Transference Charms

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A method of passing an ailment to a tree or another person by some ritual, simple or complicated. Take ASPEN - its constant shivering, by the doctrine of signatures, was taken as a sign that it could cure the shivering disease, ague, or malaria. But in some areas in France, the fever could be transferred by the simple rite of the patient tying a ribbon to the tree (Sebillot). Cross OAKS were planted at crossroads so the people suffering from ague could peg a lock of their hair in the trunk, and by wrenching themselves away might leave the hair in the tree, together with the illness (Jones-Baker. 1977). A feature of a lot of the charms connected with ASH is that illnesses would be handed over to the tree. So too with warts:

Ashen tree, ashen tree, Pray buy these warts of me.

That is a Leicestershire rhyme to accompany the charm, which was to take the patient to an ash tree, and to stick a pin into the bark. Then that pin would be pulled out, and a wart transfixed with it till pain was felt. After that the pin would be pushed back into the ash, and the charm spoken. Each wart was treated, a separate pin being used for each (Billson) (see WART CHARMS for further examples).

Getting rid of warts by rubbing a snail on them and then impaling it on a BLACKTHORN used to be common practice; or, from East Anglia, you could rub the wart with a green sloe, and then throw the sloe over your left shoulder (Glyde). They are both transference charms; cattle doctors in Worcestershire used to cure foot rot by cutting a sod from the spot on which the animal was seen to tread with its bad foot, and then to hang the turf on a blackthorn. As the sod dried out, so would the foot heal (Drury. 1985).

Toothache could be treated in a similar way, according to a charm recorded in Suffolk. The sufferer was instructed to clasp the tree (BIRCH, in this case) in his arms and then cut a slit in it. He then had to cut a piece of hair from behind the ear with his left hand, and bury it in the slit. When the hair had disappeared so would the toothache (Burne). Another tree used in a similar way is HAWTHORN, according to a French prescription to get rid of a fever. The patient is advised to take bread and salt to the tree, and say:

Adieu, buisson blanc;

Je te porte du pain et du sel

Et la fièvre pour demain.

The bread has to be fixed in a forked branch, and the salt thrown over the tree. Then he has to return home by a different road to that from which he set out. If there was only one door, then the patient had to get back in through a window (Sebillot). In much the same way, an offering of bread and butter was put under the BLACKBERRY arch, usually for whooping cough (see BLACKBERRY), after the child had been passed through. The patient had to eat some of the bread and butter while the adults present recited the Lord's Prayer. The rest of the food was given to an animal or bird on the way home - the animal would die, the disease dying with it (Baker. 1980).

ELDER is used in this same kind of magical way. Taking three spoonfuls of the water that has been used to bathe an invalid, and pouring it under an elder tree (Dyer) is an obvious kind of transference charm. In the same category is the Bavarian belief that a sufferer from fever can cure himself by sticking an elder stick in the ground in silence. The fever transfers itself to anyone who pulls the stick out (Frazer).

A Sicilian charm for the cure of scrofula was to chew PEACH bark, either on Ascension Eve or St John's Eve. If it dried up and withered, it was a sign that the tree had taken the disease to itself (Sebillot). Fernie quoted the same belief, except that the disease was goitre. In Marseilles, they used to get rid of a fever by sleeping with the back against a peach tree for two or three hours; the peach would gradually grow yellow, lose its leaves and die (Sebillot).

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Mole Removal

Mole Removal

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