History Witch: Uncovering Magical Antiquity

Want to know about real magic from history? This is the place. Here we explore primary texts and historical accounts from the past.

  • Home
    Home This is where you can find all the blog posts throughout the site.
  • Tags
    Tags Displays a list of tags that have been used in the blog.
  • Bloggers
    Bloggers Search for your favorite blogger from this site.
  • Login
    Login Login form
Kate Laity

Kate Laity

K. A. Laity is an all-purpose writer, medievalist, journalist, Fulbrighter, social media maven for Broad Universe, and author of ROOK CHANT: COLLECTED WRITINGS ON WITCHCRAFT & PAGANISM, UNQUIET DREAMS, OWL STRETCHING, CHASTITY FLAME, PELZMANTEL, UNIKIRJA, and many more stories, essays, plays and short humour. Find out more at www.kalaity.com and find her on Facebook or Twitter.

Posted by on in Studies Blogs

AGAINST A SWARM OF BEES
Ms. 41, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

...
Last modified on

Posted by on in Studies Blogs

The Anglo-Saxons often explained disease and inflammation by the presence of small creatures or their “weapons.”A well-known charm seeks to remove the evil influence of “elf-shot” and several others fight the effects of other poisonous arrows.  This may seem quaint to our modern sensibilities—unless we consider this to be a metaphorical understanding of germs and viruses. Maybe our medieval forebears weren’t so naïve after all. 

The following charm appears in a manuscript that dates to the 12th century (BL Royal MS 4 A xiv).  It tries to cajole and threaten a wen (“a lump or protuberance on the body” per the Oxford English Dictionary) to take up residence elsewhere and leave the afflicted person.The tokens of the wolf and the eagle may well have been used in the healer’s ceremony—many scholars believe the Anglo-Saxons to have had a shamanic  tradition.  This charm can easily be adapted to remove from your life any unwelcome presence (and works well, in my experience!).  Underlines indicate the alliterating pairs of words: the primary arrangement of Anglo-Saxon poetry is repeated sounds at the beginning of words (as opposed to end rhyme, the more familiar "moon/june" type of rhyming). It helps that any vowel alliterates with any other vowel.

...
Last modified on

Posted by on in Studies Blogs

Here are a few further stanzas in the gnomic poem of Viking wisdom, translated from the medieval Norse with a commentary on significance and context. Read the other entries in this ongoing project here. Read the original Old Norse poem here.

 

...
Last modified on

Posted by on in Studies Blogs
More in my continuing series on this rich Viking source: be sure to catch up on the other stanzas.

 

48.
Mildir, fræknir
menn bazt lifa,
sjaldan sút ala;
en ósnjallr maðr
uggir hotvetna,
sýtir æ glöggr við gjöfum.
 

 

...
Last modified on
Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Kate Laity
    Kate Laity says #
    Merci, ma cherie.
  • Byron Ballard
    Byron Ballard says #
    So beautiful, powerful.

Posted by on in Studies Blogs
Meditations on Hávamál, 44-47
A few more verses in my ongoing translation of the Viking poem of gnomic wisdom --

 

44.
Veiztu, ef þú vin átt,
þann er þú vel trúir,
ok vill þú af hánum gótt geta,
geði skaltu við þann blanda
ok gjöfum skipta,
fara at finna oft.
You must know, if you would wish to have a friend
Who would be true to you
And from whom you would have good in exchange,
Share your thoughts with him,
And exchange gifts,
Fare often to find him.
 

The verses recognise the exchange that is necessary to feeding a good friendship. While the focus on gifts may seem a bit mercenary to modern readers, we have to take into consideration just how much gift giving has changed: we take it lightly because it is very easy to pick up something from a shop. In the Middle Ages, where survival was much more precarious, any surplus was precious. Giving it away showed great favour. Of course we understand the need to find a like mind with whom we can share our truths, hopes and fears. By such means do we knit relationships that last.
 
45.
Ef þú átt annan,
þanns þú illa trúir,
vildu af hánum þó gótt geta,
fagrt skaltu við þann mæla
en flátt hyggja
ok gjalda lausung við lygi.
If you have such another one --
He you trust little --
Yet you wish to get goodwill from him, too,
Fair shall you be in speech with him
But cunning in thought
And repay his deceit with lies.
 

As the great military strategist Sun Tzu observed, it's best to keep friends close -- and enemies closer. The High One agrees that it's best not to tip your hand to those who wish you ill, but continue to speak pleasantly to them as long as possible in the hopes that you might glean something useful from their conversation or thoughts. Though they may also conceal their intentions, often enmity betrays itself in non-verbal ways, too.
 
 
46.
Það er enn of þann
er þú illa trúir
ok þér er grunr at hans geði,
hlæja skaltu við þeim
ok um hug mæla;
glík skulu gjöld gjöfum.
Thus ever further with the one of whom
He whom you trust ill
And about whom you have suspicious mind,
You should laugh with him
And speak around your thoughts;
For with like coin should you repay a gift.
 

More on dealing with those you do not trust. Working environments may offer the best modern analogue to the situation. We all have co-workers with whom we don't trust -- and who may return the favour. The verses suggest that is the wisest course -- repaying false coin with false coin -- but it rubs against our modern notions of directness and honesty. For most of us, that honesty has only social costs. Yet how many people find it easier to be polite to someone they dislike intensely than to plainly state their antipathy? We're not always as honest as we like to think we are.
 
47.
Ungr var ek forðum,
fór ek einn saman,
þá varð ek villr vega;
auðigr þóttumk,
er ek annan fann,
maðr er manns gaman.
Young was I once,
I traveled on my own,
When I found myself astray;
Rich I thought myself
When I found another soul --
A human is human pleasure.
 

While the poet uses the word 'maðr' it's clearly used in the general sense of a person, not gendered specifically. While many of us choose to cherish solitude, imagine a world like the vikings where being alone put your survival at risk. There is not simply the joy of companionship here, but the recognition of the interdependence of community. Consider too the uncertainty of travel without modern maps -- let alone the specifics of satellite navigation. To run across another human when you have traveled on your own for a considerable space of time -- even if you're young and hearty -- must surely be a welcome sight.

Last modified on
Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Byron Ballard
    Byron Ballard says #
    More, more, more! And now I want you to record them all.
  • Kate Laity
    Kate Laity says #
    Oh, now there's an idea. With kantele music... Hmmmm....

Posted by on in Studies Blogs
Meditations on Hávamál, 40-43
Here are a few more stanzas in my ongoing project examining the verses of Hávamál, the medieval Norse gnomic verses of wisdom and advice, copied down in Iceland centuries ago.

 

40.
Féar síns,
er fengit hefr,
skyli-t maðr þörf þola;
oft sparir leiðum,
þats hefr ljúfum hugat;
margt gengr verr en varir.
 

 

...
Last modified on
Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Kate Laity
    Kate Laity says #
    Thanks!
  • Wendall Mountain Runner
    Wendall Mountain Runner says #
    Well thought perspective, thank you. Inspires me to go through the archives and read your other entries.
  • Byron Ballard
    Byron Ballard says #
    Everything I need to know about life I learned from the Hávamál. More, more! Thanks, Laity.
  • Kate Laity
    Kate Laity says #
    You are most kind.

Posted by on in Studies Blogs
Meditations on Hávamál, 35-39

35.
Ganga skal,
skal-a gestr vera
ey í einum stað;
ljúfr verðr leiðr,
ef lengi sitr
annars fletjum á.

Go shall the guest
and not stay long in one place;
the loved one becomes loathed
if he sits too long

on another's bench.

...
Last modified on
Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Wendall Mountain Runner
    Wendall Mountain Runner says #
    Happy your more recent post led me read your backlog.
  • Kate Laity
    Kate Laity says #
    I'm delighted to hear it!
  • Byron Ballard
    Byron Ballard says #
    Beautifully rendered. I believe that it's hospitality that is the common denominator in world religion and world culture.
  • Kate Laity
    Kate Laity says #
    Many thanks.
  • Kate Laity
    Kate Laity says #
    Thanks for the comment, but as the essay you link to underscores there were severe risks in transgressing the usual habits of reci

Additional information