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The Mystical Farting Runes of Iceland

I think we can all agree that the seventeenth century was a bad time to be a witch, or to be caught by the authorities with witchy-type items in your possession. Eye of newt aside, one of the most damning things you could own was a grimoire, a textbook of magic. (The most famous example — though fictional — is probably Lovecraft’s Necronomicon.) Grimoires were characterized by the perpetrators of the Inquisition as being uniformly evil books whose objective was, generally, to summon the Devil or one of his demons (and then get them to do your bidding, usually in exchange for your soul), and while there was undoubtedly some of that contained within the pages of grimoires, often they were just books of practical magic, full of mumbo-jumbo rituals meant to heal the sick and give you bountiful crop yields and get the village milkmaid to go to bed with you, functions that modern medicine and science and Dr. Phil eventually came to perform.

Of the spells and rituals that survived the book-burning parties of disapproving clergy-folk, many aren’t what you’d expect at all from these much-feared “evil books.” I just read a fascinating book by Owen Davies all about grimoires — it’s called Grimoires: A History of Magic Books — which now and then reproduces passages from the magic books of olde. My absolute favorite has to be this runic farting spell from a Grimoire found in the possession of a farmer and his son in Iceland in 1656, which instructed the reader to write a series of runic symbols in blood on white calfskin —

“which are to afflict your belly with great shitting and shooting pains, and all these may afflict your belly with very great farting. May your bones split asunder, may your guts burst, may your farting never stop, neither day nor night. May you become as weak as the fiend, Loki, who was snared by all the gods.”

Now that’s a serious curse. The farmer and his son admitted to carving such runes on a calfskin and sending them to a girl (whom I’m guessing they didn’t much care for), and were promptly burned at the stake for sorcery. So next time you’re stricken with painful gas, try approaching the problem from the POV of a 17th-century Icelandic milkmaid — rather than reaching for the Beano, you might look around for some farting runes written in blood.

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March 1st, 2011

Stranger to the World


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