Šárka Sedláková: Nettle –The Dark Twin of Flax

Tonight, on Walpurgisnacht, also known as Hexennacht, we publish an article about Healing Magic. Šárka Sedláková is an Elder Fellow and paramount in creating the Rune-Gild in Mainland Europe. Her constant contributions to the Gild, her beautiful photographic art, her magical insights and the fact that the next World Moot will take place in the Czech Republic are all proof of her importance to the Rune-Gild and its manifestation in Europa. This is further confirmed by the fact that Šárka is the first magician from the Czech Republic, who ever contributed and added something to esoteric runology as the following article demonstrates:

By Šárka Sedláková

Different kinds of nettle plants are growing in various parts of the world. They have their own place in folklore; they can be used for medicinal purposes and, if one uses their fibres, also for making textiles. Young Spring nettle leaves are used for cooking and can be used as a nutritional substance for pets. Based on earlier Germanic formulas, LINA (‘linen, flax’) and LAUKAZ (‘leek’), I was able to construct a galdor using the Proto-Germanic word, *natōn (nettle), and utilize its unique folkloric power in rituals.

Formulaic word LINA

Lina is probably identical with lin (‘flax’) because flax and leek are both mentioned in Vǫlsa þáttr (Flowers 2014, p. 178). This inscription can also be found on the Fløksand knife in combination with laukaz (‘leek’) to evoke fertility, growth, regeneration (Flowers 2014, p. 178; Pollington 2016, p. 335). The term lina has sometimes been seen as a kind of herbal substance. Looijenga also points out that there are edible parts of flax, namely the seeds. The sequence of runes liin can be also found on bracteates (Flowers 2014, p. 178). These multiple runes “l” can be interpreted as laukaz or lina or a combination of both of them (Mees, MacLeod2006, p. 104; Looijenga 2003, p. 355).

Nettle in Germanic and Slavic Folklore

An Anglo-Saxon spell (Harley MS. no. 585 fol. 186) mentions nettles as one of the herbs that is used against fær-stice, a sudden sting on the side. Nettles from this perspective are clearly magical and not only a medicinal plant because it is necessary to pick nettles that grow through a fence (Grimm 1882, p. 1244). Jacob Grimm further explains that this kind of stinging was considered to be caused by spirits, hags or elves, similar to an elf-shot. It is necessary to understand that we have here a stinging plant that is partly ‘evil’ and otherworldly. It can harm people, just like thorns, thistles and thorny bushes. The same nature can be used to exorcise ‘evil’ or thursic forces that caused the sickness to begin with. The word nettling also means ‘irritate or annoy someone’.

It is also worth noting that the nettle plant is mentioned under the name stiðe in the Anglo-Saxon Nine Herbs Charm. In this charm, Woden strikes a wyrm (‘worm’) with nine glory twigs. The worm then flies apart into nine pieces – diseases (Pollington 2011, p. 459).

Nettles growing around fences, in ditches and on the edge of the forest are liminal plants, meaning a hedge plant that connects two (or more) worlds. This is a source of the nettles power.

Czech and Polish folk-magic also consider that the ambivalent nature of nettle is a source of its powers (Michalička 2017, p. 25). Some nettle spells contain work with liminal spaces, such as fences, rims of a field or a threshold under which nettle plants have to be buried in order for protection. In Czech and German folklore nettles are used during a storm to magically protect beer from spoiling (Grimm 1882, p. 1790; Michalička 2017, p. 25), and in Slovenia nettles are also used as protection from lightning strikes (Michalička 2017, p. 25).

Another important Germanic magical motif can be found in a fairy-tale about a girl who had to harvest nettles with her bare hands and make shirts from nettle fibres for her brothers, who turned into swans or ravens from a curse. Hans Christian Andersen also wrote a story with boys who turned into swans who needed nettle shirts in order to turn them back into human beings. For this story, Andersen used various older folklore motifs which can be found in the ATU Index as folktales of type 451 (The Brothers Who Were Turned into Birds). Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm wrote their version, The Twelve Ravens, where the origin of fibres is not specified.

The Russian fairy tale from a collection Ненаглядная красота (1949) about Maria the Golden Hair and Ivanushka combines both textile materials. Ivanushka has to fight a fire-spitting dragon to free Maria. So, his grandmother makes him a nettle shirt and, during the process of making the shirt, she constantly cries from pain. She gives him two pieces of clothing—one is a fine linen skirt for a lower garment and the other a nettle shirt as an outer piece of armour; He then dons both pieces of clothing. The last remaining head of the Nine-Headed Dragon bites the nettle shirt and burns its mouth. Ivanushka and Maria finally kill the monster.

Formulaic word NATŌN

In order for a proper galdor formula to be written in the runes of the Elder Futhark it is necessary to reconstruct a word into Proto-Germanic, a proto-language which used the Elder Futhark. There are two reconstructed names available: *natōn and *natilōn (Köbler 2014; Orel 2003, p. 281, 282). The Germanic root *nat– (in both *natilōn and natōn) is from PIE *ned (‘to bind’). The original runic formulas tend to use shortened versions, e.g., lin instead of lina, or just „l“. Therefore, the version *natōn was selected which can be even shortened as an N-rune.

In the chart above, the functions of flax and nettle are already given, these competences should not be understood as opposites but rather as complementary forces within nature. To fortify their complementarities, we can add the third element, laukaz (leek), which would be a tip of the green flame in this magical formula of vegetables. Flax is a cultivated and soft form of power whilst nettle possesses rough and otherworldly influences.

Bibliography

Flowers, Stephen E. Runes and Magic: Magical Formulaic Elements in the Older Runic Tradition (Third Revised and Expanded Edition). 2014. Bastrop, Texas: Lodestar.

Grimm, Jacob. Teutonic Mythology. 1882. London: George Bell and Sons.

Karnauchova, Irina Valerjanovna. Krása nesmírná (orig. Ненаглядная красота, 1949). 1884. Lidové nakladatelství.

Looijenga, Tineke. Texts & Contexts of the Oldest Runic Inscriptions (Northern World). 2003. Leiden, Boston: Brill.

MacLeod, Mindy. Mees, Bernard. Runic Amulets and Magic Objects. 2006.Suffolk: Boydell Press.

Orel, Vladimir. Handbook of Germanic Etymology. 2003. Leiden, Boston: Brill.

Pollington, Stephen. Leechcraft. Early English Charms, Plantlore and Healing. 2011, reprinted POD. Anglo-Saxon Books.

Pollington, Stephen. Runes: Literacy in the Germanic Iron Age. 2016. Anglo-Saxon Books.

On-line sources:

Köbler, Gerhard. Germanisches Wörterbuch, (5. Auflage). 2014. On-line.

http://www.koeblergerhard.de/germwbhinw.html?fbclid=IwAR3FHatkVy5dZy-WbJDALYtEJAtGlZnDw-_HODhr-6od1yME-preUebIdmQ

Michalička, Václav. Kopřiva. Plevel, který šatil. 2017. Nový Jičín: Muzeum Novojičínska, příspěvková organizace.

https://www.muzeumnj.cz/muzeum-a-pametni-sin-sigmunda-freuda-v-pribore/muzeum-z-domova/publikace-kopriva-plevel-ktery-satil-pdf/

The Brothers Who Were Turned into Birds:

http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/type0451.html

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