Nordic Magic (I). Galdr.


Two types of magic were practiced in the Norse world: the honorable galdr magic, and lastly, the "less honorable" seiðr magic. A third type would be rune magic, but since rune magic can be a general purpose tool, future articles will focus on distinguishing between the two main ones. Galdr derives from the verb gala, to sing or chant, to enchant; There are several theories about seiðr magic: there are those who say that it comes from the old High German, seit, which means to bind or bind, and others, without much success, have wanted to link it to verbs with the meaning of boiling. Actually, they seem to have more social than etymological distinction, since galdr magic refers to a more masculine magic, more based on the manifestation of the will, more analytical, conscious and studied, which requires concentration... and, by its, seiðr magic refers to a more feminine, intuitive practice, which requires the loss of will through trance, approaching the conceptions of shamanism; its feminine connotation could make the male seiðr practitioner the target of ridicule, however, the female practitioner had the respect of her community. Many have wanted to see in seiðr, due to this gender link, the specific meaning of spinning or weaving, properly feminine tasks. The prefixes of the nouns of Nordic magic will allow you to identify the type of magic you are talking about.


Within Galdr magic, we find male practitioners, galdrammenn or galdramaðr, but also women, galdrakona in Iceland, galsterei or galsterweib in Germany, or gealdor-cræfigan, as they were called (and condemned) by the laws of King Ælfrēd the Great. Odin was also called "father of the galdr', galdrs fǫður, and consequently, within this type of magic we will find many runic spells, of which the god was the discoverer.

The galdralag was the magical poem, the spell sung in seven lines. The intonation changed between high and low, there are those who believe that, for a man, falsetto was most likely necessary (whose Gallic root some consider could be related). The Galdr was characterized by the intonation of these spells at critical moments such as deliveries or battles. We would have an example of this in the Oddrúnargrátr or Oddrún's Lament, where it is told how the daughter of King Heithrek, Borgny, cannot give birth to the children of her secret lover Vilmund. Oddrún then arrives, sister of Atli (Attila the Hun), who was once Gunnar's lover (protagonist of the Song of the Nibelungs), who helps her not because she deserves it, but because he promised to always help whoever needed it. . For it,

<< Þær hykk mæltu / þvígit fleira,/ gekk mild fyr kné/ meyju at sitja; /ríkt gól Oddrún,/rammt gól Oddrún,/ bitra galdra/at Borgnýju. >>

<< Then they didn't talk anymore, I think, and he sat on the woman's knees. With magic, Oddrún, with power, Oddrún, sang bitter galdr for Borgny. >>

But the galdralaq had more functions. In the Poetic Edda we find it in the first chapter of the Svipdagsmál, or Song of Svipdag. His first poem, which is called Grógaldr or Gróa's spells, the protagonist uses galdr to invoke the spirit of his late mother, a völva, to reveal the way to marry the giantess Menglod, a task entrusted by his stepmother.

<<Galdra þú mér gal / þá er góðir eru, / bjarg þú, móðir, megi; >>

<<Good incantations sing for me, mother, and seek to protect your son>>

The völva Gróa then recites nine spells to guide and embolden her son.

The völvas were women with great natural spiritual and divination gifts, highly respected, whom even the gods consult, being a völva, for example, the narrator of the beginnings and the end of the world in the Poetic Edda, in Völúspa. Although his figure has wanted to be equated to the vitkar, the Nordic sorcerers-healers, the truth is that they are more linked to seiðr shamanic magic, so we will return to his figure later.

The Merseburger Zaubersprüche or Merseburg Charms are two medieval galdralaq, written between the 8th and 9th centuries, and found in 1814 by Georg Waitz, who noticed their existence in a liturgical manuscript from Fulda (Hesse, Germany), where some monk he must have written them on a blank sheet, although we do not know his purpose. We find ourselves with a common type of magic in the Nordic world, analog magic, where the narration of a story or mythical fact produces the same effect on what is conjured. This way,

<< Eiris sazun idisi / sazun hera duoder. / suma hapt heptidun, / suma heri lezidun, / suma clubodun /umbi cuoniouuidi: / insprinc haptbandun, / inuar uigandun. >>

<<Once the women were seated / sitting here and there / some tied ties / others stopped the army / others untangled chains: / escape from your ties, flee from the enemy>>

This spell would have been intended to save and free some imprisoned soldiers, invoking the idisen, the Valkyries, or the dísir, goddesses of destiny. This spell does not comply with the meter of seven verses, it is thought that because the galdralaq intoned specifically by the goddesses does not appear. The following incantation is much more explicit and contains the correctly versed galdralaq:

<<Phol ende uuodan /uuorun zi holza/ du uuart demo balderes uolon / sin uuoz birenkit. / thu biguol en sinthgunt, / sunna era suister; / thu biguol en friia, / uolla era suister; / thu biguol en uuodan, /so he uuola conda:

sose benrenki, /sose bluotrenki, /sose lidirenki: / ben zi bena, / bluot zi bluoda, / lid zi geliden, / sose gelimida sin. >>

<<Phol and Wotan / rode into the forest / then Balder's horse / broke its leg. / So it was conjured by Sinthgunt / and his sister Sunna. / Freyja conjured him / and her sister Volla; / Wotan also conjured it / as he knows how to do it:

Thus the broken bone, / thus the tear of blood, / thus the joint sprain: bone to bone, blood to blood, limb to limb, so that they can be mended. >>

Runic magic was more than compatible with galdr. As could be seen in the article Ancient runic magic, the simple intonation of the runes, and especially the vibration that was produced in the repetition of a specific sound, received the name of galdr, that is, the intonation of the runes is a spell itself, no need to versify. Let's remember that each rune has a meaning in itself, so its mere mention is enough to evoke a specific idea and intention.

Another runic practice was to carve or write the runes in blood or red ink, preferably, and chant a galdr incantation. This type of magic could have malefic or beneficial purposes, without affecting, in the first instance, the superior perception of this type of magic. Although once again it was considered more typical of men, in the Grettir saga it is said that an old woman curses the protagonist several times, and on one of the occasions she sends a curse to Grettir following all the steps mentioned. He takes a tree root and the file to have a flat surface, there he carves the runes, fills them with his blood and sings a galdr. In Egil's saga, the protagonist is the one who carves the runes and soaks them with their blood in a drinking horn, in which he knows that poison has been added. After reciting a spell, the horn breaks and the poison spills out.

The use of blood derives from the belief that it contains vital energy, giving that life to the spell, but also, if the blood is from a magician or is ritualized, it also confers the special power that that person or blood has. .

The magical signs made with runes took the name of galdraletur, when they were a sequence of letters, and Icelandic galdrastafir or Anglo-Saxon bandrúnir, when they were signs and geometric combinations thereof: stafur literally means stick or staff, and it is believed that its The denomination in relation to the runes is due to the drawing of "sticks" that the runic writing supposes. Others, such as the runologist Stephen Flowers, consider that it is also related to the verb form rísta, which means to carve. Abstract magical symbols in which runes cannot be located or deduced are called galdramyndir. In all three of these cases, the prefix to their own name evokes the type of magic they used to be used with. But since these are all extensive, they will be covered in more depth in future articles.

An example of the mixture of these two practices is found in the Skírnismál or Sayings of Skírnir. The god Frey, from the top of Odin's throne, has caught a glimpse of a beautiful giantess, Gerör, and is depressed at the thought that he could never conquer her. Frey's mother sends her servant Skírnir to woo the woman on behalf of her son. After a long journey, Skímir offers a series of gifts to Gerör, and when after many attempts the giantess continues to reject her lord, the protagonist threatens her in this way:

<< Þurs ríst ek þér/ ok þría stafi, / ergi ok æði ok óþola; / svá ek þat af ríst, / sem ek þat á reist, / ef gerask þarfar þess.>>

<< A rune thurs stem for you / and it is three staves; / promiscuity and frenzy/ and torment, but this thing I'm carving/ I can still undescribe/ if I have a good reason>>

Regarding galdr magic, it seems evident that, being so analytical, it had a series of rituals and specific learning that required learning in the modern way, that is, with books. With the arrival of Christianity, as happened in practically all of Europe, legends began that spoke of sorcerer saints and schools of "black" magic where the devil instructed his apprentices. In this way, just as in Spain there was the Salamanca Cave, in Scotland the Black Airt, or in Romania the Scholomance, in the Nordic world there were two locations as Black Schools: one, Mount Brocken in Germany, where popular tradition arranged the witches and Goethe's Faust spends Walpurgis night; the other, in Iceland, in the cathedral schools of Hólar and Skaltholt. Some of the most famous sorcerers were real characters adorned by folklore, they were Sæmundur (S. X), who shares with other European classmates the adventure of deceiving the devil to be able to drop out of school; Bishop Gottskálk (16th century), supposed author of the Red Skin; Eírikur (17th century), from the Skálholt School, a necromancer who tried to obtain a book with spells so powerful that its owner had buried himself with it; and finally, the sorcerer Galdra-Loftur (18th century), who was a notable student of the Black School of Hólar, the most powerful but the most villainous of all, who tried to conjure all the deceased bishops from the Hólar cathedral. so that Bishop Gottskálk himself would give him the lost Red Skin, having to stop his efforts when he realized that the bishop was deceiving him so that, with his spells, he would bring down the cathedral and he and his assistant would die. Note the power that the latter would boast of, and the nickname galdr that he was given, compared to lesser feats that are told of the previous ones. Loftur was only resisted by this ghost and his teacher and Dean of the cathedral, who was protected by a "Higher power".

Nordic magic had varying degrees of acceptance in the Christian era. In many places, certain acts of magic were considered diabolic, while in others they were considered rural traditions of no great importance, especially when it came to symbols or chants related to the weather or the protection of crops. The galdr went by popular songs or sayings. Many of the spells from Christianity will merge both beliefs, turning the Our Father in Latin into a final and confirming text of the spells, as well as invocations to the Trinity, Jesus, Mary, Joseph and other saints, such as Solomon, Saint Elizabeth or John the Baptist. Likewise, among gods such as Odin, Frejya or Thor, Satan and Beelzebub were also invoked, considered "non-Christian" spirits, and therefore, gods that could coexist with the rest in Valhalla. In addition, words like Dróttiinn (Lord) and Guð or Gott (God) were not unknown in Nordic religions and invocations, so, if the case arose, it was not excessively difficult to disguise a spell as a prayer. Added to this was the previously seen analog magic. And who but Jesus could easily substitute episodes of miraculous healing from other divinities?

The importance of the books lay in the irrefutable proof of the existence of witchcraft and of schools that distributed it as teaching. Many books are semi-legendary, such as the Rauðskinna (Red Skin) or the Gráskinna (Grey Skin), but the existence of similar books can be deduced from their legends. Although many did not survive, there was one that did, whose origin would be in the middle of the 16th century, in Iceland, the so-called Galdrabók. The manuscript that has come down to us, however, is from the 17th century and would have passed through three hands that would have made additions, two from Icelandic magicians and one from a Danish magician. It is currently kept at the Royal Swedish Academy of Arts in Stockholm. In this text, what was previously expressed about the types of galdr magic is manifestly found: spoken incantations and runic staffs. It also contains mentions of both pagan divinities and biblical characters. It is curious to see, after the Protestant Reformation, Catholic religious formulas were added to magical practices, equating them to magic in terms of being "out of the norm." Other surviving galdr magic books include the Huld Manuscript, the Kreddur Manuscript, and folk medicine books where certain runic talismans appear. Since the end of the 20th century, with the occult and neopagan revival, we can find inspired or reconstructed compilations and grimoires, such as the Gray Skin, and which has its own edition of the Rune-Gild.

At present, the Asatrú community and magic practitioners from other groups and independents drink from the grimoires and texts exposed for their magical works, updating above all the runic works and the galdrastafir, which have been popularized as amulets, talismans and tattoos.

Pietro Viktor Carracedo Ahumada -


-Arries, J. Magia y religión nórdicas. Ed, Luciérnaga, Barcelona, 2019.

-Flowers, S. E. Magia Islandesa. Ediciones Obelisco, Barcelona, 2019.

-Kruychkova O., Kyuchkova E. Asgard: Northern Magic. Babelcube Books, 2019.

Related posts:

> Ancient Runic magic

> Ancient runic meanings

> Nordic magic (II) Seiðr

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