Lori Ann Garner
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When healers are heroes
Hybridity of battle in Wið færstice
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Extending the previous chapter’s investigation of weaponry into another poetic charm text, Chapter 3 examines the verse incantation of a metrical incantation in Harley 585 (ff. 175r–176r) ‘wið færstice’ [‘against a sudden pain’], which ascribes pain to spears (garas) sent by mighty women from another realm. It is all too easy to dismiss this seemingly incongruous poem as mere superstition or abstract metaphor. But what happens if we look at this incantation in terms of strategies employed within actual Germanic warfare? The speaker – presumably the healer – threatens to return the attack with a flying arrow (‘fleogende flane’), and the incantation makes multiple references to smiths forging weapons of iron. This enigmatic incantation is framed on either side by a recipe and instructions involving herbal preparations. So different in tone and content is the incantation from the herbal recipe that some have argued they constitute entirely separate entries in the Lacnunga. However, when we bring a more complete awareness of specific weapons and battle strategies to our analysis of the text, we see that this incantation not only operates in tandem with the herbal preparation but emerges from the same underlying logic. In this construct, the herbs are the healer’s weapons, and the battle against pain parallels important heroic scenes in Beowulf. An appendix to this chapter then draws from the field of ethnopoetics to offer a newly edited text and translation of the remedy that more fully reflect the complex network of associations in play.

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Hybrid healing

Old English remedies and medical texts


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