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.

Posted by on in Studies Blogs
Sumer Is Icumen In

I thought I'd get the jump on Beltane and talk about everyone's favourite May Day song (even if you're not on Summer Isle) as it is a great piece of history. 'Sumer is icumen in' also known as the 'cuckoo song' embodies that glorious sense of happiness that the first real warm days offer us. Here in the north we still can't quite believe that summer is a-coming, which makes me want to sing it even more.

This is the earliest secular song recorded in English in the Middle Ages and appears in a 13th century manuscript along with a Latin version. Here's the original lyrics:

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Aline "Macha" O'Brien
    Aline "Macha" O'Brien says #
    Thanks for this. It's one of my favorite May songs, too. I've taught it many, many places around the country. I think the dir
  • Kate Laity
    Kate Laity says #
    That sounds wonderful. If it helps any, early English is simpler than modern English which has even more influences. Blessed Belta

Posted by on in Studies Blogs
Rún: A Facsimile of a Grimoire

I picked up a copy of this fascinating book from Strandagaldur (The Museum Icelandic Sorcery & Witchcraft). I love to see historical grimoires. Rún is particularly wonderful because it's a facsimile. Although the manuscript copied dates only from 1928, the material within it may date back as far as 1676. Two other copies of the material from around the same time exist, created in a belated attempt to gather traditional materials in the age of rising national identity. The early modern witch trials probably eliminated many more texts; it is interesting to note that like Finland and unlike the rest of Europe, men made up the greater part of those tried for the craft.

The book is full of cool information: first come the sets of runes, as the name suggests. There are alphabets for "black men" and "old women" and fools and "vagrants. There are magical staves from the simple to the complex for all kinds of magical purposes. Some look almost as complicated as vevés, others are more stark. As you might expect, there are lots of variations on the ægishjálmur.

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Posted by on in Studies Blogs
An Anglo Saxon Chant

In the midst of a lengthy Anglo-Saxon charm, Æcerbot, there's a little chant in praise of the earth. I've always thought it needed music, so I've made an attempt at doing that (see below). I can easily imagine the folks carrying out the elaborate steps for the charm singing this part as they renew the field's fertility.

The charm requires many things: removing four pieces of sod from ground, taking it to be blessed, reciting prayers like the Crescite and Pater Noster over it and even adding "oil and honey and yeast, and milk of each animal that is on the land, and a piece of each type of tree that grows on the land, except hard beams, and a piece of each herb known by name, except burdock [glappan] only, and put then holy water thereon, and drip it three times on the base of the sods".

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  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    Kate, I've never felt moved to commit Hal wes thu Folde to memory until I heard your tune: elegant, "up," with a very Scandi-folk
  • Kate Laity
    Kate Laity says #
    Thanks so much, Steven!

Posted by on in Studies Blogs
Solmōnaþ

Deinde Februarius Solmōnaþ...

Solmōnaþ dici potest mensis placentarum, quas in eo diis suis offerebant.

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  • Byron Ballard
    Byron Ballard says #
    I've been watching (and rewatching) Tales from the Green Valley, so the mud reference makes perfect sense. Ah, to be in England n
  • Kate Laity
    Kate Laity says #
    With cakes!

Posted by on in Studies Blogs
A Viking Curse

In chapter 60 of Egils saga Skallagrímssonar, the mighty Viking warrior poet gives voice to his anger at King Eirik 'Blood Axe' and his wife Queen Gunnhild, a powerful witch who has fought him at every turn. After many unhappy encounters between them, he curses them with a most effective method: the níðstöng or scorn-pole.

The saga records the ritual like this (leaving out the nature of the secret runes involved):

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Posted by on in Studies Blogs
Viking Grief

One of the most moving poems by the Viking poet/magician/farmer Egil Skallagrimsson was one he wrote lamenting the death of his favourite son Böðvarr who drowned at sea, and his son Gunnar who died of fever. In skaldic form the twenty-five verses give voice to his sorrow with passion and beauty. Normally Vikings assuaged loss with revenge but there is no one to attack for these deaths.

Egil composes the poem after vowing to kill himself by starvation, unwilling to live in a world without his son. His daughter Þorgerður tells him she will die with him, but tricks him into drinking some milk and spoiling his hunger strike. She then suggests that the best way to memorialise her brother is to compose a suitable poem in his honour so that he will live forever.

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Posted by on in Studies Blogs

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

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