Digital Catalogue of Latvian Charms (Aigars Lielbārdis, PhD)


About the Catalogue of Charms

The Digital Catalogue of Latvian Charms consists of materials from the charm (z1) and folk medicine (z2) genres held within the Latvian Folklore Archives (LFK). The charm collection of the Latvian Folklore Archives is largely (90%) made up of folklore materials submitted to the archives in the 1920s and 30s; charms collected during the Soviet period and following the renewal of Latvian independence make up a considerably smaller part of the collection. This is explained by the nature and frequency of folklore collection campaigns in the interwar period, when school children and students from across Latvia were encouraged to participate and a broad network of collectors was established. The collection and study of charms diminished during the Soviet period due to the lack of support for political reasons and the perception that charms were merely leftover suspicions from a bygone era.

The charms and folk medicine materials in the archives were submitted mainly in manuscript form, that is, as handwritten notes. These include small notebooks containing charms, copies of such notebooks and individual text units that collectors wrote down by hand. A part of these submitted charms ended up in Collection No. 150, others are scattered across collections consisting of the complete submissions of an individual school or collector.

The Digital Catalogue of Latvian Charms began to be formed in October 2017 and is co-financed within the framework of the European Regional Development Fund “Growth and Employment” operational programme 1.1.1. Specific aid objective to “Increase the research and innovative capacity of scientific institutions of Latvia and the ability to attract external financing, investing in human resources and infrastructure” Activity “Post-doctoral research aid”. Research application No., application agreement No.



The classification system consists of a division into functional groups according to charm type and allows users to search for charms by category or smaller distinctions in content, form or performance, such as specific motifs, persons or places mentioned in the charms, concluding formulas, letter combinations, etc.

Functional groups and their titles point to the uses of the charms, for example: rozes vārdi (“rose words”, for the treatment of erysipelas), asins vārdi (“blood words”, to stop bleeding), zobu sāpju vārdi (“toothache words”, to alleviate toothache), zagļu vārdi (“thief words”, to stop a thief), lūzuma vārdi (“break words”, to heal broken bones), vīveļu vārdi (“colic words”, to treat colic in livestock), etc. Such a distinction is used in the study of charms as well as by practitioners of folk medicine and is also found the notes written by healers themselves. The catalogue contains more than 140 functional groups for charms.

Charm types are in large part attributable to content, with each type comprising texts that are similar in terms of plot. The types are based on small narratives, or historiolas, most commonly reflecting Biblical motifs, which were widespread in countries with Christian cultural influences, mainly Europe and Scandinavia. For example, the kauliņš pie kauliņa (bone to bone) type tells about a deity healing the sprained or broken leg of a horse by commanding the bone to connect to bone, vein to vein, flesh to flesh; texts of the Jordānas upe (Flum Jordan, Jordan River) type mention the stopping of water in the Jordan River with the aim to also stop bleeding; and the asins apstāšanās (Stans sanguis, stopping of blood) motif tells about the crucifixion of Jesus and his wounds, which did not hurt nor bleed.

Collection No. 150. The Collection of Latvian Charms, gathered from various places around Latvia, were submitted to the Archives of Latvian Folklore mostly in the 1920s and 1930s; a number of exhibits were also contributed after 1991. The collection consists mainly of original, small-format, handmade books, including Books of Heaven, or also a copy or transcript of the original. The collection also includes compilations of charms submitted separately and folk medicine recipes with instructions on how to use them. Collection 150 contains more than 4700 items.

ALF catalogue. The Archives of Latvian Folklore began compiling the catalogue of functional groups for charms in 1926. Kārlis Straubergs was also involved in the creation and arrangement of the catalogue. Each unit of charm text was typewritten on a small piece of paper, and the pieces of paper were then grouped according to the functional use of the charms: erysipelas charms, colic charms, toothache charms, etc. However, the catalogue was never finished; work on it ceased as the political environment in Latvia changed following the Second World War and was never resumed. Currently, the catalogue contains more than 19,000 charm units divided into 186 functional groups.

Searching and selection. Searching and selection of charms available by the content of the text (motives, persons, places etc.), by the shape of the text (poetry, prose poetry, folk song, palindromes) and by the function of the text (charms to stop bleeding, charms for colic, charms for erysipelas etc.).

Publications of charms. The publications of charms involve more significant collections and studies of charms published from 1881 to 1941. Authors: Fricis Brīvzemnieks (Treilands), Jēkabs Alksnis, Zvaigžņu Andžs, Zeltenietis (Eduards Rudzītis), Edīte Kurca (Edit Kurtz) and Kārlis Straubergs.

Contact information

To learn more about the Digital Catalogue of Latvian Charms or to submit a charm, folk medicine materials, charm notebook or “heaven book”, please contact Archives of Latvian Folklore researcher Aigars Lielbārdis ( or write to the Digital Archives of Latvian Folklore (

New materials can be submitted electronically:

New materials can be submitted by mail:

Aigars Lielbārdis
Digital Catalogue of Latvian Charms
Archives of Latvian Folklore, ILFA UL
Mūkusalas iela 3,
Rīga, LV-1423


Supplementing the collection: Aina Blinkena, Ēriks Boķis, Arturs Heniņš, Jadviga Darbiniece, Baiba Krogzeme-Mosgorda, Janīna Kursīte, Rasma Noriņa, Oskars Patjanko, Arno Smiltnieks, Digne Ūdre, Dzintra Vende, Gunta Ventere-Paklne, Guna Zelmene.


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