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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Bee Charms

My friend Kelly Meyer reminded me of the Lorsch Bee Blessing today. The 9th century Old High German charm captures the importance of bees in the medieval world, something we're beginning to realise anew as we discover just how perilous life is when they're endangered. As I've written about before, the importance of mead, the alcoholic drink made from honey, cannot be overstated in the Germanic world.

In Old High German, the charm goes like this:

Kirst, imbi ist hûcze
Nû fliuc dû, vihu mînaz, hera
Fridu frôno in munt godes
gisunt heim zi comonne
Sizi, sizi bîna
Inbôt dir sancte Maria
Hurolob ni habe dû
Zi holce ni flûc dû
Noh dû mir nindrinnês
Noh dû mir nintuuinnêst
Sizi vilu stillo
Uuirki godes uuillon

A modern translation:

Christ, the bee swarm is out here!
Now fly, you my animals, come.
In the Lord's peace, in God's protection,
come home in good health.
Sit, sit bees.
The command to you from the Holy Mary.
You have no vacation;
Don't fly into the woods;
Neither should you slip away from me.
Nor escape from me.
Sit completely still.
Do God's will.

This continental charm is completely Christianised. While it retains some older elements clearly it's been fitted neatly into orthodoxy. This is how syncretism works. If something is important enough, the pagan traditions get reimagined as part of the Christian world. It's not merely a glossing over, but a resituating -- a 'better' understanding of what has always been.

The Anglo-Saxon version of the poem retains much of its ancient lore, probably due to the more piecemeal accretion of Christianity in Britain. The process was so much more diffuse that many of the elements of the heroic tradition were maintained, but almost none of the specific practices. In the north, a scholar like Snorri Sturlusson could approach the pagan past with a curator's eye toward preservation. In the Anglo-Saxon the warrior ethos remained, but the warrior gods and goddesses lost. Here it is:

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 take you from under foot,      there I found it.
    Thus 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 down, victorious women,    sink to earth!
    Never [shall] you fly        to the wild wood.
    Be you as mindful        of my benefit,
    As is any human            of food and homeland.

This charm against a swarm of bees has a couple of unusual aspects. First, the charm calms them down with earth and reminds the bees of their mutual benefit. Also, it 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, perhaps hoping to steal them away. This magician may be similar to the “conjuring woman” or “cunning man” mentioned in the Erce Earth Goddess charm. Finally, the swarm is referred to as “victorious women” (sigewif), as if the swarm were little warriors or perhaps shaped itself into a goddess or valkyrie-like figure. The word “victory” [sige] is often used in compound words relating to battle, the realm of the valkyries.

Try this on your local bees or at least sing their praises!

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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.


  • Byron Ballard
    Byron Ballard Wednesday, 22 July 2015

    Ah, but we are hoping for a late season swarm for our new top-bar hive! Perhaps we are the cunning women who are luring the Golden Sigewif away.

  • Kate Laity
    Kate Laity Wednesday, 22 July 2015

    Ah, a cunning plan!

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