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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Charms A-Plenty

Posted by on in Studies Blogs

There's a wonderful new book out that I have just barely had time to crack open, but if you're interested in the history of magic you will doubtless want to look into it as well:

Traditional Magic Spells for Protection and Healing
By Claude Lecouteux. 2016. Rochester: Inner Traditions. 328 pages.
ISBN: 978-1-62055-621-4 

There's a comprehensive review over at the Journal of Folklore Research, which is why I picked it up at once. Yelena Francis points out the strengths of Lecouteax's background and the accessibility of the format. There are also some great additional and often rare resources in the appendices. And because it's from Inner Traditions rather than a big academic press, it's actually an affordable volume (though you should be able to get it via interlibrary loan as well). 

Some examples:

TO CURE A BEWITCHED CHILD

The mother of the bewitched child takes salted water and drips it on the child's limbs while saying:

False eyes that have gazed upon you
Should disappear like water!
Evil illness should move on,
Leave from your head,
From your chest,
From your stomach,
From your leg,
From your arm!
May it flee far away
And enter the false eyes! (187-8)

Returning the evil to the one who cast it is a common formula and there are many iterations of similar charms here. There are charms with sigils like one for protection against insomnia and nightmares which must be 'carved on a brown coal with a magnet' (115) which comes from Iceland in the 17th century. That one is next to simpler cure, attested to by both a fourteenth century Greek book and Hildegard of Bingen, which requires putting betony in the afflicted one's bed.

There are a wide variety of protective charms, both words and symbols, including this charming one from 19th century Sweden against a bear:

You are a bear, I am a man
You were not baptised at the same font as me
You should flee into the forest
And bite the trees,
But don't bite me at all!

The section on 'Fantastic Beings and Spirits' contains charms and spells against Night Gods and Fauns, Elves, and various temptations offered by Devils or those who copulate with Devils. Trolls too are a great concern for Northern folks. Among the more unusual charms is one against the Exposed Child. Families with too many mouths to feed or a hidden pregnancy that would cause strife would 'expose' a baby to the elements in a secret place. In Scandinavia this might result in the child becoming an evil soul-sucking spirit. 

The charm appropriates the voice of the child:

I arrived small;
I am as big as a horse

Then it details how the cursed spirit exacts its revenge:

I want to be the sucker of entrails, stomach and back...

The charmer fends off the hungry spirit with 'No says Jesus!' and commands it to go out of the body afflicted and into the Heimman blaa (blue mountain).

Powerful stuff! Highly recommended for those with a keen interest in magic and charms in history.

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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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