Teutonic Occult Practices



The Teutonic or " Germanic " nations, embracing peoples of High and Low German speech, Dutch, Danes, and Scandinavians, have always displayed and still display a marked leaning towards the study and consideration of the occult. We are, however, concerned here with their attitude towards the hidden sciences in more ancient times, and must refer the reader to the article on " Germany " and the other countries alluded to for information upon mediaeval and modern occultism in them.
But little can be gleaned from the writings of classical authors upon the subject, and it is not until we approach the middle ages, the contemporary manuscripts concerning the traditions of an earlier day, and the works of such writers as Snorre Sturluson and Saemund (The Eddas) Saxo-Grammaticus, and such epics or pseudo-histories as The Nibelungenlied that we find any light thrown upon the dark places of Teutonic magical practice and belief. From the consideration of such authorities we arrive at several basic conclusions: (i) That magic with the Teutons was non-hierophantic, and was not in any respect the province of the priesthood, as with the Celtic Druids; (2) That women were its chief conesrvators ; (3) That it principally resided in the study and elucidation of the runic script, in the same manner as in early Egypt it was part and parcel of the ability to decipher the hieroglyphic characters. Passing from the first conclusion, which is self-evident, as we discover all sorts and conditions of people dabbling in magical practice, we find that to a great extent sorcery— for efforts seem to have been confined mostly to black magic—was principally the province of women. This is to be explained, perhaps, by the circumstance that only those who could read the runes—that is, those who could read at all—were able to undertake the study of the occult, and that therefore the unlettered warrior, too restless for the repose of study, was barred from all advance in the subject. We find women in all ranks of life addicted to the practice of sorcery, from the queen on the throne to the wise-woman or witch dwelling apart from the community. Thus the mother-in-law of Siegfried bewitches him by a draught, and scores of similar instances could be adduced. At the same time the general type of ancient Teutonic magic is not very high, it is greatiy hampered by human considerations, and is much at the mercy of the human element on which it acts, and the very human desires which call it forth. Indeed in many cases it is rendered nugatory by the mere cunning of the object upon which it is wreaked. In fine it does not rise very much above the type of sorcery in vogue among barbarian peoples at the present day. It is surprising, however, with all these weaknesses, how powerful a hold it contrived'to get upon the popular imagination, which was literally drenched with the belief in supernatural science.

Runes.—(German, rune ; Anglo-Saxon run ; Icelandic run). The word is derived from an old Low German word rattnen " to cut" or " to carve," and as the runes in more ancient times were invariably carved and not written, it latterly came to designate the characters themselves. As has been said, comparatively few were able to decipher them, and the elucidation was left to the curious, the ambitious among the female sex, and the leisured few in general, those perhaps including priests and lawmen. Consequently we find the power to decipher them an object of mysterious veneration among the ignorant and a belief that the ability to elucidate them meant the possession of magical powers. The possessors of this ability would in no wise minimise it, so that the belief in their prowess would flourish. Again, it is clear that a certain amount of patience and natural ability were accessary to the acquirement of such an intricate script.

The tradition that they were connected with sorcery has scarcely yet died out in some parts of Iceland. In later times the word runes came to be applied to all the alphabetical systems employed by the Teutonic peoples before the introduction of Christianity. Their origin is obscure,, some authorities denying that it is Teutonic, and asserting that they are merely a transformation or adaptation of the Greek characters, and others that they have a Phoenician or even cuneiform ancestry. That they are of non-Teutonic origin is highly probable, as may be inferred from their strong resemblance to other scripts and from the circumstance that it is highly unlikely that they could have been separately evolved by the Teutonic race in the state of comparative barbarism in which it was when they first came into general use. They have been divided into three systems—English, German, and Scandinavian— but the difference between these is merely local. They were not employed in early times for literary purposes, but for inscriptions only, which are usually found on stone monuments, weapons, implements, and personal ornaments-and furniture. In England runic inscriptions are found in the north only, where Scandinavian influence was strongest. The first symbols of the runic alphabet have the powers of the letters f, u, th, 6, r, c, for which reason the order of the runic letters is called not an alphabet but a futhorc. The system is symbolic. Thus its first quantity or letter pictures the head and horns of an ox, and is called feoh after that animal, the second is called ur, after the word for " bull," the third thorn, a tree, the others following os, a door ; rad, a saddle,; caen, a torch, all because of some fancied resemblance to the objects, or, more properly speaking, because they were probably derived or evolved from a purely pictorial system in which the pictures of the animals or objects enumerated above stood for the letters of the alphabet. Since these were cut, some connection may be permitted between Anglo-Saxon secgan, to say, and Latin secare, to cut, especially when we find secret signatures made of old by merely cutting a chip from the bark manuscript. In spelling, for example, the old sense of " spell" was a thin chip or shaving. Tacitus mentions that in Teutonic divination a rod cut from a fruit-bearing tree was cut into slips, and the slips, having marks on them, were thrown confusedly on a white garment to be taken up with prayer to the gods and interpreted as they were taken. A special use of light cuttings for such fateful cross-readings or " Virgilian lots," may have given to " spells " their particular association with the words of the magician.

Belief in Nature Spirits.—The scope of this work is entirely without the consideration of mythology proper, that is to say that the greater deities of the many human religious systems receive no treatment save in several special circumstances. But the lesser figures of mythology, those who enter into direct contact with man and assist him, or are connected with him, in magical practice, receive special and separate notice. Thus the duergar, or dwarfs trolls, undines, nixies, and all the countless host of Teutonic folk-lore are alluded to under their separate headings, and we have here only to consider their general connection with Teutonic man in his magical aspect. His belief in them was distinctly of an animistic character. The dwarfs and trolls inhabited the recesses of the mountains, caves, and the underworld. The nixies and undines dwelt in the " lakes, rivers, pools, and inlets of the sea. In general these were friendly to man, but objected to more than an occasional intercourse with him. Though not of the class of supernatural being who obey the behests of man in answer to magical summonses, these, especially the dwarfs, often acted as his instructors in art-magic, and many instances of this are to be met with in tales and romances of early Teutonic origin. The dwarfs were usually assisted by adventitious aids in their practice of magic, such as belts which endowed the wearer with strength, like that worn by King Laurin, shoes of swiftness, analogous to the seven-league boots of folk-tale, caps of invisibility, and so forth.

Witchcraft., with its accompaniment of diabolism was much more in favour among the northern Teutons than it was in Germany, and this circumstance has been attributed to their proximity to the Finns (q.v.), a race notorious for its magical propensities. In Norway, Orkney, and Shetland, we find the practice of sorcery almost exclusively in the hands of women of Finnish race, and there is little doubt that the Finns exercised upon the Teutons of Scandinavia the mythic influence of a conquered race, that is, they took full advantage of the terror inspired in their conquerors by an alien and unfamiliar religion and ritual, which partook largely of the magical. The principal machinery of Teutonic witchcraft was the raising of storms, the selling of pieces of knotted rope, each knot representing a wind, divination and prophecy, acquiring invisibility, and such magical practices as usually accompany a condition of semi-barbarism. In the North of Scotland the Teutonic and Celtic magical systems may be •said to have met and fused, but not to have clashed, as their many points of resemblance outweighed their differences. As the sea was the element of the people, we find it the chief element of the witch of the northern Teutons. Thus we discover in the saga of Friihjof, the two sea-witches Heyde and Ham riding the storm and sent by Helgi to raise a tempest which would drown Frithjof, and taking the shape of a bear and a storm-eagle. In the saga of Grettir the Strong we find a witch-wife, Thurid, sending adrift a magic log which should come to Grettir's island, and which should lead to his undoing. Animal transformation plays a considerable part in Teutonic magic and witchcraft. In early Germany the witch (hexe) seems to have been also a vampire.

Second Sight.—It was, however, in prophecy and divination that the Teutons excelled, and this was more rife among the more northern branches of the people than the southern. Prophetic utterance was usually Induced by ecstasy. But it was not the professional diviner alone who was capable of supernatural vision. Anyone under stress of excitement, and particularly if near death, might become " fey," that is prophetic, and great attention was invariably paid to utterances made whilst in this condition.


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