Zigismunda formosa (melannen) wrote,
Zigismunda formosa

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Another Sunday meditation

Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John
Went to Bed with No Clothes On.

...I learned that jingle at some point in my childhood, and I know there was more to it. The internet knows of that rhyme (and cites it back to WWII) so I'm not just making it up, but the only version the internet has can *not* be the version I knew, because it has dirty words, and not only that, dirty words that only rhyme if you're British. Now it's going to keep being stuck in my head until or unless I figure it out.

"Matthew, Mark, Luke and John", of course, is a very common element in English prayers, charms, and spells. There's the well-known "Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, / bless the bed that I lie on. / Four corners to my bed, / four angels round my head," which is pretty clearly what the nekkid time version is based on. A quick google also gives me the list of four evangelists in part of an old American blessing to be said over firearms (which something tells me the Winchesters would know well!); an anti-witcchcraft charm against hailstorms; a fertility charm for the land; protection in a lawsuit; and a charm to cure cramp. (Plus several that are hidden under $#%*& academic lock. What, exactly, is the point of that again? Keeping people from learning? I guess I must have really graduated, too, because the library's removed my JSTOR access. I need that access! I can't *survive* without that access! It's entirely possible that one of the reasons I tried to not graduate is that I couldn't stand the thought of losing my university library card! God's ankles, now I'm depressed.)

I could probably find as many again if I took a quick look through my library of paper books on the subject. But the best-known of them all is the "Matthew, Mark, Luke and John" bed-time rhyme, sometimes called the Black Paternoster and more often the White Paternoster, though it has very little in common with the French-style White Paternosters that show up in Les Mis and The Canterbury Tales. In Popular Nursery Rhymes Jenifer Mulherin says the British version may date back to Celtic rituals, but I'm more apt to be reminded (by the four angels 'round the bed) of Senoy, Sansenoy, and Semangelof, the three angels tasked to protect Jewish children against the spite of Lilith.

Some people source the prayer to the 17th century, where it was apparently first put in print by Dr. Thomas Ady in 1656. (Ady is better known as the writer of influential books attempting to insert some rationality into the witchcraft panic.) Margaret Murray, in The God of the Witches (who, granted, must always be taken with several grains of salt) gives a White Paternoster from a mid-17th century witch trial which is much more similar to Chaucer's version, and then she gives a Black Paternoster, implied to be from the same source, which is a four-corners charm clearly similar to the modern Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, but uses Latin forms of the names and is an adult's house-blessing rather than a bed-blessing ("God be into this house, and all that belangs us" to rhyme with Joannes.) If Murray can be trusted, then, the charm already existed in two very different version by the 1650s or so.

And "Matthew, Mark, Luke and John", in modern versions, is often intermixed with the other famous nursery prayer, "Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep". A whole bunch of versions of both these prayers are listed at Bedtime Prayers, along with a bunch of more twee childrens' prayers with all references to death, of course, ruthlessly bowdlerized. It seems to be a younger prayer - the first references look to be from the 18th century in "A New England Primer". There seems to be a persistent delusion on the 'net that it was printed in the 12th century in the Enchiridion of Pope Leo. The Enchiridion of Pope Leo is a *highly* dubious document, which in the tradition of late-Renaissance magickal publications, claims a pedigree older than it deserves. Given how demonstrably innacurate all the citations to it are, I'm not going to lay bets whether the prayer's actually in the book (the references seem to all have propagated from the wikipedia entry on Christian Child's Prayer (which is just *bad* beyond my ability to fix it, though I tried), detectable through use of a version of the book's name that seems to be *very* uncommon in English.) Although from Waite's description in Book of Ceremonial Magic, it seems reasonable that somebody, at some point, might have inserted some version of that prayer in some copy of the grimiore. I did find what seems to be an online Spanish translation of the book, which may or may not be complete, but doesn't seem to have anything resembling that prayer to the limit of my knowledge of Spanish.

Of course, it also shows up in Metallica's Enter Sandman.
(In other news, "Supernatural" continues to rock.)


Mind, none of that exactly solves the question of what the Evangelists did in bed with no clothes on. But hey! It may still be stuck in my head, but at least by now it's probably stuck in yours, too.
Tags: church, folklore, research

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