Our ancestors did not for one moment think that an illness or a troubled imagination could be the cause of this problem. Only the devil was capable of such a thing.
The Church, after having researched and described all connected spells, under the title De frigidis et maleficiatis, anathematised authors, agents and instigators of these detestable superstitions. Not only the sorcerers and magicians, but also those who dared, with perverse intention,
“turn their hands out and lace their fingers one by one, when the husband presents the ring to the wife; tie a wolf’s tail, while naming the newly-weds; attach certain notes, certain pieces of cloth, to the clothes of the newly-weds; touch these newly-weds with certain sticks made of a certain wood; give them certain blows in certain parts of their bodies; pronounce certain words while looking at them; make certain signs with their hands, fingers, mouth, feet, etc.”.
As for the superstitions which were supposed to fix the problem, they were as numerous and as singular as those used to cause it. The Church did not allow them either. Here are the most common:
1 – Put two shirts on inside out on the day of the marriage;
2 – Place a ring under the feet of the husband during the ceremony;
3 – Say three times while making the sign of the cross: Ribal, Nobal, and Zanarbi;
4 – Have said, before the marriage Mass, the Saint John Gospel extract, In principio;
5 – Rub wolf fat on the door-frame of the nuptial lodging;
6 – Pierce a barrel of white wine and make the first spray flow into the marriage ring;
7 – Urinate into the key-hole of the church where the marriage has been celebrated;
8 – Pronounce three times Yemon before sunrise;
9 – Write on a new parchment, at dawn: Aigazirtvor, etc.
Others gravely professed that the bird called green woodpecker was a sovereign remedy against the spell of lace-knotting. It had to be eaten roasted, on an empty stomach, and with salt that had been blessed.
If you breathed in the smoke of the burning tooth of a recently dead man, you were also delivered from the charm.
The same effect was produced if you introduced mercury into an oat or wheat straw and put it under the side-table of the bed where the cursed man was to sleep.
If the man and the woman were both under the influence of the charm, the man had to urinate through the nuptial ring, which the woman had to hold during the operation.
How many seals, rings, amulets, sacks, talismans, hieroglyphes, phylacteries and particular remedies were used in the olden days, either to prevent charnel joining, at wedding times, or to protect from these devilries!
Paracelcius recommended writing, before sunrise, words which belonged to no language, on a blank parchment; or to forge a fork, on a Sunday, from a horse-shoe found by accident and to pronounce at the same time a few cabalistic words.
Some conjuration methods were connected to ancient beliefs and had a traditional value. For example, you were supposed to carry salt on you. It was an ancient preservative from all corruptions. You had to eat either a fish liver, possibly in memory of the story of Tobias, or some houseleek, a plant consecrated to Jupiter, which should, because of this, neutralise the bad wishes of less powerful spirits; or follow to the letter Pliny’s recipe and rub the door of the nuptial chamber with wolf fat.
If the wizard had any astrological learning, he knew that, to infallibly untie the lace, he only had to prepare his talismans when the moon was “in Capricorn, favourised by the benign gaze of Venus and of Jupiter”.
With the aim of combatting the lace-knot, the people had adopted the custom of processionally carrying a broth, soup, pasty, or bride’s fricassee, which was brought to her to the sound of instruments and noisy songs, during the first night of the marriage. This was destined to heat up the ardour of the newly-weds and stop them from sleeping, while the demon waited to play one of his tricks on them.
Such powerful remedies must work. Some malicious jokers were only too happy to think up new ones such as this: the newly-weds were undressed and made to lie down, completely naked, on the floor. The husband kissed the toe of his wife’s left foot, and the wife the toe of her husband’s left foot. Then they both made the sign of the cross with their heels, while muttering a prayer.
There were other ceremonies “dirty, ugly and impure, using the ring”, mixed with special prayers, the most famous starting with: “Blessed lace, I untie you!”
The Church had a few other remedies at its disposition apart from prayers. It helped the cursed by exorcisms, Masses, fasting, charity. If they didn’t work, it resorted to excommunication.
There, where the theologians saw diabolical intervention, we recognize today the influence of imagination, suggestion and, above all, stress, as causes of impotence.
The word is of recent date, but the thing itself is very ancient.
To be continued.