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Arnar Fells Gunnarsson
Arnar Fells Gunnarsson

9 Spooky Spells from an Icelandic Book of Sorcery

Arnar Fells Gunnarsson
Arnar Fells Gunnarsson

Jochum Magnus Eggertsson was a strange character. During his lifetime, the Icelandic writer and poet—who was born in 1896 and called himself Skuggi (or “Shadow”)—often criticized authorities and the cultural and educational elite and challenged conventional knowledge about Icelandic history and culture. He claimed to have 27 pages from a lost book, written on hide called Gullskinna (“Goldskin”), which, according to legend, would not burn. So it makes sense that Eggertsson would spend 30 years researching Nordic spells, drawing from 80 old manuscripts to create his book of white magic, Sorcerer’s Screed, which he released in 1940. After a successful reprinting in Icelandic in 2013, the Icelandic publisher Lesstofan has made the book available in English for the first time.

Each spell consists of a symbol called a stave, which is accompanied by runes that lay out the spell. Runes have a long history in Europe and an even longer one in Iceland, which didn’t convert to Christianity—or the Latin alphabet—until more than 100 years after it was settled. And even then, runes would continue to be used for several centuries. “Runes, the so-called fuþark alphabet, were usually carved on rock or wood and they always have contained some power to them,” Lesstofan's Þorsteinn Surmeli tells mental_floss via email. Post-Reformation, when the last Catholic priest in Iceland and his two sons were beheaded, “the use of magic spells started to be more prominent—even though (or because) the Lutheran church strictly prohibited the use of such symbols,” Surmeli says. “The period between 1654 and 1690 has been called the Magic Age because of the large number of cases connected to the use of magic symbols.”

Nearly 200 people were charged for use of magic, or for having a magic book; more than 20, the majority of them men, were sentenced to death and burned. “Most of these cases had to do with white magic, the way of using magic for your own benefit but not necessarily to hurt others,” Surmeli says.

Though the last case of prosecution for magic in Iceland was in 1700, Surmeli says that “magic has been part of Icelandic culture ever since. And I would argue that Icelanders still use the spells in some way. Maybe not as we did before, but we keep the tradition alive. It’s part of our identity and that’s why we like referring to the magics, using them as decoration, tattoos, publishing them in a book ... It’s part of the viking image that has been part of Icelanders since settlement.”

Surmeli and Lesstofan had been familiar with Eggertsson’s work for a long time, and they loved Sorcerer’s Screed—but the original edition was completely handwritten, and they weren’t sure how to proceed. Initially, they planned to photocopy each page—and then they heard about Arnar Fells Gunnarsson, a graphic design student at the Iceland Academy of the Arts. “He is a big fan of Skuggi’s work, and was, at that time, working in a group project involving Skuggi,” Surmeli says. “Later, Arnar did some more research and illustrated every single stave and rune which ended up being his final project at the Academy.”

The publishing house teamed up with the designer and published the Icelandic edition of Sorcerer’s Screed in 2013. It quickly sold out. The English edition, initially released this summer, has been printed twice. “The reactions have been unbelievable,” Surmeli says. “Tourism in Iceland has been increasing for the last few years, and the travelers seem to want books on traditional Icelandic culture. We even know of tourists that have bought the book and headed straight to the closest tattoo parlour. That’s actually what some of us at Lesstofan did, too. It’s that cool!”

The spells in Sorcerer’s Screed deal with everything from protecting yourself from drowning and ghosts to how to make a woman fall in love with you and calm sheep. (Eggertsson had intended to publish a book of black magic, too, but never got around to it: “The world of symbols and magic is big and maybe he felt the Sorcerer’s Screed was enough,” Surmeli says. “Or maybe he thought a book of black magic would have been too dangerous for the public.”) Below, we’ve printed a few of the spookier staves from Sorcerer’s Screed. Your can buy your own copy of the book here.

1. GHOST STAVE

"Carve this stave on scrub oak or on Norway spruce, and you will see the ghost."

2. STAVE TO RAISE THE DEAD, EXORCISE EVIL SPIRITS, OR LAY A GHOST

"Inscribe on the scalp of a horse, using a mixture of seal blood, fox blood, and human blood. Recite this verse over the stave when you wish to use it:

"Thick blood, fighters grow weary.
The nation endures centuries of hardship,
great destruction, men die,
wealth is lost, the destitute are shunned.
Perilous ruin the people dread,
storm upon storm, plagued by misery,
heavy remorse, relentless warfare.
An evil stir haunts the world."

3. WITCH RIDE STAVE

"He who wishes to ride through the air like a witch shall inscribe this stave on a bleached horse’s skull with two types of blood: from the man himself as well as from a horse, combining it in thirds, two parts being the horse’s blood, from beneath the frog of the hoof of the right foreleg, and the third part from beneath the big toe of the man’s left foot. The stave is to be drawn with a chicken feather, and he who has a witch-ride bridle will then be able to ride through air and water, wherever he feels like going. A witch-ride bridle is created by digging up a newly buried man and cutting a strip of skin from the length of his spine. This will be used for reins. Next, the dead man must be scalped, and the scalp will be used for the bridle. The dead man’s lingual bone is to be used for the bit and his hip bones for cheekpieces. A spell also needs to be recited over it, and then the bridle is finished. All that needs to be done is place the witch-ride bridle over a horse’s head. It will then fly into the air with whomever is riding it, and fly faster than lightning wherever its rider wishes, creating a great whistling sound."

4. GREATER SHIELD OF TERROR

"This stave is to be drawn on black paper with raven bile, and then placed in the nest of a brooding raven. It is to be left there until the raven has hatched its eggs. Then take the paper, and it will be of great use to you. Even if a hundred men were your enemies, and they attacked you and wanted to kill you, this stave would save you easily. If you hold it up before you when facing your enemies, it will appear to them as innumerable black dragons, and that you are preparing to set them loose."

5. SLEEP-THORN

"Carve on oak and color the grooves with your own blood, and then place it in secret on the crown of a man’s head."

6. LOOKING GLASS

"Reveals backwards and forwards, for years and centuries, throughout the world.

"This stave is to be drawn on calfskin that has never been out under the bare sky, with the water from within a raven’s eye, and blood from the heart of a man and woman, who have loved each other with all their hearts but never consummated their love; and the stave is to be drawn with a water rail’s feather. Then myrrh is to be strewn over the entire stave. When the stave is dry, go to a spring whose temperature remains constant winter and summer, and over which no bird has flown that day, and strike the water with it, making sure to turn the stave downward. Then let the stave lie still in the water, while circling the spring four times counter-clockwise. Take the stave from the water and peek through it, and he who drew the stave will be able to see, if he wishes, throughout the world, backwards and forwards through the four cardinal directions. Then the stave is to be enclosed in an amnion, and never taken out unless it is to be used."

7. MOON

"Inscribe on a fox pelt and color with blood from your right ring-finger and you will not be haunted by ghosts."

8. DREAM STAVE

"This stave is to be carved on lignite with a dogfish spine when the moon is three nights old, and placed beneath your head. You will then dream whatever you wish."

9. STAVE FOR WAKING THE DEAD

"This stave is to be carved in oak, and the groove colored with blood. The blood is to be from the big toe of the right foot, and the thumb of the left hand, and then place this stave on the grave and walk three times clockwise and three times counter-clockwise around the church. Watch carefully to be sure that dirt spouts from the grave three times, and at the third spout it is imperative that you be prepared to receive the ghost, because it will then pop its head up. Immediately grab it by the throat and squeeze tightly, and hold it fast until it asks you to let it go. Then apply the necessary and appropriate methods, and tell the ghost what it is to do. If the ghost is to be animated greatly and sent a long distance, more robust methods will be necessary, and more than one sorcerer."

Text courtesy of Lesstofan. All graphics and photos by Arnar Fells Gunnarsson.

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15 Things You Might Not Know About Chewbacca
ANTONIN THUILLIER, AFP/Getty Images
ANTONIN THUILLIER, AFP/Getty Images

Even if you don't know the name Peter Mayhew, you surely know about Chewbacca—the seven-foot tall Wookiee he has played onscreen for over three decades. In honor of Mayhew’s birthday, here are 15 things you might not know about Han Solo's BFF.

1. HE WAS INSPIRED BY GEORGE LUCAS'S DOG.

The character of Chewbacca was inspired by George Lucas’s big, hairy Alaskan malamute, Indiana. According to Lucas, the dog would always sit in the passenger seat of his car like a copilot, and people would confuse the dog for an actual person. And in case you're wondering: yes, that same dog was also the inspiration behind the name of one of Lucas’s other creations, Indiana Jones.

2. HIS NAME IS OF RUSSIAN ORIGIN.

The name “Chewbacca” was derived from the Russian word Sobaka (собака), meaning “dog.” The term “Wookiee” came from voice actor Terry McGovern; when he was doing voiceover tracks for Lucas's directorial debut, THX 1138, McGovern randomly improvised the line, “I think I just ran over a Wookiee” during one of the sessions.

3. HE'S REALLY, REALLY OLD.

In Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, Chewbacca is 200 years old.

4. PETER MAYHEW'S HEIGHT HELPED HIM LAND THE ROLE.

Peter Mayhew
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Mayhew was chosen to play everyone’s favorite Wookiee primarily because of his tremendous height: He's 7 feet 3 inches tall.

5. HIS SUIT IS MADE FROM A MIX OF ANIMAL HAIRS, AND EVENTUALLY INCLUDED A COOLING SYSTEM.

For the original trilogy (and the infamous holiday special), the Chewbacca costume was made with a combination of real yak and rabbit hair knitted into a base of mohair. A slightly altered original Chewie costume was used in 1999's The Phantom Menace for the Wookiee senator character Yarua, and a new costume used during Episode III included a specially made water-cooling system so that Mayhew could wear the suit for long periods of time and not be overheated.

6. ONE OF STANLEY KUBRICK'S CLOSEST CREATORS DESIGNED THE COSTUME.

Chewbacca's costume
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To create the original costume for Chewbacca, Lucas hired legendary makeup supervisor Stuart Freeborn, who was recruited because of his work on the apes in the “Dawn of Man” sequence in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. (Freeborn had also previously worked with Kubrick on Dr. Strangelove to effectively disguise Peter Sellers in each of his three roles in that film.) Freeborn would go on to supervise the creation of Yoda in The Empire Strike Back and Jabba the Hutt and the Ewoks in Return of the Jedi.

Lucas originally wanted Freeborn’s costume for Chewie to be a combination of a monkey, a dog, and a cat. According to Freeborn, the biggest problem during production with the costume was with Mayhew’s eyes. The actor’s body heat in the mask caused his face to detach from the costume's eyes and made them look separate from the mask.

7. FINDING CHEWBACCA'S VOICE WAS BEN BURTT'S FIRST ASSIGNMENT.

The first sound effect that director George Lucas hired now-legendary sound designer Ben Burtt for on Star Wars was Chewbacca’s voice (this was all the way back during the script stage). During the year of preliminary sound recording, Burtt principally used the vocalization of a black bear named Tarik from Happy Hollow Zoo in San Jose, California for Chewbacca. He would eventually synchronize those sounds with further walrus, lion, and badger vocalizations for the complete voice. The name of the language Chewbacca speaks came to be known in the Star Wars universe as “Shyriiwook.”

8. ROGER EBERT WAS NOT A FAN.

Roger Ebert was not a fan of the big guy. In his 1997 review of the Special Edition of The Empire Strikes Back, Ebert basically called Chewbacca the worst character in the series. “This character was thrown into the first film as window dressing, was never thought through, and as a result has been saddled with one facial expression and one mournful yelp," the famed critic wrote. "Much more could have been done. How can you be a space pilot and not be able to communicate in any meaningful way? Does Han Solo really understand Chewie's monotonous noises? Do they have long chats sometimes? Never mind.”

9. HE WAS ORIGINALLY MUCH MORE SCANTILY CLAD.

In the summary for Lucas’s second draft (dated January 28, 1975, when the film was called “Adventures of the Starkiller, Episode I: The Star Wars”), Chewbacca is described as “an eight-foot tall, savage-looking creature resembling a huge gray bushbaby-monkey with fierce ‘baboon’-like fangs. His large yellow eyes dominate a fur-covered face … [and] over his matted, furry body he wears two chrome bandoliers, a flak jacket painted in a bizarre camouflage pattern, brown cloth shorts, and little else.”

10. HIS DESIGN WAS BASED ON RALPH MCQUARRIE'S CONCEPT ART.

Chewbacca’s character design was based on concept art drawn by Ralph McQuarrie. Lucas had originally given McQuarrie a photo of a lemur for inspiration, and McQuarrie proceeded to draw the character as a female—but Chewbacca was soon changed to a male. McQuarrie based his furry design on an illustration by artist John Schoenherr, which was commissioned for Game of Thrones scribe George R.R. Martin’s short story “And Seven Times Never Kill a Man.” Sharp-eyed Chewbacca fans will recognize that Schoenherr’s drawing even includes what resembles the Wookiee’s signature weapon, the Bowcaster.

11. HE WON A LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD.

Fans were angry for decades that Chewie didn’t receive a medal of valor like Luke and Han did at the end of A New Hope, so MTV gave him a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 1997 MTV Movie Awards. The medal was given to Mayhew—decked out in full costume—by Princess Leia herself, actress Carrie Fisher. His acceptance speech, made entirely in Wookiee grunts, lasted 16 seconds. When asked why Chewbacca didn’t receive a medal at the end of the first film, Lucas explained, “Medals really don’t mean much to Wookiees. They don’t really put too much credence in them. They have different kinds of ceremonies.”

12. HE HAS A FAMILY BACK HOME.

According to the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special, Chewbacca had a wife named Mallatobuck, a son named Lumpawaroo (a.k.a. “Lumpy”), and a father named Attichitcuk (aka “Itchy”). In the special, Chewie and Han visit the Wookiee home planet of Kashyyyk to celebrate “Life Day,” a celebration of the Wookiee home planet’s diverse ecosystem. The special featured appearances and musical numbers by Jefferson Starship, Diahann Carroll, Art Carney, Harvey Korman, and Bea Arthur, and marked the first appearance of Boba Fett. Lucas hated the special so much that he limited its availability following its original airdate on November 17, 1978.

13. MAYHEW'S BIG FEET ARE WHAT KICKSTARTED HIS CAREER.

Mayhew’s path to playing Chewbacca began with a string of lucky breaks—and his big feet. A local London reporter was doing a story on people with big feet and happened to profile Mayhew. A movie producer saw the article and cast him—in an uncredited role—as Minoton the minotaur in the film Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger. One of the makeup men on Sinbad was also working on the Wookiee costume with Stuart Freeborn for Star Wars and suggested to the producers that they screen test Mayhew. The rest is Wookiee history.

14. MAYHEW KEPT HIS DAY JOB WHILE SHOOTING STAR WARS.

Peter Mayhew
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During the shooting of Star Wars, Mayhew kept working his day job as a deputy head porter in a London hospital. Though he was let go because of his sudden varying shooting schedule at Elstree Studios, he was eventually hired back after production wrapped.

15. DARTH VADER COULD HAVE BEEN CHEWBACCA.

Darth Vader
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David Prowse, the 6’5” actor who ended up portraying Darth Vader—in costume only—originally turned down the role of Chewbacca.  When given the choice between portraying the two characters, Prowse said, “I turned down the role of Chewbacca at once. I know that people remember villains longer than heroes. At the time I didn’t know I’d be wearing a mask, and throughout production I thought Vader’s voice would be mine.”

Additional Sources: Star Wars DVD special features
The Making of Star Wars: The definitive Story Behind the Original Film, J.W. Rinzler

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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
6 Priceless Treasures Lost in Shipwrecks
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In the lore around treasures lost at sea, most of the excitement goes to pirate’s gold and the sunken luxuries of the Titanic. But in the centuries of human seafaring, many lesser-known priceless objects, from literary manuscripts to scientific research, have been claimed by the depths. Here are some tales of those losses, from a lifetime of work by a 19th-century woman who was an expert in cephalopods, to a rare book by Dickens that went down with the Lusitania.

1. LOUIS DE JAUCOURT'S ANATOMICAL LEXICON

Always, always, always back up your work. Of course, that's easier now than it was in the 18th century, when French scholar Louis de Jaucourt dispatched his six-volume Lexicon medicum universale to his Amsterdam publisher, a move intended to evade French censorship. The medical dictionary, on which he'd spent 20 years, was completely lost when the ship it was on sank off Holland's coast. Luckily, Jaucourt rebounded when Denis Diderot asked him to contribute to the Encyclopédie, now considered one of the greatest works of Enlightenment thought, for which he used his notes from the lost manuscript. Jaucourt became the publication's most prolific author, penning 40,000 articles—so many he was nicknamed l'esclave de l’Encyclopédie, or the "slave of the Encyclopedia."

2. THE FIELDWORK OF ALFRED RUSSEL WALLACE

Portrait of Alfred Russel Wallace, Welsh naturalist and explorer
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In 1852, following four years of research in the Amazon, the British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace was ready to return to England. He loaded his copious notes, animal and plant specimens, and drawings onto the brig Helen. Just 26 days into the voyage, the vessel caught fire. Wallace only had time to hastily fill a tin box with a few drawings of fish and palms and some scientific notes before joining the crew in the lifeboat. After 10 days marooned at sea, they were rescued by the brig Jordeson—but most of Wallace's work was gone forever. As he lamented in an October 19, 1852 letter, "The only things which I saved were my watch, my drawings of fishes, and a portion of my notes and journals. Most of my journals, notes on the habits of animals, and drawings of the transformations of insects, were lost.” While he continued as a leading naturalist—albeit one overshadowed in his evolution research by Charles Darwin—Wallace was never able to reconstruct those years of fieldwork.

3. THE CEPHALOPOD RESEARCH OF JEANNE VILLEPREUX-POWER

Before Jeanne Villepreux-Power’s 19th-century research, most scientists thought the Argonauta argo, or paper nautilus, scavenged its shell from other animals. But by inventing the modern aquarium, Villepreux-Power could study the species first-hand, and witness how it grows and repairs its own shell. The breakthrough was one of many discoveries made by the pioneer in cephalopod research, one of the few women to achieve prominence in Victorian science. She might be better known today if it weren't for the fact that when she and her husband decided to move from Sicily to London, the vessel on which they’d shipped their possessions—including the majority of her drawings, notes, and equipment—foundered off the coast of France in 1843. After the devastating loss, she never published again.

4. A COPY OF A CHRISTMAS CAROL OWNED BY CHARLES DICKENS

Sinking of the Lusitania
Three Lions/Getty Images

When Boston bookseller Charles Lauriat realized the RMS Lusitania was doomed that fateful day in 1915, he dashed to his cabin, using the light from a few matches to try to find the literary treasures he’d brought aboard. These included original drawings by Vanity Fair author William Makepeace Thackeray, as well as an edition of A Christmas Carol owned by Charles Dickens himself. The edition was irreplaceable, since it included Dickens’s notes related to his 1844 copyright suit against the illicit republishing of his story. In the book Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania, Erik Larson vividly describes Lauriat’s harrowing experience when the ocean liner was torpedoed by a German U-boat off the coast of Ireland: Lauriat grabbed the leather briefcase containing the Dickens, but left the Thackeray sketches behind. Rushing out to the deck, he saw a lifeboat packed with women and children that was being dragged down by the sinking ship. He jumped in with the briefcase, yet was unable to free the lifeboat, and in the escape into the water he lost the precious cargo. Out in the waves, he managed to evade entanglement with an antenna, swim to a collapsible lifeboat, and survive. One of the few items he managed to save were photographs of his baby, which he told his wife were his "mascot."

5. WRITINGS OF JOSÉ ASUNCIÓN SILVA

Portrait of José Asunción Silva

Many Colombians can recite the first lines from the influential Modernist poet José Asunción Silva's "Nocturne III"—"A night / A night full of hushings, of the curled wool of perfume / And incanting wing"—and it’s even printed in microtext on the 5000 Colombian peso bill. The poem, written in 1892, is believed to be a tribute to Silva’s half-sister. Silva suffered another blow in 1895, when many of his manuscripts, including a draft of a novel, were lost in a shipwreck. He left his diplomatic post in Venezuela, and dedicated all his time to reconstructing the drowned novel. But his melancholy continued: After visiting a doctor to ask the exact position of his heart, he shot himself in 1896. His rewritten novel—After-Dinner Conversation (De sobremesa) —wasn’t published until 1925.

6. THE ART OF GIOVANNI BATTISTA LUSIERI

The South-east Corner of the Parthenon, Athens by Giovanni Battista Lusieri
Giovanni Battista Lusieri, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Giovanni Battista Lusieri was a meticulous painter of the Italian landscape, particularly its classical ruins. In large panoramas and more compact watercolors, he depicted the Acropolis, views of Rome and Naples, and, his favorite, the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Some of his most striking works captured the volcano at night, illuminating the darkness with its orange glow. Lord Byron called him "an Italian painter of the first eminence." Yet his name is now obscure. This is partly due to the years he stopped painting to help Lord Elgin remove and ship the Parthenon Marbles to London. But when Lusieri's artwork was being sent home from Greece after his death in 1821, a shipwreck destroyed nearly half of it (including a spectacular 25-foot-long panorama of Athens), helping to ensure his fall from fame.

BONUS: PEKING MAN

A replica of the Peking Man Skull
A replica of the Peking Man Skull

When paleontologists discovered the bones of "Peking man" in a dig near Beijing in the 1920s, they were the oldest hominid fossils ever found. However, scientists can now only study the bones—thought to be about half a million years old—from casts. The Peking Man fossils were last seen in December 1941, but vanished during the Japanese occupation of China while they were being sent to the United States for safekeeping. There are many conjectures on their fate, from being secretly stored away in Japan, to being under a parking lot in China. Yet one enduring theory is that they were lost at sea on the Japanese freighter Awa Maru: In 1945, the ship was torpedoed in the Taiwan Strait by the USS Queenfish despite being guaranteed safe passage by the United States, leading to the loss of more than 2000 lives—and, it's said, the priceless Peking fossils [PDF].

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