Wednesday, December 03, 2008

The 'Canterbury Charm'?

[See below for updates]

Help! I have to do a TV taping tomorrow in New York, and the producers just provided me with a gigantic list of questions they want to ask. One set of the questions is about "The Canterbury Charm," which supposedly mentions Thor.

The problem: I know nothing about "The Canterbury Charm." I did some research, and I can find almost nothing. So I plead with my readers to help me.

Here's what I have figured out:

Wikipedia thinks there is such a thing as the Canterbury Charm and other, possibly questionable sites say:

171. Canterbury Charm:

kuril sarþuara far þu nu funtin is tu þur uigi þik þ(u)rsa trutin kuril sarþuara uiþr aþrauari
Kuril wound-causer, go now, you are found. Thor hallow you, Lord of Troll, Kuril wound-causer. Againstblood-vessel pus.
Since Thor hallows with his hammer, the ‘Thor hallow you’ must be understood as ‘Thor strike you with hishammer!’, which makes sense in this curse against a sickness.

Supposedly the charm is found in the margin of a 1073 manuscript. Another site says it is in Cotton Caligula A.xv., which indeed dates in part to 1073.


There is no mention in Ker's Catalogue of such a charm.

Searching on the strings of words in the DOE corpus produces nothing (trying sar Taura, sarTaura, funtin, trutin, etc.)

The charm is supposedly written in runes, but there is no mention of it that I can find in Ray Page's An Introduction to English Runes

These problems could be explained if the charm is considered Old Norse. C.f., the inscription on the Glavendrup stone, "þor uiki þasi runar" (Thor bless these runes). But there is no mention of it in Heather O'Donoghue's excellent intro to Old Norse/Icelandic, and it's not familiar to my go-to person on charms, magic and medicine in Anglo-Saxon England, either.

Guillame Schiltz presented a paper at ISAS in 2003 in Arizona on the charm (The Canterbury Charm: Evidence for Mutual Exchange During Conversion?), and later there was this publication:

Schiltz, G. (2004) Der Canterburyspruch oder "wie finden dänische Runen und englische Komputistik zusammen?" Ein Beitrag zur historischen Textlinguistik. In: Th. Honegger (ed.): 'Riddles, Knights and Cross-dressing Saints: Essays on Medieval English Language and Literature' (Collection Variations). Bern: Lang, p.115-138.

I don't have a copy of Stanley's The Search for Anglo-Saxon Paganism anywhere close, so I can't check if he mentions it.

So, dear readers, so much better informed than I am:

Does anyone know the full context of the charm?
Is the use of "Thor" an example of a Scandinavian deity being invoked in an A-S manuscript?
Why isn't the Canterbury charm in the OE corpus?

Thank you!!


[UPDATE: See John Cowan's comments below, which pretty much answer most of my questions. Far better internet search skills than I possess. And K.A. Laity via Scott Nokes sent this link, where Alaric Hall mentions it on page 4. So the charm is legit. and not just something that got dumped into Wikipedia.

I conclude that the charm isn't in Ker or Page or the DOE corpus because it is Old Norse (I guess it says something about my glacially improving ON that I just read the charm and it didn't really register what language it was in), and that it really does say something about Thor. That will have to do for the crazy TV shoot tomorrow. Thank you all!!]


linda said...

Let me begin by saying I found this on the internet using Google Scholar, it comes from a book that has not been peer reviewed and therefore perhaps dubious.

Runes, magic and religion : a sourcebook. (2004)

* McKinnell, J.,
* Simek, R.,
* Düwel, K.

But it does offer a discussion of sorts on the charm. The chapter in which the discussion appears can be downloaded at

This is a "pdf" download. The discussion of the Canterbury Charm is on page 127 (the download starts on age 116).

Hope this helps, but I am only an amateur at this.

J. D.

John Cowan said...

The Schiltz paper is accessible online, according to Google, at . This is behind a paywall for me, but perhaps your institution has access to it.

Schiltz also has a home page at , which refers to his "popular website on medieval charms" at . I mention this to show that it's not just some random website, but Schiltz's own -- the "Autor" link tracks back to his Uni Basel site.

Clicking on the "Manuskripte" link and choosing "Cotton Caligula A 15" gets me to , which quotes the charm and gives it a title of "Gegen Blutvergiftung". It also says "Text: E. Moltke, Runes and their Origin. Copenhagen, 1985:360f". Clicking on "Übersetzung ein" takes us to a German interlinear saying:

Kuril, Wunden-Verursacher,
gehe du nun, gefunden bist du.
Thor segne (vernichte) dich, Herr der Thurs (=Krankheitsdämone),
Kuril Wunden-Verursacher.
Gegen vereiterte Adern.

Clicking on the "Manuskript" link next to the interlinear leads to , a low-res but readable picture of the inscription, which appears to start on a verso and extend to the following recto. I can easily make out "KURIL" at the beginning, and probably the whole rune is there.

All of which tends to confirm both the legitimacy and the interpretation of the charm. If Moltke 1985 is actually the editio princeps, it's not too surprising that various indexes and corpora don't have it.

Finally, Schiltz's email is Guillaume dot Schiltz at unibas dot ch, and his phone number is plus four one, six one, two six seven, two seven eight two.

Hope this helps.

Unknown said...

I know I'm late, and I see you've already been directed to Alaric Hall's 'Thurs' paper, but I just thought I'd mention that I've been hearing quite a bit about this charm from Alaric himself lately, as an MA student at Leeds. And do know that he's quite open to comments/questions/suggestions regarding the papers he posts on his website.


Alaric Hall said...

Hey ho! Just to say thanks for posting the reference to the Shiltz paper (and Schiltz's other resources). I regret that I didn't know about that when I was writing my own paper mentioning this charm, but I'm glad to have seen the reference now.

Viqueen said...

I know this is 3 years too late, but just in case you or any of the commenters are not aware, there is a very full article on the charm in vol. 44 of Nottingham Medieval Studies (2000):
John Frankis 'Sidelights on post-conquest Canterbury: towards a context for an Old Norse runic charm (DR 419' pp. 1-27.