People occasionally ask me if I cast spells, and my answer more often than not is, “Yes, but…”. It may be my answer because I’m a druid and you can’t expect a straight forward answer from a druid. But mostly it’s my answer because I consider casting spells serious business and, unless the situation allows me to use one of the three standard spells in my repertoire – one to mend what’s broken (in humans and animals), one to free someone from restraints, and the third to extract “the worms”, i.e. anything that doesn’t belong in the body (in the widest sense, can be a tree trunk) – I devise my own spell.
Stickler that I am, and plagued by my overly active left side of my brain, I follow a pattern when creating my own spell. Not any pattern, but one that can be deciphered from the very few written down pre-Christian spells.
The other reason for the “but” in my answer is that in Druidry, spell casting is but one of many magical tools, and often enough not the first one to employ. But it is in fact a tool in the druid’s crane bag, as countless examples in lore testify (see for example the tale of the Siege of Knocklong, which sings of the mythical Druid Mogh Ruith who casts quite a number of spells there).
That said, what I would like to explore here today is how to craft a spell in a particular manner. This is “old style”, if you will, and for all intents and purposes old pagan. Let’s have a look at one that was used to mend broken legs. The spell was found in a 9th or 10th century theological manuscript in the City of Merseburg in Germany in 1842. It is written in Old High German and one of the only German texts found so far that refer to pre-Christian Gods and Goddesses. Here it goes:
|Old High German||English||Notes|
Phol ende uuodan
folla era suister
|Phol and Woden|
rode into the forest
There was Balder’s foal’s leg broken
Then it was charmed by Sinhtgunt,
Then it was charmed by Freija,
Then it was charmed by Woden,
as only he could.
If bones are broken
If blood is broken
If joints are broken
Bone to bone
Blood to blood
Joint to joint
So that they are glued
See the actual double-u for Woden here, explaining why “W” is called that way in English.
I tinted the text of the spell in four different colors to indicate distinct sections spells of old often had:
- A story that contains an analogy to the situation at hand and invokes deities
- What’s wrong
- What rights the wrong
- An affirmation
So, when you’re called to help a horse, or any animal, or a person, with a broken bone, a ripped blood vessel, or a torn, sprain or otherwise injured ligament, you’d first tell the story of Woden and his son Baldur (sometimes referred to as Phol), and how they ended up in a similar situation where they had to heal what’s broken. This sets the atmosphere for your work, relates your situation to a divine one.
Please also call your local first responders if you are the first on the scene!
To create a spell according to this old template you would, in the story, invoke the Gods and Goddesses you typically work with, or you know are typically called upon for such work. Keep in mind that back then, it seems, people were aware that it wasn’t them (humans) who do the healing work, but the Magic was accomplished through the power of the deities invoked in the spell. In fact, the witch hunt a few centuries later was very much about who you invoked in your craft, the Christian deities (father, son, and holy ghost) or the devil. If you could prove that you called upon the former, you had a chance to walk free. Otherwise the only place you walked to was the pyre or gallows. In fact, there was a case in Tyrol, Austria, in 1595, where a known witch, Christoph Gostner zu Sexten, had more then 30 books of shadows in his house. They were used as evidence in the trial against him, but since he called upon the Christian trinity in the spells written down there, and he could otherwise proof that he only did Magic that was beneficial to his community, he was acquitted, by none less than Henricus Institoris himself, the author of the Malleus Maleficarum, the Witch Hammer.
After having invoked the deities needed for the work, through a story that draws an analogy with the situation you are facing, you have to describe what is wrong. In the case above, the horse has broken its leg, and with it ligaments, and it’s also bleeding. Thus you would say something like “since x, y, and z is happening”, before you get to the next segment of the spell, where you speak out loud what needs to be done.
This “speaking out loud” is part of the very important manifestation component of spellcraft, without which the best intent just stays that, an unfulfilled wish. The importance is such, actually, that the story-part of our spell here even mentions that the Goddesses and Woden did exactly that, speak (whisper) to the horse, speak a charm upon it.
And finally, you actually shout out that your invocation of the deities, your analogy, and your procedure shall manifest itself in the apparent world. Today, we often end spells with the words “so mote it be”, which is exactly that, affirming the manifestation of the spell.
Of course, even back then the witches and other workers of Magic didn’t religiously adhere to formulas. So, to look at how these rules are being bent this way or another, let’s look at another one of these old spells, one to untie someone from fetters:
|Old High German||English||Notes|
Eiris sâzun idisi,
sâzun hêra muoder
suma haft heftidun
|Once the three Idisi sat down|
The three noble mothers sat down
Some tied fetters,
Others halted armies
Others fiddled on tight fetters
Arise from the ties
Escape the enemies
|Who the Three Idisi were, is unknown, but there is a known trinity called Disen in German lore.|
In the script, the monk transcribing it wrote duoder, not muoder, which was a common error.
Although I colored the text here somewhat according to the systematics explained above, the distinction between the parts of the spell are not as clear as it was in the horse spell. In a sense, what the three Idisi do (tying fetters, halting armies etc.) is not only describing what’s wrong, but also still part of the story invoking deities. And there isn’t a clear affirmation at the end, after the “what rights the wrong” section, although the last two imperatives (Arise and Escape) do sound like affirmations.
What that tells us is that we do have a bit of a “witchcraft license” to merge the parts together if need be. But I would, when crafting my own spell, not do that unless absolutely necessary.
A few hundred years later, the four elements of the pre-Christian spells have faded away much, or at least lost their significance. Especially the story that creates an analogy to the situation for which the spell is cast is often dropped, or sometimes it’s just a vague hint where only the learned witch would know why a certain phrase or even only word is part of the spell. Here is one of these later mediaeval spells, one that still has the four parts, albeit mixed up a bit:
|Old High German||English||Notes|
|Wie hier die dunkle Nacht dem hellen Tage weichet, so soll auch von diesem Getauften (Name der kranken Person) der Staar entweichen, von seinem Auge, von seinem Augapfel, von dem Weißen seines Auges, und diese Geschwüre, sie sollen vertrocknen, verschwinden.|
Niemand soll wissen, wo sie geblieben, durch Gottes Macht, des Sohnes Gottes und des heiligen Geistes Hülfe.
Like the dark night gives way to the bright day, so shall the gray star disappear from this baptized (enter name of afflicted person), from their eye, from their eye ball, from the white of their eye, and the ulcers they shall dry out, disappear.
In the spell it is made sure that only baptized people are being treated with it.
It’s of course the Christian trinity that is invoked here. Kind of a “safe your ass” policy should the spell become subject in a witch trial.
What seems to remain a prominent part in the later mediaeval spells is the invocation of deities, and the nod to their power, the recognition that it is them who are doing the magical work. The spell begins with a short analogy-story, but then jumps right into a lengthy what rights the wrong segment, which is interrupted with a very short what’s wrong part. The spell then ends with the invocation of the deities, i.e. the picks up the story again, and omits the affirmation.
But our goal here is to craft a pre-Christian spell. Since we really only have the ones from Merseburg in a verbatim form, let’s try to come up with one following the pattern of the horse spell. As an example, I’d like to suggest a spell to get the creative inspiration, which we call Awen in Druidry, flowing. It could sound somewhat like this:
For a year and a day in beautiful Wales
Gwion kept the fire under the cauldron
Containing the potion for Afagddu
To make him the most knowledgeable of all.
When Gwion sucked the three drops of Awen from his thumb
Cerridwen chased him over land,
She chased him through the water,
She chased him through the Air,
And she ate the seed.
Like Gwion the innocent,
Like Gwion the ignorant,
Let me be reborn
Through the wrath of the Goddess,
Through the womb of the Goddess,
As the new Taliesin.
So mote it be.
As you can see, I used all four elements of a full-fledged pagan spell. First telling a story, creating an analogy to my situation – wanting to get inspired – and invoking a Goddess to help me with it. Then I say what’s wrong with me (that I am ignorant and also not witty), followed by the remedy, even though it may be bitter medicine. The affirmation in the end rounds the picture up and makes sure that my intent is heard and manifests itself.
But, why bother? Why not just whittle a quick spell, shout out what I want and be done with it?
Well, structuring a spell like this has the advantage that you might avoid things going wrong. Like when you cast a spell that you want more quiet in your life, and then you die. Because that’s much more quiet.
But when you find a story, preferably with a deity in it, and this story describes a situation similar to what you want, you basically are ensuring that the outcome, the effect of your spell is similar to your story. So all you need to do is be smart and find a good story that fits your purposes. For example, if you want to increase your income, you could use the Grimm’s tale “Frau Holle”, where a girl is literally showered with gold in return for her work. Frau Holle is the Goddess, so you have the invocation of the divine right there, and the outcome is predetermined, too. Thus, you don’t have to go through the painstaking process of covering all bases and then more to make sure that your spell does not backfire.
The second insurance is that you actually, by invoking deity, have them do the Magic. And they don’t screw up. Period.
The “price” (of sorts) you pay for this insurance is that it is actually harder to cast a spell that will harm someone. Because by embedding a story into your spell, you, and the spell, are bound to the story, and it’s outcome. Also, you are invoking a God or Goddess with this way of crafting a spell, which means that you are at the mercy of them. After all, once invoked, they would have to agree to your intent.
This is a fair price, in my book. But it would be naive to think that everything in Magic is always fluff and sugarcoated. Even the witch’s gingerbread house (which is absolutely sugarcoated) in Hänsel und Gretel clearly has a dark side to it. And we would be fools if we were to believe there aren’t any Gods who wouldn’t agree to inflicting harm. Loki comes to mind, but so many others do questionable stuff in the olden tales. Like Zeus frequently rapes women.
What makes it harder to use the suggested way to create a spell for harmful Magic, actually, is that so many stories are somewhat moralizing, openly or between the lines, and thus even when you invoke say the Ice Queen in your spell to freeze someone really hard, in the end of the story she succumbs to the strength of love, or metaphorically to the powers of spring, the eternal cycle of life. As always, clarity of the intent is key.
But why not even go down that particular, dark rabbit hole? Just a thought. What I think of abusing, or performing harmful, Magic, I have written in previous blog posts (Paganism, Rules, and Dogma vol. 2, Paganism, Rules, and Dogma vol. 2, and Finding Ethical Guidance in Lore).
So, next time you need to change your, or someone else’s, stars through Magic, with a spell, why don’t you try out this ages old method and see what happens.