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Weird health

If you've warts that won't budge, find a charmer

Rural hocus-pocus or not, wart charming is as alive and baffling today as at any time in its long history. No one knows how or why it works, but there could be a clue in the Complete Family Guide to Alternative Medicine which states that warts can sometimes be "wished" away with the help of hypnotherapy, autosuggestion and visualisation. The book also recommends crushed onions or garlic applied nightly.

Failing that, a wart charmer may be the answer - if you can find one, as charmers are famously secretive about their skills. But they can be so effective that even some country GPs quietly refer patients to them.

Charmers never take money and, where a spell is involved, it will have been passed down from a man to a woman, or a woman to a man, and then kept secret until passed on to a worthy successor. In south-west Wales, where there is a strong tradition of wart charming, they are all church-goers and say that the unintelligible words they whisper over warts and rashes are taken from the Bible.

In one common charm, a stick from an elder tree, with as many notches cut in it as there are warts to be cured, is buried in the ground. As the stick decays, so the warts disappear. Variants include buying a silver coin or rubbing a piece of raw meat on the wart. Some charmers simply shake the warty person's hand.

In her book Folklore and Customs of Rural England, Margaret Baker describes a version in which the sufferer pricks each wart with a new pin, which they then stick in an ash tree with the words: Ashen tree, ashen tree Pray buy these warts of me If you want to be really mean, you can rub your warts with an apple or slice of bacon, which you then wrap up in an inviting-looking parcel and drop at a crossroads. Whoever picks it up will acquire your warts.

NICKI HOUSEHOLD

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