Any magical words, phrases, chants, and incantations recited for protection against or for disease or to ward off evil. Charms have existed since ancient times and are still prevalent in folk magic. While some charm may be verbally or silently recited, such as a phrase, formula, mantra, or prayer, others are inscriptions written or inscribed on paper, parchment, wood or other material which may be worm on the body as amulets. Still other charms, such as certain prescribed ways of spitting, may consist of both phrases and actions. Charms, used for divination, have been attempted to obtain almost every desire or purpose imaginable. They have been tried to gain or lose a lover; eliminate an enemy; ensure chastity, fertility and potency; to gain victory, riches and fame; and to exact revenge.
Charms in agricultural communities have been employed to protect crops and farm animals; to gain help with milking churning butter, and in getting rid of rodents, vermin and weeds.
The mystical word abracadabra dates back to the second-century Rome. Other charms, words and phrases, were written on parchment and worn around the neck. They were worn to bring good fortune and cure illnesses.
Even the early Christian church encouraged the use on many holy charms such as rosaries and holy relics. During the 17th century, rosaries were similarly blessed as amulets offering protection against fire, tempest, fever, and evil spirits.
Witches and wizards during the medieval age were renowned as healers who used many charms. They were frequently known as “charmers” and employed Christian prayers spoken or written in Latin, or, as some claimed, debased Christian prayers. Although the Church did approve of the use of prayers and the Scriptures as cures and as protection against evil, it disapproved of the prescription of them by the sorcerers or charmers. This created a rather contradictory situation which obscured the distinction between religion and magic.
During the 17th century, a Nottingham sorcerer, sold copies of St. John’s Gospel as a charm against witchcraft. To break a witch’s spell he prescribed the recitation of five Paternosters, five Aves and One Creed. It might be judged that this sorcerer knew something about Christianity and absolution in the confessional.
The following 19th-century English charm, which is typical of some charms composed of simple little verses, is for protection against witchcraft:
He who forges images, he who bewitches
the malevolent aspect, the evil eye,
the malevolent lip, the finest sorcery,
Spirit of the heaven, conjure it! Spirit of the earth,
Witches reportedly had their good-luck charms, according to the following old folk-magic verse:
The fire bites, the fire bites; Hogs-turd over it, Hogs-
turd over it, Hogs-turd over it; the Father with thee,
the Son with me, the Holy Ghost between us both
to be: ter.
After reciting the verse, the witch spit once over each shoulder and three times forward.
With the advances of science during the 17th century the effectiveness of magical charms began to be challenged. The ways of folk-magic began diminishing, especially within urban areas. However, all belief and sentiment for charms was never completely destroyed. Even within industrial cities today traces of them remain. An example of this is the popular charm to divine love: “He/she loves me, he/she loves me not” said while pulling our the pedals of a daisy.
Charms are still recited by many when participating in magic-related activities such as gathering medicinal herbs, consecrating objects, or boiling a pot of urine to break a witch’s spell.
Generally amulets may be charmed objects while spells are the recital of charms. A.G.H.