Wiccecræft: Old English Magic

Alongside the practices of normal religion, alongside the poetry, I do also have a magical practice; in other words, I consider myself a witch, in devotion to the Witch-god Woden.

Now, what would even be a “witch?” In the popular consciousness, that can run the gamut from old hags in the woods, powerful sorceresses, both of those combined (see the screenshot of Master Matoya from FFXIV above), or practitioners of Wicca. It can be all sorts of things, because really, the meaning of “witch” has historically been malleable; its use throughout the ages as a derogatory treatment for divination and sorcery, the reduction to a stock trope in literature, the modern reappraisal of the word and adoption by modern magical practitioners.

The word “witch” in English originates from the Old English wiċċe/wiċċa, being the feminine and masculine forms of the noun (anyone telling you “witch is female” is thus an idiot). By and large, it meant some sort of magical practitioner frowned upon by the early English church: theories abound as to what it could’ve been, from divinatory to other sorts of ill-reputed “devilry.” From at least the days of Alfred the Great, we have a well-documented disdain of witchcraft, with warnings about it ringing out for centuries and centuries after. Even nowadays, among various religious groups out there (IE many Evangelical American churches), the fear of witchcraft is still present enough that the mere fear can spark outrage from their circles; see the response to noted hyperbigot Joanne Rowling’s mediocre children’s texts.

So, I do call myself a witch (no you may not burn me). What does that actually entail?

There is a fairly decent, if flawed, book written by Alaric Albertsson, A Handbook of Saxon Sorcery & Magic, that formed the initial starting-point of my exploration into this side of things. While I have my own issues regarding it (imagine saying that witches don’t do drugs, like bullshit my fucking bitch), it remains still a good start in case one wants to explore magical practice that has some measure of historicity. From there, and from a comparative understanding of the practices of the Norse along with what can be gleamed from Old English texts, we can thus have a decent enough glimpse of an Anglo-Saxon Witchcraft.

The Runes: Divination & Charms

Working with runes might be, by far, the majority of my practice thus far, being the thing that fascinates me most.

In so many, many ways, I feel like runes are horribly misunderstood and even misused in the modern day; both by lay hands and by practitioners, Heathens or otherwise, who should really, really know better. Without getting too deep into the muck with this (for I do wish to return to runes at a later date), let’s just leave it at the idea that a lot of modern runic practice has a lot of problems that I wish to avoid.

Where do we start, then? Lets look at the different runic alphabets, of which three were known to have been used by pre-Christian Germanic peoples at some point; these are the Elder Futhark of the Roman and Migration Periods, the Anglo-Frisian Futhorc of pre-Norman England, and the Younger Futhark of Viking Age Scandinavia. While, once more, I will save words for another time, I can still say that I personally do not use Elder Futhark as is very common; both because I am an Anglo-Saxon Heathen, and because it’s actually historically verifiable what things mean, I use the Futhorc.

There’s two ways my practice of runic magic works: divination and charm-work. Divination-wise, I follow a practice modified from the description of cleromancy given by a Roman author, famed for being annoyed at his homeland while still being insufferably Roman regardless, Tacitus, in his work known as the Germania;

They attach the highest importance to the taking of auspices and casting lots. Their usual procedure with the lot is simple. They cut off a branch from a nut-bearing tree and slice it into strips these they mark with different signs and throw them at random onto a white cloth. Then the state’s priest, if it is an official consultation, or the father of the family, in a private one, offers prayer to the gods and looking up towards heaven picks up three strips, one at a time, and, according to which sign they have previously been marked with, makes his interpretation. If the lots forbid an undertaking, there is no deliberation that day about the matter in question. If they allow it, further confirmation is required by taking auspices.

It isn’t known whether or not Tacitus is describing the practice of casting runes, but it’s a fair interpretation of his work, and it’s one I make. I have a set of Futhorc runes, 33 in total; a white washcloth, repurposed for my needs; a candle to light, and a copy of Stephen Pollington’s Rudiments of Runelore. That book is important because it contains translations of the sources for all rune meanings; the rune poems. I know I’m saying that I’ll explain it later a thousand times in a dedicated page on runes a lot, but runes deserve so much all their own, the beautiful little letters.

Now, charms for me are, essentially, putting prayers into the written word; either a single letter has an assigned meaning, based on the aforementioned rune poems, that can thus be used as an invocation itself, or a prayer can be written out in full, via full sentences or even the use of bindrunes. For the 2.5 billionth time, these sorts of things can be explained later.

Galdor: Chanting Like Weirdos

Another form of magic, one that requires a lot less words (paradoxically), is galdor, or gealdor (the former is pronounced with a hard “guh,” the latter a “yuh”: yay Old English!!), galdr to the Norse. It, essentially, means “chanting,” and that’s what it entails; it’s chanting a poem written specifically as a verbal charm. This can be done… basically however one works a poem, really, but I blend it with my own poetic style (the historical style, I add like a little gremlin) to add my own flavor and help it work. It isn’t as preferred for me, being a trans woman who occasionally has vocal dysphoria, but sometimes it can be beneficial and it is worth explaining.

Herbs: Not That Kind (okay maybe)

The final part is working with herbs, especially in brewing things. Now we definitely have historical evidence of herbs and potions and what not; written down in the form of charms and in medical texts, we can glimpse at herbal practices aplenty. If you’re ever curious, the three volumes of Leechdoms, Wortcunning, & Starcraft of Early England are worth it to get the raw knowledge of elder lore on this subject, if you’re willing to tolerate the ramblings of an Edwardian-era reverend opening the books.

I fully admit I had more to talk about with runes (even with holding so much back), but I consider these latter things to be fairly useful ideas as well; I’m just obsessed with runes!

…But Wait, There’s More!

By and large, this is both a quick(ish) explainer of my practice and that which is semi-identifiable in the sources. But it is not an end-all of what I do, nor do I wish to remain in these areas solely; no historical people ever just stuck to one or two things and eschewed all others! Nay, much like syncretism with religious practices, there can be syncretism in magic!

Just don’t be going out there busting into initiatory practices, stealing their shit and marketing it as your own, like a fucking trashpile! Be smart in what you borrow, of course, but never be afraid to; if I see something that looks appealing, I don’t feel like it pollutes my work to attempt, if anything it enhances.

So, that is my needless post on my personal magical practice. Thank you for reading, and feel free to call me a weird lunatic!

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