„Three times Pater Noster, then…”

The Lord’s Prayer as a charm in Estonian vernacular religion


In Estonian vernacular religion the Lord’s Prayer has several divergent functions. The first historical records of using the Lord’s Prayer as a charm can be found in 17th-century witchcraft reports. According to M. J. Eisen’s folklore collection it is a universal charm that can be used in protective magic, healing procedures, erotic seduction and divination, and occasionally also for harming other people. The Lord’s Prayer may be repeated several times (usually thrice) and the order of the words or letters might be reversed to achieve a stronger effect on the supernatural. The Lord’s Prayer can be read as a separate text, but often it is intertextually combined with other charms. The process of incantation is usually accompanied by different ritual acts that might be homological (e.g. making a sign of the cross) or heterological (reading the spell over a liquid or food etc). Sometimes the time and place of incantation is also specified, and the mode of enunciation is precisely determined (reading in a low voice, without breath-taking etc). However, it is quite significant that the Lord’s Prayer does not hold a hegemonic position in the magical repertoire and it does not exclude non-Christian practices that were usually condemned by the church. As a charm, it supports and confirms other charms and ritual acts, amplifying their effect and serving as an additional guarantee of their expected success.