The Merseburg Charms
Merseburger Zaubersprüchen


These two metrical charms, written in alliterative verse, were found in 1841 by George Waitz among the literary treasures of the Cathedral at Merseburg on leaf 84a of Parchment Manuscript No. 68.  Although the manuscript itself dates from the tenth century, the language, style, and meter within the document indicate an earlier date.  Their primary significance lies in the preservation of eight names of ancient Germanic heathen deities, many with direct counterparts in the Poetic and Prose Eddas. The Merseburger Zauber or Merseburg Charms were first published in a paper by Jacob Grimm read before the Royal Academy of Sciences [Konigl. Akademie der Wissenschaften] in Berlin on Feburary 3rd, 1842.

The first charm introduces the Old German Idisi, most likely the Valkyries of Scandinavian mythology, who tend to the fortunes of war. In the second charm, Wodan cures Balder's horse of lameness, after four named goddesses fail in their efforts to do so. The event described in here may be an otherwise unknown mythic episode which presaged Balder's death.


"What has survived of pagan poetry in the German language consists of two charms—the so-called Mersesburg Incantations—and the fragmentary Lay of Hildebrand. ...The incantations above mentioned hardly belong to literature in the restricted sense of the word, but they are interesting because, while preserved in a manuscript of the tenth century, they are pure products of paganism and afford proof positive of the antiquity of the type to which they belong. The type, which is found also in English, Danish, and other languages, consists of two parts: first a short narrative, in which it is told how the spell was first employed by some divine being; secondly, the potent formula itself. The first of the Merseburg charms is a cure for the sprained leg of a horse, the second a charm to effect the liberation of a fettered prisoner. " —Calvin Thomas, A History of German Literature (1909)

The Manuscript:

Text & Translation

I. The First Merseberg Charm

Eiris sazun idisi
sazun hera duoder.
suma hapt heptidun,
suma heri lezidun,
suma clubodun
umbi cuoniouuidi:
insprinc haptbandun,
inuar uigandun

Once the Idisi set forth,
to this place and that;
Some fastened fetters;
some hindered the horde,
Some loosed the bonds from the brave --
Leap forth from the fetters!
Escape from the foes!

1869 Peter Nicolai Arbo

II. The Second Merseberg Charm

Phol ende uuodan
uuorun zi holza.
du uuart demo balderes uolon
sin uuoz birenkit.
thu biguol en sinthgunt,
sunna era suister;
thu biguol en friia,
uolla era suister;
thu biguol en uuodan,
so he uuola conda:
Phol and Wodan
rode into the woods,
There Balder's foal
sprained its foot.
It was charmed by Sinthgunt,
her sister Sunna;
It was charmed by Frija,
her sister Volla;
It was charmed by Wodan,
as he well knew how:

sose benrenki,
sose bluotrenki,
sose lidirenki:
ben zi bena,
bluot zi bluoda,
lid zi geliden,
sose gelimida sin


like blood-sprain,
Like limb-sprain:
Bone to bone;
blood to blood;
Limb to limb
like they were glued.

1905 Emil Doepler
Wodan Heilt Balders Pferd
"Odin heals Baldur's Horse"
This verse is among the primary evidence for the existence of the Æsir on the European continent. The verse is unique in that it names a group of gods, some known: Odin, his wife Frigg, and their son Baldur, and her sister Fulla. And some unknown: Phol, and Sihntgunt. The latter we can identify by her sister, Sunna (the sun). Sihntgunt (which may mean "she who battles her way at night") is likely the moon.  Since she rides closest to Baldur, we might surmise that she is identical to Nanna, Baldur's wife.  Sunna is her sister.  Vafthrudnismal speaks of a daughter of Sol who will take her place after Ragnarök. Similarly, Nanna might have been conceived as a daughter of the moon god, Mani. The name Sihntgunt does not appear elsewhere.

This source is the first to name Baldur. His horse is the subject of the verse. In the first line, Phol and Odin (Baldur's father) ride into the woods. With them is Odin's wife and Baldur's mother, Frigg. Thus we suspect that this may be a family outing. If so, Phol is probably an alternate name for the god Baldur. It is not unusual that a god be designated by two names in the space of a single verse. There is some evidence that a god known as Phol and Fal was worshipped among the continental Germans (see Grimm's Teutonic Mythology). Snorri associates Baldur with the region of West-phalia, which may be formed from the same name.

Phol and Sinthgunt

All of the names of the gods and godddesses mentioned here have counterparts in the Eddas except Phol and Sinthgunt.

"A number of questions arise in connection with this interesting relic of German antiquity. Is the Phol of the first line identical with the Balder of the second line? Is the Balder here mentioned identical with the beautiful, luminous god Balder of Norse mythology? Is Sinthgunt the Moon? And what significance attaches to the personification of the Sun? " —Frederick H. Wilkens (1905)

"The contents of this charm are thus: two gods Wodan (= Odin) and Pol or Phol ride together to the woods, where one's horse sprains his foot. It is charmed first by four goddesses and then by Odin, who heals the injury. By all appearances, Phol must be the injured horse's master, since he alone is regarded as a kind of patient, who consequently does not participate in the healing.  However, this is comparatively immaterial, and one can very well allow that Odin is designated by the word "balderes." That it alludes to a third person named Balder however is hardly conceivable, since this is forbidden by the context: it is the only Phol and Wodan who ride into the forest. In Anglo-Saxon, the word means "Lord," and we must suppose that Balder was an epithet for Odin or Phol. But who is this Phol?

"It is scarcely possible that a god, who was so genteel he rode in company with Odin, was able to so completely disappear that he has left behind no mark in the mythological sources we have, and yet it seems that way, because no one has  been able to find a Germanic god, who is thought to hide behind a Pol or Phol, with any degree of plausibility. And to this peculiarity joins another. The name has been written Pol, but then over the line the scribe has added a small h, so that the name becomes Phol. One suspects then feel that this has been done for alliteration (because the words then read: Pfol ende Wodan fuorun zi holza). The result is still rather meager, because ph (= pf) is in every instance a weak alliteration for v (=f) in vuornn. And besides, one would expect the god-pair Phol ende Wodan to have allitterated like Sinhtgunt and Sunna and Friia and Volla. " —Henrik Schück (1904)

"Grimm seems to refer [bonfires lit at Beltane] to the cult of Baldr or Baeldseg, with which he connects the name Beltane; but taking all the circumstances into consideration, I am inclined to attribute it rather to Frea [Freyr], if not even to a female form of the same godhead, Fricge, the Aphrodite of the North. Frea [Freyr] seems to have been a god of boundaries; probably as the giver of fertility and increase, he gradually became looked upon as a patron of the fields. On two occasions his name occurs in such boundaries, and once in a manner which proves some tree to have been dedicated to him. In a charter of the year 959 we find these words: "'ðonne andlang herðaftes on Frigedaeges treów,"—thence along the road to Friday's (that is Frea's) tree [Cod. Dipl. No. 1221]; and in a similar document of the same century we have a boundary running "oð ðone Frigedaeg." There is a place yet called Fridaythorpe, in Yorkshire. Here Frigedaeg appears to be a formation precisely similar to Baeldaeg, Swaefdaeg, and Waegdaeg, and to mean only Frea himself.

"Baldaeg, in Old Norse BALDR, in Old-German PALTAC.—The appearance of Baeldaeg among Woden's sons in the Anglo-Saxon genealogies, would naturally lead us to the belief that our forefathers worshiped that god whom the Edda and other legends of the North term Baldr, the father of Brand, and the Phoebus Apollo of Scandinavia. Yet beyond these genealogies we have very little evidence of his existence. It is true that the word bealdor very frequently occurs in Anglo-Saxon poetry as a peculiar appellative of kings,—nay even as a name of God himself,—and that it is, as far as we know, indeclinable, a sign of its high antiquity. This word may then probably have obtained a general signification which at first did not belong to it, and been retained to represent a king, when it had ceased to represent a god. There are a few places in which the name of Balder can yet be traced: thus Baldersby in Yorkshire, Balderston in Lancashire, Bealderesleah and Baldheresbeorh in Wiltshire: of these the two first may very likely have arisen from Danish or Norwegian influence, while the last is altogether uncertain. Save in the genealogies the name Baeldaeg does not occur at all.

"But there is another name under which the Anglo-Saxons may possibly have known this god, and that is Pol or Pal.

"In the year 1842 a very extraordinary and very interesting discovery was made at Merseberg: upon the spare leaf of a MS. there were found two metrical spells in the Old-German language: these upon examination were at once recognized not only to be heathen in their character, but even to contain the names of heathen gods, perfectly free from the ordinary process of Christianization.

"The general character of this poem is one well known to us: there are many Anglo-Saxon spells of the same description. What makes this valuable beyond all that have ever been discovered, is the number of genuine heathen names that survive in it, which in others of the same kind have been replaced by other sanctions; and which teach us the true meaning of those which have survived in the altered form. In a paper read before the Royal Academy of Sciences in Berlin, Grimm identified Phol with Baldr, and this view he has further developed in the new edition of his Mythology. It is confirmatory of this view that we possess the same spell in England, without the heathendom, and where the place of the god Baldr is occupied by that of our Lord himself. The English version of the spell runs thus:

Dryhten rád,
fola slád;
se lihtode
and rihtode;
sette lið tý liðe
eic swa ban to bane,
sincwe to sinewe.
Hál wes ðú, on ðaes Hálgan Gástes naman!

The lord rade,
and the foal slade;
He lighted
and he righted;
set joint to joint
and bone to bone,
sinew to sinew.
Heal, in the Holy Ghost's name!

"It will be admitted that this is something more than a merely curious coincidence, and that it leads to an induction of no little value. Now it appears to me that we have reasonable ground to believe our version quite as ancient and quite as heathen as the German one which still retains the heathen names, and that we have good right to suppose that it once referred to the same god. 

"How then was this god named in England? Undoubtedly Pol or Pal of such a god we have some obscure traces in England. We may pass over the Appolyn and Apollo, whom many of our early romancers number among the Saxon gods, although the confused remembrance of an ancient and genuine divinity may have lurked under this foreign garb, and confine ourselves to the names of places bearing signs of Pol or Pal. Grimm has shown that the dikes called Phalgraben in Germany are much more likely to have been originally Pfolgraben, and his conclusion applies equally to Palgrave, two parishes in Norfolk and Suffolk :—so Wodnes Dic, and the Devil's Dike between Cambridge and Newmarket. Polebrooke in Northamptonshire, Polesworth in Warwickshire, Polhampton in Hants, Polstead in Suffolk, Polstead close under Wanborough (Wodnesbeorh) in Surrey, —which is remarkable for the exquisite beauty of its springs of water,—Polsden in Hants, Polsdon in Surrev, seem all of the same class. To these we must add Polsley and Pol thorn, which last name would seem to connect the god with that particular tree: last, but not least, we have in Poling, in Sussex, the record of a race of Polingas, who may possibly have carried up their genealogy to Baeldaeg in this form."   —John Kemble (1849).

"Baldr, gen. Baldrs, reappears in the OHG. proper name Paltar (in Meichelbeck no. 450. 460. 611); and in the AS. bealdor, baldor, signifying a lord, prince, king, and seemingly used only with a gen. pl. before it: gumena baldor, Cædm. 163, 4. wigena baldor, Jud. 132, 47. sinca bealdor, Beow. 4852. winia bealdor 5130. It is remarkable that in the Cod. exon 276, 18 mæða bealdor (virginum princeps) is said even of a maiden. I know of only a few examples in the ON.: baldur î brynju, Sæm. 272b, and herbaldr 218b are used for a hero in general; atgeirs baldr (lanceae vir), Fornm. sög. 5, 307. This conversion from a proper name to a noun appellative exactly reminds us of fráuja, frô, freá, and the ON. týr. As bealdor is already extinct in AS. prose, our proper name Paltar seems likewise to have died out early; heathens songs in OHG may have known a paltar = princeps. Such Gothic forms as Baldrs, gen. Baldris, and baldrs (princeps), may fairly be assumed.

"This Baldrs would in strictness appear to have no connexion with the Goth. balþs (bold, audax), nor Paltar with the OHG. pald, nor Baldr with the ON. ballr [[dangerous, dire]]. As a rule, the Gothic ld is represented by ON. ld and OHG. lt: the Gothic lþ by ON. ll and OHG. ld. But the OS. and AS. have ld in both cases, and even in Gothic, ON. and OHG. a root will sometimes appear in both forms in the same language; so that a close connexion between balþs and Baldrs, pald and Paltar, is possible after all. On mythological grounds it is even probable: Balder's wife Nanna is also the bold one, from nenna to dare; in Gothic she would have been Nanþô from nanþjan, in OHG. Nandâ from gi-nendan. The Baldr of the Edda may not distinguish himself by bold deeds, but in Saxo he fights most valiantly; and neither of these narratives pretends to give a complete account of his life. Perhaps the Gothic Balthae (Jornandes 5, 29) traced their origin to a divine Balþ or Baldrs (see Suppl.).

"Yet even this meaning of the 'bold' god or hero might be a later one: the Lith. baltas and Lett. balts signify the white, the good; and by the doctrine of consonant-change, baltas exactly answers to the Goth. balþs and OHG. pald. Add to this, that the AS. genealogies call Wôden's son not Bealdor, Baldor, but Bældæg, Beldeg, which would lead us to expect an OHG. Paltac, a form that I confess I have nowhere read. But both dialects have plenty of other proper names compounded with dæg and tac: OHG. Adaltac, Alptac, Ingatac, Kêrtac, Helmtac, Hruodtac, Regintac, Sigitac; OS. Alacdag, Alfdag (Albdag, Pertz 1, 286), Hildidag, Liuddag, Osdag, Wulfdag; AS. Wegdæg, Swefdæg; even the ON. has the name Svipdagr. Now, either Bældæg simply stands for Bealdor, and is synonymous with it (as e.g., Regintac with Reginari Sigitac with Sigar, Sigheri); or else we must recognise in the word dæg, dag, tac itself a personification, such as we found another root undergoing (p. 194-5) in the words div, divan, dina, dies; and both alike would express a shining one, a white one, a god. Prefixing to this the Slavic bièl, bèl, we have no need to take Bældæg as standing for Bealdor or anything else, Bæl-dæg itself is white-god, light-god, he that shines as sky and light and day, the kindly Bièlbôgh, Bèlbôgh of the Slav system (see Suppl.). It is in perfect accord with this explanation of Bæl-dæg, that the AS. tale of ancestry assigns to him a son Brond, of whom the Edda is silent, brond, brand, ON. brandr [[fire brand or blade of a sword]], signifying jubar, fax, titio. Bældæg therefore, as regards his name, would agree with Berhta, the bright goddess.


"...So much the more valuable are the revelations of the Merseburg discovery; not only are we fully assured now of a divine Balder in Germany, but there emerges again a long-forgotten mythus, and with it a new name unknown even to the North.

"When, says the lay, Phol (Balder) and Wodan were one day riding in the forest, one foot of Balder's foal, 'demo Balderes volon,' was wretched out of joint, whereupon the heavenly habitants bestowed their best pains on setting it right again, but neither Sinngund and Sunna, nor yet Frûa and Folla could do any good, only Wodan the wizard himself could conjure and heal the limb (see Suppl.).

"The whole incident is as little known to the Edda as to other Norse legends. Yet what was told in a heathen spell in Thuringia before the tenth century is still in its substance found lurking in conjuring formulas known to the country folk of Scotland and Denmark (conf. ch. XXXVIII, Dislocation), except that they apply to Jesus what the heathens believed of Balder and Wodan.

"...The horse of Balder, lamed and checked on his journey, acquired a full meaning the moment we think of him as the god of light or day, whose stoppage and detention must give rise to serious mischief on the earth. Probably the story in its context could have informed us of this; it was foreign to the purpose of the conjuring spell.

"The names of the four goddesses will be discussed in their proper place; what concerns us here is, that Balder is called a second and hitherto unheard-of name, Phol. The eye for our antiquities often merely wants opening: a noticing of the unnoticed has resulted in clear footprints of such a god being brought to our hand, in several names of places.

"In Bavaria there was a Pholesauwa, Pholesouwa, ten or twelve miles from Passau, which the Traditiones patavienses first mention in a document drawn up between 774 and 788 (MB. vol 28, pars 2, p. 21, no. 23), and afterwards many later ones of the same district: it is the present village of Pfalsau. Its composition with aue quite fits in with the suppostion of an old heathen worship. The gods were worshipped not only on mountains, but on 'eas' inclosed by brooks and rivers, where fertile meadow yielded pasture, and forest shade. Such was the castum nemus of Nerthus in an insula Oceani, such Fosetesland with its willows and well-springs, of which more presently. Baldrshagi (Balderi pascuum), mentioned in the Friðþiofssaga, was an enclosed sanctuary (griðastaðr), which none might damage. I find also that convents, for which time-hallowed venerable sites were preferred, were often situated in 'eas'; and of one nunnery the very word used: 'in der megde ouwe,' in the maids' ea (Diut. 1, 357).  The ON. mythology supplies us with several eas named after the loftiest gods: Oðinsey (Odensee) in Fünen, another Oðinsey (Onsöe) in Norway, Fornm. sög. 12, 33, and Thôrsey, 7, 234. 9, 17; Hlêssey (Lässöe) in the Kattegat, &c., &c. We do not know any OHG. Wuotanesouwa, Donarsouwa, but Pholesouwa is equally to the point."   — Jakob Grimm (1844).

"Of the names occurring in this strophe Uodan-Odin, Baldur, Sunna (synonym of Sol - Alvíssmál 16; Prose Edda - Nafnaþulur), Friia-Frigg, and Volla-Fulla are well known in the Icelandic mythic records. Only Phol and Sinhtgunt are strangers to our mythologists, though Phol-Falr surely ought not to be so.

In regard to the German form Phol, we find that it has by its side the form Fal in German names of places connected with fountains. Jakob Grimm has pointed out a "Pholes" fountain in Thuringia, a "Fals" fountain in the Frankish Steigerwald, and in this connection a "Baldur" well in Reinphaltz.1 In the Danish popular traditions Baldur's horse had the ability to produce fountains by tramping on the ground, and Baldur's fountain in Seeland is said to have originated in this manner (cp. P. E. Muller2 on Saxo, Hist., 120). In Saxo, too, Baldur gives rise to wells (Victor Balderus, ut afflictum siti militem opportuni liquoris beneficio recrearet, novos humi latices terram altius rimatus operuit - Book 3).

...This very circumstance seems to indicate that Phol, Fal, was a common epithet or surname of Baldur in Germany, and it must be admitted that this meaning must have appeared to the German mythologists to be confirmed by the Second Merseburg Charm; for in this way alone could it be explained in a simple and natural manner, that Baldur is not named in the first line as Odin's companion, although he actually attends Odin, and although the misfortune that befalls "Baldur's foal" is the chief subject of the narrative, while Phol on the other hand is not mentioned again in the whole formula, although he is named in the first line as Odin's companion.

This simple and incontrovertible conclusion, that Phol and Baldur in the Second Merseburg Charm are identical is put beyond all doubt by a more thorough examination of the Norse records. In these it is demonstrated that the name Falr was also known in the North as an epithet of Baldur.

"...Their identity is furthermore confirmed by the fact that Baldur in early Christian times was made a historical king of Westphalia. The statement concerning this, taken from Anglo-Saxon or German sources, has entered into the foreword to Gylfaginning. Nearly all lands and peoples have, according to the belief of that time, received their names from ancient chiefs. The Franks were said to be named after one Francio, the East Goth after Ostrogotha, the Angles after Angul, Denmark after Dan, etc. The name Phalia, Westphalia, was explained in the same manner, and as Baldur's name was Phol, Fal, this name of his gave rise to the name of the country in question. For the same reason the German poem Biterolf makes Baldur (Paltram) into king ze Pülle. (Compare the local name Pölde, which, according to J. Grimm, is found in old manuscripts written Polidi and Pholidi.) In the one source Baldur is made a king in Pholidi, since Phol is a name of Baldur, and in the other source he is for the same reason made a king in Westphalia, since Phal is a variation of Phol, and likewise designated Baldur.

"The misfortune which happened first to Baldur and then to Baldur's horse must be counted among the warnings which foreboded the death of the son of Odin.11 There are also other passages which indicate that Baldur's horse must have had a conspicuous signification in the mythology, and the tradition concerning Baldur as rider is preserved not only in northern sources (Lokasenna 28, Gylfaginning), and in the Second Merseburg Charm, but also in the German poetry of the Middle Ages. That there was some witchcraft connected with this misfortune which happened to Baldur's horse is evident from the fact that the galdur songs sung by the goddesses accompanying him availed nothing. According to the Norse ancient records, the women particularly exercize the healing art of galdur (compare Gróa and Sigurdrífa), but still Odin has the profoundest knowledge of the secrets of this art; he is galdurs faðir (Vegtamskviða 3). And so Odin comes in this instance, and is successful after the goddesses have tried in vain. We must fancy that the goddesses make haste to render assistance in the order in which they ride in relation to Baldur, for the event would lose its seriousness if we should conceive Odin as being very near to Baldur from the beginning, but postponing his activity in order to shine afterwards with all the greater magic power, which nobody disputed.

"The goddesses constitute two pairs of sisters: Sinhtgunt and her sister Sunna, and Frigg and her sister Fulla. According to the Norse sources, Frigg is Baldur's mother. According to the same records, Fulla is always near Frigg, enjoys her whole confidence, and wears a diadem as a token of her high rank among the goddesses. 12 An explanation of this is furnished by the Second Merseburg Charm, which informs us that Fulla is Frigg's sister, and so a sister of Baldur's mother. And as Odin is Baldur's father, we find in the Second Merseburg Charm the Baldur of the Norse records, surrounded by the kindred assigned to him in these records.

"Under such circumstances it would be strange, indeed, if Sinhtgunt and the sun-dis, Sunna, did not also belong to the kin of the sun-god, Baldur, as they not only take part in this excursion of the Baldur family, but are also described as those nearest to him, and as the first who give him assistance.

"The Norse records have given to Baldur as wife Nanna, daughter of that divinity which under Odin's supremacy is the ward of the atmosphere and the owner of the moon-ship. If the continental Teutons in their mythological conceptions also gave Baldur a wife devoted and faithful as Nanna, then it would be in the highest degree improbable that the Second Merseburg Charm should not let her be one of those who, as a body-guard, attend Baldur on his expedition to the forest. Besides Frigg and Fulla, there are two goddesses who accompany Baldur. One of them is a sun-dis, as is evident from the name Sunna; the other, Sinhtgunt, is, according to Bugge's discriminating interpretation of this epithet, the dis "who night after night has to battle her way." A goddess who is the sister of the sun-dis, but who not in the daytime but in the night has to battle on her journey across the sky, must be a goddess of the moon, a moon-dis. This moon-goddess is the one who is nearest at hand to bring assistance to Baldur. Thus she can be none else than Nanna, who we know is the daughter of the owner of the moon-ship. The fact that she has to battle her way across the sky is explained by the Norse mythic statement, according to which the wolf-giant Hati is greedy to capture the moon, and finally secures it as his prey (Völuspá, Gylfaginning).

"...The name Nanna (from the verb nenna; cp. Vigfusson's Dictionary, Lexicon Poeticum) means "the brave one." With her husband she has fought the battles of light, and in the Norse, as in the Germanic, mythology, she was with all her tenderness a heroine." —Viktor Rydberg (1882)

Vigfusson defines nenna as "to strive, to travel" and Egilsson as udøve med kraft og raskhed "to strive with force and speed." The connection between Nanna and nenna was first made by Grimm in DM Vol. I, Ch. 11: "On mythological grounds it is even probable: Baldur's wife Nanna is also the bold one from nenna, to dare." Jan De Vries relates it to the Germanic root nanþ-, giving the meaning "the daring one." (Altergermanishe Religiongeschichte, Berlin 1970).