There are many charms that have survived the Christianization of Europe and remain today, showing themselves in many modern spell books. Some of the most common ones are the “Three Ladies” charms; spoken charms to cover the most popular areas of spell casting: money, sex, and health. While there was certainly a well-documented occult community throughout the eons concerning itself with higher thinking and attainment, the average Joe did not have the luxury of pondering one’s guardian angel or indulging in long, drawn-out rituals designed to bring about higher states of being. S/he had immediate needs that required fulfilling, and this is where folk magic comes into play.
Many of us in the neopagan community have uttered Three Ladies’ Charms without really knowing where they come from or how they work – they don’t always make sense. They don’t have to make literal sense, but they should create a picture in your mind. Generally, if you don’t understand what you are saying, you won’t get very far. In order for a spell to be successful, you need to have at least some basis of understanding the charm that you use. These charms come from various places: Germany, Sweden, England, Scotland, Ireland, Brittany, Wales. Depending on the age of the writing, the three ladies may be virgins, avatars of Mary, avatars of Freya, Frigga, or Brighid, noble ladies, witches, or girls. Although many of these charms are overtly Catholic, in most cases they predate organized Christianity, and were simply reworded to fit in with the new religion. Considering the official church stand on such things, it is safe to say that the origin of such charms rests entirely in our very pagan pre-Christian history.
What makes these charms work, no matter how nonsensical they sound, is the understanding of what these ladies represented to the pagan mind. They are the Norns, the Wyrd Sisters of fate. No matter how they are dressed up or called, these ladies are the Past, the Present, and the Future. By reciting these charms, you are calling out to set in motion change according to fate.
The following charms deal with burns:
Three ladies, over the fields they crossed,
One brought fire, two brought frost.
Out with the fire, in with the frost
Out fire! In frost!
Three ladies came from the east.
One with fire, two with frost.
Get out with you fire!
Come in with you frost!
You look east
You look west
You look south
You look north
Three angels appear
One brings fire, two bring frost
Blow out fire!
Blow in frost!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
The first two charms are English in origin and the third is a German-American Pow-Wow charm. In the first two charms, the three ladies came. In the first charm they simply cross a field, we will assume toward the one afflicted with a burn and in the second charm they come from the east, indicating that they are traveling west, which hints at completing a cycle. The first lady brings fire – meaning in the past, the victim was burned. The second and third ladies bring frost – that which cools and heals the burn in the present and continuing in the future.
The third charm is a little more complex, but Pow-Wow involves some aspects of Ceremonial Magic from Christianity and Judaism. In this charm the speaker is actually casting a circle by chanting in the four directions before doing anything else. After the circle is called, then the sisters of fate are invoked, having been rewritten as three angels; one bringing fire and the other two bringing frost. So again, the representative of the past brings the injury and the angels of the present and future bring the treatment. The charm then speaks of blowing out fire and blowing in frost. In Pow-Wow there is a belief in “sacred breath” that was kept in the pagan healing tradition as it was overlaid with Christianity. Like other energy workers of the past and present, Pow-Wows breathe energy in and out, or to and from a person or situation. When you start deconstructing these charms and thinking about them, you soon realize that these can be powerful magic in the right hands.
Here is another Three Ladies charm that is more generic and simply for “illness”:
Three ladies came from the East.
Over the hills, as they pleased:
The first lady said, “He has illness.”
The second lady said, “I think not….”
The third lady said, “He is not ill.”
In these charms, the person is sick (we can’t get away from the reality of our situation) as evidenced by the statement made by the first lady (Urd – that which has been). By the second statement (from Verdandi – that which is becoming) we see that this may not be so; the patient is pronounced well – his state is changing. When the third lady speaks (Skuld – that which shall be), the patient is well – a defined future outcome is specified. These charms are generally chanted in threes or nines. Both are important numbers. Three is a number of manifestation and nine – a number of completion – is three perfected by itself. In some traditions, the charms should not be spoken aloud. They should be “breathed”, ie: whispered on long drawn breaths so that the recipient doesn’t quite hear what is being said. This serves two purposes: first, it kept the magic out of the wrong hands. If the patient only hears breathy, whispery gibberish, he is unlikely to do any harm to himself or anyone else by repeating magic words. Our ancestors placed a much higher value on the power of words than we do now. Second, it removes the ability of the patient’s intellectual mind to interfere with the energetic/magical process involved in invoking the Wyrd Sisters for whatever work needs to be done. This way he can’t shoot himself in the foot by over thinking what he’s just heard and deciding that it won’t work.
The Three Ladies’ charms don’t refer just to illness. In fact, there are charms that refer to prosperity, luck, love, sex, revenge – just about anything can be worked into a Three Ladies poem and used as a spoken charm in magic. The most common ones, though, do refer to the things that concerned the ancestors the most, and you will find overcoming illness to be over-represented, as conditions were much harsher back in the day. There is a reason that we saw 40 as being over the hill for such a long time; only in the last 50 years have we advanced to the point that many of us will enjoy old age. An excellent sourcebook for folk magic charms is the Carmina Gadelica. If you’ve never used a Three Ladies’ charm formula in your magical work, you should try!!!