NOTE: This article was featured on my old blog on February 4th, 2013. But it seems much longer ago than that. And that bit at the end is new. 

This is a translation from Old English that I did last summer. I’ve shown it to a few of my friends but there isn’t any place to publish it, in spite of its inherent interest.

It’s a relic of a bygone day which was not more barbaric (if you think we are more humane look in your closet and see how much of your wardrobe was made in a sweatshop), but rather a time when all knowledge—medical included—was symbolic, not scientific, and when the most heartbreaking human conditions were utterly untreatable.

I’m not sure what the symbolic uses of the porpoises or the whips are. It’s quite possible that their meanings are completely transparent and are simply unknown to me or, that like much of the traditional Northern European culture, they have been lost over the last millennium.

Against Lunacy    

If a man goes mad    make a whip
Fashioned from the pelt   of a porpoise and flog him.
Once whipped    he will soon be well.


Addendum: There are certain things that I have come to think of as cultural mathoms — little songs and poems from our ancestors, odd customs, and that sort of thing that I’d like to see preserved and remembered  — even if they no longer have the currency that they once did.

A few weeks ago I went to a restaurant with a friend who chided me when I tried to find a place to put my hat.  She wanted me to just keep it on, and that it was no big deal, and that I should stop being so old-fashioned.  I ended up putting it on the table, but I don’t think that she understood the gesture.

Anyway, this little cure is one of those mathoms, a little part of tradition to tip the hat to.