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
Walpurgisnacht

Walther knew.  But he could not resist,what ten-year-old could?  Every year was the same.  Grandmother Dunkelhaus would shake her finger at him and warn, “Walpurgisnacht, the devil’s night—you stay indoors.  Devils,witches, ghosts—they come, they get little boys, eat you.”  Then she would snap together her shiny wooden teeth—clack!—as if she knew the flights of witches first hand.

 

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Meditations on Hávamál, 15-18

More in this continuing series on the poem of gnomic wisdom from Old Norse: this entry focuses on courage and wisdom as well as how travel broadens the mind.

15.
Þagalt ok hugalt
skyli þjóðans barn
ok vígdjarft vera;
glaðr ok reifr
skyli gumna hverr,
unz sinn bíðr bana.

16.
Ósnjallr maðr
hyggsk munu ey lifa,
ef hann við víg varask;
en elli gefr
hánum engi frið,
þótt hánum geirar gefi.

17.
Kópir afglapi
er til kynnis kemr,
þylsk hann um eða þrumir;
allt er senn,
ef hann sylg of getr,
uppi er þá geð guma.

18.
Sá einn veit
er víða ratar
ok hefr fjölð of farit,
hverju geði
stýrir gumna hverr,
sá er vitandi er vits.

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Meditations on Hávamál, 10-14

10.
Byrði betri
berr-at maðr brautu at
en sé mannvit mikit;
auði betra
þykkir þat í ókunnum stað;
slíkt er válaðs vera.

11.
Byrði betri
berr-at maðr brautu at
en sé mannvit mikit;
vegnest verra
vegr-a hann velli at
en sé ofdrykkja öls.

12.
Er-a svá gótt
sem gótt kveða
öl alda sona,
því at færa veit,
er fleira drekkr
síns til geðs gumi.

13.
Óminnishegri heitir
sá er yfir ölðrum þrumir,
hann stelr geði guma;
þess fugls fjöðrum
ek fjötraðr vark
í garði Gunnlaðar.

14.
Ölr ek varð,
varð ofrölvi
at ins fróða Fjalars;
því er ölðr bazt,
at aftr of heimtir
hverr sitt geð gumi.

 

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Anglo-Saxon Yuletide

This is a bit of a chestnut, but like the holly evergreen: the longest night of the year has already begun here in Scotland. If you need some ideas for tomorrow's celebrations to welcome the return of the light, here you go:

The Anglo-Saxons settled Britain in the early fifth century, giving their name to the land now known as England. Very little remains of the native culture of the Anglo-Saxons.  We learn from the Venerable Bede, a seventh century Christian historian, that the months we now call December and January were considered “Giuli” or Yule by the Anglo-Saxons.  According to the historian, his Anglo-Saxon ancestors celebrated the beginning of the year on December 25th, referred to as “Modranect”— that is, Mothers’ Night.  This celebration most likely acknowledged the rebirth of Mother Earth in order to ensure fertility in the coming spring season.  An Anglo-Saxon charm for crop fertility, recorded in the eleventh-century and known as “Aecerbot,” refers to the Earth as “Erce, [the] Earthen Mother” and contains the following praise poem for her:

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b2ap3_thumbnail_Unquiet-Dreams-by-Kathryn-Laity---200_20121128-201732_1.jpgHávamál

5.
Vits er þörf,
þeim er víða ratar;
dælt er heima hvat;
at augabragði verðr,
sá er ekki kann
ok með snotrum sitr.

6.
At hyggjandi sinni
skylit maðr hræsinn vera,
heldr gætinn at geði;
þá er horskr ok þögull
kemr heimisgarða til,
sjaldan verðr víti vörum,
því at óbrigðra vin
fær maðr aldregi
en mannvit mikit.

7.
Inn vari gestr,
er til verðar kemr,
þunnu hljóði þegir,
eyrum hlýðir,
en augum skoðar;
svá nýsisk fróðra hverr fyrir.

8.
Hinn er sæll,
er sér of getr
lof ok líknstafi;
ódælla er við þat,
er maðr eiga skal
annars brjóstum í.

9.
Sá er sæll,
er sjalfr of á
lof ok vit, meðan lifir;
því at ill ráð
hefr maðr oft þegit
annars brjóstum ór.

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Byron Ballard
    Byron Ballard says #
    Thanks for this, my friend. Beautiful, lyrical. Will it become a book, do you think? As I'm reading it, it feels like the I Chin
  • Kate Laity
    Kate Laity says #
    Thank you, my friend. I suspect it will in some form. Because you know I need one more book project!
  • Anita White
    Anita White says #
    Very beautifully written. Thank you for sharing!
  • Kate Laity
    Kate Laity says #
    Thank you, Anita! I'm really enjoying this project.

Posted by on in Studies Blogs
Meditations on Hávamál 1-4

Hávamál offers us a glimpse of a past that had already become somewhat nostalgic when a single hand transcribed the poem around 1270 CE.  As David A. H. Evans writes in the Viking Society for Northern Research’s edition of the verses, this second poem of the Elder Edda “is deservedly one of the most celebrated works to have survived from the early Norse world.” It’s full of gnomic advice that continues to be of interest—and application—to us in the modern world. Old Norse text via the Heimskringla Project.

1.    
Gáttir allar,
áðr gangi fram,
um skoðask skyli,
um skyggnast skyli,
því at óvíst er at vita,
hvar óvinir
sitja á fleti fyrir.

2.
Gefendr heilir!
Gestr er inn kominn,
hvar skal sitja sjá?
Mjök er bráðr,
sá er á bröndum skal
síns of freista frama.

3.
Elds er þörf,
þeims inn er kominn
ok á kné kalinn;
matar ok váða
er manni þörf,
þeim er hefr um fjall farit.

4.
Vatns er þörf,
þeim er til verðar kemr,
þerru ok þjóðlaðar,
góðs of æðis,
ef sér geta mætti,
orðs ok endrþögu.

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  • Byron Ballard
    Byron Ballard says #
    This is what I needed today. Blessings on your dear head, Laity.
  • Kate Laity
    Kate Laity says #
    You are most kind, my friend.

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
'Devil's Night'

Some slightly more modern history and a slight indulgence: witches always end up in the news around this time of year. Suddenly every news paper or local news station wants to do a 'did you know there are real witches?!' story.

It all gets a bit tiresome.

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  • Tommy wright
    Tommy wright says #
    Loved the poem aS a former Christian can appreciate its meaning I. Now realize how judgemental I was

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