Using the Psalms

In folk magic traditions across North Carolina, Psalms are recited to ward off illness, protect against evil, to cure illness, and as many other uses as there are psalms. This is a tradition present both in Appalachian and African-American traditions, and it's one of the few folk magic practices that we have a good idea of how it came to be.

The practice of reciting psalms for protection from disease, evil, or injury derives from Medieval Jewish tradition. Much of Jewish folk magic is focused on the power of words and speaking, and by the Fourteenth century assigning specific psalms to specific troubles was common in the wold of Yiddish-speaking Europe. Manuscript lists of which psalm was to be recited for what reason were widely circulated across Europe, and one of these lists was committed to print, in Hebrew, in Sabbioneta in Northern Italy in 1551 as the Sefer Shimmush Tehillim — The Book of the Uses of Psalms.

The early days of printing saw a mad rush of demand, so much that it in some ways outpaced what had so far been written in any given language, so it was also a golden age of translation. Like any other publishing rush, some genres were more popular than others. In the Early modern period, there was also a huge demand for books on "Natural Philosophy", a category which embraced not only philosophy, but what we would nw call both magic and science.

The European Jewish community as uniquely positioned as a source for material in this rush. Literacy was a religious obligation for Jewish men, and manuscript texts of the sort of books which were now in high demand in the larger culture, like the Sefer Shimmush Tehillim, were readily available. A substantial portion of the community would also have been multilingual, speaking not only Hebrew and Yiddish, but also the vernacular language of wherever they resided. Books of Jewish mysticism and folk magic in translation begin to be printed and to circulate around Europe.

Using Psalms magically strikes a particular chord in Germany, where the lists of Psalms and their uses was translated, Christianized, and widely circulated to the point where, by the 18th Century, it's a deeply embedded part of German folk magic traditions. German settlers bring this tradition to America. Paths of German immigration into North Carolina bring this tradition into the state from the Palatinate settlements in Eastern North Carolina, and into the West from down along the Appalachians from Pennsylvania. Soon, English-language versions of when to recite each Psalm are circulating across the state and across the country, sometimes accompanied by additional prayers or actions to be done to give the magic an extra boost.

The list below is adapted from several of these sources.

Psalm 1
For the protection of pregnant women from premature delivery or dangerous confinement.
Psalm 2
For protection from a storm at sea.
Psalm 3
To cure severe headaches and backaches.
Psalm 4
To cure bad luck.
Psalm 5
To gain favor with magistrates or princes.
Psalm 6
To cure diseases of the eye.
Psalm 7
To protect against evil persons conspiring against you.
Psalm 8
To secure good will in business transactions.
Psalm 9
To cure male children in bad health when no medicines are available.
Psalm 10
To rid yourself of evil spirits.
Psalm 11
To protect yourself from persecution.
Psalm 12
To protect yourself from unnatural death or injury.
Psalm 13
Also to protect yourself from unnatural death or injury.
Psalm 14
To protect yourself from slander.
Psalm 15
To protect yourself from insanity or melancholy.
Psalm 16
To uncover the name of a thief, and to transform sorrow into joy.
Psalm 17
To protect yourself from evil throughout the day.
Psalm 18
To protect yourself from robbers.
Psalm 19
To protect yourself during childbirth.
Psalm 20
To gain favor in a court of law.
Psalm 21
To calm a storm at sea.
Psalm 22
To protect yourself from misfortune when traveling.
Psalm 23
Recite this Psalm to receive enlightenment about a decision or problem in the form of a dream.
Psalm 24
To protect yourself from floods.
Psalm 25
Also effective against floods.
Psalm 26
To protect yourself against imminent danger, and to avoid imprisonment.
Psalm 27
To be accepted kindly in a strange city.
Psalm 28
To be reconciled with an enemy.
Psalm 29
To cast out evil spirits.
Psalm 30
To protect yourself from evil occurrences.
Psalm 31
To escape slander and evil tongues.
Psalm 32
To receive grace, love and mercy.
Psalm 33
To protect against the death of children at birth.
Psalm 34
To gain favor from someone in authourity.
Psalm 35
To be successful in a lawsuit.
Psalm 36
To protect against libel.
Psalm 37
To cure drunkenness, recite this psalm over a pitcher of water and pour it on the head of the afflicted.
Psalm 38
To protect against false arrest. Said with Psalm 39
Psalm 38
Also to protect against false arrest, when said with Psalm 38.
Psalm 40
Recite daily to free yourself from an evil spirit.
Psalm 41
If you lose income or are deprived of credit, say this Psalm along with Psalms 42 and 43, three times a day for three consecutive days..
Psalm 42
See Psalm 41.
Psalm 43
See Psalm 41.
Psalm 44
To be safe from your enemies.
Psalm 45
To make peace between a man and wife. Said with Psalm 46.
Psalm 46
To make peace between a man and wife. Said with Psalm 45.
Psalm 47
To be loved and respected
Psalm 48
If you have many enemies without cause, recite this Psalm frequently to be free of them.
Psalm 49
If someone in your family has an incurable fever, write this Psalm along with the first six verses of Palm 50 on parchment and hang it around their neck..
Psalm 50
See Psalm 49.
Psalm 51
To relieve a guilty conscience.
Psalm 52
Recite this Psalm daily if you are the victim of frequent slander.
Psalm 53
Said to protect yourself from enemies who have harmed you, used along with the next two Psalms.
Psalm 54
Said with Plasm 53 to protect yourself from enemies and to get revenge upon them.
Psalm 55
Said with Psalms 53 an 54 to protect yourself from enemies, gain revenge on them, and get back at them with evil for evil.
Psalm 56
To free yourself from bonds of passion and sensuality.
Psalm 57
Recite this Psalm daily if you are the victim of frequent slander.
Psalm 58
To protect yourself from attack from a vicious dog
Psalm 59
Pray daily for three days in a row to stop yourself from wanting to do evil.
Psalm 60
To be said for protection by a soldier about to go into battle.
Psalm 61
To bring good fortune when moving into a new home.
Psalm 62
To be pardoned for sinning.
Psalm 63
To be said if you suspect your business partners are taking advantage of you.
Psalm 64
Recite this Psalm for a calm and prosperous sea voyage.
Psalm 65
To bring success and good fortune.
Psalm 66
Write this Psalm on parchment and hang it around the neck of someone who is possessed by an evil spirit.
Psalm 67
To be recited in case of a severe fever or imprisonment.
Psalm 68
To curse someone possessed of an evil spirt, recite this Psalm over a vessel of water on which the sun has never shone and then bathe them completely with that water. See also Psalm 101.
Psalm 69
For libertines and others enslaved to sensuality, recite this Psalm every morning over water and then drink it.
Psalm 70
Recite this to conquer your enemies.
Psalm 71
Recite this Psalm seven times daily to be released from prison.
Psalm 72
Wear this Psalm around your neck to gain favor from a powerful person.
Psalm 73
For protection while traveling in a foreign land.
Psalm 74
To defeat your enemies and brig them to terrible ends.
Psalm 75
For forgiveness of sins.
Psalm 76
For protection against fire and water.
Psalm 77
For protection against poverty.
Psalm 78
To gain the favor of those in high positions.
Psalm 79
Pray this Psalm often to bring down your enemies.
Psalm 80
When said with Psalm 81, this Psalm protects you from losing faith.
Psalm 81
When said with Psalm 80, this Psalm protects you from losing faith.
Psalm 82
To be prosperous in business.
Psalm 83
Wear this Psalm around your neck to be safe during battle.
Psalm 84
Recite this Psalm to cure yourself of offensive body odors.
Psalm 85
To regain a lost friendship.
Psalm 86
Recite this Psalm frequently, along with the next two, to protect your health and drive away evil, and for the general well-being of the community.
Psalm 87
See Psalm 86.
Psalm 88
See Psalm 86.
Psalm 89
To be said for an ill relative or for someone in prison
Psalm 90
To protect yourself from wild beasts, ghosts, and evil spirits.
Psalm 91
To repel evil spirits, demons, and protect yourself from all kinds of distress and suffering. This is considered one of the most powerful of the Psalms for protection against evil.
Psalm 92
To achieve high honor.
Psalm 93
To be said for victory in a lawsuit.
Psalm 94
To gain victory over an inflexible enemy
Psalm 95
To be said for unbelieving friends and family.
Psalm 96
Recite this Psalm and Psalm 97 three times a day to bring joy and contentment.
Psalm 97
See Psalm 96.
Psalm 98
Recite this Psalm to bring peace and harmony within a family.
Psalm 99
Recite this Psalm frequently to become pious.
Psalm 100
Pray this Psalm several times a day to overcome your enemies.
Psalm 101
Wear this Psalm along with Psalm 68 around your neck for protection from evil spirits and malicious people.
Psalm 102
Along with Psalm 103, this Psalm can help with conception.
Psalm 103
See Psalm 102.
Psalm 104
To destroy a demon or evil spirit.
Psalm 105
To cure a three-day fever.
Psalm 106
To cure a four-day fever.
Psalm 107
To cure a recurring fever.
Psalm 108
Write this Psalm on a clean parchment and conceal it behind the door of your house to bless your comings and goings.
Psalm 109
For a vicious enemy, pray this Psalm for three days over an open jug of wine and then pour the wine at your enemy's doorstep, being very careful not to spill any on yourself.
Psalm 110
Pray this Psalm to make your enemies bow before you.
Psalm 111
Pray this Psalm to win new friends.
Psalm 112
Recite this Psalm to increase your power.
Psalm 113
Pray this Psalm to prevent heresy and infidelity.
Psalm 114
Write this Psalm on parchment and carry it with you to gain fortune in business.
Psalm 115
Pray this Psalm before religious debates.
Psalm 116
Pray this Psalm frequently to avoid violent death.
Psalm 117
Recite this Psalm if you have broken a promise.
Psalm 118
Pray this Psalm to protect yourself from being led astray.
Psalm 119
The longest of the Psalms, the verses are broken down to address specific ailments:
  • Verses 1 - 8: Pray this over a man whose limbs tremble.
  • Verses 9 - 16: Pray this to improve the memory and aid learning.
  • Verses 17 - 24: Pray this over the wounded eye of a friend.
  • Verses 25 - 32: Pray this over an injured left eye, or recite eight times for success in a lawsuit or when troubled by a move or change of occupation. Recite ten times for success in any undertaking.
  • Verses 33 - 40: To break a bad habit, write out these verses eight times and wear them over your heart.
  • Verses 41 - 48: Recite these verses to cure a drunken employee.
  • Verses 49 - 56: To cure depression in a friend.
  • Verses 57 - 64: For someone who has pain the upper part of the body, recite these verses seven times over wine and give it to them to drink.
  • Verses 65 - 72: Say these verses eight time to treat diseases of the kidneys, liver, and lips.
  • Verses 73 - 80: Say thee verses in the morning to find favor with God and man.
  • Verses 81 - 88: Say these verses ten times to treat someone with a sore or swelling on their nose.
  • Verses 89 - 96: Say these verses before appearing before a judge.
  • Verses 97 - 104: Say these verses seven times for pain or paralysis in the right arm.
  • Verses 105 - 112: Say these verses every morning while on a journey to ensure safe travels.
  • Verses 113 - 120: Recite these verses before asking for a favor.
  • Verses 121 - 128: Recite these verses to cure pain in the left arm.
  • Verses 129 - 136: These verses will cure a boil on the left side of the nose.
  • Verses 137 - 144: Pray these verses when serving on a jury or giving judgement so that your decisions will be just.
  • Verses 145 - 152: These verses cure pain and injury in the left leg.
  • Verses 153 - 160: These verses will cure a painful boil on the right ear.
  • Verses 161 - 169: These verses will cure a headache.
  • Verses 169 - 176: Recite these verses to cure a boil on the left ear.
Psalm 120
Pray this Psalm to gain favor when appearing in court.
Psalm 121
Recite this Psalm seven times before setting out on a journey alone at night.
Psalm 122
Recite this Psalm thirteen times before meting with someone in a high position to gain favor.
Psalm 123
If your servant leaves the house, write this Psalm, along with his name, on a strip of lead to have him return.
Psalm 124
Recite this Psalm before crossing a swollen stream or when entering a boat for a journey.
Psalm 125
If you have to enter the territory of your enemies, fill your hands with salt and scatter it to the four corners of the Earth while reciting this Psalm.
Psalm 126
If you have previously lost children during infancy, during your next pregnancy write this Psalm four times, each time on a separate amulet, and hide them in the four corners of your house.
Psalm 127
Hang this Psalm around the neck of a newborn baby to protect them from evil.
Psalm 128
Write this Psalm on a clean parchment and hang it around the neck of a pregnant woman to protect her and the baby from harm.
Psalm 129
Recite this Psalm every morning to become pious and devout
Psalm 130
If you happen to find yourself in a besieged city, pray this Psalm four times, to each of the four quarters of the Earth, and a heavy slepp will overtake the sentries and allow you to escape.
Psalm 131
Pray this Psalm three times daily if you are troubled by a demon or evil spirit.
Psalm 132
If you have neglected a duty you were sworn to do, recite tis Psalm to avoid doing so again.
Psalm 133
Pray this Psalm daily to receive love and affection from friends.
Psalm 134
Say this Psalm before studying or entering school.
Psalm 135
Say this Psalm daily to repent for sins.
Psalm 136
Say this Psalm to repent and ask forgiveness for grievous sins.
Psalm 137
Recite this Psalm to banish hatred from your heart.
Psalm 138
Recite this Palm to invite friendship and love.
Psalm 139
Recite this Psalm to increase and preserve love between married couples.
Psalm 140
Pray this Psalm to relieve growing hatred in marriage.
Psalm 141
Pray tis Psalm to rid yourself of unreasonable fears.
Psalm 142
This Psalm should be recited to relieve pain n the thighs.
Psalm 143
This Psalm should be recited to relieve pain n the arms.
Psalm 144
recite this Psalm to aid with the healing of a broken arm. When said in conjunction with Psalm 145, it also banishes ghosts.
Psalm 145
Say this Psalm along with Psalm 144 if you are troubled by ghosts.
Psalm 146
If you've been wounded by a knife or other deadly weapon, pray this Psalm every da while it is helping to ensure recovery.
Psalm 147
Like Psalm 146, this Psalm will aid in the recovery from an injury from a weapon, with the additional benefits of being good for recovery from bee stings, snakes bites, and other injuries from poisonous insects and reptiles.
Psalm 148
Say this Psalm along with Psalm 149 for protection against fire.
Psalm 149
See Psalm 148.
Psalm 150
Recite this Psalm with gratitude after escaping grave danger.