Ben zi bena, Bluot zi bluoda…
So ends the last couple of lines of the Second Merseberg Charm, with a cantrip of a type echoed in various healing charms in conjure, rootwork, and old English leechcraft. The whole ending (and the most potent part of the working charm) goes:
Sose benrenki, sose bluotrenki, sose lidirenki:
Ben zi bena, bluot zi bluoda,
Lid zi geliden, sose gelimida sin!
Like bone-sprain, so blood sprain, so joint sprain:
Bone to bone, blood to blood,
Joints to joints, so may they be glued! (1)
I’ve been thinking about this charm all day because I spent most of the morning dealing with precisely the type of injury mentioned in this 10th century incantation (2).
Living with chronic pain often means that one becomes accustomed to very high levels of physical pain as a daily norm. That’s certainly been my experience and having been a professional ballet dancer through my early twenties, I also learned early on to compartmentalize pain. I write this as a preface, because I’ve recently been attempting to address an ankle injury and I had my first physical therapy appointment today with surprising results (I was actually pretty shocked!).
In the early eighties when I was still dancing, I sprained my ankle badly. I came down out of a tour jete, a leaping turn, where one switches legs while turning in mid-air. I landed on the outside of my ankle and predictably tore the ligaments. It was bad, really bad, and sidelined me for several months. I never really had physical therapy and that ankle remained a weakness, though it was not what caused me to retire. I worked for many more years as a dancer, studied martial arts and just got on with things. In 2004, while hiking down a trail, I tripped over a root. As I fell I heard the tendon in that same ankle snap and thought, “that’s not good.” Turns out I had indeed snapped the tendon and I was in a stabilization boot for close to three months. I stupidly didn’t get physical therapy at that time.
Over the past eight or nine months, I realized that ankle has been getting progressively worse. I’m having trouble walking. It flares up and the way my body compensates hurts my hip and sets off my back injury, causing a great deal of pain. I talked to my doctor and we decided to try physical therapy – better late than never, right? I had my first visit today (and the PT is wonderful).
Well, he noticed right away in examining my ankle that there was muscle atrophy. Then I got a rather horrifying surprise: “Did you break this bone” he gently touched my fibula, “when you damaged the tendon or did that happen earlier?” um…. I didn’t realize I had ever broken that bone –not to my knowledge. I asked a few questions and he pointed out that it had clearly been fractured at some point. I was stunned. I had never realized I had ever broken my fibula. We had a long discussion about it and apparently A) one can still walk with a fractured fibula and B) I broke it at some point between ballet, martial arts, and now. This was news to me but really, not completely surprising. I did break a metatarsal when I danced and just iced it and got on with things. It’s entirely possible that I had at some point broken my ankle and simply not realized it. I’m horrified. Of course, having waited so long to get physical therapy for the sprains and damaged tendon, it’s going to be a long haul but it’s worth it if even a bit of strengthening can help my overall pain levels.
My pain levels tend to be high, even with medication. That’s old injuries, including thoracic outlet syndrome, spinal radiculopathy, Achilles tendonitis and tearing, migraines, and fibromyalgia. I can focus so keenly that I often don’t realize that my pain levels are creeping up until I stop working and my focus is broken. Then of course, it’s a terrible experience. Even with all of this, I’m stunned about the broken bone.
This is a real wake up call to me and I hope those who have injuries like this, who sprain joints, hurt their backs, or have what may seem like minor soft tissue damage take note. Don’t wait. If you can do it, get physical therapy as soon as possible. It’s annoying. It eats up time. It’s 100% worth it though. Do not be like me. I’m going to have a real fight to get this ankle to a point where it’s no longer throwing off my gait and causing me severe pain. I’ll do it, but it would have been so much easier if the first time I’d sprained it, when I was still dancing, I’d taken the time to do the PT. Learn from my mistake.
In the Northern Tradition, our corporeal form is part of the soul matrix. That means that taking care of our health, keeping our bodies (as much as we can) in healthy, working order contributes to our overall spiritual well-being too. This may be the part of our soul that we slough off at death, returning it to the earth in recompense for the food and minerals, water and nutrients that from the moment we were conceived, nourished us and formed our bones, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t important to give it a little love now and again. Our physical bodies are the conduits through which we experience everything, including our devotional worlds. Their integrity is important. I wish to Gods someone had told me this when I was still dancing. I’d have approached the whole thing in a much, much healthier way.
- See here for the full Merseberg Charms.
- I love this this charm mentions Woden as a God of healing. We don’t usually get a focus on Him in this capacity.