Sunday, 2 August 2009

Horrors of Europe III: Witches and Sorcerers

Hello and welcome to The Obscuritan. We apologise for the slight lateness of this month’s last article (it being the 2nd of August), and in order to get a fresh start and add a little spice to the proceedings, we are serving up a hot batch of original sources on Witchcraft and Sorcery. As previously stated, we shall most likely devote a month to each of this month's topics so as to cover them more thoroughly.


The Norse

“The belief in sorcery (fjölkyngi, gorningar) was universal among the heathen northmen, and it had its origin in the doctrine itself, which represents the magic arts as an invention of the Asa-Gods. They made a distinction between two kinds of magic, viz., galldr and seiðr. The name galldr may be derived from gala, to sing, and thus denoted a kind of sorcery that was performed by magic songs (gala or kveða galldra). Its origin and dissemination was attributed to the Æsir, and especially to Odin, who therefore was also called galldrs föður—the father of magic incantations. The men who cultivated this art were called galldra-smiðir or galldra-menn. The Runes occupied in this kind of sorcery an important place as magic characters, and it appears that the magician, while singing his incantations, mostly marked or scored certain runic characters corresponding to the effects which were desired from his sorcery. Often the magic songs or incantations themselves were called runes (rúnar). It was believed that by such incantations they could protect themselves against arms, undo chains, heal wounds and cure diseases, extinguish fire and settle storms, gain woman's love and wake up the dead in order to learn of them the future.” (Keyser, the religion of the northmen, p263-4)

Runic charms

The Hávamál, a section from the Poetic Edda written from the perspective of the god Odin, details the many rúnar he knows:

145. Those songs I know, which nor sons of men, nor queen in a king's court knows; the first is Help which will bring thee help in all woes and in sorrow and strife.

146. A second I know, which the son of men must sing, who would heal the sick.

147. A third I know: if sore need should come of a spell to stay my foes; when I sing that song, which shall blunt their swords, nor their weapons nor staves can wound.

148. A fourth I know: if men make fast in chains the joints of my limbs, when I sing that song which shall set me free, spring the fetters from hands and feet.

149. A fifth I know: when I see, by foes shot, speeding a shaft through the host, flies it never so strongly I still can stay it, if I get but a glimpse of its flight.

150. A sixth I know: when some thane would harm me in runes on a moist tree's root, on his head alone shall light the ills of the curse that he called upon mine.

151. A seventh I know: if I see a hall high o'er the bench-mates blazing, flame it ne'er so fiercely I still can save it, -- I know how to sing that song.

152. An eighth I know: which all can sing for their weal if they learn it well; where hate shall wax 'mid the warrior sons, I can calm it soon with that song.

153. A ninth I know: when need befalls me to save my vessel afloat, I hush the wind on the stormy wave, and soothe all the sea to rest.

154. A tenth I know: when at night the witches ride and sport in the air, such spells I weave that they wander home out of skins and wits bewildered.

155. An eleventh I know: if haply I lead my old comrades out to war, I sing 'neath the shields, and they fare forth mightily safe into battle, safe out of battle, and safe return from the strife.

156. A twelfth I know: if I see in a tree a corpse from a halter hanging, such spells I write, and paint in runes, that the being descends and speaks.

157. A thirteenth I know: if the new-born son of a warrior I sprinkle with water, that youth will not fail when he fares to war, never slain shall he bow before sword.

158. A fourteenth I know: if I needs must number the Powers to the people of men, I know all the nature of gods and of elves which none can know untaught.

159. A fifteenth I know, which Folk-stirrer sang, the dwarf, at the gates of Dawn; he sang strength to the gods, and skill to the elves, and wisdom to Odin who utters.

160. A sixteenth I know: when all sweetness and love I would win from some artful wench, her heart I turn, and the whole mind change of that fair-armed lady I love.

161. A seventeenth I know: so that e'en the shy maiden is slow to shun my love.

162. These songs, Stray-Singer, which man's son knows not, long shalt thou lack in life, though thy weal if thou win'st them, thy boon if thou obey'st them thy good if haply thou gain'st them.

163. An eighteenth I know: which I ne'er shall tell to maiden or wife of man save alone to my sister, or haply to her who folds me fast in her arms; most safe are secrets known to but one- the songs are sung to an end.

The Nidstang Curse Pole

And when all was ready for sailing, Egil went up into the island. He took in his hand a hazel-pole, and went to a rocky eminence that looked inward to the mainland. Then he took a horse's head and fixed it on the pole. After that, in solemn form of curse, he thus spake: 'Here set I up a curse-pole, and this curse I turn on king Eric and queen Gunnhilda. (Here he turned the horse's head landwards.) This curse I turn also on the guardian-spirits who dwell in this land, that they may all wander astray, nor reach or find their home till they have driven out of the land king Eric and Gunnhilda.' This spoken, he planted the pole down in a rift of the rock, and let it stand there. The horse's head he turned inwards to the mainland; but on the pole he cut runes, expressing the whole form of curse. (Egil’s Saga Ch. LX).

As to why Egil had grudge against the Queen:

“Queen Gunhilda wished to do harm to Egil at a banquet, and for this purpose caused poisoned ale to be offered to him. But Egil, who was suspicious of the drink, scored runes upon the horn, then pricked the inside of his hand with his knife and marked the runes with blood, whereupon the horn burst and the drink fell on the floor” (Keyser p265).

Other forms of Norse magic, again from Keyser, are as follows:

Magic-skilled women used sometimes to pass their hands over the bodies of persons going to battle, in order to discover by this means what place upon them was most liable to be wounded. It was believed that they could feel a protuberance in every such place, and then a special protective remedy was applied to the spot. If no such protuberance was perceived, it was thouglit, accordingly, that no danger was to be apprehended.

By means of these enchantments called seið, it was believed that the sorcerer could call up storms and all manner of injuries, transform himself into the likeness of animals, and enable himself to foretell coming events. This art appears to have been mostly employed for doing injury, and was considered a far more ignoble art than the incantations (galldr). Its origin was ascribed to the Goddess Freyja, and it appears to have been mostly practiced by women, who were called witches (seiðkona, plur. seiðkonur). The great abhorrence which many, even in heathen times, had for this kind of sorcery, is seen in King Harald Hárfagri's proceedings against his own son Ragnvald Rettilbein, whom he put to death because he meddled with this kind of witchcraft.

A peculiar kind of sorcery was the so-called sitting-out (útiseta, at sitja uti), in which the magician sat out at night under the open sky, and by certain magic performances now no longer known, perhaps most frequently by incantations (galldur), was believed to call up evil spirits (vekja upp troll) or awaken the dead in order to consult them. It was especially to inquire into the future that this kind of sorcery was resorted to.

Jugglery (sjonhverfingar, from sjon, sights and hverfa, to turn) was performed by blinding the eyes of the people with magic arts, so that certain objects appeared to them totally different from what they really were. This kind of sorcery is often spoken of in the ancient Sagas as being employed by magicians when they wished to conceal any person from hostile pursuit, or to frighten his enemies.

Intimately connected with the above, was the power, often mentioned in the Sagas, of becoming invisible, through which the magician by his arts could make himself or any one else that he chose become totally invisible. He was then said to "make a hiding-helmet" (gera huliðs-hjálm) for himself or others. This kind of invisibility is sometimes described as being produced by a sort of dust, of the appearance of ashes, which the magician scattered over and about those whom he wished to conceal.

Also common in the sagas was the summoning of the dead who, if you remember the Draugr, seldom slept easy in their barrows in any case. The lay of Svipdagr, another text contained in the Poetic Edda begins with Svipdag summoning the ghost of his mother to question her:

Svipdag spake:
1. "Wake thee, Groa! | wake, mother good!
At the doors of the dead I call thee;
Thy son, bethink thee, | thou badst to seek
Thy help at the hill of death."

Groa spake:
2. "What evil vexes | mine only son,
What baleful fate hast thou found,
That thou callest thy mother, | who lies in the mould,
And the world of the living has left?"


“Albania swarms with devils and spirits (Ore), magicians and witches (Shtriga). Women in Albania are all born wicked. In some districts probably quite half the women have dealings with the devil. But it is very hard to detect them; Shtrigas can work many wonders, bewitch a man so that he withers and dies, or suffers aches and pains. A Shtriga can make herself quite small like a bee, and get into a house through the keyhole or under the door at night and suck a person's blood so that he fades and dies in time. The best safeguard is hard to get. A Shtriga always vomits the blood she has sucked. You must secretly track a woman you suspect to be a Shtriga when she goes out to vomit the blood. You must scrape some of it up on a silver coin and wear it, and then no Shtriga can harm you. Nothing is too marvellous for a tribesman to believe. Here is a good example, which the teller, a man from Djakova, believes most firmly. A young married woman who was pregnant craved for wine, but the family was too poor to buy any. Her mother-in-law, who was a Shtriga, stripped the young wife quite naked and anointed her all over with a salve which she made, at the same time saying certain magic words. The young wife at once shrank to the size of a bee. “Go, my daughter" said the Shtriga, "to the cellar of old so-and-so, crawl in at the keyhole and drink all you want. But take care not to say the name of God". Off went the young wife to the cellar, entered and drank her fill. She then felt so much better that she cried "Thank God!" At once she became her natural size. "Oh what a dreadful position for a virtuous married woman," cried my informant with deep feeling, "to be in a strange cellar with nothing on at all!" There she had to stay till the owner of the cellar opened it next day. He was much surprised to find her, but as he was a very kind man, he lent her a coat to go home in and never doubted her explanation. And the Djakovan who told the tale knew the woman, knew the owner of the cellar, and had seen the keyhole. What more proof can you require? Moreover, as he remarked, how else can you explain the occurrence?” (Durham, High Albania and its Customs in 1908, 463-4)

The Enchanted Shoemaker of Constantinople

During our research into the Vampires of eastern Europe, we came across this account of Necromancy which bears quoting at length, about a young shoemaker during the reign of Pope Sylvester II. From Summers’ The Vampire in Europe pp94-7:

“This young shoemaker excelled both in art and in industry even the masters of his craft, and not only was he able to do more in one day than all the others could perform in two, but the results of his haste were infinitely to be preferred to the results of their study and care. […] gold in abundance poured to his coffers, and as he was both a stalwart fellow and handsome, for there was nobody who could excel him in all the exercises of the arena, in wrestling and every kind of sport, he was everywhere applauded as a champion. Now it so happened that one day there came to his window a very lovely maiden accompanied by a large retinue, and she, showing him her naked foot, desired him to fit her with a pair of shoes. [Entranced with her beauty], he abandoned his house, he sold his goods and chattels, yea, even his patrimony, and he became a soldier so that by the following of arms he might arise from his lowly condition to the rank of noble, and when he sought the lady’s hand, if repulsed, he would be at any rate refused in more courteous phrase. Before he could dare to unfold his love to his mistress he was determined to make a name for himself in the field, and indeed through his strength and valour he soon won that eminence among the chivalry of knights that he had erstwhile held among the cobblers of the city. Accordingly he sought the alliance for which he yearned, and though in truth he deemed himself full worthy he did not win from her father the lady of his longing. He now blazed fort into the greatest fury, and he desired nothing so much as to carry off by force the bride who was refused to him on account of his lowly birth and poor estate. He joined the ranks of a mighty squadron of pirates, and so he prepared to revenge by sea the repulse he had received on land. Before long he rose to be their general, and he was verily feared both by land and sea, for success always attended him. Whilst he was engaged on one of those bloody forays and laying low every obstacle in his path, news reached him that his lady was dead. With bitter tears he at once concluded a truce and hastened to be present at the solemnity of her obsequies. Having assisted at the funeral, he carefully noted the place where she was buried, and upon the next night, resorting thither all alone, he exhumed the dead woman and lay with her, knowing her just as if she were alive in his embraces. When this dreadful fornication was over and he rose from the corpse he heard a voice bidding him return at the time when she could bring forth, and bear away with him what he had begotten. After the fitting interval he came back, dug up the grave and received from the dead woman a human head with the warning that he must not allow anybody to see it except those of his enemies whom he wished to destroy. When he had carefully wrapped this up he placed it deep in a box, and having complete confidence in his power he gave up fighting at sea, and determined to do battle on the land. To whatsoever cities or towns he laid siege he displayed this terrible sight of the gorgon, whereupon the miserable victim turned to stone since they beheld a horror as loathly as that of medusa herself. He was feared by all, and recognized by all as their lord and master, for men trembled lest he should cause them to perish suddenly. Nobody, indeed, understood the cause of this foul plague and instant death. In one and the same moment they saw and they expired without a word, without a groan; on the battlements armed men passed away without receiving any wound. Fortified places, cities, whole provinces yielded to him, nobody dared resist, but yet everyone was sorely grieved at falling so easily a victim to so cheap a triumph. Many men thought him to be a sorcerer, some declared that he was a god, but whatsoever he sought, he never met with refusal.”

Eventually, the shoemaker meets his end when, having subjugated the king of Constantinople and thus winning his daughter as a wife, he eventually reveals to her the secret of the head. That night she unwraps the head and holds it over the shoemaker’s face so that, upon waking, he sees it and is slain.

“then the princess gave orders that this medusa horror should be carried out of the country and thrown into the midst of the Grecian sea, together with the father of this abominable foetus who should share in its utter destruction. Those who were charged with this business hastened forth in a galley, and when they had reached the midst of the ocean they cast the two loathsome creatures into the depths. As the monsters disappeared beneath the waves the sea thrice boiled and bubbled, casting up its sandy floor, as if the ocean had been wrenched and rent to its very depths and the waters suddenly leaped back, shrinking from the wrath of the most high, and just as if the sea, sick with loathing, was trying to reject what the sick land, recovering from this abominable birth, vomited into the deep.” Eventually the receding waters crashed back into a whirlpool.

According to one source (cached here with the relevant passage highlighted) the “shoemaker” was in fact none other than Huugh de Paganis, one of the co-founders of the Knights Templar (who, one might care to note, were eventually burned en masse as heretics for crimes including the worship of a “mysterious head”), but since the source’s main goal is to prove that “the Kennedy Assassination had to do with Masonic Sorcery”, a fact “which is well known to certain news agencies who have chosen to suppress it”, we here at The Obscuritan would not place too great a credence upon it.

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