Session 114: Ystafell 6
The Power of Words 3: narrative, ritual, and verbal power

Chair: Barbara Hillers

This is the third session in a series of three organized by the international network The Power of Words in Traditional European Cultures.

Klosterneuburg lorica: lonely wanderers, wanton women, and words of power

Tatyana Mikhailova
Moscow State University

The incantation from the Klosterneuburg Monastery (Austria) is practically absent in studies devoted to medieval Irish monastic poetry and the early monastic charm-tradition. Consideration is limited to the work of Zeuss (1853), Stokes (1873) and Stifter (2007). The analysis of this text and its sophisticated metaphors could give unexpected results for the study of Irish monastic poetic language in general and the study of the magic power of women specifically, called by the author ar upthaib ban mbáeth ‘against spells of wanton women'. The lorica mentions male and female aggression, while offering protection against aggressive men and bewitching women (claïd ferga fer ‘it subdues the fury of men’ ~ soïd uptha na mban ‘turns the spells (?) of women’; cf. náram-gonat f(a)ir / náram millet mná ‘will men not wound me / will women not destroy me’). The same juxtaposition occurs in the lorica 'Cétnad n-aíse' (Ním-millethar teól / ná cuire ban, / ná cuire buiden. ‘May no thief destroy me, nor a company of women, nor a company of warriors’). What kind of danger is represented by 'a company of women'? Temptation, perhaps, or something else? I will argue that female magic could represent a double danger: seduction (wanton women) and disease or death. My paper discusses and classifies different cases of Early Irish women’s charms. I will analyze the well-known poem 'The bell' that also mentions mná báeth, to reveal the general conception of the 'power of foolishness' and to argue that this short text could be regarded as a lorica.

Nightmare-creatures: narrative motifs and verbal-power rituals

Jacqueline Borsje
University of Amsterdam

After a pig-hunt in a deserted area, Satan is said to fall like a rock on Saint Patrick which leaves him paralyzed for a while. To his own surprise, Patrick shouts an enigmatic word which expels the dark oppression. After a bird-hunt, the warrior Cú Chulainn lies down on a rock and is beaten half-dead by laughing women. Being struck and ‘bound’, he remains speechless and powerless for a long time. Both Patrick and Cú Chulainn lose and, in the end, regain agency. This paper discusses these narrative motifs while putting them in a broader context of nightmare-traditions, and verbal-power rituals of expulsion. For this aim, the medieval Irish details are explored against a broader, Eurasian and North-African cultural background of succubus/incubus- and male and female lilith-traditions. The verbal-power genres and rituals that will be examined for this exploration concern expulsion, oath, vow, adjuration, binding, loosening, divorce, exorcism, and healing. The nightmare-creatures can be read and interpreted in various ways; on this occasion, I will follow a mainly demonic reading.

'The World of the Wise Man' revisited: Kate Bosse-Griffiths's Byd y Dyn Hysbys and recent research on magic in social anthropology and comparative religious studies

Bernhard Maier
Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen

The paper takes a fresh look at the study Byd y Dyn Hysbys: swyngyfaredd yng Nghymru (The World of the Wizard: sorcery in Wales) by Kate Bosse Griffiths (1910–1998). Published in 1977, the book built on the earlier monograph Rhai o Hen Ddewiniaid Cymru (1901) by John Humhreys Davies (1871–1926) and numerous studies on Welsh history, literature and folklore. At the same time, the author also looked much further afield, incorporating comparative material not only from other parts of Britain, but also from the world of the pagan Celts, classical antiquity, Ancient Egypt and modern Africa. This paper will focus on the wizards’ use of powerful words, paying special attention to recent works on magic, sorcery and comparable phenomena in the disciplines of social anthropology and comparative religious studies. 

Applying a comparative perspective, I shall consider to what extent new findings and new theories by social anthropologists and comparative religionists may throw additional light on the Welsh material or pose new questions for further studies on the history of the Welsh wizards, their social setting, the heterogeneous influences that contributed to the shaping of their beliefs and practices and – last but not least – the premises and assumptions of those who have attempted to interpret their activities.