Page:Folk-lore - A Quarterly Review. Volume 17, 1906.djvu/437

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page needs to be proofread.


Custom and Belief in Icelandic Sagas. 421

VII. Magic.

The belief in the practice of magic was general in Iceland at the time of the saga-writing. There is much sameness in the spells ; and the frequency with which the same names occur seems to suggest that in many cases the sorcery was a conventional incident. Even so, how- ever, there must be some basis of tradition. The best sagas contain incidents of the kind. In some cases the sorcery is connected with sacrifice, though this may be a late attempt to discredit pagan ritual ; in others the spells are of an imitative kind. While those who practised divination were respected and respectable, those who practised sorcery were not, though many had recourse to their help. The combatants in a duel often applied for help to a sorceress, who could make a man wound-proof, or blunt the edges of his adversary's sword ; sometimes the spells affected the inclinations or desires, or the destiny of a man ; rain-spells and other weather-charms are of frequent occurrence. The spell could be rendered ineffec- tive if the sorcerer were watched. Those who possessed magic powers are called fjolkiinnigr {fjol, much ; kiinnigr, wise), and hamramr (shape-shifting, from hamr, a shape) ; and the power of changing shape, as well as that of casting illusions, belonged to them.

I. Shape-shifting.

This is sometimes represented as genuine change of form, sometimes as the result of a glamour thrown over bystanders. The origin of a name is attributed to it certainly in one, and possibly in two instances :

1. {Hat-^ar Saga, 950.) Bjorn Blasi'Sr was the son of

UlfheSin, son of Ulfhamr, son of Ulfr, son of Ulfhamr the shape-shifter.

2. {Egifs Saga, 825.) Ulf's custom was to rise early

. . . Every evening he became bad-tempered, so