The Merseburg Incantations

They are the only pagan incantations preserved in Germany, written down by a monk more than 1,000 years ago and kept in the Merseburg cathedral chapter library: the Merseburg Incantations – two spells handed down in Old High German. The lines of text are magical incantations from pre-Christian times in a rare original form and are thus a record of Germanic pagan customs.

While the first verse was spoken to release prisoners from their bonds, the second was intended to bring about the healing of a foot injury.

The spells, characterised by the strictness of their form, reveal the particularly sonorous nature of the Old High German language. Repetition, rhythm and the magic words at the end create an enchanting and compelling aura when the spells are read aloud. It is worth noting that the Merseburg incantations are the only known instance of the Old High German language to feature figures from the Germanic pantheon (Wodan, Balder, Frija, Volla, Sunna, Phol and Sinhtgunt).

It is now thought that the incantations were recorded in the first or second third of the 10th century. The Merseburg incantations became known as such due to the place where they were found. The lines were first discovered in 1841 by the historian Georg Waitz, who was widely known among scholars, in the library of the cathedral chapter of Merseburg. He himself refrained from publishing the spells and left it to the Brothers Grimm to edit them. Jacob Grimm chose the Merseburg incantations as the subject of his inaugural lecture to the Berlin Academy of Sciences on 3 February 1842. Grimm praised the surviving manuscript as a “... treasure” such that “no library in Germany ... has anything to compare with it.”

A copy of the famous Merseburg incantations can be seen in the incantation vault. Here, you can take an in-depth look at the incantations, their origin, and how they were handed down and translated.

In the series "Hidden", MDR Kultur presented the Merseburg Spells in a video report.

Original Text

Literal Transcription

Eiris sazun idisi sazun hera duoder suma
hapt heptidun sumaherilezidun sumaclu
bodun umbicuonio uuidi insprinc hapt
badun inuar uigandun. H.

phol ende uuodan uuorun ziholza duuuart
demobalderes uolon sin uuoz birenkict
thubiguolen sinhtgunt sunna era suister
thuboguolen friia uolla era suister thu
biguolen uuodan so he uuola conda
sosebenrenki soseblutrenki soselidi
renki ben zibena bluot zibluoda
lid zigeliden sosegelimida sin

Translation of the incantations into modern German 
(by Wolfgang Beck, Würzburg)

Einst saßen Idisi, saßen auf den Kriegerscharen.
Einige fesselten einen Gefangenen, einige hemmten die Heere,
Einige zertrennten scharfe Fesseln.
Entspringe den Fesseln, entfahre den Feinden!

Phol und Wodan begaben sich in den Wald.
Dort wurde dem Fohlen Balders der Fuß gerenkt.
Da besangen ihn Sinhtgunt und Sunna, ihre Schwester.
Da besangen ihn Frija und Volla, ihre Schwester.
Da besang ihn Wodan, so wie er es gut verstand:
Wenn Knochenrenkung, wenn Blutrenkung, wenn Gelenkrenkung:
Knochen zu Knochen, Blut zu Blut, Glied zu Glied!
So seien sie zusammengefügt!

Exclusive tour "Die Merseburger Zaubersprüche"

To understand the incantations, guests are taken to the time around 900 A.D. – a period when people still believed in wonders and the power of their words and gods. What was their language? How did they live and work? We visit the location where the Merseburg incantations were found and are still kept. Why do magic spells still fascinate us after 1000 years? In an impressive interpretation this “spell” in Old High German language is also be brought to your ears. Please note that this tour is only available in German. You can, however, bring along and individual translator.

Besucherservice Merseburger Dom
Domplatz 7 | 06217 Merseburg
Tel. +49 (0) 3461 21 00 45