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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An Anglo Saxon Chant

Posted by on in Studies Blogs

In the midst of a lengthy Anglo-Saxon charm, Æcerbot, there's a little chant in praise of the earth. I've always thought it needed music, so I've made an attempt at doing that (see below). I can easily imagine the folks carrying out the elaborate steps for the charm singing this part as they renew the field's fertility.

The charm requires many things: removing four pieces of sod from ground, taking it to be blessed, reciting prayers like the Crescite and Pater Noster over it and even adding "oil and honey and yeast, and milk of each animal that is on the land, and a piece of each type of tree that grows on the land, except hard beams, and a piece of each herb known by name, except burdock [glappan] only, and put then holy water thereon, and drip it three times on the base of the sods".

When your life is dependent so directly on the earth, you treat her with respect. You feed her, pray over her and even sing her well. There are several little poems or chants within this ritual. The one I'm interested in is this, which is to be repeated as a plowman drives the first furrow in the field:

Hal wes þu, folde, fira modor!
Beo þu growende on godes fæþme,
fodre gefylled firum to nytte.

Hale be you, earth, mother of mortals!
Ever may you grow in the grasp of god,
Filled with food, useful for folk.

 Listen to the charm.

Read Karen Jolly's translation of the whole ritual, which comes from the MS Cotton Caligula, British Library A. VII, fol. 176a-178a, dated to the late tenth or early eleventh century.

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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.


  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Wednesday, 11 February 2015

    Kate, I've never felt moved to commit Hal wes thu Folde to memory until I heard your tune: elegant, "up," with a very Scandi-folk sound to it. Thanks for doing important work.

  • Kate Laity
    Kate Laity Wednesday, 11 February 2015

    Thanks so much, Steven!

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