Modern Myths

Modern Myths

An Urban Legend is a short tale that is told and retold as true, although it usually has little or no basis in reality or can't be confirmed one way or another. Whether we know it or not we've all heard them, usually as something that happened to a "friend of a friend".

Magical Countryside

There is a tendency among Neo Pagans today - many of whom live in cities - to revere the wilderness as a source of magical power and dismiss the cities in which they live as spiritually dead places. The city is simply a place where they live and work, while the countryside is a sacred place to travel to and perform rituals. The idea that magic can be performed in the city using tools and ingredients native to that environment is one often ignored by many spiritually inclined Pagans.

         Canwell Viking Ring Fort Site at dusk

The thing is that the very ground which cities were built on was at one time part of the countryside and must still have land wights and earth energy outlets still present. But spells can still be cast while doing the washing up, and pagans can still revere their Gods from the city from a practical point of view. The notion that magic exists in the country only needs redressing as inaccurate for nothing could be further from the truth.


Exactly what is this runestone divining all about? Ralph Blum's runestones  are probably the most revered urban legend of our decade because so many folks cling to this modern practise without considering it's makers creation or the flawed thinking behind the concept. There are so many internet sites promoting the created myth of runestones without taking in the available evidence as to its authenticity or indeed its validity. Moreover the common accepted practise of divination with tablet shaped "runestones" is very inaccurate and with zero support either in archaeology of the written texts. This also gave rise to another controversy, namely the myth of the so called "blank" rune".


To avoid further confusion,  the above is photograph of an actual runestone from Hedeby in Northern Germany

Above, you can see the Hedeby-3 Rune Stone, also known as the "Skarthi Stone". It is from Sønderjylland, close to the border of Denmark and Germany. It is believed to date from around 1000 AD. (Now this area belongs to Germany, but during the middle ages it was part of Denmark. Hedeby is also sometimes spelled as Haddeby, or Haithabu which I personally visited.)

The 'Blank' Rune
What's that all about? Or "Hey! I got 25 runes, what up?"

Horny Vikings

Hollywood is probably the main culprit for this myth or maybe not? In all of the art from the Viking era, from carvings to tapestries, only one image from that time had an image of a Viking with a horned like helm. This tapestry appears to show a caravan of people with a man at the lead with a horned like helm holding two spears in one hand and a sword in the other. A theory on this could be that what one is looking at is a caravan being led by a priest of Odin considering that the horns on the helm appears to be carved into two ravens (Hugin and Munin) or even possibly a representation from the Ynglinga Saga from the Heimskringla. In that saga it speaks of Odin being a great chief who leads his people back to Europe from Asia.

Torslunda Helmet Plate depicting Warrior dancing

There is no evidence whatsoever that the Vikings on any occasion wore horned helmets. This is a latter-day myth created by national romantic ideas in Sweden at the end of the 19th century, notably the Geatish Society and further imprinted by cartoons like Hagar the Horrible or Asterix and numerous fictitious movies. The people living in Scandinavia during the Bronze Age did, however, wear horned helmets during religious ceremonies, as testified by rock carvings and actual finds  The evidence however does not support the notion that Vikings wore horned helmets as combat gear, although there is indirect evidence that the Vendels and the Vikings may have used horned helmets in religious ceremonies.

Millions of witches were burnt?

Jan Luyken. Burning. Engraving. XVII.

This is a myth that has been perpetuated since the early 1950s and many today will tell you that their witch ancestors were put to death by the millions during the "burning times"? The reality it seems is somewhat different and one should consider the World view of atrocities by comparison. Estimates of executions in the millions are grossly exaggerated. Recent studies estimate about 150–300 per year, making a total of between 40,000 and 100,000 who were executed over a period of 300 years. While "this is an appalling enough catalogue of human suffering," it pales in comparison to the slaughter of innocent people by the mechanised warfare of the 20th century, resulting from the excesses of modernistic thinking. Compare the numbers slaughtered under Nazism or Stalinism to that of the witch trials. If the witch trials demonstrate the danger of religion to society, the slaughters under Hitler and Stalin demonstrate the much greater danger of irreligion. Modern writers like to think that it was the dawning of the Age of Reason that brought about the end of the witch trials, but today this is seen as mere hubris. It was the centralisation of legal power that brought the trials to an end, not a matter of "Enlightenment overcoming superstition."

Ref: Trevor Roper,22 in Sampson 133,137

On Grimoires & Magic Books

The name "Grimoire" is derived from the word "Grammar". A grammar is a description of a set of symbols and how to combine them to create well-formed sentences. A Grimoire is, appropriately enough, a description of a set of magical symbols and how to combine them properly. Most of the texts linked below are descriptions of traditional European ritual magic, which is based on Judeo-Christianity.


This Generation Seal, also known as Moloch familiarum or Ammonitarium Ministering Spirits, makes its spirits obedient in all services. At the time of Citation, it must be written on parchment and held in the right hand, but it must not be read.

Ref from 7th Book of Moses:

However, this must not be confused with neo-Paganism as many of the neo-Pagan traditions use similar rituals and techniques, albeit with a different (usually Celtic) vocabulary. Many pagans would like to believe that there exists somewhere out there, a written source for ancient spells, rituals and traditions to which they can turn to validate their current practices, such as the Book Of Shadows? What they tend to disregard or forget was that in ancient times, the common folk could not read or write. However the majority of us today can. During the height of the witch persecutions, especially in rural areas which encouraged the practices of folk medicine due to a lack of recognised medicine at that time, the Oral Tradition may have well continued uninterrupted. Still literacy was uncommon, and it is unlikely that many witches, wise women or whatever name they originally went under would have kept such a book.

See Icelandic Grimoires:

Anyone found with such a book of spells and healing charms would likely have been found guilty of heresy and possibly put to death, and the book summarily burned. This may not have affected the higher social classes whose rank and privilege afforded them privacy as well as an education to be able to read, but for typical rural folk this would probably have been too big a risk to take. During these times, herbal healers had to be very careful to hide the tools of their trade and be sure to put their best Christian face forward, it would have been virtual suicide to have a book of "arcane knowledge" laying around the house, even if most of your neighbours couldn't read it! Having books at all was cause for suspicion amongst the lower classes, since they were poorly understood by most and rarely read by any but high society. The few documented Grimoires likely did belong to folks of higher classes, as they were the ones who could afford them and could also afford to learn to read and write.

There be Druids here or Native Americans?

The modern Druid tradition today is basically a re-construction. Ross Nichols, was the founder of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD) when he led a breakaway from the Ancient Druid Order in 1964. Ross was pal of Gerald Gardner, the founder of modern Wicca. It seems that Nichols devised the eightfold festival cycle now celebrated by Neo Pagans. Gardner incorporated it into his Wiccan writings in the 1950s while Nichols introduced it into Druidry through OBOD.


Neither the Druids nor the Celts built Stonehenge

John Aubrey in 1649 suggested that the Druids were probably responsible for building Stonehenge, a theme he developed into a book originally to be titled 'Templa Druidum' but which ultimately formed a chapter in his "Monumenta Britannica". During the early 18th century, Aubrey's views became known to William Stukeley who not only declared Stonehenge (and Avebury) to be a temple of the Druids, but, according to some, was instrumental in initiating in 1717 the first Order of Druids on Primrose Hill, London. Some scholars, however, have found no evidence for this, and recognize instead the earliest revived Druidic order as being the Ancient Order of Druids founded in 1781 by Henry Hurle who organized it on the lines of Freemasonry. By 1839, however, conflicts between members led to the formation of a break-away movement named the United Order of Druids, lodges for which were also established in the United States and Australia. The United Order of Druids still flourishes. The more mystical Ancient Order of Druids also continued through the 19th century and into the 20th, claiming among its many members Winston Churchill (1874-1965), who was initiated into the Albion Lodge at Oxford. Thus this "ancient order" was essentially started as a gentlemen's club of sorts and stems back only to 1717, although even this date is disputed.

"No stage of the building of Stonehenge is later than about 1200 B.C., and any connection with the Druids, who flourished a thousand years later, is purely conjectural" (Jacquetta Hawkes ed., Atlas of Ancient Archaeology. New York: Barnes and Noble Books, 1994. 33).

The process of re-inventing the tradition continues at the present day through writers such as the singer and folklorist R. J. Stewart, the highly prolific authors John and Caitlin Matthews, and the present chief of OBOD Philip Carr-Gomm. There now seem to be more publications available on the subject of Druidry than at any other time in its actual history? I guess these are the marvels of commercialising an ancient long lost religion.  The re-introduction of sweat lodges into Druidry via Native American or First Nations traditions is something I simply cannot agree with although it must be said that there are claims of Britain and Ireland actually having a native sweat lodge tradition that dates back at least to the Bronze Age.

***"":    [6.14] The Druids do not go to war, nor pay tribute together with the rest; they have an exemption from military service and a dispensation in all matters. Induced by such great advantages, many embrace this profession of their own accord, and [many] are sent to it by their parents and relations. They are said there to learn by heart a great number of verses; accordingly some remain in the course of training twenty years. Nor do they regard it lawful to commit these to writing, though in almost all other matters, in their public and private transactions, they use Greek characters. That practice they seem to me to have adopted for two reasons; because they neither desire their doctrines to be divulged among the mass of the people, nor those who learn, to devote themselves the less to the efforts of memory, relying on writing; since it generally occurs to most men, that, in their dependence on writing, they relax their diligence in learning thoroughly, and their employment of the memory. They wish to inculcate this as one of their leading tenets, that souls do not become extinct, but pass after death from one body to another, and they think that men by this tenet are in a great degree excited to valor, the fear of death being disregarded. They likewise discuss and impart to the youth many things respecting the stars and their motion, respecting the extent of the world and of our earth, respecting the nature of things, respecting the power and the majesty of the immortal gods.***

This modern myth of Druid sweat lodges is unproven as far as I am aware, Pre-Christian Druids proper did not commit their teachings to writing. Not that they didn't know how to write, but according to Julius Caesar, they preferred not to for reasons of secrecy and for the better cultivation of memory. A good reason for this may have been:

Once you write something down it becomes a fixed dogma. People will argue and become authoritative, they quote the texts, they produce new manuscripts, they argue more and soon they're putting each other to death.

Wild birds flying into one's house is a portent of ill luck, possibly even death

Superstitions came about during a time when science was still very much a mystery and the unexplained was taken as an auspice. Our ancestors assign meanings to events in a manner that made sense to them. All manner of occurrences, both the mundane and the unusual, were subject to scrutiny and interpretation. Normal everyday things, such as the way fires burned or candles sputtered, were studied for their portents. So out-of-the-ordinary events got special attention because these were believed to foretell the greatest shifts of fortune.

Unusual incidents were understood as urgent messages falling directly from the lips of the gods. Extra-ordinary behaviour on the part of animals was cause for concern. The crowing of a hen heralded a death in the owner's family, as did the sudden howling of otherwise placid dogs or the midday crowing of a rooster. Wild birds attempting to get inside houses were also seen as presaging deaths. A bird that flew in through an open window, circled the room or landed on the back of someone's chair, then flew back out was saying as clearly as an omen can that someone who lived in that dwelling was about to clutch the lily. Birds that hit glass windows were likewise trying to provide the same message, as did those who sat upon sills peering into rooms or tapping on the glass. Some placed no time limit on when the death was to take place; others said it would happen within the year.

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
`'Tis some visitor,' I muttered, `tapping at my chamber door -
Only this, and nothing more.'

Edgar Allan Poe, The Raven 1845

Quite frankly I would be more concerned if a Boing airbus or a car came crashing through my door!


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