A charm for staunching blood
By David Stifter
Celtica, Vol. 25 (2007)
‘Charm for staunching blood
I hinder the blood through a man’s point (of a weapon).
I let go (or: I destroy) the ﬂowing, I hinder the blood,
the stream of pain, the swift, sad storm.
I hinder the blood, I slay the disease.’
Introduction: In an article on Irish charms contained in various medical manuscripts James and Maura Carney included the following charm for staunching blood from the RIA ms 24 B 3, p. 55 (no. VI in Carney 1960: 150–151). The copy dates from the end of the fifteenth century, but the charm has ‘every appearance of belonging to an early period’: Obaid coisci fola. Argairim fuil tri grinni fir dolegem tracht argarem fuil sruth ances anfad dian dogar argairem fuil benaim galar. Maura Carney translates: ‘A charm for staunching blood. I forbid blood by true acuteness. (?) I destroy a flowing. I forbid blood. A stream a swift . storm prevents (?). I slay disease.’
The charm is printed as prose although Maura Carney remarks that it seems to be ‘roughly rhythmical with either two or four stresses to the line’. But the fact that the charm proper, disregarding the title obaid coisci fola, consists of 32 syllables with a distinct syntactical break after every eighth syllable can only mean that we are not looking at a specimen of rhythmical poetry, but at a syllabic stanza of the structure 81 8 1 8 2 8 2 . The poetical features do not, however, conform to those regular in syllabic poetry. The cadences of lines a–b (fuil : ﬁr) and c–d (dogar : galar) do not rhyme, but make consonance. Line a has chiastic alliteration (ar·Gairim Fuil tri Grinni Fir), line c two pairs of normal alliteration (sruth Ances Anfad Dían Dogar). In line d the alliteration between ar·Gairim and Galar encompasses the whole verse.