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.

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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, DREAM BOOK, 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.

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Medieval Consolations

The test of any philosophy is how it helps you survive difficulty. It is simple enough to hold the line in good times, but when your misfortunes seem to know no end, your patience and perseverance were truly tested. The Anglo-Saxons had a trust in wyrd both as pagans and as Christians. The thought might best be summed up in the refrain from the poem Deor:

Þæs ofereode, þisses swa mæg. 

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Getting Medieval

Sometimes gifts arrive in a timely manner. Just in time for the beginning of the semester, a news story broke that provided fodder for first day discussion in my medieval courses: Pagans demand return of church buildings 'stolen' 1,300 years agoUsually it's great when the news covers the Middle Ages because it makes the period seem more relevant to my students who generally think things that happened a couple of decades ago are 'ancient' already.

This news item gave me a chance to say yes, it was the practice to 'repurpose' temples: we have a letter from Pope Gregory instructing an abbot to follow this advice:

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  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    "these modern pagans have no leg to stand on with their argument that the buildings belonged to them. The temples might just as we
  • Kate Laity
    Kate Laity says #
    There were translations of portions of the bible: King Alfred had Genesis translated in the ninth century because he was afraid of

Posted by on in Studies Blogs
Dangerous Fairy Women

Anyone acquainted with the long history of fairy encounters from the most ancient to Thomas of Erceldoune to now knows, as Graham Joyce would tell you, to be wary of the EDFF (extremely dangerous fairy folk). You wouldn't call them fairies either, if you had any sense. Be polite to the Gentry.

Yet in the past there were many men foolish enough to try to summon them as lovers.

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  • Thesseli
    Thesseli says #
    "This mix of misogyny and lechery" -- doesn't that phrase exactly describe most modern men's attitudes towards women? Which is wh

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Midsummer: Watch Out for Fairies!

The longest day in the Northern Hemisphere is upon us: Midsummer has reached even up here in Scotland where the long days go on and on even when we don't have sun. We've had more than our share lately, which is a bit disconcerting.

I have been deep in Scottish fairy lore for a project I'm working on. It's not my usual bailiwick but I am enjoying the tour immensely. One of the unexpected delights (thanks to a recommendation of the Folk Horror Revival group) is A. D. Hope's A Midsummer Eve's Dream: Variations on a Theme by William Dunbar. I have mentioned the late medieval Scots poet in previous columns like A Headache in Medieval Scotland and A Meditation on Winter.

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Elf Shot in Scotland

In the collection Scottish Charms and Amulets George Black recounts a variety of folk practices, many of which linger on not only in word but in material form. Amulets always draw interested audiences in museums where they are on display and bring together the traditions captured in words as charms with a tangible force. Arrowheads are one popular example.

As in many places, Black notes that 'the prehistoric flint arrowheads so numerous in Scotland were long considered by the peasantry to have fallen from the clouds, and to have been used as weapons by the fairies to shoot at human beings' and also especially cattle. Like the well-known Anglo-Saxon charm Wið færstice for elf-shot cattle, there were a variety of ways to battle the illnesses presumed to be caused by the folk too small to be seen. 

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  • Francesca De Grandis
    Francesca De Grandis says #
    Rock on! (Pun, oh, I just noticed, cool.) Thanks!

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Riding with Nicnevin

The Scottish version of Hecate (at least according to some) rides with a company of 'weird sisters' in the night, with wild plans of mischief. No wonder I think of it now that Walpurgisnacht is upon us. There's a most interesting poem that offers us insight in to the beliefs of the past. 'The Flyting Betwixt Montgomerie and Polwart' is a humorous verbal battle. Flyting is probably better known amongst the Norse, but the Scots have that tradition of joshing verbal battles, too. Though a challenging text, the 16th century poet Montgomerie demonstrates well the variety and force of Scottish insults (seriously!) but there's also some interesting supernatural information that usually comes in the form of scurrilous suggestions like:

 Wih warwolfes and wild Cats thy weird be to wander

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Posted by on in Studies Blogs
Charm for Weaving

Weaving has long been a winter activity. As the last vestiges of the cold hang on hereabouts, the thought of spring still seems distant. But friends have been sharing pictures of their new lambs so it's coming nonetheless. The whole cycle from wool to woven begins again.

There has long been an association of magic with weaving. While dismissed as 'women's work' often, its intricacies inspire wonder at its mysteries. If you don't know how to do a thing, the process can look like magic. Indeed the association goes back to the Moirai, the Parcae, the Norns and even Macbeth's three witches. The threads they weave, measure and cut -- how do they affect our fates? And what are the incantations they mutter over the threads?

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