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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Kate Laity

Kate Laity

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.

Posted by on in Studies Blogs
A Meditation on Winter

The medieval Scots poet William Dunbar is probably best known for his humour, but he offers A Meditation on Winter that captures the melancholy many feel at this time of year.

Into thir dirk and drublie dayis
Quhone sabill all the hevin arrayis
With mystie vapouris, cluddis, and skyis,
Nature all curage me denyis
Of sangis, ballattis, and of playis.

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Winter Cold

As the solstice comes upon us here in the Northern Hemisphere our thoughts turn to surviving the cold. While it's considerably milder here in Scotland than it was while I was teaching in New York, cold it is and cups of tea provide welcome warmth. It's hardly surprising that people in the Middle Ages measured their lives in winters survived. In many ways the mid-winter celebrations offer a chance to celebrate that hope and restore it for the lean months ahead.

It's the perfect time to consider the Anglo-Saxon poem The Seafarer, which I think of as a companion to The Wanderer. Both elegiac poems that mourn a lost past, they celebrate the power of the comitatus, the loyal troop of warriors and find poetic resonance in the harsh world of winter.

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Meditations on Hávamál: 81-84

81.
At kveldi skal dag leyfa,
konu, er brennd er,
mæki, er reyndr er,
mey, er gefin er,
ís, er yfir kemr,
öl, er drukkit er.

At evening shall one praise the day / a woman, when you burn her / a sword, when you test it / a maid, when you give her [to a husband] / ice, when you cross it / ale, when it's drunk.

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Autumn's Chill

There's a wonderful passage in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, where the poet leads us through the changing seasons. I've always been struck by the poet's evocation of the harshness of winter's chill -- no surprise at time when people still reckoned age by how many winters they'd survived.

After þe sesoun of somer wyth þe soft wyndez
Quen Zeferus syflez hymself on sedez and erbez,
Wela wynne is þe wort þat waxes þeroute,
When þe donkande dewe dropez of þe leuez,
To bide a blysful blusch of þe bryȝt sunne.
Bot þen hyȝes heruest, and hardenes hym sone,
Warnez hym for þe wynter to wax ful rype;
He dryues wyth droȝt þe dust for to ryse,
Fro þe face of þe folde to flyȝe ful hyȝe;
Wroþe wynde of þe welkyn wrastelez with þe sunne,
Þe leuez lancen fro þe lynde and lyȝten on þe grounde,
And al grayes þe gres þat grene watz ere;
Þenne al rypez and rotez þat ros vpon fyrst,
And þus ȝirnez þe ȝere in ȝisterdayez mony,
And wynter wyndez aȝayn, as þe worlde askez,
no fage,
Til Meȝelmas mone
Watz cumen wyth wynter wage.

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Lammas

Most people are familiar with the Celtic name for August 1st, Lughnasadh. Across the water it's known as Lammas Day.

From Leechdom, Wortcunning and Starcraft of Early England, a compendium of wonderful folk knowledge of early Anglo-Saxon England, here's a fragment of a charm using bread [hláf] hallowed on 'hláfmæsse-dæg' the traditional grain harvest day:

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Chathol-linn
    Chathol-linn says #
    Oh, one more thing. I went to the supermarket today looking for some appropriate flowers for the Lammas table. The local Wegman'
  • Chathol-linn
    Chathol-linn says #
    Hello. I am relatively new to Pagans and Witches. I’m glad I picked Lammas Day to join. My modest celebration of this cross quart

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Nettles & Mugwort

While I was reading Sylvia Townsend Warner's Lolly Willowes, a too much neglected classic of witchcraft fiction, I was struck by a rhyme Lolly's Nannie Quantrell had taught her as a child, which she had learned from her grandmother:

If they would eat nettles in March

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Recent History: Doreen Valiente

I usually stick to much older history, but having had the chance to catch the Doreen Valiente exhibit at Preston Manor in Brighton, I figured I should share a few pictures as I know it's a bit tricky for many folks to get there. The exhibit itself is small but there's a great delight in seeing how intimately history is made by a most unassuming woman. I picked up Philip Heseltine's biography too and am much enjoying it. Here are some of the artifacts collected:

b2ap3_thumbnail_2016-06-22-11.58.44.jpg

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