Cooking with Vampires (Beginners Part 2)

Ancient magical spells often involve various ingredients that make our stomachs turn just thinking about them. Mashed toad, wing of fly, whisker of bat…

non-photographic facsimile of the Merseburg In...

Most of these magical incantations are, of course, from the pen of modern day writers like J K Rowling (Harry Potter series), the BBC’s Merlin team of writers or Shakespeare’s witches in M…beth (as in mmmmm….bloodbath, just in case any superstitious actors are reading this blog (as if!)).

Merlin’s TV spells are always in either Anglo Saxon or ancient gobbledegook, so we don’t actually know what is being used in his mentor Gaius’ concoctions.

So what about “real” magical incantations? Among the very few that have survived the ravages of time and fires of the inquisition there are two dating back to the Middle Ages, which are known as the Merseburg Charms or Merseburger Zaubersprüche.

They are in Old High German and are kept in Merseburg, a town on the river Saale, located some 14 km south of Halle in the German state of Saxony-Anhalt. The town was first mentioned in 850 and has many splendid ancient monuments as well as the University of Merseburg, which is a technical university of applied sciences.

These two incantations are the only known examples of ancient Germanic pagan beliefs that have been preserved in Old High German. They may not actually belong to the heritage of Merseburg, but they were discovered in a theological manuscript from the town of Fulda, which had been written in the 9th or 10th century and this ancient document had been stored in the library of the cathedral chapter of the lovely town of Merseburg.

The Bishopric of Merseburg was once an episcopal see located on the eastern borderline of the Duchy of Saxony in medieval times. Merseburg was situated almost exactly in its heart and here the pious inhabitants of the town built their Merseburg Cathedral between 1009 and 1018 to the glory of a no longer pagan, but Christian god.

Deutsch: Sicht aus dem Schlossgarten auf das S...

Deutsch: Sicht aus dem Schlossgarten auf das Schloss in Merseburg (Sachsen-Anhalt). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Merseburg incantations would have probably continued to languish forgotten in some library or on the desk of some dusty old scholar, but the Brothers Grimm discovered them during their travels and they published them in 1842 to the general amazement of the public.

Each of these charms is divided into two parts and they are generally believed to be the foreword to a much large piece of work that tells the story of a major (mythological) event. The first incantation is known as the Lösesegen in German (blessing of delivery (from evil)).

The verses chart the release of a group of warriors imprisoned after battle. Magical beings called the Idisen free the warriors from their shackles – and this brings me straight to Willow the Vampire and Valkyries, who rode out on the battle fields and took fallen heroes to Valhalla, where they lived out all eternity in splendour and honour.

The second incantation is about Wodan (Wotan) and Baldur, two Norse gods, who ride through the woods, when Baldur’s horse goes lame thanks to a dislocated foot. “Bone to bone, blood to blood, limb to limb, as if they were glued” goes the incantation, which Sinthgut, Sunna’s sister and Frija (Freya or Frigga) employ to heal the horse’s leg.

Similar charms or incantations to heal horses have been discovered in Norwegian folklore. This particular charm is perhaps more in line with the type of magical spell or incantation we are used to from William Shakespeare and modern writers.

Roughly at the same time as the document of Fulda was written, the Nine Herbs Charm was recorded in a manuscript in England. The incantation is meant to heal someone from the effects of poison and infection.

As the numbers nine and three are present throughout the verses, they are obviously a reference to Germanic paganism, where these two numbers are of great significance.

The application of nine herbs and the way in which the incantation is written suggest that the verses were initially written by an English pagan person, but  a later Christian influence is also present. Woden (Wotan) is also mentioned in the incantation, making it clearly a Germanic folklore item.

The herbs mugwort, cockspur grass, lamb’s cress, plantain, matricaria, nettle, crab-apple, thyme and fennel are mixed with apple juice and soap of all things to make an ointment, which is then placed in the mouth, over the ears and the wound of the ill person. While this no doubt fragrant stuff is applied, the healer sings the incantation three times.

Willow the Vampire loves animals and would never wish them harm. Using ground frog, wing of butterfly or fur of black cat would appal her. However, there’s one villain of the animal world, which Willow might not be too upset about grinding up to a pulp: the cane toad. This pesky amphibian will be the subject of my next blog.

Until then, I’ll be enjoying a cup of bloodwine with Bartholomeaow and Willow the Vampire.

(source of animation: heathersanimations.com, photo credits Wikipedia, original artwork copyright Maria Thermann)

It’s in the Trees!

Not strictly speaking a creature of the night – in fact not really a creature of anything – the oak is one of the most important ingredients to my Willow the Vampire stories. Few species of plants have had as great an impact on human life as the oak tree and from the very beginnings of recorded human history, oak trees have captured humanity’s imagination, be it for religious, cultural or artistic reasons.

The oak can best be described as the land equivalent of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Oak trees are a haven for all manner of creatures, day time or nocturnal. The average oak is home to at least thirty different species of birds, more than 200 species of moths, probably various kinds of fairies and a minimum of forty-five different kinds of bugs. A mature oak also generously “donates” some 100,000 acorns a year to feed squirrels and various other creatures such as wild boar and domesticated pigs, bears, deer, birds and a variety of rodents.

Wood pigeons are known to devour 120 acorns a day, while owls and bats use the cracks in the oak’s bark to make their home. Oak trees are incredibly long-lived and can, without the interference of mankind, live for thousands of years.

The origins of oak trees are lost in the mists of time. Oaks are part of the family Fagaceae, which includes beeches and chestnut trees; oaks belong to the species Quercus Alba and together with cousins beech and chestnut their history dates back at least 100 million years. It is unknown where oak trees first came into being. The super-continent Pangaea began to break up around 250 million years ago, when it split into two gigantic terrestrial crusts, of which Gondwana (see Leipzig Zoo’s Gondwanaland) was the southern mass. This later broke up further into what we now know as South America, Africa, Australia, India and Antarctica.

Oak trees in Bradgate Park This pair of oaks a...

Laurasia was the northern half and this split further into Europe, Greenland, Asia and North America. Somewhere on this northern mass of land oaks evolved into the key flowering species that floated across the northern hemisphere together with the continents we know today.

Oak trees used to be called the “Lords of the Forest” and in many cultures they are at the core of folklore and mythology, such as Dodona, which was the most ancient of all Greek oracles and was revered long before the rival oracle in Delphi ever uttered an enigmatic word. Some 4,000 years ago Neolithic farmers would gather under oak trees to worship their Mother Goddess, who communicated with them through the rustling of leaves. The Greek storyteller and writer Herodotus claimed a beam of oak had been used to build Jason’s boat The Argonaut.

With an axe in one hand, Winfrid (later Saint ...

With an axe in one hand, Winfrid (later Saint Boniface) holds a white crucifix over the fallen Thor’s Oak while one of his attendants pray and the other solemnly holds an axe. The Chatti, a Germanic tribe, look on. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Never mind the Greeks, Willow and her friends are facing rather miffed Norse gods, so they need all the help they can get, creature or no creature! So far, oak trees have proven rather useful in the battle to save the world.

Thor was symbolized by the oak because he was the god of thunder – oak trees, so our Norse ancestors had observed, were struck by lightning more often than other trees. Oak trees were often used as shrines and the older the trees were, the more worship took place under their branches. One of the most famous Norse oak shrines was Thor’s Oak, a very old oak tree that had survived for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years. Germanic pagans used to gather in Geismar in Northern Hesse, where the oak tree stood, and sought its protection against the misfortunes nature would throw at them. This continued until the year 723 when legend has it, the English Christian evangelist Winfried chopped it down to prove that Christ was the one and only God; rumour has it that the locals accepted Winfrid’s word and converted in “droves”, but it is far more likely they simply gave in to the ever increasing threat posed by brutal Christians.

Winfrid later became Germany’s patron Saint Boniface and ever since Christians destroyed the Norse pagan religion which had nothing but veneration for nature, Mother Earth has been on a downward spiral towards total destruction.

Collina d'Oro  , Sunflowerfield and Oak

There are many oak trees in Willow’s garden and on Farmer Edward’s farm. Stinkforthshire as a whole is blessed with oak trees and Willow’s sacred grove is also a circle of majestic oaks. As Willow the Vampire and the Würzburg Ghosts unfolds, we shall see what further significance oaks have in the little vampire’s life.

Stop calling me a Troll!

To those of you, who have already read Willow the Vampire and the Sacred Grove, it will come as no surprise to learn that trolls play a role in the on-going saga of Willow, her family and friends.

I grew up at the Baltic Sea and Scandinavian mythology has therefore always played a part in my life. The creatures of Norse folklore, giants, elves, dwarves and trolls for example, are also part and parcel of my own heritage.

In my Willow the Vampire stories I like to play with our perception of what is evil and what is not. In real life, not everything is clear cut, black or white. There are many shades of grey in between and sometimes the lines are rather blurred. As we have seen from this series of blog posts so far, many creatures of the night simply get a bad press because it suits humans to describe them as bad, as vermin, as something that’s in our way for whatever reason and must therefore be destroyed.

I have no doubt that, if we came across a troll in the street, we’d be terrified at their appearance. We sometimes describe somebody as a troll to put them down, insult them and make fun of the way they look.

In the Shetland and Orkneys, where Vikings once had settlements, the trolls changed to trows in a local adaptation of the Norse tongue the Viking settlers introduced into the islands. According to Wikipedia, the word troll now depicts somebody who puts out nasty online posts of an inflammatory nature or leaves nasty messages on forum discussion boards simply to provoke a response from the Internet community. An attention seeking idiot, in other words!

"Do not feed the Trolls" sign. Photo...

"Do not feed the Trolls" sign. Photographed in South-Africa, Troll-Park near Pretoria 🙂 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The noun troll can even refer to the stupid post or message left by the internet fool, while in its verb form trolling refers to the activity of online harassment of other people’s Internet sites for example, such as those nasty people leaving horrible messages on tribute sites.

The trolls of my blog post are most decidedly not of that ilk. Such people as the ones referred to above are in my mind better described as thugs, which is after all what they are.

:two farmers fighting a troll who seems to try...

:two farmers fighting a troll who seems to try to make his dinner of a cow (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Norse trolls of Viking mythology origin are either devious or stupid, either pathetic or fiendish. It seems odd that one creature can be so many different things. So often in human history, when we see something we are afraid of, we lash out and shun or even kill, instead of finding out first about the other living being. Just because it’s ugly from our point of view, doesn’t mean it’s dangerous and or evil in nature.

Troll mythology originates most notably from Norway. During Viking times there would have been all manner of trolls popping up in people’s conversations: from cruel giant trolls, which were similar in size and temperament to ogres in Britain, to more devious and human-like trolls that lived in the wild woods, underground in hills or caves or old burial mounds.

Trolls have typically over-sized ears and noses. They are fond of riches such as silver or gold and are not adverse, in their giant form, to eating humans. There were mountain trolls and forest trolls, some hibernated in winter and came out again in spring, others were perceived as a year-round menace.

When Willow and her friends finally come to meet a troll, they’ll have to decide for themselves, what manner of creature they are facing: good or bad, ugly or just sad and pathetic. Making our minds up about others without being influenced by hearsay, rumour, gossip or mass hysteria is a sign of being a responsible grown up, an adult with independent thought and integrity. At the start of book two Willow the Vampire will be 12-years-old, so it’s time for her to learn that not all that glitters is gold – and not all that looks ugly, is a nasty creature of the night deserving to die at the hands of humans.

Svenska: Titta på dem, sade trollmor. Titta på...

Svenska: Titta på dem, sade trollmor. Titta på mina söner! Vackrare troll finns inte på denna sidan månen. English: Look at them, troll mother said. Look at my sons! You won't find more beautiful trolls on this side of the moon. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(NB: dear Internet public, please refrain from trolling and bombarding this blog with idiotic spam messages (1000 in less than 2 months). I do not wish to run a massage parlour, won’t be joining a dating site, am not interested in internet marketing SEO assistance and won’t be buying anything else that you might have to sell. Thank you. MT)