The following Anglo-Saxon charm is a magical spell intended to keep honey bees from leaving the hive and swarming. That it survived conversion is a testament to both its effectiveness and to the importance of beekeeping in Anglo-Saxon society. It is from honey after all, that mead, the ritual drink of symbel, is brewed.
There are a couple of features within this poem which are of particular interest to Heathen belief. The first is the invocation of Earth, both as a goddess and the ground, against wights (spirits), hatred, mindlessness, and the speech of powerful men. The magical power of Earth is elsewhere attested to in the Norse poem, the Hávamál, in which it is called upon to ward off drunkenness. Secondly, the bees are referred to as sigewíf, “victory wives,” which may very well recall the wælcyrgan (ON: valkyrjur) the battle maidens known as the valkyries.
The poetic association between bees and the wælcyrgan would have come naturally to the fore-elder Anglo-Saxon mind. Valkyries, in Norse lore, are said to bear mead-filled drinking horns to welcome the énhere (ON: einherjar), the battle-slain, to Woden’s hall. It is there that they hold symbel with the Sigefæder, the “victory father,” boasting of their bold deeds and noble deaths and plighting their troth to that good lord that they might fight alongside him on the Final Battle’s field.
Wiþ Ymbe/Against a Swarm(Original text followed by Þórbeorht Línléah’s translation)
Wiþ ymbe nim eorþan, oferweorp mid þínre swíþran handa under þínum swíþran fét and cweð:
Against a swarm [of bees] take earth, throw it with your right hand under your right foot, and quoth:
Fó ic under fót • funde ic hit,
Take I under my foot • found I it,
hwæt Eorðe mæg • wið ealra wihta gehwilce,
how Earth avails • against every kind of wight,
and wið andan • and wið æminde
and against hatred • and against mindlessness,
and wið þá micelan • mannes tungan.
and against the mickle • man’s tongue.
Forweorp ofer gréot, þonne hí swirman, and cweð:
And whither cast over the grit, when they swarm, and quoth:
Sitte gé, sigewíf,• sígað tó eorþan,
Sit ye victory-wives, • sink to earth.
næfre gé wilde • tó wudu fléogan.
Never be ye so wild • as to the woods flee.
Béo gé swá gemindige • mínes gódes,
Be ye so minded • toward my good.
swá bið manna gehwilc • metes and éþeles.
as beeth every man • of food and home.
To prevent bees from swarming, take a handful of dirt in your right hand, throw it under your right foot, and say the following:
“I take this earth under my foot, how I have found it to be powerful against spirits, hatred, mindlessness, and the powerful man’s speech.”
Then, when the bees swarm, toss the dirt up into the air over them and say:
“Sit down you victory-wives, sink down to the earth. Do not be wild and flee into the woods. Be mindful of what is good for me, just as every man is mindful of his food and home.”