The Staff of Sorcery

The staff of sorcery
A fragment of an Eddic poem Hárbarδzljód (20) suggest that Oδinn got a magic staff (gambantein) from a giant named Hlébarδr. We learn from Skáldskaparmál (4) and Þórsdrápa that the god Þórr borrowed his staf from a spell working giantess, Griδr.
A mythical hero of Fjölsvinssmál (26) named Svipdagr tried to obtain a staff from a witch-giantess named Sinmara (Simek 2006:285). In all three cases, the staffs seem to have a particular connection with the giants. It actually seems that they were a product of their hands. This is also clearly suggested in Fjölsvinnsmál (26), where we read that the god Loki (under the name of Lopt) made a magic staff named Lævateinn (Simek 2006:185). An iron staff or sorcery (járnstafr) held by a giant is also mentioned in Olaf’s saga Tryggvasonar (33).

In Styrbjarnar Þattr, Eiríkr receives a staff (reyrsproti) from the god Oδinn and during a battle this item transforms into a spear (Turville-Petre 1975:47) A similar event also occurs in Gautreks saga (7). This is particularly interesting since it seems that spears appear to have a strong connection with the staffs of sorcery. Lotte Motz (1996:84) has interestingly touched upon this problem in one of her books:

“Since Oδinn does not use his spar as an aggressive weapon, but as a magic instrument, since it alternates with a reed, it is possible to assume that the spear had [been] the magic staff, which is held by the sorceress. The change from reed into deadly weapon is indeed valid in Icelandic texts”.

Frazer (1911:32) mentions an interesting South-Slavic belief according to which, trees that grow on graves are considered as a fetish. He adds, that whoever breaks a twig from it hurts the soul of the dead but gains thereby a magic wand, since the soul embodied in the twig will be at his service” (Frazer 1911:33) This provides yet another piece of evidence that in many cultures items such as staff of sorcery could indeed be perceived as actual persons or parts of persons.

Miclar manvélar ec hafδa viδ myrcriδor,
Þá er ec velta Þær frá verom
Harδan iotun ec hugδa Hlébarδ vera,
Gaf hann mér gambantein.
Enn ec vélta han ór viti,

Mighty love-spells I used on the witches
Those whom I seduced from their men;
A bold giant I think Hlebard was,
He gave me a magic staff,
And I bewitched him out of his wits

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3 thoughts on “The Staff of Sorcery

  1. I was doing some research on the gambantain when I came across your blog and I’ve really enjoyed reading through some of your articles. It makes a change to find an easyread that exposes an educated opinion on the subject treated. I’ve only just started to work on a library/study project about Loki and if you agree, I wanted to ask permission to list your article in the library section and link to your blog. It goes without saying, I’ll be crediting you as a source. Greetings for now.

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      1. Many thanks Rig. I’ve just published my first blog in a long time and I have crossreferenced to another article of yours. It’s not exactly the layout I wanted to achieve but it will have to do for now. At least I can upload documents and articles on the blog. I do look forward to read more from you and feel free to feedback and add comments if you so wish. All the best, KL.

        Liked by 1 person

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