Icelandic Magic

icelandicmagic (3)Icelandic Magic:
Aims, tools and techniques of the Icelandic sorcerers

By Christopher Alan Smith

230 pages, available in both paperback and hardback editions.

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About the book:

In this unprecedented work, the author Christopher A. Smith has meticulously studied no less than 6 original Icelandic manuscripts dating from 1500 to 1860 to extract a picture of the aims, tools and techniques of Icelandic sorcerers. Set against the context of the harsh economic, social and environmental conditions of this North Atlantic island, the book gives a detailed account of the types of spells that were used and the motivations behind them.

Hundreds of items from the six books of magic have been analysed to present the reader with a clear idea of the methods that were used, including incantation, invocation of deities and use of the enigmatic magical staves (galdrastafir). Furthermore, the book goes into great detail concerning the physical tools used by magicians and the kinds of objects that might have been found in a sorcerer’s ‘toolbox’.

The book is illustrated throughout with images from the original manuscripts. Although it is not intended by any means as a book of instruction, one chapter does focus on workings of certain types and gives suggestions for those brave enough to try them out.

All in all, this work will be an indispensable item for anyone interested in the history of magic in general and of Icelandic magic in particular.

About the Author:

Christopher SmithChristopher Alan Smith was born in Nottingham in 1954. He has travelled widely and lived in the Netherlands for five years, where his innate talent for languages enabled him to speak fluent Dutch within a few months and work as a logistics coordinator for a major transport company. His travels also include three visits to Iceland; on the second visit, he stayed in the country for 8 months and worked as a volunteer at the Museum of Icelandic Sorcery and Witchcraft in Hólmavík.

Christopher’s interest in magic began when he was a student at the University of Sheffield, at which time the main emphasis in the available literature was on the Western Tradition of Kabbalistic magic. However, his taste for travel, languages and a restless search for knowledge clearly indicated Woden as his example, leading him within a few years towards Rune Magic and ultimately to membership of the Rune Gild. His Fellowship Work for the Gild, “The Icelandic Tradition of Magic” was published in 2012 as part of the collection “Occult Traditions” (Numen Books). In 2014 he was awarded the title of Master in the Rune Gild for his Master-work “Icelandic Magic in the Early Modern Period”, which forms the basis of this book.

As he wryly comments in the introduction, “As my sixtieth birthday was approaching, I realised that I should perhaps have started on this project about forty years ago, beginning by studying Icelandic
and folklore at university instead of politics… but one has to start somewhere.”

Today he lives in North Yorkshire and, when not practising and researching Icelandic magic, he works as a freelance translator.

To purchase your copy now, please select from the following:

Paperback, £17.99

Hardback, £35.00

OFFER:  Purchase both the Paperback and Hardback editions together for just: £45.00 (Save 7.99)

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Extract from the Introduction:

More than any other country, perhaps, Iceland has an iconic status for students of ancient Germanic lore and culture. The reasons for this are not hard to seek. The environment itself is dramatic, the perfect setting for tales of heroism and magic. A sub-Arctic island, oft-times battered by the cold waves of the North Atlantic Ocean and storms from the polar region, it is a land of glaciers and volcanoes where the primal forces of fire and ice compete to increase the hardship of the small population. Summers are brief and winters long, while spring and autumn struggle to find any place at all among the seasons. Arable land is hard to find, and even good grazing is at a premium. The earth itself shakes and rumbles from time to time. It is a land of liminality, where the world of men is squeezed and constricted between vast and hostile forces.

Remarkably, however, Iceland is less famous for its geography than for the vast outpouring of literature that its people have produced, especially in the Middle Ages. The very word ‘saga’, meaning ‘story’, has passed into English to denote a tale that is epic and heroic. From the earliest settlement at the end of the ninth century, Icelanders developed, passed on, and eventually recorded the tales of their lives, first by oral tradition and eventually through the establishment of a strong tradition of vernacular literacy. The written word was highly prized, and even today Iceland has the highest percentage of published authors per head of population in the world. It is mainly thanks to this vast output of literature, much of it written about two centuries after the country accepted Christianity, that we can form an idea about the pre-Christian beliefs, social customs and religious practices of our Germanic ancestors.

Another factor is that the people of Iceland jealously guard and preserve their culture. Though predominantly Lutheran by religion these days, they are as familiar with the mythic tales of Thor and Odin as they are with tales from the Bible. Even young children are taught at school to recite “Þat mælti mín móðir”, the first poem of the famous Viking, poet and sorcerer Egill Skallagrímson. The Icelandic language has changed little over the past thousand years, certainly in comparison to its linguistic relatives in Scandinavia, the European mainland and the English-speaking world, and the country’s educational establishment does its best to prevent the adoption of foreign words. Furthermore, belief in the old Germanic pantheon is making a modest comeback and, although the ratio is still small, Ásatrú – belief in the Æsir – is an officially recognised religion with a growing number of adherents. One can therefore certainly speak of a ‘living tradition’ that is more than of merely antiquarian interest.

From the elaborate sagas of the Middle Ages to the folk tales and legends collected and recorded by Jón Árnason in the nineteenth century, the stories of Iceland are shot through with magic and dealings with supernatural beings such as elves, land-wights, ghosts and trolls. Even today, many Icelanders attach credence to the continued presence of the ‘hidden folk’; even if they do not absolutely believe in elves, they would not go so far as to categorically deny their existence. It has even been known for a major road to be diverted so as to avoid disturbing a place where the hidden folk are reputed to have their home. Of particular interest, in terms of magical practice, is the Strandir district of the Westfjords Region. Although this formerly remote and inaccessible area does not feature greatly in the sagas, its inhabitants came to acquire a reputation for prowess in the magical arts by the seventeenth century, and in 1930 a variant of the magic sign ‘Ægishjálmur’ (Helm of Awe, or Helm of Aegir) was adopted as the official emblem of Strandir. To capitalize on this aspect of local history and boost tourism, the Museum of Icelandic Sorcery and Witchcraft (Galdrasýning á Ströndum) was founded in 2000 at Hólmavík, the district’s main population centre. The museum focuses on the 17th Century, when the European fashion for persecuting witches and sorcerers found its way to Iceland, with the result that a number of individuals were tried, convicted and punished with various degrees of severity. The museum houses an eclectic and fascinating collection of exhibits illustrating magical practices at that time: the ‘Tilberi’, a kind of vampiric worm; the ‘sea mouse’ (captured in order to gain money); a fish’s head raised on a pole in order to control the winds; and, of course, the world-famous Nábrók or ‘necropants’. It also has a display of reproductions of the grimoires that have survived the age of persecution and are now preserved in the National Library and the Arni Magnusson Institute in Reykjavik.”
~ Christopher A. Smith, Introduction, Icelandic Magic

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Table of Contents:

INTRODUCTION
A NOTE ON ORTHOGRAPHY AND PRONUNCIATION

CHAPTER 1
ICELANDIC MAGIC IN CONTEXT
THE ENVIRONMENT AND THE ECONOMY
LAW AND LAW ENFORCEMENT
VERNACULAR LITERACY
RELIGION AND ATTITUDES TO MAGIC
CONCLUSION

CHAPTER 2
THE BOOKS OF MAGIC
AM 434 A 12MO ‘LÆKNINGAKVER’ (CA 1500)
ATA, AMB 2, F 16:26 ‘ISLÄNDSKA SVARTKONSTBOKEN (BOOK OF MAGIC)’ (1550-1650?)
LBS 143 8VO ‘GALDRAKVER’ (CA 1670)
LBS 2413 8VO ‘RÚNA- OG GALDRAKVER’ (CA 1800)
LBS 764 8VO (CA 1820)
ÍB 383 4TO ‘HULD’ (CA 1860)

CHAPTER 3
PURPOSES AND PREOCCUPATIONS
THE QUESTION OF ‘WHITE’ AND ‘BLACK’ MAGIC
APOTROPAIC MAGIC
FARMING, FISHING AND TRADE
FRIENDSHIP, FAVOUR AND INFLUENCE
CRIME AND DISPUTES
HEALING
LOVE AND SEDUCTION
DIVINATION
GAMES AND SPORTS
LUCK AND WISHES
SPELLS OF PURELY MALIGN INTENT
CONCLUSIONS

CHAPTER 4
THE MAIN TECHNIQUES OF ICELANDIC MAGIC
THE PRIMACY OF THE MAGICAL SIGN AS A VEHICLE OF THE INTENT
APPEALS TO SUPERNATURAL ENTITIES
TALISMANS
THE IMPORTANCE OF INCANTATION
THE METHODS OF DELIVERY
DIRECT CARVING
BRINGING A PREPARED SPELL INTO DIRECT CONTACT WITH THE TARGET
INGESTION
DELIVERY BY PROXIMITY
DELIVERY FROM A DISTANCE
DIVINATION
RITUAL WASHING
CONCLUSIONS

CHAPTER 5
THE TOOLS OF ICELANDIC MAGIC
THE CARVING INSTRUMENT
FINGERS
KNIVES, AWLS AND SCISSORS
PENS, PENCILS AND CHALK
MATERIALS USED FOR CARVING
THE CARVED SURFACES
CLEAR CHOICES
WOOD
PAPER AND PARCHMENT
METALS
BONES, HUMAN AND ANIMAL
SEA CREATURES
USE OF BODY FLUIDS AND EXCRETIONS
HERBS AND VEGETABLE PREPARATIONS
CONCLUSIONS

CHAPTER 6
TIME AND SPACE
CONCLUSIONS

CHAPTER 7
THE PERSISTENCE OF HEATHEN BELIEF

CHAPTER 8
RUNES, CIPHERS AND SECRECY
CONCLUSIONS

CHAPTER 9
SOME PROMINENT THEMES AND THEIR APPLICATIONS
ÆGISHJÁLMUR
KAUPALOKI – THE BARGAIN SEALER
‘LOVE’ SPELLS
DISPUTES AND LAWSUITS
BRÝNSLUSTAFIR – KEEPING SHARP IS GOOD

CHAPTER 10
THE ISSUE OF COMPLEXITY

CHAPTER 11
CONCLUSIONS
WHO PRACTISED MAGIC, AND WITH WHAT INTENTIONS?
TECHNIQUES AND TOOLS – SUMMARY
THE CONSTRUCTION OF THE STAVES – CAN ANY SENSE BE MADE OF THIS?
FINAL CONCLUSION: HOW ARE WE TO TYPIFY ICELANDIC MAGIC?

SUGGESTIONS FOR FURTHER READING
WORKS CITED
INDEX

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