View Full Version : An Introduction to Galdor

Sunday, July 3rd, 2005, 06:44 PM
Most Asatruar and users of the runes today have the misconception that galdor or galdr refers to the chanting of the rune names. Indeed, it does not, but in the old tongues of Old Norse or Old English it meant any charm or spell that was sung. The word galdor comes from or is related to the Old English word galan "to sing". The ancient galdras were spells composed in alliterative verse seeking to create a change. That change may be locating lost cattle, healing a broken bone, preventing a miscarriage, calming a swarm of bees, or any number of things. Galdor could basicly do anything its speaker intended it to do. It was after all, magic. There is no reason the modern Heathen worshipper cannot use galdor as effectively. Galdor was rarely used alone. The surviving examples of the 12 semi-pagan or pagan Anglo-Saxon galdres we have, also employ herbs, ritual actions, and some of the Old Norse ones used runes as well (there is evidense some of the Anglo-Saxon galdres that did not survive did as well). For the most part, the Heathen healing charms that have survived work on several principles. The first is "mock" combat meant to drive the illness causing wight away. The ancient Anglo-Saxon Heathens believed (as did their other Germanic counterparts) that illness was caused variously by arrows or darts shot by elves, flying venoms, and by dragons (wyrmas) and other critters. A prime example of mock combat is in Metrical Charm 4 also called For a Sudden Stitch or Wi­ FŠrstice. It is presented below in translation:

Against a sudden stitch, feverfew and the red nettle, that
grows through a house, and plantain; boil in butter.

They were loud, lo! loud, when over the hill they rode,
They were fierce when over the land they rode.
Shield yourself now, to survive this violence.

Out, little spear, if you are in here!
I stood under linden, under a light shield,
Where the mighty women gathered their main strength,
And sent their yelling spears;
I will send another after them
An arrow flying in their faces.
Out little spear, if you are in here!
A smith sat, wrought a small knife,
???? iron, wondrously smitten.
Six smiths sat, working war-spears.

Out spear, not in, spear!
If there is anything in here of iron,
Made by hags, it shall melt. Or were shot in the blood,
Or were shot in a limb, may your life never be harmed;
If it was the shot of Aesir, or if it was the shot of elves,
Or it was the shot of hags, I will help you now.
This to cure you of Aesir-shot, this to cure you of elf-shot,
This to cure you of hag-shot; I will help you.
Hurry then to the head of the mountain.
Be you whole, may the Lord help you.

Take then the knife; plunge it into the liquid.
(translation by Gavin Chappel)

In this particular charm, the attack of the illness causing wights is described first, followed by the healer's or leech's boast that he or she is fighting them, and then ends with a series of confident statements intended to heal the victim. The ancient Heathens felt if something was said in a ritual context, it had a greater chance of coming true. This is the basis of galdor. Thus here, the leech states that the victim shall never be harmed by certain things, and that they will be cured. The plunging of the knife is perhaps symbolic of the final blow to the illness causing wights. The feverfew, red nettle, and plantain boiled in butter are probably applied as a sauve to aid in the relief of the pain. Other healing charms work on this same principle of a tale at the beginning, followed by a statement of the healer's power, and ending with words to cure the victim. Like Against a Sudden Stitch, the Nine Worts Galdor too tells a tale, boasts of the healer's power (by invoking the name of Woden), and then uses a series of statements to affect a cure. All in all, the charms work very much like the boasts of symbel (you can read about symbel here). The tale part of the galdor establishes the past. For example, the tale of the attacking women in the above galdor would equate to the gielp part of a boast in symbel where one establishs their heritage and past deeds. The second and third parts of the galdor, equate to a beot in symbel (an oath to do a great deed). The only real difference here is that the leech is hoping to accomplish the deeds he is stating by simply singing them. Other galdres like The Nine Worts Galdor follow this precise pattern. Even very short ancient Germanic galdres show at least two parts of this structure. An example of these are the two Merseburg charms, the second of which is presented here:

Phol and Wodan rode into the woods,
There Balder's foal sprained its foot.
It was charmed by Sinthgunt, her sister Sunna;
It was charmed by Frija, her sister Volla;
It was charmed by Wodan, as he well knew how:
Bone-sprain, like blood-sprain,
Like limb-sprain:
Bone to bone, blood to blood;
Limb to limb--like they were glued.
(translated by D. L. Ashliman)

Like the longer galdres, the Second Merseburg Charm tells a tale, however, it skips the boast of the healer's powers, and goes straight to the healing words. Felix Grendon, in his article, "The Anglo-Saxon Charms" in the Journal of American Folk-Lore defines describes the structure of the charms as consisting of: a. narrative introduction b. appeal to a superior spirit; the pronouncing of potent names c. the exorcist's boast of power d. the singing of incantations on parts of the body and on other objects. However, his outline is difficult to apply to all of the charms, and therefore the three part structure may be closer to fact. Not all galdres follow the three part pattern presented above however. For example Metrical Charm 9 or For Loss of Cattle (one of the more Christianized galdres), does not bother with any sort of tale like the charms presented above, but goes straight into the statements to affect a cure. Here it is below in translation:

Garmund, servant of God,
Find me those cattle, and fetch me those cattle,
And have those cattle, and hold those cattle,
And bring those cattle home,
So he never has land where he can lead them,
Nor ground to bring them to,
Nor house to keep them in.
If one do this deed, let it never avail him!
Within three nights I will know his might,
His might and his main, and his protective crafts.
May he wither entirely, like wood withered by fire,
Be as brittle as a thistle,
He who thinks to thieve these cattle
Or to carry off theses cows.
(translation by Gavin Chappell)

The galdor has only two parts. In the first part, the spell caster asks Garmund, a thegn of God to locate the cattle. Then in the second part, the spell caster goes into a curse on any that may have stolen the cattle. This galdor may reflect the effects of Christianization, and suffered severe changes due to that. Or it may be that in its Heathen form, it was more of a prayer. In VÝga-Gl˙mssaga, ١rkell sacrifices an ox, and asks that the man who expelled him from his lands be done likewise. There is little reason not to believe that Metrical Charm 9 may have originally began with an appeal to one of the Ese or Wanes and ended with the same curse as it now has, and in essence be very similar to the words ١rkell may have said in his prayers. Indeed, the Christianized prose at the beginning of this charm is a prayer. Another exception to the three part structure is the heavily Christiainized Metrical Charm 11 or A Journey Charm. However, as it involves the use of a magic wand, it may fit a third class of galdres using special magical objects. It could well be that when a previously made talisman of some sort is used in conjunction with the galdor, the first section of the charm may be forgone.

As a whole, the Anglo-Saxon metrical charms seem to have consisted of three types. The primary type followed the pattern of a. a mythological tale. b. boasts of the healer's power. c. healing words siad over the victim. The second type consisted of a. a prayer to the gods or other powers. b. statements of what is hoped to be accomplished with the spell. Finally, the third type which uses a magic item of some sort seems to consist just of statements of what is wished to be achieved. Modern Heathen worshippers that use galdor can easily use these outlines to compose their own charms. In addition, many of the charms require that certain actions be done, like the plunging of the knife into water in the first galdor presented above. One charm against miscarriage required the woman to leep over the grave of a child amongst other things. For the modern user, it should not be difficult to develop ritual actions symbolic of those in any galdor they compose. All Heathen galdres seem to have been written in alliterative verse. You can learn how to compose in this poetic form by reading the article on prayer on the Haligwaerstow site.

Additional Reading
Cameron, M. L., Anglo-Saxon Medicine, Cambridge University Press, 1993
Flowers, Stephen Galdrabok : An Icelandic Grimoire, Samuel Weiser, York Beach, Maine
Glosecki, Stephen, Shamanism and Old English Poetry. , Garland, New York, 1989
Grattan, John Henry Grafton. and Charles Singer. Anglo-Saxon Magic and Medicine. Norwood Editions, . Norwood, PA,1976.
Griffiths, Bill, Aspects of Anglo-Saxon Magic, Anglo-Saxon Books, Norfolk, 1999
Jolly, Karen, Popular Religion in Late Saxon England: Elf Charms in Context , University of North Carolina Press, 1996
Pollington, Stephen, Leechcraft Early English Charms, Plantlore & Healing, Anglo-Saxon Books, Norfolk, 2002
Storms, Godfrid, Anglo-Saxon Magic. Martinus Nijhoff, The Hague, 1948.

Source: Ealdriht (http://www.ealdriht.org/)