In the Song of Spells, the last section of the Havamal (Sayings of the High One) the singer tells of 18 spells that he knows, presumably magic he has learned on his quest, from gaining the runes, the song of power he learned from Bestla’s sire, and other sources.
Most of the spells are indicated to be songs, possibly incantations or poetry, and indicated that they were meant to be sung, although sources indicate that the way galdr (which means song or spell song) were not sung in a way that most people would consider singing today. Based upon descriptions, it would have sounded more like Chinese opera and Germanic tongues, as the voice was indicated as being shrill and high pitched, most likely done in falsetto. Of course, that doesn’t mean that is how it was actually done, or how it needs to be done today.
The first eleven runes of the Song of Spells are indicated as being songs or sung, some of them because they don’t indicate anything else. Where that indication is lacking, it might also just be a marker that perhaps it was by pure force of will that the desired change took place, but it is easy to figure that it meant a song. Whether it was wordless, or had a sung incantation, well that is something I desire to find out for myself, and encourage others who are curious and courageous to do so likewise. Of course, in this case, the word rune might indicate poetry of some kind, as in later times it often became a word associated with such things, such as the populary poetry of Traditional Wicca, The Witches Rune.
It is with the twelfth, thirteenth and fourteenth rune that the indication is clearly changed (although the sixth rune indicates a methodology that is different, it is not the singer who is working differently, but the singer’s foe.) The twelfth rune indicates that symbols are written and runes and carved, the thirteenth shows the simple use of water, and the fourteenth is the accumulation of wisdom and knowledge into the otherworlds and it’s inhabitants. The following runes can easily be assumed that we return to the technique of magical song, and not much can be said, other then song itself seems to be a powerful and popular technique in the northern tradition.
The 18 runes of the Song of Spells also indicate various areas of magical influence. To any well read or practiced magic worker, most of these should be pretty familiar in terms of general categories. They cover most areas that any worker would have some knowledge in, and so it also serves as a measuring rod for ones experience and ability.
Here is what contemplation on the section I understand to be the different runes
1) the first rune is probably the widest category, as it governs spells that would aid one in most material concerns, ie wealth. I also see it as including magic that removes spiritual “ick” (ie cleansings and purification) and just about anything else that also needs to be addressed in material living for example, gossiping, good luck, breaking bad habits, employment, legal magic etc…
2) the second rune is the rune for healing. That’s pretty obvious. It would include all types of healing, from mental illness, to disease, to injuries.
3) The third rune is for the binding of foes and restricting their ability to do harm. It is in a sense protective, but in reading the stanza, it has more to do with limiting the ability of foes to do harm over all, then protecting the singer.
4) The fourth rune is a rune that breaks restraints, constraints and would also be the curse breaker/jinx killer/ uncrossing. While it describes the northern tradition idea of literally chains and fetters falling away, metaphorical and metaphysical chains and fetters can also be done away with as well. It is appropriate that this would follow the previous rune, which is the opposite, a spell that binds your enemy.
5) The fifth rune is the first spell of protection, as it describes stopping an arrow that has been shot. In Scandinavian folklore the troubles and unusual afflictions that seem to come from nowhere (sudden colds, accidents, bad luck) are often described as troll shot or elf shot, arrows that supernatural beings have “shot” at humans to bring woe and afflictions. The spell of this protection could easily be a protection against those possibly daily troubles or irregular afflictions.
6) The sixth rune describes the action of a foe laying a curse on the singer. In this case though, the singer is able to turn the curse back on the foe by the power of his spell song. Part of what makes this stanza interesting is that it might have described a method of laying spells on others in which a tree root (possibly still living tree) is carved upon to curse someone else. Since that indicates one of the possible methods of laying runes, but it seems to be a method which is not often indicated among ways to work runes.
7) The seventh rune is a rune that quenches fires, and protects against homes being burned down, a common danger when you often had a fire that was never extinguished to cook with, heat with and light your home with day and night. As common folklore often has many protections against lightning strikes for the home, this might also be a spell used for that category, and so belongs to magic that protects the home.
8) The eighth rune is a spell to influence the thoughts and minds of men, in this case to eliminate anger, hatred and conflict within a household or community, because there is dissent or bickering. This is also a traditional use of magic, to keep peace among the home and community.
9) The ninth rune is the rune of weather magic, a common attribute given to all those who work magic. While in this case it is to calm the weather and the sea, it could just as easily be worked to stir up the weather and send storms, or call winds that are beneficial or harmful to sailing vessels, or any type of journey.
10) The tenth rune is a rune of protection against evil spirits, in this case described as “witches” (or in one translation hedge riders). As “witches” are folklorically described as being evil supernatural beings who are able to fly and attack people while they sleep, robbing them of their health or life. It is also a description of the magical attack method known as “hag-riding” in which one who had the skill would visit a person at night, and torment them, possibly unto death. Protections against had riding are various, but a song that would also turn hag riders back, and would destroy them (as some protections are described as doing) it is also has a traditional basis. It could easily have influence over malefic spiritual forces that might be inclined to do the same thing, either by intention, or out of being forced by another practitioner.
11) The eleventh rune is a rune of protection during travel. While it does describe his comrades going to battle, there is the clear suggestion that going to fight involved a journey of kind, and thus there needed to be protection during the journey, the battle, and upon returning.
12) The twelfth rune is the rune of necromantic magic. In the northern tradition the idea of a spectral entity was originally foreign. It was believed that corpses would actually move, get up and speak. Also as indicated before, this is not a song, but symbols and runes which are written, and so the dead man (a man who was hung, which would have been done on a tree, but also likely at a crossroads) comes and speaks, either to share knowledge, or for the worker to gain the aid of the dead in achieving a desire.
13) The thirteenth rune is the next rune that is not a song, but a blessing for children, done with water. Of course the blessing doesn’t come into effect until the child has grown up, but many of the blessings done on children are not meant until they become adults.
14) The fourteenth rune is not a spell, but the accumulation of wisdom and knowledge about the other worlds. In this case, it is the special wisdom that is often attributed to those who work magic and communicate with the residents of the other world. This knowledge also gives them special powers as well, as they can have exchanges with these beings and might also gain powers from. Much as in the more southern idea of words of Power, or the Egyptian names, that by knowing the identities of those forces which command the natural world, so is the singer able to command the natural world as well.
15) The fifteenth rune is a continuation of the knowledge of the other worlds, and their powers. In some translations the “wisdom of Odhinn” is also called foresight. In the sense that seeing these two connected, it might also point to extra sensory powers, by which one can perceive the powers and beings of who command the forces of nature, and by that perception, can know their names and ask for their aid, but in knowing their natures, knows which beings to ask for what manner of aid.
16) The sixteenth rune is one of the few mentions of love magic being used in the northern tradition. The singer describes that by song he may gain the heart of a woman, who is knowledgeable and wise, and so gain her love, and possibly her bed.
17) The seventeenth rune continues this description, but focuses more on the shy and youthful. This is also love magic, but in this case the target is more reticent and withdrawn. It is harder to gain her heart, but with this song, even she will bend to the singers will. To me this describes the more forceful spells used in influence and persuasion that would now days be described as domination or control/command/compelling spells. By compelling the shy maiden, even she gives in to the singers desires.
18) The eighteenth rune is a mystery, as the singer will not describe, except for a special person, which he describes as “his sister or the woman who shares his bed.” Some secrets are best kept secret. Some authors in looking at this stanza have attributed it to sex magic, and thus the intimate relationship of the fellow learner. I see how it might be that, but it could really be anything that the singer just did not wish to share with his audience.