Thursday, April 9, 2015

The Double Life of Spells


Spells can be cast by sorcerers or witches. The word sorcery is derived from the word for “lots” or “spells”. There are two kinds – harmful and useful. This distinction clearly shows their double life, and the duplicity of the sorcerer; all powerful, hated and feared for the misfortune he can bring, being useful only to avert misfortune or ensure success. In this way the sorcerer could make money twice over. He could work mischief on some farmer who then got relief by paying cash, or if an illness or pest attacked a community the sorcerer was ready to provide a cure in return for payment. Sometimes he would undo the spells of another sorcerer, triggering a battle between them – the unlucky subject spell-bound, paying all the costs. 


Sorcerers and witches could stop ships at sea or keep windmills from working. They could dry up cows, stop corn from growing, spoiling the bread, freeze wine, caused strife among friends, cause epidemics, and raise storms. They would, if asked, stop bleeding of wounds, extract a bullet from a wound, cure maladies, or stop famine. By all accounts they had considerable reputation. This magical duo most often exercised their powers over storms and tempests in maritime Scandinavian countries. An illustration by Ziarnki depicts witches flying off over the sea to raise storms. In another by Magnus a witch empties her cauldron into the sea causing a frightful storm, making a ship flounder. Another work shows two navigators haggling with a sorcerer about the price of a rope with three knots, which he is holding. Winds are bound up in the knots, undoing them would release a breeze, some wind, or a tempest. In the background a sailor  awaits his fate on a sinking ship. Many methods were used to induce storms. Two witches could bring a downpour by holding a rooster over a flaming cauldron. The same could be accomplished by drawing a certain diagram, shutting a toad or spider in a pot, or reading a formula. 

An ancient manuscript shows a series of sacred pentacles depicting Chaldean and Hebrew letters in their particular shapes, colors, and characters, with directions for their use and knowledge of the art. One enabled earthquakes to be set in motion. A diagram of Solomon’s seal is surrounded by Psalm 18:7: “The Earth shook and trembled.” Within the circle and the triangles dividing it are groups of Hebrew letters and cabalistic characters which correspond to invisible powers; their interpretation is dubious to say the least. 

For a while an object called the Hand of Glory was popular. The Hand is shown in many books of witchcraft and found on the mantle of chimneys up which initiates fly. It is a particularly gruesome and evil charm, created from the human hand of a very bright person, preferably a genius. It is purported to render those who view it stupefied and motionless. There is also a way to shield yourself from its effects using a formula for which you would need a black cat, white hen, and screech-owl. The substance must be prepared during the dog-days. Alongside a sorcerers gruesome Hand of Glory is an equally grisly magic candle which enables him to find buried treasure. It’s secret was discovered by Jerome Cardan. It consists of using human tallow; it will sparkle and make noise when near treasure.

Casting spells on milk is still common among country dwellers. A witch will dry up the cows and get paid to reverse the spell. One could punish the witch, however, by boiling the cursed milk and striking the pan with a stick. The devil would deal blows to the witch accordingly, until she removed the spell. Sometimes a spell would cause blue milk, but this milk was always more abundant than good milk. A witch could also get milk from objects on a farm, most often an axe handle.

Certain spells were only profitable to sorcerers and gave them enviable advantages. Some could cross the sea on the surface of the water perched on a piece of wood, not unlike today’s water gliders. Once document – le Secret des Secrets – expounds on the secret of invisibility, a very disturbing idea. In this way sorcerers could be part of gatherings or enter houses undetected. This condition was obtained by reciting a certain prayer in Latin; a bat’s blood would be used to write certain characters, and then the prayer continues. Knowing the principles involved is required, and Latin must be used. According to several sorcerer’s Black-books it is possible to become invisible by carrying the heart of a bat, black hen, or frog under the right arm. If more elegance is required, a Ring of Gyges (a mythical object mentioned in Plato’s Republic) can be used, turning the stone in or out, to be seen or not. If you cannot see the ring in a mirror it has been manufactured unsuccessfully. 


A sorcerer could nullify spells cast by another, and if powerful enough would succeed in nullifying the other sorcerers powers, binding him with a counter-spell. A famous legend tells of  a cavern between two churches on an island. In the cavern is a shackled sorcerer awaiting his release to be provided by another sorcerer’s spell. In the sixteenth century this cavern was a place of superstitious terror – no one dared venture into it.  

Religion and magic can both be frightening or bring hope. Both promise healing and blessing. Both use fear to implement their goals; both exploit human fear of death. Spells offer a method of inflicting misery and death, or a recourse for resolution and hope, when all else fails.    

About Symbologist Michelle Snyder


Michelle earned her post-graduate degree at the University of Wales, decoding prehistoric images, mythology, folklore, and fairy tales and tracing them to their roots. She is an author, columnist, publisher, artist, and teacher. Her artwork, inspired by her love of symbolism and folklore, has appeared in galleries from Massachusetts to California. Michelle is co-owner of White Knight Studio.
     Books by Michelle, available at Amazon:

    Symbology series:


Symbology ReVision: Unlocking Secret Knowledge  
Symbology: Hidden in Plain Sight
Symbology: My Art and Symbols 
Symbology: Fairy Tales Uncovered 
Symbology: Decoding Classic Images 
Symbology: World of Symbols  
Symbology: Secrets of the Mermaids

Fairy Tales: 

A Tale of Three Kingdoms: Book One - The Lost Unicorn
A Tale of Three Kingdoms: Book Two - The Lost Mermaid
The Fairy Tales: Once-Upon-A-Time Lessons First Book

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