Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Learning Magic In The Sagas

Learning Magic In The Sagas Cover

Book: Learning Magic In The Sagas by Stephen Mitchell

The image of magic spells being taught by more seasoned practitioners to others eager to learn them comports well with what can be deduced about the actual practice of witchcraft and magic in medieval Scandinavia. For example, at the conclusion of that most remarkable document on love magic, jealousy and sexual intrigue from ca. 1325, De quadam lapsa in haeresin Ragnhilda Tregagaas, Ragnhildr tregagas of Bergen claims that the incantation and performative magic she uses against her erstwhile lover are ones she learned in her youth from Solli Sukk. In a similar case from Sweden in 1471, a witch in Arboga referred to in the surviving records as galna kadhrin 'Crazy Katherine' instructs Birgitta Andirssadotthir on how to prevent her lover from pursuing another woman.Another late 15th-century Swedish case likewise describeshow Margit halffstop says that she learned from another woman, Anna finszka, the spell by which she could bewitch a man from a distance.3 The Norwegian laws, especially Borgarflings kristinrettr hinn eldri and Eidsivaflings kristinrettr, express deep concern that people should not consult with the Sami: En ef madr faer til finna is a phrase which occurs often, and would appear to mean, as Fritzner writes about it in its nominal form, finnfor, "Reise til Finnerne for at soge Hjaelp af deres Trolddomskunst." All of the terms in this complex (e.g., finnvitka 'to Finn-witch, i.e., to bewitch like a Finn [or Sami]'), terms which seem only to appear in Norwegian and Icelandic sources, turn on the presumed greater skill, magic or learning of the Sami, and the practice of their sharing this learning or its outcome with others. This is precisely the sort of scene presented vividly in Vatnsdaela saga, when Ingimundr, Grimr and their men inquire of a visiting Sami witch ("Finna ein fj?lkunnig") about their futures.6 In addition to such testimony targetting the "lower" practices of magic, church statutes (e.g., the Arboga statute of 1412) and other ecclesiastical writing (e.g., the late 13th-century Fornsvenska legendariet) often cite the existence of grimoires (fj?lkyngisbaekr, galdrabaekr) and other learning aids associated with "high" magic.7 Nordic books of this sort are in fact known, albeit only from the post-medieval period,8 and are frequently mentioned in legends and other folklore texts (e.g., Raudskinna),9 suggesting wide-spread familiarity with the idea. A fully developed narrative about such a magic book is found in the 14thcentury story of the Skalholt bishop Jon Halldorsson.10 That the idea of learned clerics dabbling in the magical arts ran deep in the Middle Ages is also to be seen in the theme of "Escape from the Black School" (ML 3000), found in connection with Saemundr the Wise already in Jons saga helga.

Download Stephen Mitchell's eBook: Learning Magic In The Sagas

Recommended reading (pdf e-books):

Naomi Janowitz - Magic In The Roman World
Tuesday Lobsang Rampa - Living With The Lama
Stephen Mitchell - Learning Magic In The Sagas