Women and Magic in the Norse Sagas

4 April 2015
An exploration of the use of magic, particularly by women, in the Norse Sagas.

This paper examines the various ways in which women used magic in the Norse Sagas using examples taken from English translations of the original sagas. The change in society’s attitudes towards witchcraft, from an agreeable and accepted part of society in the early sagas to one of contempt, is looked at. The paper traces the process of how witchcraft was eventually outlawed in the later Sagas. The paper links this change primarily to the introduction of Christianity and its attempt to undermine pagan religions.
Magic is a central theme of the Norse Sagas. Entire sagas have been written about battles with ghosts and the influences of witchcraft on battles and bad luck. Magic was practiced by both men and women. Women, however were considered to be more adept than men and were often called upon by men to cast spells for them. Magic was incorporated into women’s daily activities such as brewing, spinning, and weaving. Women used magic for both healing and causing harm. The belief in the power of sorcery was so powerful that it was outlawed after the arrival of the Christians (Gtettir’s Saga, Ch. 84). This paper will examine the various ways in which women used magic in the Norse Sagas using examples taken from English translations of the original sagas. Societies’ attitudes towards witchcraft changed from an agreeable and accepted part of society in the early sagas to one of contempt and was eventually outlawed in the later Sagas. This change was primarily due to the introduction of Christianity and its attempt to undermine pagan religions.

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