Æcerbot

This æcerbot [field remedy] is a liturgical service for the blessing of a blighted plot of land. It uses some conventions of pre-Christian charms but does so in an emphatically Christian context and expression. While Anglo-Saxon Christian worship was done in Latin, everyday religion was the province of [Old] English. This text, from MS Cotton Caligula, British Library A. VII, fol. 176a-178a (10th-11th century), is quoted in Popular Religion in Late Saxon England: Elf Charms in Context by Karen Louise Jolly.


Here is the remedy, how you may better your land, if it will not grow well or if some harmful thing has been done to it by a sorcerer [dry] or by a poisoner [lyblace].

Take then at night, before dawn, four sods from four sides of the land, and mark where they were before.

Then take oil and honey and yeast, and milk of each animal that is on the land, and a piece of each type of tree that grows on the land, except hard beams, and a piece of each herb known by name, except burdock [glappan] only, and put then holy water thereon, and drip it three times on the base of the sods, and say then these words:

Crescite, grow, et multiplicamini, and multiply, et replete, and fill, terre, the earth. In nomine patris et filii et spiritus sancti sit benedicti. [In the name of the father and the son and the holy spirit be blessed.] And the Pater noster [Our Father] as often as the other.

And then bear the sods into church, and let a masspriest sing four masses over the sods, and let someone turn the green [sides] to the altar, and after that let someone bring the sods to where they were before, before the sun sets.

And have made for them four signs of Christ [crosses] of quickbeam and write on each end: Matthew and Mark, Luke, and John. Lay that sign of Christ in the bottom of the pit [where each sod had been cut out], saying then: crux Matheus, crux Marcus, crux Lucas, crux sanctus Iohannes.

Take then the sods and set them down there on [the crosses], and say then nine times these words, Crescite [grow], and as often the Pater noster, and turn then to the east, and bow nine times humbly, and speak then these words:

Eastwards I stand, for mercies I pray,
I pray the great domine [lord], I pray the powerful lord,
I pray the holy guardian of heaven-kingdom,
earth I pray and sky
and the true sancta [holy] Mary
and heaven’s might and high hall,
that I may this charm [galdor] by the gift of the lord
open with [my] teeth through firm thought,
to call forth these plants for our worldly use,
to fill this land with firm belief,
to beautify this grassy turf, as the wiseman said
that he would have riches on earth who alms
gave with justice by the grace of the lord.

Then turn thrice with the sun’s course, stretch then out lengthwise and enumerate there the litanies and say then: Sanctus, sanctus, sanctus to the end. Sing then Benedicite with outstretched arms and Magnificat and Pater noster thrice, and commend it [the land] to Christ and saint Mary and the holy cross for praise and for worship and for the benefit of the one who owns that land and all those who are serving under him.4 When all that is done, then let a man take unknown seed from beggars and give them twice as much as he took from them, and let him gather all his plough tools together; then let him bore a hole in the beam [of the plough, putting in] incense and fennel and hallowed soap and hallowed salt. Take then that seed, set it on the plough’s body, say then:

Erce, Erce, Erce, earth’s mother,
May the all-ruler grant you, the eternal lord,
fields growing and flourishing,
propagating and strengthening,
tall shafts, bright crops,
and broad barley crops,
and white wheat crops,
and all earth’s crops.
May the eternal lord grant him,
and his holy ones, who are in heaven,
that his produce be guarded against any enemies whatsoever,
and that it be safe against any harm at all,
from poisons [lyblaca] sown around the land.
Now I bid the Master, who shaped this world,
that there be no speaking-woman [cwidol wif] nor artful man [craeftig man]
that can overturn these words thus spoken.

Then let a man drive forth the plough and the first furrow cuts, say then:

Whole may you be [Be well] earth, mother of men!
May you be growing in God’s embrace,
with food filled for the needs of men.

Take then each kind of flour and have someone bake a loaf [the size of] a hand’s palm and knead it with milk and with holy water and lay it under the first furrow. Say then:

Field full of food for mankind,
bright-blooming, you are blessed
in the holy name of the one who shaped heaven
and the earth on which we live;
the God, the one who made the ground,
grant us the gift of growing,
that for us each grain might come to use.

Say then thrice Crescite in nomine patris, sit benedicti [Grow in the name of the father, be blessed]. Amen and Pater noster three times.

Author: Father Silouan Thompson

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