Æcerbot Ritual

The Old English Field Remedy
Ritual Translation

By Robert Mathiesen

Here is a full translation of the Old English text of the Field Remedy as it is found in the only surviving manuscript.  I have taken it from Felix Grendon’s article, The Anglo-Saxon Charms, published in The Journal of American Folklore, volume 22 (1909), pages 105-237.  I have lightly revised Grendon’s translation in view of more recent scholarly work on the ritual, and also with an eye to greater precision in the use of certain key words, such as “field” (æcer) or “land” (land) or “earth” (eorðe).  The rare word folde, which is used largely in ritual and poetic texts, is also translated here as “earth” (but with folde in parentheses after it).

The lines in bold type form the four successive parts of a single versified prayer in Old English.  This prayer is written in an archaic, poetic diction, using some rare words (such as folde) that are generally found only in ritual or magical contexts.  It is unambiguously Christian in only a very few small details; almost all of the prayer could equally have been said by a Christian or a Pagan.  It probably is a lightly reworked version of a prayer that had been used before the Anglo-Saxons were introduced to Christianity.  The line-numbers [in square brackets] are not in the original; I have added them.

Words in bold italic type are Latin.  Crescite et multiplicamini et replete terram, Be fruitful and multiply and replenish the Earth, is from the Latin Bible (Genesis 1:26 and 9:1).

Underscored words are the names or titles of standard texts in Latin that were regularly used in the rituals and services of the Medieval Roman Catholic church.  Where they occur, they mean that the ritualist is to recite or sing the complete standard text in Latin.  They are:

1.     Pater Noster (Our Father, the Lord's Prayer)
2.     The Litanies (probably the Litany of the Saints)
3.     Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus (Holy, Holy, Holy)
4.     Benedicite
5.     Magnificat.

Wikipedia will give you the complete texts in Latin, various English translations, and also the places in the Latin Bible from which they were taken.

***

Here is the remedy with which you can amend your fields, if they will not grow well, or if some harmful thing has been done to them by a sorcerer or a poisoner.  

At night, before daybreak, take four turfs from four sides of the land, and note how they previously stood. Then take oil and honey and barm and milk of all cattle on the land, and part of every kind of tree growing on the land (except hardwood trees), and part of every known herb (except only burr); and put holy water thereon, and then squeeze it out thrice onto the bottom of the turfs.  And say then these words:

Crescite,grow, et multiplicamini,and multiply, et replete,and replenish, terram,the Earth.

In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti sitis benedicti. [In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit be ye blessèd.]

And [say] the Pater Noste Our Father, that is, the Lord’s Prayer] as often as the other [words].    

And then take the turfs to church, and have a mass-priest sing four masses over the turfs, and have the green part turned towards the altar.  And then, before sunset, take the turfs where they were at first.  And let him [the land-owner] have made for him four crosses of quick-beam, and write on each arm, Mattheus and Marcus, Lukas and Johannes.  Lay a cross on the bottom of the hole.  Say then:

Crux Mattheus, crux Marcus, crux Lucas, crux sanctus Johannes.  [Cross Matthew, cross Mark, cross Luke, cross St. John.]

Next take the turfs and put them  down upon [the crosses], and say then these words nine times:

Crescite [et multiplicamini et replete terram.]  [Grow, and multiply, and replenish the Earth.]

and [say] as often the Pater Noster.

and thereupon turn to the east and bow reverently nine times.  Say then these words:

Eastwards I stand, for favors I ask, [1]
I ask the glorious Master, I ask the mighty Lord,
I ask the holy Warden of Heaven’s kingdom,
Earth I ask, and Heaven on high,
And true holy Mary [5]
And Heaven’s might and high hall,
That this spell (galdor) I might, through the Lord’s grace,
Speak aloud clearly with firm intent,
To wake up these crops for our worldly use,
To fulfill this Earth (folde) in firm belief, [10]
To beautify this green turf, as the wise man said,
That he had riches on Earth who alms
Dealt justly, by the will of the Lord. [13]

Then turn thrice with the course of the sun, prostrate yourself completely, and say then the Litanies; and thereafter say, Sanctus, sanctus, sanctus, to the end.

With arms outstretched then sing the Benedicite and the Magnificat and the Pater Noster thrice,and commend it [the ritual work] to the praise and glory of Christ and Saint Mary and the Holy Cross, and to the honor of him who owns the land, and of all those who are under him. 

When all this is done, let uncooth seed be taken from almsmen, and let twice as much be given to these as was taken from them. And let him [the land-owner] gather all his plowing-implements together, then bore a hole in the beam, [and place therein] incense and fennel and hallowed soap and hallowed salt. Next take the seed and put it on the body of the plough.  Say then:  

Erce!  Erce!  Erce!  Mother of Earth! [14]
May the All-Ruler grant you, the eternal Lord, [15]
Fields growing and flourishing,
Propagating and strengthening,
Tall stems, bright crops,
And broad barley crops,
And white wheat crops,[20]
And all the 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, [25]
From poisons sown around the land.
Now I bid the Master, who shaped this world,
That there be no woman of speech nor man of craft
Who can overturn these words thus spoken. [29]

Then drive forth the plow and make the first furrow.  Say then:

Wassail, Earth (folde), Mother of Mankind! [30]
Be growing in God’s embracing arm,
Be filled with food for the needs of Mankind. [32]
 

Then take meal of every kind, and have a loaf baked as big as will lie in the hand, and knead it with milk and with holy water, and lay it under the first furrow.  Say then:  

Field full of food for mankind, [33]
Bright-blooming, you are blessed
In the Holy Name of the One who shaped Heaven [35]
And the Earth on which we live;
The God, the one who made the ground, grant us the growing gift,
That for us each grain might be of use. [38]

Say then three times:

Crescite [et multiplicamini et replete terram],
In nomine patris [et Filii et Spiritus Sancti] sitis benedicti.  Amen,

and Pater Noster thrice.

medievalplowingwoodcut.jpg