The Northern Way

Grimm's Teutonic Mythology

Chapter 34


Page 1

Miracle (wundern) (1) is the salutary, magic (zaubern) the hurtful or unlawful, use of supernatural powers: miracle is divine, magic devilish; not till the gods were degraded and despised was magic imputed to them. (2) Beings midway betwixt them and man, sage giants, artful elves and dwarfs practice magic; only their skill seems more innate, stationary, not an acquired art. Man can heal or poison, by directing natural forces to good or to evil; sometimes he even shares the gift of miracle, but when he pushes the beneficent exercise of his powers to the supernatural point, he learns to conjure. Miracle is wrought by honest means, magic by unlawful; the one is geheuer (blessed, wholesome, p. 914), the other ungeheuer. At the same time the origin of all conjuring must be traced directly to the most sacred callings, which contained in themselves all the wisdom of heathendom, viz. religious worship and the art of song. Sacrificing and singing came to mean conjuring; the priest and the poet, confidants of the gods and participants of divine inspiration, stand next-door to the fortune teller and magician (see Suppl.).

It is so with all nations, and was so with our ancestors: by the side of divine worship, practices of dark sorcery, by way of exception, not of contrast. The ancient Germans knew magic and magicians; on this foundation first do all the later fancies rest. And the belief was necessarily strengthened and complicated when, upon the introduction of christianity, all heathen notions and practices were declared to be deceit and sinful delusion: the old gods fell back and changed into devils, and all that pertained to their worship into devilish jugglery. Presently there sprang up tales of the Evil one's immediate connexion with sorcery; and out of this proceeded the most incredible, most formed, and those merely imagined, so ran into one another, that they could no longer be distinguished either in punishing or even in perpetrating them.

Before proceeding with out inquiry, we have to examine the several terms that designated witchcraft in olden times. It seems worth noting, that several of the more general names have simply the sense of doing or preparing, and therefore mark an imperceptible lapse of right doing into wrong. The OHG. karawan, AS. gearwian, had only the meaning of facere, parare, praeparare, ornare, but the same word in ON. göra approximates to that of conjuring, Dan. forgiöre; görnîng is maleficium, görnîngar artes magicae, much in the same was as facinus is both deed and misdeed. Our thun, to do, passes into anthun, to inflic (by sorcery); and the ON. fordœða (malefica), Sæm. 64a. 197b comes from dâð (facinus) (3) Now the Greek and Latin words epdein, rezein, facere (p. 41n.), mean not only to do, but to sacrifice, without requiring the addition of iera or sacra, and erdein tini ti is to bewitch; the ON. blôta, beside its usual sense of sacrificare, consecrare, has that of maledicere; whether fornœskja, sorcery, can be connected with fôrn, sacrifice, has been discussed, p. 41. ---A difficult word to explain is the OHG. zoupar divinatio, maleficium, zouparari hariolus, zouparôn hariolari; Notker spells zoufer in Ps. 57, 6, zouver in Boeth. 29, zouferlih, zouverlih in Cap. 45. 99; the MHG. zouber, zoubern answers exactly to the strict OHG. forms with p. to LG. tover, toveren, and the same in Nethl. both Mid. and Mod. (conf. toverîe, Maerl. 1, 260-3, toverare 1, 266. 2, 176-7, toeverîe is a faulty spelling); O. Fris. tawerie, Richth. 401. 21. The Icelandic has töfur instrumenta magica, töfrar incantamenta, töfra fascinare, töfrari magus, töfranorn saga, Fornald. sög. 3, 205; with which the Norw. tougre fascinare (Hallager 131b) and Swed. tofver incantatio, tofverhäxa saga, agree; we may safely suppose a modern importation of all these Scand. words from Germany, as they do not occur in ON. writings. (4) I am in doubt whether an AS teáfor is to be connected with zoupar; it signifies minium, color coccineus, and Lye gives (without ref.) tifran depingere, which ought perhaps to by týfrian. The addition of the adj. red in reád teáfor (rubrica) favours the conjecture that teáfor was a general term for the colours employed in illuminating manuscripts, and thus may stand for rune, mystic writing, hence our zauber (magic). (5) To identify zoupar with zëpar (p. 40), AS. teáfor with tiber, is forbidden by the difference of vowel, though it would bring the notion of magic very near that of sacrifice again. One would much rather trace zoupar to zouwan, Goth. táujan, AS. tawian (facere, parare), and assume the operation of some anomalous change of the w into v, b, p. (6) Even the Lith. daryti, Lett. darriht (facere), and the Slav. tvoríti (facere, creare, fingere) are worth considering. ---Another term no less perplexing is one peculiar to the Saxon branch of our race. In L. Saxony they still say for conjuring or soothsaying, wikhen, wicken (Ssp. 2, 13. Homeyer p. 117 var. x) and wigelen (wichelen), for fortune-teller wikker, wichler, for witch wikkerske, for sorcery wichelie. So in Nethl. both wikken and wichelen, wikkerij and wichelarij; M. Nethl. wikelare ariolus, Maerl. 2, 323. 348, wigelare, Kästner's Bruchst. 42b, wigelinge vaticinium 12b. The AS. also has the two forms: both wiccian fascinare, wicce saga, wiccungdôm (Cædm. 223, 17) or wiccancrœft ars magica; and wiglian ariolari, wigelere augur, wigelung augurium, incantatio; while the Fris. transposes the letters, wiliga incantatio, Richth. 401, 21. The Engl. has witch = wicce; from the AS. verb has survived its partic. wicked (perversus, maledictus), and O. Engl. had an adj. wikke meaning the same; add wizard, but all the L-forms have disappeared. The word is unknown to any HG. dialect, old or new; (7) yet I believe it springs from a root common to all Teutonic tongues, viz. veihan (no. 201), which again had originally the sense of facere, conficere, sacrare, and from which came the adj. veihs (sacer), OHG. wîh, and the noun vaíhts (res), conf. Slav. tvar, tvor (creatura, ktisij). We know that vaíhts, wight, acquired the sense of dæmon (p. 440-1), and the ON. vœttr (örm vættr, poor wight) means a witch in Sæm. 214b. I treat the kk in wikken as I did that in Ecke from the root agan (p. 237), and this is supported by the g in wigelen and ch in wichelen (evidently a ch = h). ---Near in meaning, though unrelated in origin, seems the OHG. wîzago, AS. wîtega, wîtga, Cædm. 218, 18. 224, 13, our weissage, prophet, soothsayer, but in a good, not in a bad sense; the ON. form vitki, Sæm. 63a. 118a, stands for vitugi (conf. vitug 94a), as ecki, eitki does for eitgi (Gramm. 3, 738), and vætki for vætgi. This vitki has been wrongly identified with AS. wicce: never does an AS. cc result from tg, though it becomes tch in English. (8) The corresponding verb is OHG. wîzagôn, AS. wîtegian, M. Nethl. witegen, Diut. 2, 202b. ---Equivalent at first to wîtega and vitki were the ON. spâmaðr, spâkona, spâdîs (pp. 94. 402): but from signifying the gift of wisdom and prediction as it resides in priest and poet, (9) they gradually declined into the sense of noxious wizard and witch. Even Snorri's for-spâr and fiöl-kunnigr (p. 1031n.) had already acquired the bad secondary sense. Fiölkunnigr (multiscius) came to mean magician, and fiöl-kunnâtta fiölkýngi, and even the simple kýngi (= kunnugi) sorcery. This kýngi was learnt as a profession: 'Rögnvaldr nam fiölkýngi,' Har. Hârf. saga cap. 36. Walther 116, 29 says of a lady wondrous fair: 'daz si iht anders künne (that she was up to other tricks, knew too much), daz soll man übergeben (you are not to imagine).' Hans Sachs calls an old sorceress by turns 'die alt unhuld' and 'die weise frau' iv. 3, 32-3 (see Suppl.).

Inasmuch as spying is foreseeing and seeing, there is another word for conjuring that I can connect with it. Without any bodily contact, things may be acted upon by mere looking, by the evil eye: this in our older speech was called entschen (p. 461).

But as the vates, beside seeing and knowing, has also to sing the mystic strain and speak the spell, there must from the earliest times have been words to express conjuring, like our present beschreien, beschwatzen, berufen, überrufen, beschwören, (from cry, call, talk, swear). The OHG. kalan, AS. galan, ON. gala, was not only canere, but incantare, a recital with binding power, a singing of magic words. Such spoken charm was called in ON. galdr, AS. galdor, OHG. kalstar (not to be confounded with këlstar, sacrifice, p. 38-9), MHG. galsterîe, Schwanr. 813; we find galsterweiber for witches even in Mod. German; galdr in itself seems not to have meant anything criminal, for meingaldr (wicked spell) is particularized, Fornm. sög. 2, 137. ON. galdra fascinare, galdramaðr incantator, galdrakona saga; AS. galdorcrœft magia, galdere magus; OHG. kalstarari incantator, 'Medea diu handega galsterarâ,' N. Cap. 100. In like manner the Fr. charme, charmer come from carmen, and enchanter incantare from cantus, canere. The M. Lat. carminare, to enchant, gave birth to an OHG. garminari, germinari incantator, germinôd incantatio, Diut. 2, 326b. Gl. Doc. 213a. germenôd, N. Cap. 100; which afterwards died out of the language. The MHG. already used segen (blessing, from signum) for a magic formula, segenœrinne for enchantress. Chap. XXXVIII. will go more deeply into this necessary connexion of magic with the spoken word, with poetic art; but, as the mystery of language easily passes into that of symbol, as word and writing get indissolubly wedded, and in our idiom the time-honoured term rune embraces both tendencies; it throws some light on the affinity of zoupar with teáfor (p. 1033), and also on the method of divination (p. 1037) by rune-staves.

The Goth. afhugjan, to deprive of one's senses, bewilder, stands in Gal. 3, 1 for baskaineiu = fascinare; (10) AS. dyderian, bedyderian illudere, incantare, perhaps conn. with our HG. tattern, dottern (angi, delirare); we now say verblenden, daze, dazzle. That ON. tröll (p. 526), which stood for giants and spirits, is also applied to magicians, tröll-skapr is sorcery, the Sw. trolla, Dan. trylle incantare, trolldom, trolddom witchcraft; the Gulaþîngslag p. 137 has 'at vekja tröll' for conjuring, which reminds us of 'veckja hildi' and 'waking the Sælde,' p. 864. The Frisias say tsyoene fascinare, tsyoen-er, -ster sorcerer, -ress, which (as initial ts before i or y often stands for k) is no doubt to be explained by the ON. kyu in its collateral sense of monstrum, conf. MHG. kunder. I cannot satisfactorily account for an O. Sw. viþskipli, used in the Vestgötalag for magic, not of the worst kind, but what can be expiated by penance: 'far konä meþ viþskiplum' p. 153; 'värþer taken meþ viþskipplum,' p. 228; 'convictus de widskiplum,' p. 321; it is plainly the present vidskepelse superstitio; skipa is ordinare, facere, and the wrongness must lie in the vid; conf. beginn. of ch. XXXV.

We find seiðr meaning magic already in the Edda: 'seið hon kunni,' said of a vala or völva, Sæm. 4; seiðberender 118a are magicians, who stand on a par with völur and vitkar; and the word becomes commoner in the sagas. If we might spell it seyðr (as one poem has it in Fornald. sög. 2, 130), we should get both an easy derivation from siôða to seethe, and another point of contact with Goth. sáuþs, p. 40. Seiðmaðr is magician, seiðkona, seyðkona a wise woman, one that skills to seethe and cook magic remedies. (11) Meanwhile seiðr occurs clearly as a vowel-change from sîða, Yngl. saga cap. 16-7, Loki reproaches Oðinn with having practised sorcery: 'þik sîða koðo,' Sæm. 63a, and I have never seen siôða put for it; so the two words, even if cognate, must remain apart, or find their justification in an exceptional shifting from the 4th to the 5th

series of vowel-change.

The OHG. puozan, AS. bêtan, is emendare, but also mederi, to remedy, heal; in Westphalia böten (12) still expresses the action of old-fashioned charms as opposed to scientific medicine, Superst. I, 873; the Teutonista gives boiten as synon. with conjuring, and the M. Nethl. ût boeten is sanare (Reinh. 5394). (13)

Now, as the concocting of remedies and that of poisons easily fall into one, the OHG. luppi, AS. lyf, MHG. lüppe, is used of poisoning and bewitching: 'lüppe und zouber trîben,' Berth. 12, and lüppœrinne 58 is sorceress, exactly as veneficium and venefica stand related in Latin; and the Goth. lubjaleisei, Gal. 5, 20 is farmakeia, sorcery, and leisei is like list in zouberlist, Iw. 1284. Even the Goth. lêkeis, OHG. lâhhi (leech, medicus in the good honest sense), and lâhhinôn (mederi), lâhhan (remedium) lie at the root of the words lâchenœrinne enchantress, Oberl. bîhteb. 46, lachsnen quackery, conjuring, lachsnerin witch, Stald. 2, 150.


1. I here use the verb wundern transitively (= to do wonders), in which sense its derivative wunderer meant a wonder-worker. Reinmar says, Ms. 2, 154b: 'wol dem wunder, daz der wunderære gewundert hât an der vil süezen.' God is the true wunderære, Ms. 2, 171b. Trist. 10013, who of all wonders hath control, Parz. 43, 9; mirabilis Deus, Helbl. 7, 12. But also a hero doing godlike deeds, e.g. Erek, earns the name of wunderære; in Etzels hofhaltung it is even applied, less fitly, to a savage devilish man, p. 943. Back

2. And a human origin for the same reason, p. 384n. Snorri calls Oðinn 'forspâr, fiölkunnigr,' and makes him 'galdr qveða,' Yngl. saga cap. 4. 5. 7. Saxo Gram. p. 13 ascribes to him 'praestigia,' and curiously divides all magicians (mathematici; see Forcellini sub v.) into three kinds, viz. giants, magi and deities (p. 9); conf. his statements (p. 103) on Thor and Othin 'magicae artis imbuti.' So the Chronicon Erici (circ. 1288) represents Odin as 'incantator et magus.' Back

3. M. Lat. factura (sortilegium), facturare (fascinare), affacturatrix (incantatrix); Ital. fattura (incantatio), fattucchiero, -ra, sorcerer, -ress; Prov. fachurar, faiturar, to conjure, fachilieira, faitileira, sorceress; O. Fr. faiture, faicturerie, sorcery; Span. hecho (facinus), hechizo (incantatio), hechizar conjure, hechicero, -ra, sorcerer, -ress. Back

4. So the Lüneburg Wendic tóblatsch sorcerer (Eccard p. 291), tobalar sorcerer, towlatza, toblarska sorceress (Jugler's Wtb.), seem borrowed from German, as other Slavic dialects have nothing similar; for the Slovèn. zóper magic, zóprati to conjure, zopernik, -nitza sorcerer, -ress, are certainly the Germ. zauber, etc. Back

5. Is the derivation of our ziffer, Engl. cipher, Fr. chiffre, It. cifra, cifera (secret writing) from an Arabic word a certainty? Ducange sub v. cifrae has examples from the 12th cent. The AS. word has a striking resemblance. Back

6. Our gelb, farbe, gerben, mürbe, all have w in MHG. Back

7. Vegius in the Lex Burg. 16, 3 and OHG. 1, 8 has been taken to mean magician; but, as the rubric 'viator' in the last passage shows, it is one who fetches and carries, index, delator. Back

8. Of like meaning are: weiser mann, weise frau, kluge frau; ON. vîsindamaðr, sage, natural philosopher, Fornald. sög. 1, 5; Serv. vietcht peritus, vietchtats, -titsa veneficus, -ca; Pol. wieszczka sorceress, fortune-teller, wieszczyka night-hag, lamia; Slovèn. vezha witch. Back

9. Analogous is the O. Fr. devin, divin, magician diviner. Back

10. Is this, or is the Ital. fasciare, the source of Fr. fâcher, formerly fascher, irritare, Span. enfadar? Back

11. Seyðr or sauðr is a poetic word for a fire to cook by: 'â seyði bera,' Sæm. 54a, to set on the fire, take to cook, make to boil. Back

12. Roth de nomin. vet. Germ. med. p. 139. Back

13. Foreign terms are less interesting, e.g. AS. drý magus, pl. drýas, drycrœft magia, whose Celtic origin is betrayed by the familiar name of Druid; Ir. draoi wizard, draoidheachd sorcery. Nigrômanzie already in medieval poets, Ms. 2, 10b; 'der list von nigrômanzî,' Parz. 453, 17. 617, 12, list m. answering to ON. îð rôtt, which Snorri uses of magic; nigromancîe, Maerl. 2, 261. 'der swarzen buoche wis,' Troj. 7411. 'suochen an den swarzen buochen,' Martina 20a. 'nû lêr etz in sîn swarzez buoch, daz ime der hellemôr hât gegeben,' Walth. 33, 7. Black art, black artist, not till a later time. All this came of misunderstanding the Gr. nekromanteia. In the Ulm Vocab. of 1475 we read: 'nigramansia dicitur divinatio facta per nigros, i.e. mortuos, vel super mortuos, vel cum mortuis.' A curious statement in Bit. 79 about Toledo: 'ein berc lît nâhen da bî, dâ der list nigrômanzî von êrste wart erfunden (first invented);' another opinion propounded in Herbort 9372. Our Mid. Ages saddled the Saracens in Spain and Apulia with its invention: 'ein püllisch zouber,' Ms. 2, 133b. Back

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