Impractical Magic

AltarWhen starting on the path of Druidry, I was – how could I not have been – also exposed to Magic. So I began some research into my ancestors’ magical arts, which, just for the sake of distinguishing that from stage magic I shall not only capitalize it, but also call it Witchcraft. I do realize that this is an expression coined and defined by others (Gerald Gardner comes to mind), but in the context of this article I would like to use that term as the word describing the actual craft, the art of casting spells and ritual Magic of the witches.

Druid Magic is one thing. Different intent, different way of manifestation, sometimes in vastly more elaborate rites. The witch’s craft seems more direct, a momentary intent put into life through a spell maybe, or some purposeful ritual. Obviously, there is no clear demarcation line between the two, and as much as a Druid might cast a quick spell, a witch might stage an elaborate ritual with Coven and even guests.
As to the “how-to”, one can find a number of books on how to craft spells, volumes listing already created spells that one can use to manifest their intent. What’s beneficial about these manuals is that the spells and rituals in them do not, generally, raise too much of an eye-brow (except with radical religious people, but that should not be a topic here). Here’s an example of what I mean:

Breathe in and out slowly three time to clear your mind and center yourself. Just let your mind be clear and your energy calm. Chant the following:

Elements of the Sun, Elements of the Day,
Please come this way.
Powers of Night and Day,
I summon thee,
I call upon thee,
To protect me.
Do mote it be.

Beautiful. You don’t need any tools or gadgets, just a clear mind and intent, which you then manifest with these rhyming words. Only…that the witches of old may have done it a bit differently.

Mediaeval Spell Craft

I admit, Druidry has also sparked in me an interest for re-constructionism. Almost of any kind. I would define myself as one of those people who are fascinated with, for example, Celtic Reconstructionism, without getting caught in a dogma that any evolution of the Druidry or Magic possibly used by European tribes we now generalize as “the Celts” is necessarily fraud and un-useable; not authentic.
Still, in the spirit of CR, I looked around for sources of spells and rites as they were used by those who actually were officially known to have been witches, evident by them having been tried at court, often enough under the rules of the Inquisition. So, what else could I do other then reading through protocols of witch trials. Being that I am Austrian, thus German speaking, I have rummaged through cases tried in the Alps between the 15th and 19th century. Even though they are penned down in what would be considered my native tongue, the German 200 years ago was quite different, not to mention almost 600 years past. And grammar and spelling? Pffft. Practically didn’t exist. The trial records were just written phonetically. You know how many dialects there are in Austria alone?

But language is not the problem with those spells. It’s more the ingredients. And sometimes the rites. Let’s consider some Magic going both ways: black, harming someone, but also healing the same person if they have changed accordingly. For this one please note that, apparently, having someone step over something was seen to have considerable magical effect. For example, brewing a potion and then pouring it over the walkway a particular person would often use, was a widely used practice to harm that person.

The following excerpt is practically based on the ages old and widely used Magic to hurt someone with a doll representing them. But here, we also learn that the doll can be used to reverse the spell as well.
This is from the trial records of County Court Grünburg, in the Austrian province Carinthia, versus Katerl (yes, they wrote down nick names in the court documents  – her name was probably Katharina), daughter of Andl (again, nick name for Andreas) Partundl. Katerl, mind you, no less than the parish priest’s housekeeper (a witch hiding in plain sight, I guess), as questioned on Juli 19 of 1465:
“…then the Porgatschin (a friend) told the housekeeper that she must obtain a hair of the [person she wanted to do the spell on], a piece of his clothes, a shoe lace, and a piece of an iron weapon. And a rib of a corpse.” She was advised to take some clay, create a doll out of it and then work hair, cloth, shoe lace, iron, and a piece of the rib of a dead man into that doll and was told to bury it between the cross (must have been one on top of a hill) and the gallows.
If one wants to reverse the curse, all that needs to be done is to dig out the doll with a two-pronged hoe, and re-bury somewhere the person usually walks and have them step over it, so they may be healthy again.

Well, one might be already hard pressed to find a piece of an iron weapon, but it’s possible. Maybe even on e-bay or Etsy. But a rib of a corpse? People might frown on a request like that; or they might get you in trouble when you start digging up a buried person in a grave yard and extract a rib from them.
But even if you were able to pull that off, gallows are really hard to find these days.

Talking about which. Strikingly, a lot of spells that witnesses reported in front of the judges in the 15th century asked for parts of hanged people. Or at least pieces of wood from the gallows. For one spell, the person asking the accused witch for help was told to climb up the gallows and cut a piece off the hanged thief.

Other nowadays difficult to obtain material, or frowned upon rites, mentioned in the court documents would be

  • A needle with which a bag containing a corps was sowed
  • A black hen, either
    • purchased without haggling (!), of which the heart was taken out while the bird was still alive, and such heart put between the witch’s leg (at the secret end, as they put it) and then given the person against whom the spell is done to eat, or
    • ripped in half and put on either side of the head of someone who needs their “brain stretched and the bad spirits exorcized” (probably a reference to mental illness)
  • Bones of un-baptized boys
  • Thread from an altar cloth (from a church’s altar, that is)
  • A mandrake root from a specimen that grew beneath a gallows, and on which the hanged man ejaculated in his death throws.

I could go on and on, but it seems that even in the first 22 of 72 witch trial protocols there is enough evidence that while re-constructionism of witchcraft is rather fascinating, it’s also impractical.

So, here is the disclaimer (because, you know, this is the internet): Don’t do what’s suggested in these old documents, or is mentioned here in this blog article. It may be illegal, and it is mostly viewed immoral these days.


More on the craft of the witches of old can be found in my book “Mountain Magic – Celtic Shamanism in the Austrian Alps”.

Available at lulu.com (preferred) and distributers such as amazon.com

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6 Responses to Impractical Magic

  1. Carraig says:

    I’ve been a Druid for ten years and subscribe to the idea that it is a spiritual philosophy. With that said, the words “casting spells” has never entered into my practice. In my opinion, it is more of a Wiccan ritual rather than an idealistic Druidic one. Setting an intent for a manifestation probably has more positive feelings associated with it in our world than the phrase “casting spells” due to the biases placed upon it by Catholicism.

    Druid Carraig

  2. JuKy64 says:

    Reblogged this on screamlol64 and commented:
    Very interesting.

  3. Scomber says:

    I have in my possession an alter-cloth, or at least a cloth used as one, but it was left behind by my Unitarian ex-wife. I also have an ancient rusty bayonet, probably close to 200 years old, and some of the ashes of my step-mother, who was a good person.

    I have no plans, but I’m not without resources. I would think that no magic should be performed lightly, and the acquisition of the necessary physical materials might be something a mage does as circumstances allow, and may take a long time. As with medicinal herbs, I would think that there are multiple options to achieve the same goal.

  4. Elaine Hindle says:

    I am almost certain that ancient druidic people used magic for various purposes, as it stands to reason that most ancient peoples did and I can’t see them being any different. I would imagine a great use of plant lore would be involved, considering there is record of them cutting mistletoe in a ritual. This can of course only be supposition as there was nothing written down as it was an oral tradition.

  5. Pingback: Practical Magic | The Weekly Druid

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