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
National Unicorn Day

unicorn shield edIn Scotland it is National Unicorn Day, the day they celebrate the national beast. With the lockdown and everyone staying indoors, they have become plentiful again, so I hear. Thus from medieval Scots history I offer you a tale told by a unicorn (on good authority!) from The Talis of Fyve Bestes (beasts that is, not besties). The executive summary:

“The Unicornis Tale” recounts how, in his youth, a boy named Gundulfus threw a stone and broke a cockerel’s thigh bone. He leaves home to study and returns on the night before he is due to travel to Kent to receive a benefice. His family and friends convince him to stay rather than travel that night, promising that the cock’s crows will wake him in the morning. The cock refuses to crow as an act of revenge and Gundulfus loses his position.

...
Last modified on

Posted by on in Studies Blogs
CAOS, Caliban, Chaos -- and Sycorax

There are bound to be a lot of commentaries on the latest series of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, the latest in the comics adaptations aimed at getting young adult audiences (and the not so young) to binge on the tales of teen sex and magic. The creators have fun with the links to Riverdale of course, and horror movies (showrunner and comics writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa grew up on comic books) as well as magic and the occult. You can already find a couple of thoughtful responses from Cunning Folk Magazine and the Media Witch.

No doubt there is a lot to untangle and most of it is probably not as deep as our analyses will go nor as seriosu (as we know) but I am struck by the use of Sycorax without using the most well-established aspect of her as Caliban's mother. In this series of CAOS Caliban is 'made of clay' like a golem (!) I guess for reasons to do with plotting. This move erases lineage but it also erases race. Sycorax as created by Shakespeare in The Tempest is Algerian and banished to this island presumably in the Mediterranean between Italy and Tunisia where Claribel, Alonso's daughter, was to be married to the prince.

...
Last modified on

Posted by on in Studies Blogs
Hogmanay

Tonight Hogmanay celebrations in Edinburgh will end with an impressive fireworks display. Thousands will be gathered there to see in the New Year -- many more will be at home watching it on the telly because we're introverts and that's the way we like it.

Historic Environment Scotland has done some research into when fireworks were first displayed in Scotland. Few will be surprised to find that 'Renaissance King' James IV (r 1488-1513) was responsible. He sponsored poets and alchemists and other scholars, but he liked a party as well as the next royal. The occasion was not New Years, however:

...
Last modified on

Posted by on in Studies Blogs
Halloween, Samhain -- or Straif?

The surrealist artist Ithell Colquhoun may not be a name on everyone's lips. Though less well known than their mail counterparts, painters like Leonora Carrington, Remedios Varo and Leonor Fini have been getting their due much more lately. That will probably change after Amy Hale's book comes out in January 2020, but for the mean time she remains outside popular consciousness despite her long connection to occult and magic circles from the Golden Dawn to the O.T.O and the Society for Inner Light.

Colquhoun developed a completely unique and abstract vision of tarot that was inspired by colour. You can buy the book of her paintings from Fulgur Press.

...
Last modified on

Posted by on in Studies Blogs
Virgin Scrying?

Did you know that it was once thought advantageous to use virgins for scrying? While crystal balls are probably the most common form of scrying known now, and maybe second to that mirrors (you probably know John Dee's famous mirror). But other reflective surfaces have been used, including onychomancy (divination by a polished fingernail).

Claire Fanger makes a good argument for the late medieval link between scrying and summoning spirits. While summoning angels and binding demons might appear on the surface to be completely different skill sets or activities, clearly the two are easily linked because of the cosmological outlook both share:

...
Last modified on

Posted by on in Studies Blogs
Precious Nature

While I usually spend my time in more distant history, I have found myself lately digging into early twentieth century pagan writings like Sylvia Townsend Warner's Lolly Willows (which I wrote about here: Nettles & Mugwort) and just recently Mary Webb's classic Precious Bane. While often connected to Thomas Hardy due to both the time period and geography they share, Webb has a much more inspiring view of nature and a generous view toward her fellow humans.

Telling the story of Prue Sarn, Webb explores many of the traditions the writer knew well from her childhood, practices that included everything from sin eating to mummers at Christmas. And she offers one of the most beautiful pieces of transcendent writing about the power of nature in Prue's moment of enlightenment. She has hid herself in the attic of their old farm house, not long after the death of her father, because her brother made her realise that her 'bane' was a terrible thing. She was born with a cleft palate, known then as a 'harelip' because it was believed, a hare spooked by the devil had crossed her pregnant mother's path, cursing her.

...
Last modified on

Posted by on in Studies Blogs
Witches Do Not Bend*

Allow me a moment's irritation that this persistent misinformation continues to get shared. The 'witch' of witch hazel or witch elm is *not* that witch. This is the Proto-IndoEuropean root *weik

b2ap3_thumbnail_Screen-Shot-2019-05-03-at-11.16.56.png

...
Last modified on

Additional information