The Sprain String

”Jesus rides to church 
With a horse coloured as a pike, 
Shaped as a black salmon.
The horse sprained its leg.
Mary stepped down from the cart
To look at the sprain;
Bound with blue strings,
Thread with red strings,
Joined flesh, matched bones,
Knotted veins together.” 
(Hako, M. Kansanomainen lääkintätietous, SKS. Page 45.)

This incantation was spoken when preparing a string used for healing sprains (niukahduslanka). In this particular case, the string is made of red thread and nine knots are made on it in one pull. The string is tied around the ailing limb and left there until it heals.

This type of incantation spoken when preparing a sprain string was very common. In some cases, Jesus acted as the healer. In others, Mary healed the horse, as in the example given here. The incantation supposedly replayed the original healing event for the first case of sprain. It demonstrates the important role of Christian characters in folk medicine.

Cunning woman Anni Rissanen demonstrating how a sprain string was made (KM 7052:11) in 1927. Photo by Ahti Rytkönen, Finnish Heritage Agency.

There are three sprain strings in the collection of the National Museum of Finland and another three in the HM collection at Museum Centre Vapriikki in Tampere. One of these strings (KM 7052:11) was made by cunning woman Anni Rissanen in Maaninka in 1927. The catalogue entry explains that the maker should sit by the spinning wheel that is placed backwards under the smoke hole of the chimneyless smoke cottage. While spinning the thread is twisted around a splinter. If the house was not a smoke cottage, the maker should sit in the corresponding place on the floor using a broom as a seat. When the string is tied on the sprained limb one should not make a knot. Only the oldest or youngest of sisters may make the string. After the string was finished, it was protected from wind and transported in a pocket or pouch. A photo survives where Rissanen demonstrates how the sprain string was made.

Sprain strings are not unique to Finland, but an international phenomenon (known at least in Ireland). At the moment, it is unknown how widespread this type of healing was. Please leave a comment if you know about this practice in your area!

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