Dreaming of dwarves: Nightmares and Shamanism in Anglo-Saxon Poetics and the Wid Dweorh Charm
M.A. Thesis, University of Georgia, May (2009)
Lewis, Matthew C. G.
Anglo-Saxon Metrical Charm 3, Wið Dweorh, from the British Library MS Harley 585, provides evidence of remnants of shamanic thinking in the early Christian era of Anglo-Saxon England. It shows a depth of understanding of dream psychology that prefigures modern psychiatric techniques; provides clues as to the linguistic, religious, cultural, and folkloric origins of nightmares, and reflects a tradition of shamanism in Old English poetry. This paper illustrates these linguistic and folkloric themes, places the metrical charm within the shamanistic tradition of Old English poetics, and connects the charm‟s value as a therapeutic device to modern psychiatric techniques.
The explanations that we humans have used to elucidate the workings of our own minds are so varied as to beggar description. Mankind has, since time immemorial, developed many a bizarre religious, alchemical, magical, or fantastic explanation for the psychological or physical maladies that affect our species. Early medieval Europe, under the auspices of late paganism, early Christianity, folk medicine, and superstition, developed theories of humors, of the magical properties of amulets and charms, and of the value of curing-stones and curses, and in the process gave rise to the beginnings of what we now know as medicine and psychology.