Saturday, October 19, 2019

Petit Albert spells: More translated by request spells

Continuing with my translation of Petit Albert spells as requested by the OSR reddit.  This is my second entry of these - sorry for the delay, they take time!

We will start with friendlier spells.

Secret of the staff of the good traveler

You will take, on the day following All Saints' day, a strong branch of elder, from which you will make a staff to your preferences; you will hollow it out by removing the pith inside, and garnish the bottom of the staff with an iron ferrule.  You will take two eyes of a young wolf, the tongue and the heart of a dog, three green lizards, three swallows' hearts, and sprinkle all these with fine saltpetre powder and dry them in the sun between two sheets of paper. This will be put in the bottom of the staff, and on top of this you will put seven leaves of vervain harvested on the eve of the Saint Jean-Baptiste, then a stone of multiple colors that you will find in the nest of a hoopoe.  You will cap the top of the staff with an boxwood cap or any other substance that you want, and you can be assured that this staff will guarantee  you against the inconveniences and perils that too commonly befall travelers; such as brigands, ferocious beasts, rabid dogs and venomous creatures.  It will also obtain you the good will of those with whom you are lodging.  

This was quite challenging to translate, and was originally a single run-on sentence.  Given the precise timing of the collection of some of the ingredients, this staff would take about 6 months to craft.  I suppose in game term this would reduce the chance of certain random encounters occurring, and improve the reaction rolls of innkeepers and other such providers of hospitality.  Treacherous peasants who rent a barn to travelers only to rob them might decide to let the staff wielder go unmolested because they have taken a liking to them, for example. 


I tested in Flanders the effect of a lamp to free us of the importunate croaking of frogs and to subtlely impose on them silence; it was in the castle of Lord Tillemont, whose moats were so filled with these noisy insects that one could hardly get any rest at night.  We made white wax melt in the sun with crocodile grease, which is about the seame as whale oil; and I believe that this oil would have the same effect as crocodile grease, which is quite rare in this country.  We furnished a lamp with this composition with a fairly large wick, and as soon it was lit and put on the edge of the moat, that the frogs ceased their croaking.

This is such a nice, friendly spell, with sentences of a reasonable length, alternative ingredients and a modest, laudable goal. And yes, I do know frogs are not insects... clearly taxonomy in the 1700s was a bit... vague.

To have sweet, soft and nice smelling melons.

You will obtain seeds of a good strain of melons, you will infuse them for two days in a syrup composed of raspberries, cinnamon, cardamom, of two grains (is this "two small bits" or grain as in the weight measuring unit?) of musk and of ambergris.  The syrup should not be too thick or lukewarm (it is unclear if the text meant "not luckewarm" or "but lukewarm) when you put the seeds in infusion.  You will need well prepared soil where you will sow the seeds, with a good layer of horse manure, and to be careful no to water them too much and ensure to avoid overabundant rain (no rain repeller spell in the book!).  If you are exact in all these things, you will have melons fit for the palate of a king.

To make the true water of the Queen of Hungary 

You will put in an alembic a pound and a half of fresh rosemary flowers, half a pound of pennyrile flowers (a type of mint), a half pound of marjoram flowers, half a pound of lavender flower, and on top of all of that, 3 pints of good aquae vitae (Eau-de-vie, alcohol); having plugged the alembic well to prevent evaporation, you will put it for 24 hours of digestion in steaming horse manure; then you will distill in a Bain-Marie.  The usage of this water is to take it one or twice a week, in the morning while fasting, about one dram in a liquor or other drink, and of washing the face and any limb where one would feel pain of feebleness.  This remedy renews vigor, clarifies the mind, dispels darkness (depression?), protects the sight from the failing of old age, makes the user seem younger, is beneficial to the chest (breathing? breasts?) and stomach (digestions but *maybe* keep the waist thin?) by rubbing it on: this remedy must not be heated, no matter if used as a potion or by friction (application to the skin).  This recipe is the true one that was given to Isabelle, queen of Hungary. 

Interestingly, this recipe has its own Wikipedia entry!   You will note that beyond the wild health claim this … isn't a spell at all.  It's just perfume.  It illustrate the very fuzzy relationship between magic, craft and science that existed at the time.  I am also very amused by the comparison to GOOP one of the OSR redditors made :D 

Against the inconvenience that one may receive from dogs.

You will stop them from barking at you, if you carry on yourself the dried heart and eyes of a wolf: the great antipathy between dog and wolf causes this effect, which has often been tested and proven.

Very short and simple.  Anyone could do this.

Now, we will move on to the not so nice spells...

A light that is related to the hand of glory, and makes people fall asleep.

Take four ounces of the herb known as little dragon (French: serpentine, as far as I can determine this is tarragon), put it in a closed earthenware pot, then make it digest in the belly of the horse. By this we mean in hot manure for 15 days, the herb will change in little red worms, from which you will pull (extract) an oil as per the principles of the art. From this oil you will supply a lamp, and when this lamp is lit in a room, it will cause sleep, and will make those in the room sleep so soundly that it will not be possible to wake any of them, as long as the lamp remains lit.

This is a very interesting spell, but challenging. How to make it is unclear, parts of the process are deliberately left out. Furthermore, how to *use* the lamp is not as obvious as it seems. You can make people in a room fall asleep yes, but then what? You can't enter the room, you'll fall asleep too! Probably best to take out guards so you can do something in another room. By making allusion to the hand of glory, the author is making clear that the intended use of this spell is for some kind of mischief.

A deadly Miasma

(stink) is naturally contrary to the health of men, and it can sometimes be deadly, as witenessed by the writings of Fioraventus, who says that if you take the dirt (muck) of human blood, once the waters and serums are out of it, and after drying said blood dirt, if we mix it with styrax and we burn this in a room, the miasma that results is lethal.

The author is being very sneaky here. He gives us a death spell, and not very complex either, so that we may be motivated to learn his protection charm against it! Way to sneak in black magic in your mostly innocent book, author! (the original title of the section is "Against the diseases and other accidents that hinder the life of man")

To make a man or woman insensitive to torture, so that one would obtain nothing from their confession.

(this spell is interwoven in a long shaggy dog story about a legal process which I cut out, so it's a bit choppy)

There are those who use certain words, softly pronounced, and others use small notes hidden upon their body. Here are three verse they speak in the times they are applied shame (generic poor treatment):

Imparibus meritis tria pendant corporæ ramis.
Dismas & Gestas in medio est divina potestas,
Dismas damnatur, Gestas as astra levatur.

And here are other words spoken when they are actually being tortured: "As the milk of the blessed and glorious Virgin has been sweet and pleasant to Our Lord Jesus, may this torture and rope be sweet and pleasant to my limbs"

... we found no other thing on him that a small note on which was the figure of the three king, and these words on the other side: "Beautiful star, which freed the mages from the persecution of Herod, free me of all torment". This note was stuffed in his left ear.

The author then gives us a counter spell to the anti torture charms, in the interest of not letting clever criminals get away, clearly stating that he's on the side of the torturers. How... civic... of him...

There were a few other spells in there that are a bit... rape-ish?  Better left in the past.

And that is it for now, I'll probably do one more round :)


  1. These are incredible, I need to go back and have a look through the rest of the series... thanks for your hard work in translation!

    (also, small typo: <> not that I'm averse to setting baby sheep on fire...)

    1. You are very welcome, gives me the motivation to do one more batch :)

  2. ^ oops didn't realise blogger comments accept mark up, the typo was "...and when this lamb is lit in a room..."