Incantation (Lat. incantatio; incanto, to chant a magic formula, compound of in, intensive, and canto, to sing) denotes "one of the most powerful and awe- inspiring modes of magic (q.v.), viz., that resting on a belief in the mysterious power of words solemnly conceived and passionately uttered." "There is in the human voice, especially in its more lofty tones, an actual power of a very wonderful kind to stir men's hearts. When to this we add that poetic utterance is a special and exceptional gift; that the language of primitive nations is crude and unmanageable, the words being as difficult to weld together as pieces of cast iron; that it is only when the poet's mind has risen to unusual heat that he can fuse them into those rhythmical sequences that please the ear and hang together in the memory; that, in short, his art is a mystery to himself-an inspiration-we need not wonder at the feeling with which everything in the form of verse or meter was viewed. The singing or saying of such compositions which could thus stir the blood of the hearers they knew not how, what other effects might it not produce?" To the power which the superstitious belief of the people, up to and even through the Middle Ages, gave to incantations, especially when accompanied, as they generally were, with the concocting of drugs and other magical rites, there is hardly any end. "They could heal or kill. If they could not raise from the dead, they could make the dead speak, or 'call up spirits from the vast deep' in order to unveil the future. They could extinguish fire; darken the sun or moon; make fetters burst, a door or a mountain fly open; blunt a sword; make a limb powerless; destroy a crop, or charm it away into another's barn." It is especially the heathenish nations that in their prayers, whether for blessings or for curses, partake largely of the nature of magical incantations. "They are not supposed to act as petitions addressed to a free agent, but by an inherent force which even the gods cannot resist. This is very marked in Hinduism and Buddhism, but it actually pervades all superstitious worship, though sometimes quite disguised. They think they shall be heard for their much speaking.' For almost every occasion or operation of life there were appropriate formulas to be repeated in order to secure success; and many of these, with that reverence for antiquity and conservative tendency which always characterize superstition, continue to live in popular memory, although often the words are so old as to be unintelligible. Thus, among the Romans, in the days of Cato, incantations were common for curing dislocations, full of words the meaning of which had been lost. A form of words used to this day in Shetland for healing a sprain call be traced back to the 10th century. In its earliest form, as found in an old German manuscript, it narrates how their native gods, Woden and Baldur, riding out to hunt, Baldur's horse dislocated its foot, and how Wolden, using charmed words, set bone to bone, etc., and so healed the foot. The repetition of this rhymed narration acted as a charm to heal other lamed horses. A modern version of this tradition, current in Norway even in our day, makes the accident happen to the horse of Jesus, and Jesus himself perform the cure-in Shetland, also, the Lord (Jesus) is substituted for Woden: and the formula is applied to the healing of persons' limbs as well as those of horses. The operation is thus described in R. Chambers's Popular Rhymes of Scotland: 'When a person has received a sprain, it is customary to apply to an individual practiced in casting the "wresting- thread." This is a thread spun from black wool, on which are cast nine knots, and tied round a sprained leg or arm. During the time the operator is putting the thread round the affected limb, he says, but in such a tone of voice as not to be heard by the bystanders, nor even by the person operated upon:
"'Our Lord rade, His foal's foot slade; Down he lighted, His foal's foot righted.
Bone to bone, Sinew to sinew, Blood to blood, Flesh to flesh.