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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Meditations on Hávamál, 31-34

Here are a few more stanzas in my ongoing project examining the verses of Hávamál, the medieval Norse gnomic verses of wisdom and advice, copied down in Iceland centuries ago.

Fróðr þykkisk,
sá er flótta tekr,
gestr at gest hæðinn;
veit-a görla,
sá er of verði glissir,
þótt hann með grömum glami.

Wise he thinks himself to be,
The guest who takes to sneering at [another] guest.
He doesn't know,
The one who mocks at meals,
Though he scoffs noisily.

The etiquette of the hall remains the uppermost concern. Among the many admonishments to maintain a thoughtful and watchful mien is this advice to avoid boisterous and juvenile mocking. You can see how the difference between the High One who speaks and the guest who believes himself clever for sneering at another only brings himself down in others' estimation.

Gumnar margir
erusk gagnhollir,
en at virði vrekask;
aldar róg
þat mun æ vera,
órir gestr við gest.

Many men
Are completely loyal to one another
Until they cause a quarrel.
Strife among men
Shall there ever be
If guest squabble with guest.

Continuing the theme, we can see how quickly long time friends fall out over the idle talk at meals. One who does not guard his speech is much more likely to find he has lost friends as well as the support of the truly wise if his tongue lap more than his eyes are watchful. Under the benefit of hospitality, serve your host well by avoiding sparking fights.

Árliga verðar
skyli maðr oft fáa,
nema til kynnis komi:
sitr ok snópir,
lætr sem solginn sé
ok kann fregna at fáu.

An early meal
Should a man often get for himself
Before he visits kin.
Otherwise he sits and grumbles
Allowing himself to be famished,
And can't ask for anything.

Not everyone lives up to the obligation for hospitality; if you know in advance that you will be visiting those who are cavalier about offering their food, prepare for it. Rather than sit and grumble while your belly growls, anticipate those with whom you have connections but who demonstrate little in the way of simple respect.

Afhvarf mikit
er til ills vinar,
þótt á brautu búi,
en til góðs vinar
liggja gagnvegir,
þótt hann sé firr farinn.

Greatly meandering
Is the path to a false friend
Though he lives up the road.
But the way to the good friend
Lies directly ahead
Though he may live far off.

The value of a good friend is a theme the verses return to repeatedly; the proof of your discernment shows in the people whom you take as friends. The false friend lies along a meandering path of many bad judgements, false hopes and poor choices. The true friend however should be clear at once, a person who speaks wisely in measured words and acts according to those words. He or she is something to find -- and also to be.


Original Norse text via Heimskringla.

Scholarly edition consulted: Hávamál, ed. David A. H. Evans

NB: As a Samhain gift to readers, my collection ROOK CHANT will be free on Amazon for the last few days of October. Get yourself a copy and please leave a review if you can.

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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 Saturday, 19 October 2013

    This...this, a thousand tomes over. Brilliant, as usual. May I quote you in my essay/introduction on retribalizing the West?

  • Kate Laity
    Kate Laity Saturday, 19 October 2013

    Of course, of course! I'd be delighted.

  • Byron Ballard
    Byron Ballard Monday, 21 October 2013


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