Modern practices identified by their practitioners as “witchcraft” have grown dramatically since the early 20th century. Generally portrayed as revivals of pre-Christian European ritual and spirituality, they are understood to involve varying degrees of magic, shamanism, folk medicine, spiritual healing, calling on elementals and spirits, veneration of ancient deities and archetypes, and attunement with the forces of nature.
The first Neopagan groups to publicly appear, during the 1950s and 60s, were Gerald Gardner’s Bricket Wood coven and Roy Bowers’ Clan of Tubal Cain. They operated as initiatory secret societies. Other individual practitioners and writers such as Paul Huson also claimed inheritance to surviving traditions of witchcraft.
During the 20th century, interest in witchcraft in English-speaking and European countries began to increase, inspired particularly by Margaret Murray’s theory of a pan-European witch-cult originally published in 1921, since discredited by further careful historical research. Interest was intensified, however, by Gerald Gardner’s claim in 1954 in Witchcraft Today that a form of witchcraft still existed in England. The truth of Gardner’s claim is now disputed too, with different historians offering evidence for or against the religion’s existence prior to Gardner.
The Wicca that Gardner initially taught was a witchcraft religion having a lot in common with Margaret Murray’s hypothetically posited cult of the 1920s. Indeed, Murray wrote an introduction to Gardner’s Witchcraft Today, in effect putting her stamp of approval on it. Wicca is now practised as a religion of an initiatory secret society nature with positive ethical principles, organised into autonomous covens and led by a High Priesthood. There is also a large “Eclectic Wiccan” movement of individuals and groups who share key Wiccan beliefs but have no initiatory connection or affiliation with traditional Wicca. Wiccan writings and ritual show borrowings from a number of sources including 19th and 20th-century ceremonial magic, the medieval grimoire known as the Key of Solomon, Aleister Crowley’s Ordo Templi Orientis and pre-Christian religions. Both men and women are equally termed “witches.” They practice a form of duotheistic universalism.
Since Gardner’s death in 1964, the Wicca that he claimed he was initiated into has attracted many initiates, becoming the largest of the various witchcraft traditions in the Western world, and has influenced other Neopagan and occult movements.
Stregheria is an Italian witchcraft religion popularised in the 1980s by Raven Grimassi, who claims that it evolved within the ancient Etruscan religion of Italian peasants who worked under the Catholic upper classes.
Modern Stregheria closely resembles Charles Leland’s controversial late-19th-century account of a surviving Italian religion of witchcraft, worshipping the Goddess Diana, her brother Dianus/Lucifer, and their daughter Aradia. Leland’s witches do not see Lucifer as the evil Satan that Christians see, but a benevolent god of the Sun and Moon.
The ritual format of contemporary Stregheria is roughly similar to that of other Neopagan witchcraft religions such as Wicca. The pentagram is the most common symbol of religious identity. Most followers celebrate a series of eight festivals equivalent to the Wiccan Wheel of the Year, though others follow the ancient Roman festivals. An emphasis is placed on ancestor worship.
The Feri Tradition is a modern traditional witchcraft practice founded by Victor Henry Anderson and his wife Cora. It is an ecstatic tradition which places strong emphasis on sensual experience and awareness, including sexual mysticism, which is not limited to heterosexual expression.
Most practitioners worship three main deities; the Star Goddess, and two divine twins, one of whom is the blue God. They believe that there are three parts to the human soul, a belief taken from the Hawaiian religion of Huna as described by Max Freedom Long.
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Good and Evil
Accusations of Witchcraft
Éva Pócs states that reasons for accusations of witchcraft fall into four general categories:
- A person was caught in the act of positive or negative sorcery
- A well-meaning sorcerer or healer lost their clients’ or the authorities’ trust
- A person did nothing more than gain the enmity of their neighbours
- A person was reputed to be a witch and surrounded with an aura of witch-beliefs or Occultism
She identifies three varieties of witch in popular belief:
- The “neighbourhood witch” or “social witch”: a witch who curses a neighbour following some conflict.
- The “magical” or “sorcerer” witch: either a professional healer, sorcerer, seer or midwife, or a person who has through magic increased her fortune to the perceived detriment of a neighbouring household; due to neighbourly or community rivalries and the ambiguity between positive and negative magic, such individuals can become labelled as witches.
- The “supernatural” or “night” witch: portrayed in court narratives as a demon appearing in visions and dreams.
“Neighbourhood witches” are the product of neighbourhood tensions, and are found only in self-sufficient serf village communities where the inhabitants largely rely on each other. Such accusations follow the breaking of some social norm, such as the failure to return a borrowed item, and any person part of the normal social exchange could potentially fall under suspicion. Claims of “sorcerer” witches and “supernatural” witches could arise out of social tensions, but not exclusively; the supernatural witch in particular often had nothing to do with communal conflict, but expressed tensions between the human and supernatural worlds; and in Eastern and Southeastern Europe such supernatural witches became an ideology explaining calamities that befell entire communities.
Violence Related to Accusations
Belief in witchcraft continues to be present today in some societies and accusations of witchcraft are the trigger of serious forms of violence, including murder. Such incidents are common in places such as Burkina Faso, Ghana, India, Kenya, Malawi, Nepal and Tanzania. Accusations of witchcraft are sometimes linked to personal disputes, jealousy, and conflicts between neighbors or family over land or inheritance. Witchcraft related violence is often discussed as a serious issue in the broader context of violence against women.
In Tanzania, about 500 older women are murdered each year following accusations against them of witchcraft. Apart from extrajudicial violence, there is also state-sanctioned violence in some jurisdictions. For instance, in Saudi Arabia practicing ‘witchcraft and sorcery’ is a crime punishable by death and the country has executed people for this crime in 2011, 2012 and 2014.
Children in some regions of the world, such as parts of Africa, are also vulnerable to violence related to witchcraft accusations. Such incidents have also occurred in immigrant communities in the UK, including the much publicized case of the murder of Victoria Climbié.
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Good and Evil
In Christianity and Islam, sorcery came to be associated with heresy and apostasy and to be viewed as evil. Among the Catholics, Protestants, and secular leadership of the European Late Medieval/Early Modern period, fears about witchcraft rose to fever pitch, and sometimes led to large-scale witch-hunts. The key century was the fifteenth, which saw a dramatic rise in awareness and terror of witchchraft, culminating in the publication of the Malleus Maleficarum but prepared by such fanatical popular preachers as Bernardino of Siena. Throughout this time, it was increasingly believed that Christianity was engaged in an apocalyptic battle against the Devil and his secret army of witches, who had entered into a diabolical pact. In total, tens or hundreds of thousands of people were executed, and others were imprisoned, tortured, banished, and had lands and possessions confiscated. The majority of those accused were women, though in some regions the majority were men. “Warlock” is sometimes mistakenly used for male witch. Accusations of witchcraft were often combined with other charges of heresy against such groups as the Cathars and Waldensians.
The Malleus Maleficarum, (Latin for “Hammer of The Witches) was a witch-hunting manual written in 1486 by two German monks, Heinrich Kramer and Jacob Sprenger. It was used by both Catholics and Protestants for several hundred years, outlining how to identify a witch, what makes a woman more likely than a man to be a witch, how to put a witch on trial, and how to punish a witch. The book defines a witch as evil and typically female. The book became the handbook for secular courts throughout Renaissance Europe, but was not used by the Inquisition, which even cautioned against relying on the work, and was later officially condemned by the Catholic Church in 1490.
In the modern Western world, witchcraft accusations have often accompanied the satanic ritual abuse moral panic. Such accusations are a counterpart to blood libel of various kinds, which may be found throughout history across the globe.
Throughout the early modern period, the English term “witch” was not exclusively negative in meaning, and could also indicate cunning folk. “There were a number of interchangeable terms for these practitioners, ‘white’, ‘good’, or ‘unbinding’ witches, blessers, wizards, sorcerers, however ‘cunning-man’ and ‘wise-man’ were the most frequent.” The contemporary Reginald Scot noted, “At this day it is indifferent to say in the English tongue, ‘she is a witch’ or ‘she is a wise woman'”. Folk magicians throughout Europe were often viewed ambivalently by communities, and were considered as capable of harming as of healing, which could lead to their being accused as “witches” in the negative sense. Many English “witches” convicted of consorting with demons seem to have been cunning folk whose fairy familiars had been demonised; many French devins-guerisseurs (“diviner-healers”) were accused of witchcraft, and over one half the accused witches in Hungary seem to have been healers.
Some of the healers and diviners historically accused of witchcraft have considered themselves mediators between the mundane and spiritual worlds, roughly equivalent to shamans. Such people described their contacts with fairies, spirits often involving out-of-body experiences and travelling through the realms of an “other-world”. Beliefs of this nature are implied in the folklore of much of Europe, and were explicitly described by accused witches in central and southern Europe. Repeated themes include participation in processions of the dead or large feasts, often presided over by a horned male deity or a female divinity who teaches magic and gives prophecies; and participation in battles against evil spirits, “vampires”, or “witches” to win fertility and prosperity for the community.
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Etymology and Definitions
The word “witchcraft” derives from the Old English wiccecræft, a compound of “wicce” (“witch”) and “cræft” (“craft”).
In anthropological terminology, a “witch” differs from a sorcerer in that they do not use physical tools or actions to curse; their maleficium is perceived as extending from some intangible inner quality, and the person may be unaware that they are a “witch”, or may have been convinced of their own nature by the suggestion of others. This definition was pioneered in a study of central African magical beliefs by E. E. Evans-Pritchard, who cautioned that it might not correspond with normal English usage.
Historians of European witchcraft have found the anthropological definition difficult to apply to European and British witchcraft, where “witches” could equally use (or be accused of using) physical techniques, as well as some who really had attempted to cause harm by thought alone. European witchcraft is seen by historians and anthropologists as an ideology for explaining misfortune; however, this ideology has manifested in diverse ways, as described below.
Historically the witchcraft label has been applied to practices people believe influence the mind, body, or property of others against their will – or practices that the person doing the labeling believes undermine social or religious order. Some modern commentators believe the malefic nature of witchcraft is a Christian projection. The concept of a magic-worker influencing another person’s body or property against their will was clearly present in many cultures, as traditions in both folk magic and religious magic have the purpose of countering malicious magic or identifying malicious magic users. Many examples appear in ancient texts, such as those from Egypt and Babylonia. Malicious magic users can become a credible cause for disease, sickness in animals, bad luck, sudden death, impotence and other such misfortunes. Witchcraft of a more benign and socially acceptable sort may then be employed to turn the malevolence aside, or identify the supposed evil-doer so that punishment may be carried out. The folk magic used to identify or protect against malicious magic users is often indistinguishable from that used by the witches themselves.
There has also existed in popular belief the concept of white witches and white witchcraft, which is strictly benevolent. Many neopagan witches strongly identify with this concept, and profess ethical codes that prevent them from performing magic on a person without their request.
Where belief in malicious magic practices exists, such practitioners are typically forbidden by law as well as hated and feared by the general populace, while beneficial magic is tolerated or even accepted wholesale by the people – even if the orthodox establishment opposes it.
Probably the most obvious characteristic of a witch was the ability to cast a spell, “spell” being the word used to signify the means employed to carry out a magical action. A spell could consist of a set of words, a formula or verse, or a ritual action, or any combination of these. Spells traditionally were cast by many methods, such as by the inscription of runes or sigils on an object to give it magical powers; by the immolation or binding of a wax or clay image (poppet) of a person to affect him or her magically; by the recitation of incantations; by the performance of physical rituals; by the employment of magical herbs as amulets or potions; by gazing at mirrors, swords or other specula (scrying) for purposes of divination; and by many other means.
Necromancy (Conjuring the Dead)
Strictly speaking, “necromancy” is the practice of conjuring the spirits of the dead for divination or prophecy – although the term has also been applied to raising the dead for other purposes. The biblical Witch of Endor performed it (1 Sam. 28), and it is among the witchcraft practices condemned by Ælfric of Eynsham:
- Witches still go to cross-roads and to heathen burials with their delusive magic and call to the devil; and he comes to them in the likeness of the man that is buried there, as if he arise from death.
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A magic circle is circle (or sphere, field) of space marked out by practitioners of many branches of ritual magic, which they generally believe will contain energy and form a sacred space, or will provide them a form of magical protection, or both. It may be marked physically, drawn in salt or chalk, for example, or merely visualised. Its spiritual significance is similar to that of mandala and yantra in some Eastern religions.
Common Terms and Practices
A solomonic magic circle with a triangle of conjuration in the east. This would be drawn on the ground, and the operator would stand within the protection of the circle while a spirit was conjured into the triangle.
Traditionally, circles were believed by ritual magicians to form a protective barrier between themselves and what they summoned. In modern times, practitioners generally cast magic circles to contain and concentrate the energy they raise during a ritual.
Creating a magic circle is known as casting a circle, circle casting, and various other names.
There are many published techniques for casting a circle, and many groups and individuals have their own unique methods. The common feature of these practices is that a boundary is traced around the working area. Some witchcraft traditions say that one must trace around the circle deosil three times. There is variation over which direction one should start in.
Circles may or may not be physically marked out on the ground, and a variety of elaborate patterns for circle markings can be found in grimoires and magical manuals, often involving angelic and divine names. Such markings, or a simple unadorned circle, may be drawn in chalk or salt, or indicated by other means such as with a cord.
The four cardinal directions are often prominently marked, such as with four candles. In ceremonial magic traditions the four directions are commonly related to the four archangels Michael, Gabriel, Raphael and Uriel (or Auriel), or the four classical elements, and also have four associated names of God. Other ceremonial traditions have candles between the quarters, i.e. in the north-east, north-west and so on. Often, an incantation will be recited stating the purpose and nature of the circle, often repeating an assortment of divine and angelic names.
In Wicca, a circle is typically nine feet in diameter, though the size can vary depending on the purpose of the circle, and the preference of the caster.
Some varieties of Wicca use the common ceremonial colour attributions for their “quarter candles”: yellow for Air in the east, red for Fire in the south, blue for Water in the west and green for Earth in the north (though these attributions differ according to geographical location and individual philosophy).
The common technique for raising energy within the circle is by means of a cone of power.
The barrier is believed to be fragile, so that leaving or passing through the circle would weaken or dispel it. This is referred to as “breaking the circle”. It is generally advised that practitioners do not leave the circle unless absolutely necessary.
In order to leave a circle and keep it intact, Wiccans believe a door must be cut in the energy of the circle, normally on the East side. Whatever was used to cast the circle is used to cut the doorway, such as a sword, staff or knife (athame), a doorway is “cut” in the circle, at which point anything may pass through without harming the circle. This opening must be closed afterwards by “reconnecting” the lines of the circle.
The circle is usually closed by the practitioner after they have finished by drawing in the energy with the athame or whatever was used to make the circle including their hand (usually in a widdershins: that is, counter-clockwise fashion). This is called closing the circle or releasing the circle. The term “opening” is often used, representing the idea the circle has been expanded and dissipated rather than closed in on itself.
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A vial (also known as a phial or flacon) is a small glass or plastic vessel or bottle, often used to store medication as liquids, powders or capsules. They can also be used as scientific sample vessels; for instance, in autosampler devices in analytical chromatography. Vial-like glass containers date back to classical antiquity; modern vials are often made of plastics such as polypropylene.
There are several different types of commonly used closure systems, including screw vials (closed with a screw cap or dropper/pipette), lip vials (closed with a cork or plastic stopper) and crimp vials (closed with a rubber stopper and a metal cap). Plastic vials can have other closure systems, such as flip-tops or snap caps. A vial can be tubular, or have a bottle-like shape with a neck. The volume defined by the neck is known as the headspace. The bottom of a vial is usually flat, unlike test tubes, which have usually a rounded bottom. The small bottle-shaped vials typically used in laboratories are also known as bijou or McCartney’s bottles. The bijou bottle tends to be smaller, often with a volume of around 10 milliliters.
Instead of using bags or sachets to hold charms and power objects you may use tiny glass bottles. The items inside are visible and may be layered or suspended in oil or seeds. A cord or string may be attached so that the bottle can be worn or hung up.
This little vial holds a tiny protection runescript, combined with carefully selected gemstones and herbs believed in Wiccan and Pagan traditions to guard the wearer from negativity and harm, be it physical, emotional or spiritual. Wear as an amulet or hang in the home.
The pendant will be on a gunmetal chain in the length of your choice. This necklace comes ready for gift giving, in an organza bag alongside a tea-stained little scroll explaining the purpose of the pendant, as shown in the picture. I also include instructions on how to use your amulet, such as cleansing and empowering. While I create all of my spell items with serious intent and focus for you, it is also very important that you connect your own energy to it as well.
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A bag that has been sewn together is called a “sachet”. A sachet is usually made of muslin and may be cut into any shape (to suit the magic), such as a heart or a star before it’s sewn together. Sachets usually contain only botanical materials such as herbs and flowers.
Here are a few examples of herbs that you could use:
- Cedar: Female energy and protection
- Cinnamon: Protection and love
- Mint: Protection and luck
- Nutmeg: Luck and fidelity
- Rose Petals: Love
- Sage: Cleansing, healing and protection
Bags and sachets may be decorated with symbols or pictures that are relevant to the magic such as:
- Astrological Symbols
- Pictures of Animals
- Pictures of Mythic Animals
- Pictures of Sacred Beings
- Religious Symbols
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A charm bag is simply a magic spell inside a bag. They are spells in a bag and the most popular way of carrying power items with you.
To make a charm bag, simply fill with one or more magically charged items. Magically charged items may include herbs, stones, charms, drops of essential or magic oils, amulets and crystals.
Charm bags may be as simple as a square of fabric tied together or they may be beautifully embroidered hand made works of art. They may be made of silk, leather, metal or any fabric. The choice is yours, but keep in mind that the container is part of the spell.
- Gold: Wealth, protection and the God
- Silver: Prosperity, the Moon, psychic and the Goddess
- Yellow: Healing, and finding employment
- Orange: Communication, messages and travel
- Green: Prosperity, abundance, friendship, growth and nature
- Blue: Peace, calm, wisdom and benevolence
- Purple: Wisdom, mysteries, wealth, grandeur and justice
- Red: Success, strength, romance and protection
- Pink: Love, friendship and healing
- Brown: Houses, home, justice, Earth and permanence
- Black: Absorbs and dissolves baneful energy
Bags with drawstring closures are useful because you can open and close them, adding materials as they are found or needed. A closed bag is called a “hand”.
Here are a few examples of stones that you could place in your bag:
- Aluminum: Travel and communication
- Amethyst: Wisdom and psychic powers
- Aventurine: Healing and prosperity.
- Clear Quartz: Good for any purpose
- Copper: Love and healing
- Gold: Prosperity and protection
- Iron: Protection and strength
- Moonstone: Emotions, peace and love
- Rose Quartz: Love and harmony
- Silver: Protection, Lunar power, love and prosperity
- Tiger’s Eye: Wealth and protection
- Tin: Wealth and honour
Here are a few examples of charms that you could place in your bag:
- Acorn: Luck, prosperity,protection from lightning, and sexual potency
- Broom: Brushes away negative influences, sweeps in luck, protection, wealth and good into the home
- Clover: Life, luck and abundance
- Hammer: Luck and a means of driving out evil
- Horn: Repel the”evil eye”, a symbol of nature and fertility and sexuality
- Horseshoe: Luck
- Key: Power, luck which lock it opens, hidden things
- Lightning-Struck Wood: Protection against all harm
- Pine Cone: Luck, favourable influences,protection from harm, sexual power, repels baneful influences
- Religious Symbol: Symbols of various religions are held to be protective
- Salt: Purification, repels evil and attracts wealth
- Silver: Protection, wealth and the blessing of all Goddesses
- Toadstone: Heal illnesses and to repel evil and is a fossilized shark’s tooth
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Sealing wax is a wax material of a seal which, after melting, hardens quickly (to paper, parchment, ribbons and wire, and other material) forming a bond that is difficult to separate without noticeable tampering. Wax is used to verify something such as a document is unopened, to verify the sender’s identity, for example with a signet ring, and as decoration. Sealing wax can be used to take impressions of other seals. Wax was used to seal letters close and later, from about the 16th century, envelopes. Before sealing wax, the Romans used bitumen for this purpose.
Formulas vary, but there was a major shift after European trade with the Indies opened. In the Middle Ages sealing wax was typically made of beeswax and ‘Venice turpentine’, a greenish-yellow resinous extract of the European Larch tree. The earliest such wax was uncolored; later the wax was colored red with vermilion. From the 16th century it was compounded of various proportions of shellac, turpentine, resin, chalk or plaster, and coloring matter (often vermilion, or red lead), but not necessarily beeswax. The proportion of chalk varied; coarser grades are used to seal wine bottles and fruit preserves, finer grades for documents. In some situations, such as large seals on public documents, beeswax was used. On occasion, sealing wax has historically been perfumed by ambergris, musk and other scents.
By 1866 many colors were available: gold (using mica), blue (using smalt or verditer), black (using lamp black), white (using lead white), yellow (using the mercuric mineral turpeth, also known as Schuetteite), green (using verdigris) and so on. Some users, such as the British Crown, assigned different colors to different types of documents. Today a range of synthetic colors is available.
Method of Application
Sealing wax is available in the form of sticks, sometimes with a wick, or as granules. The stick is melted at one end (but not ignited or blackened), or the granules heated in a spoon, normally using a flame, and then placed where required, usually on the flap of an envelope. While the wax is still soft, the seal (preferably at the same temperature as the wax, for the best impression) should be quickly and firmly pressed into it and released.
The modern day has brought sealing wax to a new level of use and application. Traditional sealing wax candles are produced in Canada, France and Scotland, with formulations similar to those used historically.
Since the advent of a postal system, the use of sealing wax has become more for ceremony than security. Modern times have required new styles of wax, allowing for mailing of the seal without damage or removal. These new waxes are flexible for mailing and are referred to as glue-gun sealing wax, faux sealing wax and flexible sealing wax.
Seal your spells, parchments, petitions, letters, and more with this elegant Wicca Triquetra & Pagan Pentacle Sealing Wax! This sealing wax kit comes with one stick of natural, purple sealing wax and a metal seal, which has been engraved with the Wiccan symbol of the Triquetra & Pentacle. This makes a great gift for Witches, Pagans, Heathens, Celts and friends.
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Runes are the letters in a set of related alphabets known as runic alphabets, which were used to write various Germanic languages before the adoption of the Latin alphabet and for specialised purposes thereafter. The Scandinavian variants are also known as futhark or fuþark (derived from their first six letters of the alphabet: F, U, Þ, A, R, and K); the Anglo-Saxon variant is futhorc or fuþorc (due to sound changes undergone in Old English by the names of those six letters).
Runology is the study of the runic alphabets, runic inscriptions, runestones, and their history. Runology forms a specialised branch of Germanic linguistics.
The earliest runic inscriptions date from around 150 AD. The characters were generally replaced by the Latin alphabet as the cultures that had used runes underwent Christianisation, by approximately 700 AD in central Europe and 1100 AD in northern Europe. However, the use of runes persisted for specialized purposes in northern Europe. Until the early 20th century, runes were used in rural Sweden for decorative purposes in Dalarna and on Runic calendars.
The three best-known runic alphabets are the Elder Futhark (around 150-800 AD), the Anglo-Saxon Futhorc (400-1100 AD), and the Younger Futhark (800-1100 AD). The Younger Futhark is divided further into the long-branch runes (also called Danish, although they were also used in Norway and Sweden); short-branch or Rök runes (also called Swedish-Norwegian, although they were also used in Denmark); and the stavlösa or Hälsinge runes (staveless runes). The Younger Futhark developed further into the Marcomannic runes, the Medieval runes (1100-1500 AD), and the Dalecarlian runes (around 1500-1800 AD).
There is some evidence that, in addition to being a writing system, runes historically served purposes of magic. This is the case from earliest epigraphic evidence of the Roman to Germanic Iron Age, with non-linguistic inscriptions and the alu word. An erilaz appears to have been a person versed in runes, including their magic applications.
In medieval sources, notably the Poetic Edda, the Sigrdrífumál mentions “victory runes” to be carved on a sword, “some on the grasp and some on the inlay, and name Tyr twice.”
In early modern and modern times, related folklore and superstition is recorded in the form of the Icelandic magical staves. In the early 20th century, Germanic mysticism coins new forms of “runic magic”, some of which were continued or developed further by contemporary adherents of Germanic Neopaganism. Modern systems of runic divination are based on Hermeticism, classical Occultism, and the I Ching.
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