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, 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.

Posted by on in Studies Blogs
Nettles & Mugwort

While I was reading Sylvia Townsend Warner's Lolly Willowes, a too much neglected classic of witchcraft fiction, I was struck by a rhyme Lolly's Nannie Quantrell had taught her as a child, which she had learned from her grandmother:

If they would eat nettles in March

...
Last modified on

Posted by on in Studies Blogs
Recent History: Doreen Valiente

I usually stick to much older history, but having had the chance to catch the Doreen Valiente exhibit at Preston Manor in Brighton, I figured I should share a few pictures as I know it's a bit tricky for many folks to get there. The exhibit itself is small but there's a great delight in seeing how intimately history is made by a most unassuming woman. I picked up Philip Heseltine's biography too and am much enjoying it. Here are some of the artifacts collected:

b2ap3_thumbnail_2016-06-22-11.58.44.jpg

...
Last modified on

Posted by on in Studies Blogs
Meditations on Hávamál: 76-80

 

76.

...
Last modified on

Posted by on in Studies Blogs
Meditations on Hávamál: 71-75

71.

Haltr ríðr hrossi,

...
Last modified on

Posted by on in Studies Blogs
Meditations on Hávamál: 66-70

 

Here are a few more verse in my ongoing translation and discussion of the Old Norse poem:

...
Last modified on
Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Kate Laity
    Kate Laity says #
    I am working on scripts too. Hmmm. Are we feeling a need to drag more folks into the ritual?
  • Byron Ballard
    Byron Ballard says #
    Brilliant. I feel a play coming on....

Posted by on in Studies Blogs
Meditations on Hávamál: 61-65
 61.
Þveginn ok mettr
ríði maðr þingi at,
þótt hann sé-t væddr til vel;
skúa ok bróka
skammisk engi maðr
né hests in heldr,
þótt hann hafi-t góðan
 
Washed and fed
shall a man ride to the Thing,
though he be not clothed well;
of his shoes and his britches
should no man be ashamed
nor of his horse neither,
though he not a good one.
 

The Thing was the assembly to settle differences, plead suits and socialise in all kids of ways; in Iceland, the annual national gathering, the Alþingi is still the name for their governing body though the no longer meet out in the valley in tents (a few politicians have suggested that doing so would make the government work a little faster). Traditionally the law speaker recited at least a third of the laws that he had to keep memorised. Thus legal matters were decided there: as much as Icelanders pride themselves on having the longest existing democracy, the medieval version demonstrates that might (usually through having supporters, but sometimes through outright violence) made right. This verse counsels that one must make the best appearance possible. If your clothes were not the best at least make sure they are clean and mended, your shoes clean and your horse stepping out the best she can, even if she wasn't going to win any races -- or in the case of male horses, any fights. Horse fights were a brutal but popular sport.
 
62.
Snapir ok gnapir,
er til sævar kemr,
örn á aldinn mar;
svá er maðr,
er með mörgum kemr
ok á formælendr fáa.
 
Snapping and stretching,
when it comes to the sea,
the eagle to the billowy sea;
so is the man,
who among the crowds comes
and has few supporters.
 

The man without sufficient supporters is like the eagle who swoops down at a fish only to see it disappear beneath the waves. Don't wait until you get to the gathering to form your alliances. Much of viking life was about gift giving and hospitality because you never knew when you would need an important ally. Feuds could break out over fairly small disagreements -- about where your land ended and your neighbour's began, or who got to use a certain path to summer pasturing.Alliances were essential.
 
63.
Fregna ok segja
skal fróðra hverr,
sá er vill heitinn horskr;
einn vita
né annarr skal,
þjóð veit, ef þrír ro.
 
Ask and reply
shall each of the wise ones,
he who wants to be called sensible;
one must know
but another shall not,
all the people know, if three do.
 

Wisdom is highly prized: we have seen several verses on that topic. But being able to hold your own counsel is also important, the poet tells us. You should shrink from sharing secrets with anyone at all if you can avoid it. If you tell someone and they tell a third, then the secret will not be kept and everyone shall know. If you are heading to the Thing and bringing a suit, it's best not to let the cat out of the bag until you are certain you have sufficient support.
 
64.
Ríki sitt
skyli ráðsnotra
hverr í hófi hafa;
þá hann þat finnr,
er með fræknum kemr
at engi er einna hvatastr.
 
His power
should each of the wise
have in moderation;
then he finds that
when he comes among the bold
that none is keenest of all.
 
Power in this sense seems to be connected to the idea of anger (as the wise man said, 'Anger is an energy.') I connect it with the previous verse: just as you should not show your cards until you're ready with a firm phalanx of supporters, you should not show your anger until you read the room (or the tent). If your opponent is even more angry, he may be able to sway your supporters -- perhaps simply to not support your action, but worse, over to your opponent's side. Hold your anger in check: the sagas are full of unwise men who let their emotions lead them into rash decisions.
 
65.
-- -- -- --
orða þeira,
er maðr öðrum segir
oft hann gjöld of getr.
 
 
[missing lines]
For those words,
which a man says to another
often he gets repayment.
 

In a similar vein, your angry words can be repaid by more of the same, while your measured speech may meet with likewise thoughtful responses. In the medieval world people were much more cognizant of being part of a community. Ostracism -- including outlawry and banishment -- put people in a truly vulnerable position that many could not survive. Men like the famous Grettir only survived such a fate because they were able to call upon both the friends they had made prior to being banished and were extraordinary enough to convince people to offer help despite the risks of aiding a fugitive.
See more of the verses here.
Last modified on

Posted by on in Studies Blogs
Get Charming

I'm teaching a course this semester called 'Witches, Healers & Saints' mostly so I could teach a lot about witches. One of the themes developing in all my courses is how the few people with power often abuse it (honestly, it's always been there -- I'm just making it more overt now), but a major theme in this class is magic as technology.

My aim is to get away from the modern impulse to see magic only as 'superstition'; our belief in our superiority to the past causes us to dismiss too many things. If you think of magic as the best knowledge available at the time about some very mysterious things, it's easier to understand the role it played. I'm introducing the students to sympathetic magic and the power of charms (like the Anglo-Saxon Charm for Bees or the Charm against a Wen).

...
Last modified on
Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Byron Ballard
    Byron Ballard says #
    I'd like to take that class.
  • Kate Laity
    Kate Laity says #
    That would be fun!

Additional information