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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Rún: A Facsimile of a Grimoire

I picked up a copy of this fascinating book from Strandagaldur (The Museum Icelandic Sorcery & Witchcraft). I love to see historical grimoires. Rún is particularly wonderful because it's a facsimile. Although the manuscript copied dates only from 1928, the material within it may date back as far as 1676. Two other copies of the material from around the same time exist, created in a belated attempt to gather traditional materials in the age of rising national identity. The early modern witch trials probably eliminated many more texts; it is interesting to note that like Finland and unlike the rest of Europe, men made up the greater part of those tried for the craft.

The book is full of cool information: first come the sets of runes, as the name suggests. There are alphabets for "black men" and "old women" and fools and "vagrants. There are magical staves from the simple to the complex for all kinds of magical purposes. Some look almost as complicated as vevés, others are more stark. As you might expect, there are lots of variations on the ægishjálmur.

Many of the symbols include very specific instructions to insure their working. The 'stave of life' is a good example:

This stave should be carved on Norwegian spruce and on it put blood from the breast vein on the right, the life vein on the left hand, and the roots of the tongue. It should be drawn with a merlin's feather when both the sun and moon are up in the sky.

Blood from the root of the tongue is a common instruction. Clearly it's meant to have the force of your words. Some staves have no instructions like the one to bring forth a revenant; perhaps that was information you had to get from the tongue of another skilled rune carver, though there's another to awake ghosts which advises that you "grab it by the neck" in order to "prevent a lot of trouble" when you put it to work. Making work easier is common. To improve your fishing catch, you first have to catch birds:

This stave must be drawn on a caul with wren's blood using a pen made of a raven's feather. Then you should put it under the prow of the ship you will fish from and your catch will not fail.

I wonder if they employed that stave during the Cod Wars. Most of the staves have a very practical application, protecting the wearer or increasing their luck. As expected, there's a lot of Christian symbols mixed in with the pagan ones. There's even instructions for creating a Thor's hammer!

You can also get other grimoires from the museum and they have a nice range of souvenirs including a nice ægishjálmur ornament. Drop by the museum or visit them online.

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Tagged in: books grimoire Iceland
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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