Sunday, 15 June 2014

Saint George’s Charm Against the Night-mare

George is the patron saint of England and his feast day is still celebrated on April 23 with the displaying of the English flag, which bears George’s red cross.

In medieval tradition, Saint George was the Virgin Mary’s champion knight; England itself was regarded as the Virgin’s dowry.

Saint George’s cult had both elitist and earthy aspects. On the one hand, he was the saint of nobility and monarchs. To join the Guild of Saint George, one had to own a horse, which made it exclusive indeed, because in the medieval and Early Modern period, as now, horses were expensive and only the wealthy could afford them. Poorer folk relied on oxen to pull their carts and ploughs.

On the other hand, the name George means farmer. In his more populist aspect, George was the patron of horses and the low born people who looked after them for their wealthy masters.

The following is a late medieval charm against the night-mare, which was believed to be a hag that entered the stable by night in spirit form and rode the horses until they were exhausted. This superstition was very long lived. Margaret Pearson, arrested in the Pendle Witch Trial of 1612, was accused of bewitching to death a mare in the village of Padiham, Lancashire.

 "Bewitched Groom" by Hans Baldung Grien

A Charm Against the Night-mare

Saint Jorge, our Lady Knight,
He walked day, he walked night,
Till that he founde that foule wight; (foul spirit)
And when that he her founde,
He her bete (beat) and he her bounde,
Till trewly ther her trowth she plight (till she finally made her vow)
That she sholde not come by night
Within seven rod of lande space
Theras Saint Jeorge y-named was.
St. Jeorge, St. Jeorge, St. Jeorge.

This rhyme was written on a piece of paper or parchment, then tied into the horse’s mane. To ensure full power, an amulet or piece of flint with a natural hole was also hung over the stable door. Earliest reference to this charm dates back to 1425-50, but it appeared in a book on witchcraft as late as 1584.

From C. and K. Sisan (eds.), The Oxford Book of Medieval English Verse, Oxford, 1973.

What happened to Margaret Pearson after being convicted of bewitching a horse to death? Unlike the other Pendle Witches who were hanged at Lancaster, she was spared the noose since she had only supposedly killed a horse and not a human. Instead she was pilloried on four consecutive market days in Padiham, Whalley, Clitheroe, and Lancaster, and sentenced to a year in Lancaster prison.

1 comment:

Sue Bursztynski said...

Fascinating! I didn't know that about St George and the Night-Mare.