Don’t be angry!

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Today, let’s take a look at another spell from the PGM (XII. 179-81):

*If you want someone to cease being angry with you, write with myrrh [on linen] this / name of anger: “CHNEOM.” Hold it in your left [hand and say]: “I am restraining the anger of all, especially of him, NN, which is CHNEOM.”

TR.: R.F. Hock

This spell sure sounds useful. There are always occasions when we have someone angry with us and we wish we could change their feelings. How convenient to have such a simple remedy!

First of all, what is myrrh? There is a variety of small thorny tree called Commiphora that, when wounded (i.e. a cut is made in the trunk) released a resin. This waxy resin is called myrrh. It starts out in the resin-gum form, and then can be manipulated for a number of uses. It was popular for perfume and incense, as we may recall from some traditional Christmas stories. It can be turned into an essential oil, which you can find in stores that sell such things, and is one of the more expensive oils.

For this spell, I imagine that the intention is to use an essential oil form of myrrh to write with. It could be dipped into with a brush or even just your hands and then used to write the indicated word on the cloth. However I will admit that perhaps the resin could be used in a sort of crayon-like fashion to write; it would perhaps be more practical as the raw resin would inevitably be more affordable and available than the distilled oil.

I wonder whether the use of myrrh in a spell relating to anger has anything to do with the myth of Myrrha. There are several variations on the myth that all differ, so it’s fairly open to interpretation, but the basis is that Myrrha had intercourse with her father and gave birth to Adonis. Generally the father is the one that is tricked, and is angry when he discovers the incestuous truth, and Myrrha flees and is turned into a tree. There is certainly a strong theme of anger, especially in the wake of trickery, in this myth, so perhaps there’s something to it after all.

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