Thursday, April 18, 2013

The association between beneficial weather magic and Witchcraft on the Isle of Man, according to the Holinshed's Chronicles (1586)

The following text is taken from The Holinshed Project at Oxford University:

Giraldus noteth a conten|tion betwéene the kings of England & Ireland for the right of this Iland, but in the end, when by a compr [...]|mise the triall of the matter was referred to the liues or deaths of such venemous wormes as should be brought into the same, and it was found that they died not at all, as the like doo in Ireland, sentence passed with the king of England, & so he reteined the Iland. But howsoeuer this matter standeth, and whether anie such thing was done at all or not, sure it is that the peo|ple of the said Ile were much giuen to witchcraft and sorcerie (which they learned of the Scots a nation great|lie bent to that horible practise) in somuch that their women would oftentimes sell wind to the mariners, inclosed vnder certeine knots of thred, with this in|iunction, that they which bought the same, should for a great gale vndoo manie, and for the lesse a fewer or smaller number.

The authors of the Chronicles are essentially just repeating the tale about Manx weather Witches found already in Ranulf Higden's Polychronicon, written in Latin in the mid 14th century. Moreover, the decision by John Trevisa, when translating the Polychronicon into Middle English in 1387 (link), to characterize the weather magic of the women of the Isle of Man as "Witchcraft", is upheld in the Chronicles. It should be emphasized that the Chronicles have nothing good to say about Witchcraft, or at least no desire to say anything good of this "horible practise". And yet the only specific example cited to illustrate the way in which "the people of the said Ile were much giuen" to Witchcraft is a clear and unambiguous case of beneficial magic!

[The image, depicting a "Mudhead" dancer, at the top of the post is from:  Roediger, Virginia More. Ceremonial Costumes of the Pueblo Indians: Their Evolution, Fabrication, and Significance in the Prayer Drama. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1991 1991.]

Finnish Witch selling wind to sailors. Olaus Magnus, 1555.