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Posted by on in Studies Blogs
Meditations on Hávamál 1-4

Hávamál offers us a glimpse of a past that had already become somewhat nostalgic when a single hand transcribed the poem around 1270 CE.  As David A. H. Evans writes in the Viking Society for Northern Research’s edition of the verses, this second poem of the Elder Edda “is deservedly one of the most celebrated works to have survived from the early Norse world.” It’s full of gnomic advice that continues to be of interest—and application—to us in the modern world. Old Norse text via the Heimskringla Project.

1.    
Gáttir allar,
áðr gangi fram,
um skoðask skyli,
um skyggnast skyli,
því at óvíst er at vita,
hvar óvinir
sitja á fleti fyrir.

2.
Gefendr heilir!
Gestr er inn kominn,
hvar skal sitja sjá?
Mjök er bráðr,
sá er á bröndum skal
síns of freista frama.

3.
Elds er þörf,
þeims inn er kominn
ok á kné kalinn;
matar ok váða
er manni þörf,
þeim er hefr um fjall farit.

4.
Vatns er þörf,
þeim er til verðar kemr,
þerru ok þjóðlaðar,
góðs of æðis,
ef sér geta mætti,
orðs ok endrþögu.

...
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  • Byron Ballard
    Byron Ballard says #
    This is what I needed today. Blessings on your dear head, Laity.
  • Kate Laity
    Kate Laity says #
    You are most kind, my friend.

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
The Warrior's Grief

I ease my students into Beowulf by having them read the Anglo-Saxon poem 'The Wanderer' first. It's a great introduction to the warrior ethos that the longer narrative celebrates, but in a short form. It's a poem about grief but the first thing we'll notice is that the loss mourned isn't a partner, child or parent, but the narrator's leader.

Wyrd bið ful aræd!       Fate always goes as it must!

...
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  • Byron Ballard
    Byron Ballard says #
    We don't hear enough about the sanctity and beauty of the warrior ethic from these traditions. You know how much I love "Beowulf"
  • Kate Laity
    Kate Laity says #
    Thank you, my dear. This piece actually motivated me to kick off a series on Hávamál, so I hope you'll find that appealing as well
  • Hunter Liguore
    Hunter Liguore says #
    Really great information here. Lots to take in and consider.
  • Kate Laity
    Kate Laity says #
    Thank you, Hunter.

Posted by on in Studies Blogs

The unexpected death of a friend this week brought into sharp relief the differences between traditions around death and grief, not only between different communities but also between different generations. How we handle the dead and our sorrow shows a lot about our culture.

...
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  • Anne Newkirk Niven
    Anne Newkirk Niven says #
    My condolences on your loss, Kate; I thank you for sharing your wisdom and reflections with our community.
  • Kate Laity
    Kate Laity says #
    Thanks so much, Anne. The power of community in bad times reflects the strength of its joy in good times. And the fluctuation betw
  • Kate Laity
    Kate Laity says #
    Thank you, my dear. It's never easy, but the weight becomes more familiar as we age, alas. It's the first time I have felt 'away'
  • Byron Ballard
    Byron Ballard says #
    Of course, you touch my old heart with the very mention of Scyld Scefing and Beowulf but I also want to offer my condolences on th

Last time we looked at diagnosis of symptoms in Anglo-Saxon magic: now onto materials!

Once the culprit was identified it was essential to gather the materials for the charm. In most cases this meant herbs. Potions and poultices were the central part of charm remedies. One needed to remember the properties of all the herb, the best time for harvesting them, and the extent of the their interactions. Poems like the "Nine Herbs Charm" helped people memorize the properties of the most common healing herbs. In addition to herbs, there were bodily fluids like blood and spit and—well, other less charming substances.

Breath too proved an important component in charms, representing of course the substance of life itself. The church supplied additional helpful items such as communion wafers and holy water (though some church fathers might have frowned at their use in these charms).

More homey materials like milk and honey showed up in charms as well; honey is especially important because it is the basis of mead, the favorite drink of the Anglo-Saxons. Mead itself—along with wine and ale—provided a better tasting concoction with which to drink down the herbs. Of course if the herbs were made into a poultice or salve, you would need oil or wax to bind the materials together. Naturally, you would need bowls and other utensils to mix all the items together, and sometimes bandages to apply the mixture.

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  • Byron Ballard
    Byron Ballard says #
    Brilliant, brilliant! It's just what I do--ah, well, with some exceptions. I'm working up my own (Appalachian) version of the Ni
  • Kate Laity
    Kate Laity says #
    Grand to hear that! I look forward to hearing a regional version of a classic. A living history is magic, one that will continue.

The charms of Anglo-Saxon England consisted of words, herbs and actions. The folks who lived in the period after the Roman era and before the Norman Invasion of 1066 believed that words had a magic of their own especially when spoken aloud, but that the application of the right herbs would help the healing processes along, too. Sometimes other actions were required to create the right atmosphere or to move bad luck along to someone else. All three techniques used together was simply magic.

Among the most common uses for magic was for healing. Lacking any kind of organized medical care system, they pieced together charms and poultices to take care of the common health problems. But they also used charms to protect, both themselves and their belongings. Chief amongst their property was cattle. The Anglo-Saxon word for "cattle" (feoh) is the same as the word for "wealth" which shows how important cattle were. Charms also came in handy to enhance good luck and increase one's bounty.

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  • Joseph Bloch
    Joseph Bloch says #
    At the risk of being pedantic, the Ango-Saxon for cattle and movable property is "feoh". "Fé" is the Old Norse version of the word
  • Kate Laity
    Kate Laity says #
    You're right, of course! I go back and forth between OE and ON so much, I slip up on words from time to time. Good to know I've go
  • mary widner
    mary widner says #
    i enjoy reading this
  • Kate Laity
    Kate Laity says #
    Thank you, Mary.
  • Hunter Liguore
    Hunter Liguore says #
    Magic and healing, very interesting element. Looking forward to reading more.

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