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Glossary of Wiccan, Neo-Pagan and Occult Terminology

CHARMS

Derived from the Latin carmen ('song'), this is a magical formula intended to be sung or recited to propitiate a spirit or to achieve some desired effect.   The charm is often a part of the ritual involved in making an Amulets or Talismans.   A Charm is considered by some to be an essential element of ritual healing by Wizards, magicians or Cunning Persons, either applied alone or in conjunction with medicines.

Charms were frequently corruptions of Christian prayers, the old Latin prayers being much in demand since their meaning was largely unintelligible.   Often the roots of charms can be traced back over many centuries from the medieval period, either to Classical Greek and Roman religion or to the Anglo-Saxon period.

When a Cunning Person visited a patient, a typical approach would be to pray to the Trinity for healing dispensation and then to instruct the patient to recite Paternosters, Ave Marias and the Credo during several consecutive nights.

One of the advantages of applying charms lay in the difficulty of establishing charges against the magician who would assert that he or she had merely been relying on the efficacy of Christian prayers.

Often the prayers were debased fragments.   The celebrated 17th-century English magician, William Lilly, offered a simple cure for toothache: the sufferer was instructed to write three times on a scrap of paper: 'Jesus Christ, for mercys sake, take away this toothache'.   The charm was then to be recited aloud and the paper burned.

Alternatively the charm might be written on a piece of paper and the sufferer would then be instructed to wear it on their person.   Charms were also considered efficacious when delivered to an aggressor.   A pig bitten by a mad dog could be immunized against resulting infection if it swallowed appropriate charms written on the surface of an apple.

On occasions the magician resorted to pure invention of words, which were incorporated into charms, with the assertion that they were of Hebrew or similar arcane origin.

Details of many of these charms have survived in personal notebooks of the period, including such established prayers as the White Paternoster.   Most were never designed to be published because the cunning person relied on a high level of secrecy about sources.

see also: COUNTER-CHARM


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PLEASE NOTE:
One of the major problems with 'defining' Paganism and/or its beliefs and practices is that it is an 'organic' movement, in that it is undergoing constant change and re-evaluation from within, and as such any 'one-size-fits-all' approach to understanding Paganism will be found wanting.

Due to the very 'organic' nature of Paganism, and the many differing Paths and Traditions within it, in many cases no one definition may be universally accepted by all Pagans.   Therefore, where such cases of possible conflicting and/or contradictory meanings of certain terms occur I have endevoured to give not only the generally accepted meaning, but also any major 'variations' in belief and/or practice.

Christians who believe this difference in meaning of certain key terms, beliefs and practices to be unique to Paganism need to remember that such conflicts also arise within the Body of Christ - the Church.   Take for instance the differing practices amongst Christians concerning Baptism and the different attitudes towards women in the clergy.

- Jean-Luc



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