Hālnes and hǽlþ:Anglo-Saxon Bodily Wellness
Panel 2: The Body Corruptible
Erin E. Sweaney, Department of English (Indiana University)
Summary by Medievalists.net
This paper discussed Anglo-Saxons spiritual and physical health. The paper did not deal with medical technical terms but focused on Anglo-Saxon perceptions and experiences of health and disease. The paper asked: What is Anglo-Saxon health?
The Anglo-Saxon concept of health was examined through the text “Soul and Body” (“Halnes and help”). Dwarves, fairies, and demons etc… were the ‘agents of Anglo-Saxon unwellness and caused very real anxiety’. There was a grave concern about outside forces invading and infesting the body. While these concepts seem absurd to modern medicine, they were very real concerns for Anglo-Saxons. The use of recipes, charms, and remedies were common in protecting the body and spirit. Charms were uttered to expel the Devil from the patient. Sweeney explained the use of several Anglo-Saxon charms. The charms summarised the protection of the body’s wholeness by listing the body parts that required protection. Some of these charms were extremely detailed covering nearly every part of the body to ensure the health of the speaker.
The poem “Soul and Body” demonstrates that the soul is tied to the body even after death. The part/whole relationship between the body and soul is complex. The soul is destined to damnation on Judgement Day yet rejoined with the body on that day. The relationship between the body and the soul is also not one of balance – one must think always on the sustenance of the soul, i.e., fasting on earth will be rewarded on the Day of Judgement because the body cultivated ‘an appropriate relationship between the body and the soul’.