Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Miracle Worker from Lomborg

Wise folk, or Kloge folk in Danish, were practitioners of folk medicine and beneficent magic who used herbal remedies to heal sick or bewitched people. They were common in Scandinavia even after the introduction of modern medicine, especially in rural areas. One of the last wise men of Denmark was Kjeld Bjerg. Although few may remember his name nowadays, in the distant past he was quite famous.

Kjeld Pedersen Bjerg was born in Lomborg on October 13, 1821. His parents, farmer Peder Nielsen Bjerg and housewife Mariane Pedersdatter, had no particular affiliation to white witchcraft. Kjeld was the fourth of their eight children. He grew up at the family farm in Storebjerg and remained there throughout his adult life. In 1859 he married Oleane Andersdatter and had a flock of children. When he grew old he passed the farm down to his eldest son and built himself a property called Lillebjerg nearby.

Kjeld Bjerg

Kjeld was a peculiar character. Short and thin, he had black hair and an unusual hawk-face with small eyes, a large hooked nose and a pointy chin. This was, as some joked, due to the blood of trolls and gnomes flowing through his veins. He was also, by all accounts, a kindhearted and well meaning man. He never charged his patients, but accepted a few coins for his expenses when offered. Most often he was content with a cup of coffee or a piece of bread in return for his services. 

Travelers who passed through Storebjerg were always invited to coffee by Oleane. They were seated at one end of a long table in the living room, with Kjeld sitting at the other end. Oleane or their sons lead the conversation, while the wise man was taciturn. But once it revolved around illness, old Kjeld would come to life and recount how he had cured this or that disease. Should someone ask him what treatment he used, he just cryptically replied “I gave them what they needed”.

Kjeld and his carriage
Patients would seek Kjeld at his home in the farm or send for him, especially on Sundays or holidays. Then he would mount his single-horse phaeton and travel around the country on his own. He was cautious in prescribing a treatment for his patients. “If I suffered from that, I would…” he would carefully say in his amusing dialect. He then gave them cumbersome instructions as to how they should apply his medicine: “use only the ring finger on your left hand… rub only towards the nose… drink only during a waning moon… not thirteen or fifteen drops, but only fourteen…” and so on and so forth. His remedies were mostly made up of herbs he personally picked and kept in labeled boxes in his attic. He often used Arnica Montana. Though countless people were among his patients, Kjeld never treated his own children and sent for the physician in Lemvig whenever they fell ill.

Kjeld treated anything from bewitched animals to tumors and sprained limbs. He was once called to a farm which couldn't bake bread. The owner had tried buying rye and flour from different places, and even let different women handle the dough. Kjeld drilled a hole in the dough trough and stuck a cork in it. What else he did is unknown, but after his visit the farm could finally bake bread. Another time, he reportedly cured a man from Halgård who suffered from a head tumor even physicians couldn't treat. He also treated the wife of Landsting member Rasmussen Byskovs, who suffered from a large lump on her leg. Kjeld put a split pigeon's breast on it, and told her to call upon him again if the treatment didn't work. It didn't, but when he returned Kjeld read her an enchantment during a new moon, and the lump disappeared. Sometimes, when he was truly unable to help his patients, Kjeld would refer them to his colleague in Ulfborg, wise man Anders Christensen Ulfkjær [13.04.1812-27.03.1886]. But evidently Kjeld’s medicine often worked, or at least people believed it did. He never ran short of work. After his death, a notebook with some of the remedies he used was discovered. Here are a few: 
Remedy for Cestoda: Drink Shallot in vinegar 2-3 times a day according to need.
Remedy for Arthritis: Boil potatoes in water and wash the painful area. "Best way to strengthen sinews".
Remedy for Arthritis according to Dybdal's receipt: mix 400 gram Green Arthritis Oil [?] and 300 gram Poppyseed oil together. Rub on the joints and on the painful area every morning and evening. Consume 300 gram Melissa officinalis (or 40-60 drops).
Remedy for diphtheria according to newspapers, or for breathing difficulty: pour two equal amounts of pitch and turpentine oil into a frying pan and set aflame. Breath the steam. Can be repeated several times. "Relieves immediately".
Remedy for diarrhea in children: Boil blueberries in water and sweeten with sugar. Let child consume.
Remedy for blood cleansing: Cut Guaiacum into fine pieces and boil well in water. Filter and drink water.
Remedy for Asthma "that has cured many": Boil 1½ pounds of licorice in six pots of water, ½ pound at a time in two pots. Let patient drink 3 glasses a day or more.
Remedy for insomnia: Make a pillow out of hop-leaves or hops and sleep on it.
Remedy for hydrarthrosis in the knee that "has never failed": Put some layers of linen together and soften in warm piss. Tie to knee every night before bedtime for eight days or more.
Remedy for rock-pain [testicular-pain] and pulled groin: Put a branch of birch in a bowl or a pot and urinate on it. Let it lay in the urine until it turns soft, then remove it to a dry place and let it lay there undisturbed. "The pain won't return".
Remedy against frost bites in hands and feet: wash diligently with sildelage [herring brine].
Remedy for high blood pressure: Boil Waterlily root in water and drink 2-3 spoons every day.
Remedy for coughing "that cannot fail": Mince a dry, clean oat-straw and boil in a little water. Add sugar to better the taste. Drink a teacup in the morning and evening, child and adult alike. Can heal the most aggressive coughing in 3-4 days and even Pharyngitis and croup.
Remedy for knee pain: Melt the innards of a goat and smear on knee two times a day.
Remedy for joint pain: Dry the jawbone of a goat, grind to powder and consume.
Remedy for Arthritis which has helped many: Boil an Opiate capsule (Valmueskal) in two pots of water. Filter the water and soak several layers of linen in it, then tie to painful area as hot as bearable. Repeat. It will take away the pain.
Laurs Glavind
Remedy for skin disease by wise man Laurs Glavind [07.1808-24.05.1891]: 2 teaspoons of Alum, 1 teaspoon of sublimed sulfur. Blended in 6 lots [1⁄30 pounds] of melted butter and smeared twice a day. Drink a tea of blended Juniper and Sarsaparilla twice a day.
Remedy for Scrofula: Drink a tea of blended Juniper and Sarsaparilla. Drink one cup twice a day. Smear powdered Galmejsten [Smithsonite] mixed with dog fat twice a day.
Remedy for removal of milk: Cook Parsley in sweet cream until it turns to butter. When it is lukewarm smear on breasts. Repeat several times a day.
Remedy for headache: Smell thick Camphor oil once every hour.
Remedy for headache in the forehead: Rub with Peppermint alcohol or Althea. Rub temples to make the blood sink.
Remedy for stronger digestion and improved appetite: 1 spoon of China Roborans [Longan tonic?] in a glass of water or wine 2-3 times a day.
Remedy for Scabies: 2 lots of Styrax, 2 lots of sweet oil, 2 lots of sprite. Blend together and smear over three days.

Kjeld's notebook also contained the following incantation to be whispered while treating toothache. Theologian Anton Christian Bang [18.09.1840-29.12.1913] presented several similar enchantment in his 1901 book Norske hexeformularer og magiske opskrifter. They appear to be quite old, and exhibit the ancient belief that a "tooth worm" was responsible for toothache.
"Orm er du herinde, skal jeg dig med mine ti Fingre binde. Er du sort, skal du bort, er du rød, skal du døe. Og det skal ske i tre Guds Ord, i tre Mands Navn. Gud Fader og Guds Søn, og Gud den Helligånd. Amen. Så snart jeg mine ti Finger paa Jorden sætter."
"Worm, if you're inside, around my ten fingers you'll be tied. If you are black you won't come back, if you are red you'll soon be dead. And so be it by the three words of God, by man's three names. God the father, God's son, and God the holy spirit. Amen. Once my ten fingers touch the ground."
People indeed believed that Kjeld could cast spells, and he did little to discourage them. He had a passion for magic tricks, and carried all sorts of bizarre and interesting instruments. He had, for instance, a selection of music boxes. He would often windup a box beforehand, then slightly tap it while visiting patients and surprise them with a pleasant melody. He also had a brass chain that seemed to roll upwards infinitely, a little bottle that could hold its balance and a magic box with moving tin soldiers. But the strangest object in his possession was a book some people called The Devil’s ABC: “Would you like to see some letters?” he would ask his audience, and then leaf through the book showing all kinds of alphabets. “Or maybe some animals?” he would then ask, and to their amazement the pages were suddenly filled with colorful illustrations of all kinds of fauna. “Or perhaps you’d rather look at some stamps?” he would continue, and now the pages featured a variety of stamps. “Or maybe black people?” and the book was filled with silhouettes. But when he leafed through the book for the seventh time people were truly startled, for the pages were completely blank. 

Johanne Hvingelby
Kjeld was a teetotaler. He never smoked or consumed alcohol, and prefered tea over coffee. His mother-in-law, Johanne Hvingelby, celebrated her 104th birthday in 1890 and was the oldest living person in the kingdom at the time. This fact undoubtedly contributed to the reputation of the wise man. Hvingelby lived at Kjeld's house, and was reportedly never ill in her life.  To the last of her days she remained clear-minded and miraculously lively. She would reportedly carry her grandchildren on her shoulders and go on long strolls daily. Kjeld, however, did not get very old. He died in his home on December 20, 1903, at an age of eighty two. His departure from this world came as a surprise to many who believed that he simply couldn’t die. Per his request, his body lay unburied for eleven days – the longest time one could only appear to be dead. He outlived his wife, who passed away at an age of seventy four in April 1900. Both are buried in Lomborg’s churchyard, where their gravestone still stands to this very day.

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