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Paper charm against toothache, Scotland, 1860-1880

The growing influence of biomedicine in the 1800s did not necessarily replace established forms of treatment based on belief and superstition. What could be referred to as folk medicine – customs that often went back generations – continued to be practised. For example, this charm was to be worn around the neck to prevent toothache. Sometime described as a spell, the charm reads: “In the Name of the Lord God, Peter sat on a marble stone weeping, Christ came by and asked what aileth thee Peter? Peter said, O Lord God my teeth doth ache, Christ said arise Peter and be whole and not only thee but all them that carries these lines for my sake shall never have the toothache.” This particular paper charm was written for a Mary McLeod. Similar versions of the text have been found that date back over a thousand years. The charm was presented to the Wellcome collections by a churchman from the Island of Mull, Scotland, around 1921.

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Glossary: toothache

Pain in a tooth or in the teeth

Glossary: charm

An object kept or worn in a belief that it has magical powers to protect against harm or to bring good luck.

Glossary: charm - spell

Written text of words said or chanted for magical effect. Used at magical ceremonies or arts; magic, sorcery, enchantment.