Posted by: kljolly | May 16, 2018

Æcerbot V: Materials

What materials does the field remedy specify or imply with its instructions?

  • A field that is problematic:  unproductive, perhaps cursed, or infested with weeds or vermin.  It presumably had been in use but is now to be remediated; perhaps it will be left fallow to recover after this ceremony.  This would be an open field that normally is ploughed in strips for a sown grain crop like wheat, oats, rye, or barley.
  • The script (the manuscript).  Someone needs to have this booklet in hand to direct the actions, prompt the known Latin formulas, and read aloud the Old English formulas.
  • Shovel, hoe, or trowel for cutting sods from four sides of the field.  The implement would determine the size and shape of the sod.  This is presumably a time of year when green plants are growing either in the field or around the bounds of the field.   If the sod is taken from within the field, the green plant growth could be the problematic crop or weeds.  If taken from the margin around the field, then the sod is whatever grasses grow on that path?
  • Lanterns or torches when cutting the sod.  It is before dawn, and the need for markers suggests limited visibility.  On the other hand, it could be in that pre-dawn twilight.
  • Markers where sods taken from:  stones?  Implies that the site would otherwise be difficult to find again, that the terrain is uneven with other holes, or that the sods removed are not sizable.
  • Basket, wheelbarrow, or other transport for the four sods.  Even if just a trowel-ful each, it would be awkward for one person to carry all four, plus a trowel and a light.  More than likely, at least two people, if not four, one for each sod, would retrieve and return them, but they still might want to put the sods in something easy to carry, especially if it is a shovel-ful.
  • Products of the land used on the sods:  oil, honey, yeast, milk from each animal, tree bits except hardwood, plants except glappan.
    • Milk from each animal:  cow, sheep, goat.  It must be milking season, not winter.
    • No hardwood tree bits:  hardwood trees, like oak and beech, are not agricultural (Niles suggests), so only trees that are planted and harvested as crops are used in this agricultural remedy.
    • Among plants, no glappan:  no definite translation.  The word occurs only twice in the corpus of OE, here and another one-off remedy in a non-medical mss (an eye remedy in Cotton Faustina A.X, fols. 115v-116r). DOE translates tentatively as bogbean or buckbean (Menyanthes trifoliata).

      Storms, noting difficulty of translation, renders as burdock (arctium lappa), with burrs being the objectionable part.  However, there are other words for burdock in medical mss and herbals (clate, clife, cliþe).  That glappa- occurs in place names with –feld in various charters suggests a plant that grows in fields or wild (so perhaps a fallow field?).  I like burdock for the annoying burrs, but can’t justify the translation.

  • Holy water.  Normally hallowed for the week on Sundays.  See other hallowed items below:  salt, soap.
  • Quickbeam to make crosses, probably in advance of ceremony.
    • Niles suggests aspen or rowan, while DOE suggests mountain-ash or wild service.
    • Bierbaumer identifies as mountain ash (sorbus aucuparia):  NHM sorbus aucuparia is rowan.

    • “Northern mythology” (this is a tertiary site) associates rowan with protection from witchcraft; and it is used for rune staves.
    • Lacnunga XXXI (fols. 138v-140v), which has other similarities to the field remedy, specifies a quickbeam stirring stick.  Pettit then links this quickbeam stick to Lacnunga LXIII (fols. 146v-150v), a holy salve also with similarities to the field remedy.  It describes a  stick for stirring butter (no wood specified) that has four prongs on which are written the four evangelists’ names.  Lacnunga is found in London, British Library Harley 585  or see Pettit’s excellent edition and translation.
  • Knife for carving the quickbeam cross to write the names of the four evangelists on each.  Initially I took “write” to mean with ink, but since this is more or less a rune stick cross, carving seems more likely.
  • Unknown seed from almsmen:  whether a handful or a sackful is unclear. The amount placed on the plough seems small, but maybe only a handful is drawn from the sack of seed received from the almsmen.  Some suggest that unknown seed will diversify the field and lead to its recovery.
  • Seed to give almsmen:  twice the amount taken, so it must be a meaningful amount for the poor recipient (to eat or plant?).
  • Plough, driven by oxen or other traction animal? Perhaps this is more a human-driven harrow-type device, but the language used suggests a full plough (sulhgeteogo, sules bodig, sulh at fols. 177v5, 9, and 178r5).  If this is just a ceremonial endeavor, perhaps the animals are not hitched up to it yet.
  • Mixture of incense, fennel, hallowed soap, hallowed salt, in some kind of jar.  All are dry ingredients except “sape.”  Except for fennel, all are items that would be used in church.
    • fennel:  OE finol; Lat. foenuculum.  Pollington (pp. 118-20) says it is used to settle stomach, as a purgative, and in gripe waters; and that seeds may have been sprinkled on bread for flavoring.  It has supernatural properties in the 9 Herbs Charm.
    • sape = “soap:”  Pollington, (p. 177) refers to marrow soap as a replacement for tallow.  Marrow (mearh) is a substitute for grease, and is jelly-like.  It also occurs in Lacnunga XXXI.
    • salt: preservative; purifies; hallowed for church rituals.
    • incense stor:  storax.
  • Loaf of bread made from different kinds of flour.   Either winter sown wheat and rye and/or spring sown barley and oat, milk, and holy water.  No yeast? This might be a flat bread.  No one is going to eat it, except perhaps birds and other vermin.

Needless to say, gathering and preparing all of these materials would take some advance preparation.  However, also noteworthy is that all are presumed to be materials found on a typical Anglo-Saxon farm.


  • Bierbaumer, Peter.  Der botanische Wortschatz des Altenglischen.  3 volumes.  Bern:  Herbert Lang, 1975.
  • Cockayne, Thomas Oswald.  Leechdoms, Wortcunning and Starcraft of Early England.  3 Volumes.  Revised Edition, London:  Holland Press, 1961. Original 1864-66 (pagination different).
  • DOE = Dictionary of Old English: A to G (2008), or see Bosworth and Toller online.
  • Grattan, J. H. G. and Charles Singer.  Anglo-Saxon Magic and Medicine.  London:  Oxford University Press, 1952.
  • Niles, John D. “The Æcerbot Ritual in Context.” In Old English Literature in Context: Ten Essays, edited by John D. Niles, pp. 44–56, 163–64. Totowa, NJ: Rowman and Littlefield, 1980.
  • Pettit, Edward.  Anglo-Saxon Remedies, Charms, and Prayers from British Library MS Harley 585:  The Lacnunga.  2 Volumes.  Lewiston:  Edwin Mellen Press, 2001.
  • Pollington, Stephen.  Leechcraft:  Early English Charms, Plant Lore, and Healing.  Trowbridge:  Anglo-Saxon Books, 2000.
  • Storms, Godfrid.  Anglo-Saxon Magic.  Halle: Nijhoff, 1948.


  1. Reblogged this on pmayhew53.

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