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Posted Under Paganism & Witchcraft

A Short History of Swedish Folk Magic: Inspire Your Current Practice with Folk Magic from the Past

Old Book and Magical Items

I recently went to Sweden and spent some time thinking about (read: had a few random thoughts about) older Swedish folk magic and the types of such magic that are similar to the magic that I practice. (There is an abundance of folk magic that differs greatly from my practice, but that is material for a different article.)

Plenty of Swedish folk magic was learned from Southern European Catholic monks who came to Sweden. Some formulations of magic that the monks brought are believed to have originated in the 10th or 11th century. The monks also "Christianized" existing Swedish incantations that were based on belief in the Norse gods, the Aesir and the Vanir. After the Reformation in Sweden that started in 1527, the Catholic monks moved from the monasteries and out into the mundane world, where they practiced healing and further taught their skills to wise men and women.

As a result, a considerable portion of the actual magical formulas in Swedish folk magic is based on Jesus or the Virgin Mary coming to the aid of the magical practitioner. In 1412, it became illegal to use formulas that used words or sigils that did not appear in the Bible, and only priests could use them—though this didn't stop folk magic from thriving around the country.

Because of the strong Christian influence, and because some magical formulas rhyme in Swedish but would not if translated to English, I won't quote any actual incantations but rather discuss the approach to magic that was practiced. I will only discuss formulas that are comparable to the magic I practice—not those that require you to use the tongue of a swallow, human bones from a graveyard, or the blood of a bat, usually for no discernible reason.

In old Swedish folk magic tradition, there were rules on how knowledge of folk magic should be transferred. It was commonly held that it must be generational—from an older teacher to a younger student. If the student were older than the teacher, the magic would lose its power. Also standard was that the knowledge transfer had to be from a teacher of one gender to a student of the opposite gender—man to woman or woman to man). (The latter is also seen in some modern-day Wiccan traditions.)

In my magical practice, it is vital to believe that the magic will work. Any doubt about whether a spell will be successful while casting it sends doubt into the Universe, and when the Universe senses doubt, doubt is what you get rather than success. The same belief was held at least in the 19th century in Sweden and maybe earlier.

The earlier Swedish folk magic did not explicitly manipulate energy. The belief was that magic resides in the words and the form of the incantation. Therefore, rhyming couplets are common. It was also thought that the hands are sources of magic. This belief was especially strong for healing. The same idea is still seen in forms of Reiki and, of course, in the Catholic "laying on of hands" for healings, ordinations, and blessings (though, in both cases, one can argue that the hands are not the source, just the conduit.) The practitioners' breath was also thought to have magical power, so blowing on the subject to set a spell was often practiced. I do that also, still! Among other practices, I breathe on a thoughtform to give it life. In the Catholic Church, blowing is also practiced under the term "insufflation."

In Swedish folk magic, magic also resides in saliva. In Sweden (as in other cultures), if a black cat crosses in front of you, you need to spit three times to avert bad luck. That repetition of three is also common in other traditions.

In the tradition of Wicca that I practice, when we invite a deity to participate in a Circle, we get the attention of the deity by calling them in three different ways, usually first by name, followed by descriptions, e.g., "I call upon Thee, Freya, teacher of seidr and owner of Brisingamen and Hildisvini." Only once we have the attention of the deity, having made certain that there is no possibility of confusion about whom we are calling, do we invite them to participate.

In Swedish folk healing practices, there is a parallel concept. First, that which needs to be healed is called out by name, sometimes a long list of names, and by descriptions. The healer calls out to the disease or the entity causing the disease, making sure that there is no confusion on what needs to be removed. This step means that the healer gets a magical grip on the disease or disease-causing entity. Only once this gripping is complete does the healer go on to eliminate the disease. The elimination step can consist of ordering the condition to leave, or it can consist of magically minimizing it into oblivion. Ordering a magically gripped sickness to leave can be as straightforward as "I tell you and order you, to leave and never return to the body of Lisa." Magically minimizing something like a pimple or a wart can be done in various ways, such as telling the pimple or wart that it is now like snow in the sunshine, or repeatedly writing the name of the issue on a piece of paper, removing one letter for each row.

PIMPLE
PIMPL
PIMP
PIM
PI
P
.

As you can see, sympathetic magic abounds in Swedish folk magic, especially the Law of Similarity, the concept that "Like produces like," which is frequently used. A formula to cause strife between husband and wife says to hardboil an egg, write their names on the egg (one on each half), and then give one half to a cat and the other half to a dog. Yet another example is to say, "I saw a swan" when starting laundry to make the clothes come out white. (Saying, "I saw a raven" is, however, not such a good idea for your whites.)

One folk magic spell I would not perform is comparing pain to a decomposing body in the ground, saying that the pain will go away just like a body disappears. Given that it takes awfully long (decades) for a body to completely disappear, I would say this particular one is poorly thought out!

In my yard, I have some grapevines. Swedish folk magic says that you should burn the vines while there are grapes on them and then make soap from the resulting ashes. To get beautiful, thick hair, wash your hair with that soap. I have not tried it, but I just might! I interpret this as the grapes are growing, so the tree is vigorous, and you transfer that vigor to the roots of your hair.

Apart from what is discussed above, most of the folk magic practices that I found appear to have little rationale behind them. The ones that seem the most logical involve stories about Jesus and Mary; these are not Bible stories but made-up stories to fit the aim of the spell. In earlier times, these may or may not have instead referred to Norse gods—there is at least one documented example of that. In a forthcoming article, I will focus on the Christian-based spells and attempt to convert them to religious spells using Norse or other deities. I put the rest of the spells, those involving human skulls and random ingredients and such, in the category of superstition.

Looking for more ways to use historical practices to inspire your own spellcraft? Learn how to write spells that aren't superstition with my book Spells from Scratch, which explores well-established principles of magic that will support your practice and improve castings written by others. Discover what steps are required to create a spell, when to cast spells for the best results, and how to use correspondences to fuel your magic. Harness the power of sigils, brew healing potions, create amulets to protect against evil, give life to thoughtforms for long-lasting magic, and much more.

References: Johnson, Thomas K. Tidebast Och Va?ndelrot: Magical Representations in the Swedish Black Art Book Tradition, 2010.
Klintberg, Bengt Af. Svenska Trollformler. Wahlstro?m, 2016.
Mitchell, Stephen A. Witchcraft and Magic in the Nordic Middle Ages. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013.

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About Phoenix Silverstar

Phoenix Silverstar is a member of the Aquarian Tabernacle Church and former Dean of Faculty and teacher at the Woolston-Steen Theological Seminary, having retired at the end of 2021. She is a longtime practitioner of magic ...

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