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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Anglo-Saxon Charm for Bees

Ms. 41, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

 We’re so accustomed to end rhymes in poetry (moon/June) that it seems odd to imagine another kind of poetry. If you've been following my Havamál series, you won't find it odd at all. A millennium ago, the Anglo-Saxon folk of England wrote poetry that alliterates; that is, key words begin with the same sound (like 'bouncy baby boy').The writers made things a little easier on themselves by making any vowel alliterate with any other vowel.Each line of a poem is divided into two half lines. Each half line will have one word which alliterates with a word in the other half line.The underlined letters below show this pattern.

This charm against a swarm of bees has a couple of unusual aspects.First, the charm does not make them go away—often our first reaction to a swarm of angry bees!—but rather, calms them down. After all, bees were of great benefit to the Anglo-Saxons: their honey was the chief ingredient in mead.

Also, the charm asks for protection against 'the great tongue of a man' (micelan mannes tungan). This may refer to a sorcerer who has cast a spell stirring up the angry swarm in hopes of stealing the bees.This magician may be similar to the 'conjuring woman' or 'cunning man' mentioned in the Erce Earth Goddess charm -- in other words, an interfering rival.

Finally, the swarm is referred to as 'victorious women' (sigewif), as if the swarm were personified as goddesses or valkyries (the word 'victory' [sige] is often used in compound words relating to battle, the realm of the valkyries).

Wið ymbe, nim eorþan, oferweorp mid þinre swiþran handa under þinum swiþran fet, and cwet:

            Fo ic under fot,                       funde ic hit.

            Hwæt, eorðe mæg                  wið ealra wihta gehwilce

            and wið andan                       and wið æminde

            and wið þa micelan                mannes tungan.

And wiððon forweorp ofer greot, þonne hi swirman, and cweð:

            Sitte ge, sigewif,                      sigað to eorþan!

            Næfre ge wilde                       to wuda fleogan.

            Beo ge swa gemindige            mines godes,*

            swa bið manna gehwilc         metes and eþeles.

Against a bee swarm, take [some] earth, cast [it] with your right hand under your right foot and say:

            I put you under foot,             I would find it.

            Lo, may earth [prevail]          against all such creatures,

            and against mischief              and against malevolence

            and against the great             tongue of a man.

And with that throw the grit over when they swarm and declare:

            Sit you down, victorious women,      sink to earth!

            Never [shall] you fly              to the wild wood.

            Be you as mindful                  of my benefit,

            As is any man                         of food and homeland.

* [Though it would appear that the “g” words alliterate in these half lines, the first two are “soft” and the third (godes) hard.]

The Hávamál series will return soon!



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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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