencement of the vintage a bunch of grapes is thrown into each house to expel the vermin, while this formula is repeated: "The black grape will sicken you; the black grape will poison you! Out with you, rats and fleas!"

In Albania, when locusts or cockchafers devastate the fields, a number of women, having caught some of the insects, form a mock funeral procession, and proceed to drown them in some convenient stream. And while on their way thither they chant in turn the following dirge, which all repeat in chorus:--

O locusts, O cockchafers, parents kind,
Orphaned you have left us all behind.

And this proceeding is thought to be destructive to the whole swarm of insects.

The following charm against foxes was formerly used in France, and was to be repeated thrice a week:--

Foxes, both male and female, I conjure you in the name of the Holy Trinity, that ye neither touch nor carry off any of my fowls, whether roosters, hens or chickens; nor eat their nests, nor stick their blood, nor break their eggs, nor do them any barm whatever.

The Roman Catholic Church formerly sanctioned the use of certain sentences as charms against vipers, and the following may serve as a specimen:--

I conjure thee, O serpent, in this hour, by the five holy wounds of Our Lord, that thou remove not out of this place, as certainly as God was born of a pure Virgine. Otherwise, I conjure thee, serpent, by Our Lady St. Mary, that thou obey me, as wax obeyeth the fire, and as fire obeyeth water, that thou neither hurt me nor any other Christian, as certainly as God was born of an immaculate Virgine, in which respect I take thee up. In Nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti. . . . Otherwise, O vermine, thou must come as God came unto the Jews."

When a Turk chances to encounter a serpent, he is wont to invoke the aid of Chah-Miran, the serpent-king, and in the name of this deity he bids the reptile depart. Now Chah-Miran has long been dead, but the astute Turk reasons that serpents are not aware of this fact, for, if they were, the human race would be helpless against their attacks.

As preservatives from the stings of insects, and to prevent the croaking of frogs, the Moslems use scraps of paper containing magical formulae, or sentences from the Koran engraved on stones or pieces of metal; and a method formerly in vogue in France, to protect pigeons from the incursions of scorpions, consisted in writing the word "Adam" on each of the four walls of the pigeon-house.

The natives of Mirzapur, in cases of scorpion-bite, recite a charm meaning as follows:--"Black scorpion of the limestone, green thy tail and black thy mouth, God orders thee to go home. Come out, scorpion, at the spell. Come out, come out!"

The following charm against insects is in vogue in Lesbos: In the evening a black-handled knife is stuck in some spot where the insects congregate, and certain Greek verses are repeated, of which the following is a translation:--

I got three naughty bairns together,
One a wasp, one caterpillar,
And a swarming ant the other.
Whate'er ye eat, whate'er ye drink,
Hence, hence avaunt,
To the hills and mountains flee,
And unto each fruitless tree.

The knife is to remain in the same spot until the next morning, and is then to be removed. This completes the charm, and the insects are expected to depart at once.

In Great Britain there formerly prevailed a belief that rats could be rhymed to death by anathematizing them in metrical verse, a practice mentioned by Shakespeare and contemporary poets, and which is even to-day not wholly obsolete.

In southern Germany, during the campaigns of Napoleon I., mice with inked feet were placed upon the map of Europe, and their tracks were held to foretell the routes by which the French soldiers would advance.

The Hindus consider the rat to be a sacred animal, and among the lower classes of the natives of western India it is thought unlucky to call a rat by his own name, so they speak of him as the "rat-uncle."

Next: VII. Superstitious Dealings With Wild Animals