Magical words, phrases, chants (see chanting)
and incantations used in the casting of spells.
Charms have been common since ancient times. Some
charms are verbal—a phrase, formula or prayer—while
others are inscriptions on paper, parchment, wood or
other materials and are worn on the body. Still other
charms combine phrases with actions, such as spitting
Charms exist or can be composed for every desire and
purpose: to secure or lose a lover; ensure chastity, fertility
and potency; gain victory, riches and fame; and exact
revenge. Other charms protect crops and farm animals,
milking and churning butter and get rid of rats, vermin
and weeds. One of the most important functions of the
folk witch was to create charms that would repel or break
the spells of other witches that were blamed for illness
and bewitchment (see pellar).
Some of the oldest charms are magical words or
phrases written on parchment and worn around the
neck. The term abracadabra, which dates back at least
to 2nd-century Rome, and probably is older than that, is
supposed to cure fever.
The church promoted the use of holy charms, including
rosaries and holy relics. The most common
charm was the agnus dei, a small wax cake, originally
make out of paschal candles, bearing images of the
lamb and the flag. When blessed by the pope, the agnus
dei protected the wearer against attacks by the Devil,
thunder, lightning, fire, drowning, death in childbed
and other dangers. In the 17th century, rosaries were
similarly blessed as amulets against fire, tempest, fever
and evil spirits.
Folk witches and wizards who were renowned as
healers employed many charms. These “charmers,” as
they were often called, used Christian prayers spoken
or written in Latin, or debased Christian prayers. The
church approved the use of prayers and the Scriptures as
cures and as protection against evil but disapproved of
the prescription of them by sorcerers and charmers—a
rather contradictory position that blurred the line between
religion and magic. In the 17th century, a Nottingham
sorcerer, for example, sold copies of St. John’s Gospel
as a charm against witchcraft. To break witches’ spells,
he prescribed herbs plus the recitation of five Paternosters,
five Aves and one Creed.
Some charms were simple little verses, such as this
19th-century English charm 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
Even witches had their good-luck charms, according
to this 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 this verse, the witch spit once over each
shoulder and three times forward.
Charms are recited during magic-related activities,
such as the gathering of medicinal herbs, the consecration
of tools (see witches’ tools) and the boiling of a pot
of urine to break a witch’s spell.
With the advance of science in the late 17th century,
the efficacy of magic charms was challenged, and folk
magic in general began to diminish, especially in urban
centers. Charms, though, are still part of folk culture.
Some linger even in the industrialized West, such as the
popular charm to divine love, “He/she loves me, he/she
loves me not . . . ,” spoken while pulling petals out of a
In Wicca, the term charm has been replaced by such
terms as chant, incantation and rune. Some Witches carry
“charm bags,” little drawstring pouches containing items
used in spells.