A 16th-century love charm of frog bones

In Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, much of the comedic conflict derives from the application of the nectar of a magic flower. Under its influence, the queen of the fairies (Titania) becomes enamored of a donkey, and, through a bit of a mix-up, a spurned woman (Helena) suddenly finds herself desired by the man who rejected her and her friend’s lover.

Oberon and Titania
Oberon and Titania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Georg Goldberg, 19th century. Folger Shakespeare Library. ART File S528m5 no.27 (size M)

As Oberon, the king of the fairies, tells Puck:

“The juice of it on sleeping eyelids laid
Will make or man or woman madly dote
Upon the next live creature that it sees.” (2.1.176-9)

Now imagine if Oberon, instead of dripping flower nectar on Titania’s eyes, slipped on her finger a ring containing… frog bones. That would be more in line with a certain love charm found in this 16th-century book of magic, or grimoire. The book, part of the Folger collection, contains a description of a “love experiment” that will cause a woman to “never rest till she hath been with thee”—which involves burying a frog for more than a week!

instructions for using frog bones to create a love charm
Page 211 in Book of magic, with instructions for invoking spirits, etc. (ca. 1577-1583)

Sound weird and creepy? Somewhat more Macbeth than A Midsummer Night’s Dream? Here is a transcription of the instructions for creating and using the charm, but we urge you—don’t try this at home, please.

Love experiment, true and proved of many

Take a frog that is using to dry land and put him into a pot, that is made full of holes and stop it fast. Then bury the pot in a cross highway in an anthill, with something, and let it be there nine days and look thou stop it fast, and that thou goest against the wind that it hear no noise, and at the nine days’ end go and take out the pot, and thou shalt find two bones in it, take them and put them in a running water, and one of them will float against the stream. Mark it well but keep them both, and make thee a ring, and take part of that it swum against the stream, and set it in the ring, and when thou wilt have any woman and put it on her right hand, or else touch her therewith, and she shall never rest till she hath been with thee &c. If thou wilt no more of her, and will have her to go away, touch her with the other bone, and she will not tarry with thee. Proven.

This transcription is taken from The Book of Oberon by Daniel Harms, James R. Clark, Joseph H. Peterson. (c) 2015 by Daniel Harms, James R. Clark, Joseph H. Peterson. Used by permission from Llewellyn Worldwide, Ltd., www.Llewellyn.com.