Although anyone may cast a spell and, historically, people from all walks of life have been accused or suspected of witchcraft, certain professions have, over the centuries, accrued a magical reputation. Belonging to one of these professions bestowed an aura of mystery and power, although sometimes, depending on mainstream societal orientation, that aura was considered sinister.
Midwifery is also a profession intrinsically identified with witchcraft. During the witch-hunt era, for various reasons, midwives were among those most vulnerable to accusations of witchcraft. Connections between midwifery and witchcraft are deeply rooted in women’s ancient spiritual rites, and midwives are discussed in WOMEN’S MYSTERIES.
In general, those practicing the magical professions were skilled people: not just anyone could operate a mill or create fine swords. These professions were also renowned for maintaining professional secrets. However these were not obscure professions but somewhat commonplace, necessary, every-day, even superficially mundane ones, particularly in agricultural societies: there was no bread without a miller; no agricultural tools without a smith.
It is crucial to appreciate that all or even most individual millers, smiths and metalworkers and stonemasons have nothing to do with occult sciences and many, although not all, tremendously resent these associations. It is the profession itself that is traditionally identified with sorcery and witchcraft.
With the exception of the coachman who is a special case (see page 625), what these professions have in common is transformation. Like the stage magician producing a rabbit from that seemingly empty hat, the miller transforms grain into flour; the mason transforms solid rock into sacred architecture, and the metalworker transforms lumps of metal into practical, sacred, beautiful, and valuable objects.
For the modern rationalist mind this is impressive, although, in a world that denies magic, it is hardly magical. Ancient minds, however, perceived stone, grain, and lumps of metal very differently and so these transformations were powerfully magical indeed. Millers, and especially smiths, were cut from the same cloth as alchemists: spiritual masters of transformation and transmutation—except that millers and smiths demonstrated their expertise and magical mastery daily for the greater good.
Magic, at its most primal, ultimately derives from mysteries of creation. The act of sexual intercourse, which produces new life where once it didn’t exist, may be understood as the first magic spell and the one that still remains most powerful and mysterious. (And of course, in addition to the philosopher’s stone, alchemists like Dr Faust strove to create artificial but living people, the homunculus.)
With the exception of the coachman, associated with mysteries of death rather than birth, the other magical professions are all involved with acts of creation.
Millers, masons, and smiths transform the fruits of Mother Earth’s body (grain, stone, and metal) into new, crucial, and sacred forms.
One other factor to keep in mind when considering the magical aspects of these professions: two of the magical professions have historically been dominated by women, fortunetelling and midwifery. During the witch-hunt era, both were intrinsically identified with witchcraft; both professions were subsequently decimated. Even after the witch-hunts, both professions retained a disreputable air, identified with poverty and superstition. Fortune-telling remains illegal in many places; midwifery often has so many legal restrictions placed upon it as to make its practice virtually impossible. In the twenty-first century, both professions still bear the scars of the witch-hunts.
The other professions, however, are almost exclusively identified with men (although, as we will see, women associated with these professionals—ironworkers’ wives, millers’ daughters—were also traditionally considered magically empowered). Because victims of the witch-hunts were overwhelmingly female, many often ask, where were the male witches? At the time, witch-hunters claimed the preponderance of women accused of witchcraft indicated women’s special relationship with Satan and their general moral weakness, however many historians now suggest that men were simply not as frequently labeled “witches.”
Skilled professional men went to work daily, grinding grain and crafting metal. These professions, rooted in shamanism and Pagan priesthoods, were utterly necessary for the everyday maintenance and continuation of society. Society would have ground to a halt without millers and metalworkers. Therefore they did not become official targets of witch-hunters even if concurrent legends suggested that it was impossible to be a successful miller without a Satanic pact, that masons were in the forefront of the devil’s army, and that the devil himself was a smith when he wasn’t moonlighting as a coachman.
These professions retained their magical aura; rumors regarding individual professionals were quietly but insistently whispered and legends regarding these professions still survive. However, their ancient shamanic associations were often publicly ignored—as they were not with midwives and healers. (See MAGICAL ARTS: Healing.)
Spectral coachmen, demonic coachmen, headless coachmen, coachmen with glowing eyes…Phantom coachmen are the subjects of many ghost and horror stories. The seemingly innocuous appearance of a coachman in a fairy or folktale signals an ominous note to those familiar with the tradition. Throughout Central Europe and beyond, coachmen were often identified as powerful sorcerers, sometimes even as the devil and not just in fairy tales: the very last woman executed for witchcraft in the Germanic lands, Anna Maria Schwaegel, beheaded in 1775, told the court that the devil tempted her in the form of a coachman. (See WITCHCRAZE!: Germany.)
Why? What’s so significant about a coachman? It seems like a fairly straightforward profession. Before the invention of automobiles, if you wanted to get somewhere that was too far to walk, you either got on a horse or hired a coach, the equivalent of a horse-drawn taxi. The coachman is the driver. People wealthy enough to own a coach and horses kept one or more coachmen on staff as personal chauffeurs, so they could go wherever they wanted, whenever they wanted.
So what’s so significant, powerful or threatening about what was theoretically nothing more than a skilled but relatively menial profession? Once upon a time, after all, back before automobiles, trains, and airplanes, coachmen were pretty crucial: if you wanted to get somewhere, you needed one. One should be glad to have a coachman; the alternative was an incredibly long walk or a trip not taken. So then, why are coachmen often depicted as so malevolent?
The coachman is the exception among professions associated with sorcery and witchcraft. In general, the magical professions involve the ability to transform one substance into another. Coachmen play a different role.
What precisely does the coachman do? A coachman ferries people from one spot to another; he shuttles people from one destination to another, back and forth if needed. He makes sure they arrive safely at their destination; he is familiar with routes and shepherds them safely back home, too, ideally as painlessly as possible.
Who else plays a role similar to this? A shaman—someone who soul-journeys from realm to realm. And, more especially, a shaman responsible for ferrying others from realm to realm.
A metaphysical theory suggests that certain types of illness, particularly comas, catatonia or some emotional disorders, are caused by “soul loss.” Usually caused by intense fear or emotional trauma, a piece or an aspect of the soul (in extreme cases, sometimes the entire soul) is lost. Shamanic healing involves locating, then returning the lost soul.
Sometime dead souls (ghosts) are believed stuck in the realm of the living, whether inadvertently or because for one reason or another they’ve refused to depart for the Realm of Death. A skilled shaman serves as a coachman, transporting—by force, if need be—the dead soul to the realm where it now belongs.
“Coachman,” thus, can be a euphemism for “shaman.” Many shamans were also priests or high-ranking practitioners of ancient Pagan faiths; following the rise of Christianity, these traditions—and shamanism in general—were forbidden and diabolized. Shamanism developed a notorious reputation, and the position of coachman was tainted by association. (Of course, although many shamans could be considered coachmen, not all coachmen were shamans.)
However, uneasy associations with coachmen may pre-date Christianity. After all, what is the most frequent destination of the shamanic coachman? What mythological figures play a similar role?
Charon, the ancient Greek ferryman, shuttles dead souls from the Realm of the Living to Hades’ Realm of Death. Charon is among the sons of Nyx (see DIVINE WITCH: Nox/ Nyx). He only ferries those who have been given spiritually correct funeral rites including payment for his services (the source of the practice of placing coins in a corpse’s mouth or over its eyes.) Others are left stranded. Like a skilled, professional coachman, Charon must be paid or his services are withheld.
Theoretically, Charon only ferries souls in one direction but legends recall shamans, notably Psyche, who know the right tricks and techniques to persuade Charon to make it a round-trip, returning them to the Land of the Living again.
Charon may originally have been an angel-of-death-like figure who did more than just chauffeur: the name of the Etruscan spirit of death is usually spelled Charun in English to distinguish between them, although Charon and Charun are most likely the same deity. Charun wields a hammer while accompanying his friend Mars, Lord of War, onto battlefields, the better to finish off victims before carrying them off to his realm. The connection with coachmen is even more explicit with Charos, an angel-of-death-like figure of modern Greek folklore, who rides a horse to ferry dead souls to their next home.
On the other hand, maybe Hades, ancient Greek Lord of Death, is the prototype for the supernal coachman: a coachman himself, he drives a coach pulled by black stallions. When Demeter received a description of the vehicle in which her kidnapped daughter Persephone was last seen, the identity of the kidnapper was immediately apparent.
The association of vehicles with death survived. The devil was often envisioned as a coachman transporting damned souls. Krampus, Santa Claus’ diabolical sidekick, is often portrayed carrying crying children off to Hell, sometimes in a car and sometimes driving a sled down a torturous, slippery slope. Of course, Krampus’ friend Santa has his own sled, famously pulled by reindeer, the animal intimately identified with Saami shamans. (See HORNED ONE: Krampus, Santa Claus.)
In many cultures, deities are envisioned driving a chariot pulled by various animals; the type of animal that pulls their chariot reveals much about the nature of the spirit. Aphrodite’s chariot is pulled by doves; Freya’s by cats. Thor drives a chariot pulled by goats while Hecate’s chariot is pulled by dragons. The ability to command animals’ cooperation and assistance was perceived as magical and a sign of tremendous spiritual and shamanic power.
Once upon a time, emblems representing deities were transported in wagons during sacred processionals—as is still done with saints on their feast days. This occurred through much of the world, especially in Germanic areas—a region with particularly intense associations between coachmen and wizards. The wagon driver fulfilled the function of the coachman but was usually the deity’s trusted priest.
Associations between wagons and shamanism survived for centuries, even after the introduction of Christianity, among the Nordic siedkona. (See DICTIONARY: Seidh, Siedkona.) The siedkona was a traveling shaman and diviner, going from community to community in her wagon. Although it might not be the primary listing on her résumé, she—or whoever drove her—was also a skilled and competent coachman, shamanically and also literally.
The invention of the automobile made the occupation of coachman obsolete. Most people can learn to drive a car sufficiently well to get from one destination to another. Although perhaps most people can learn to ride a horse sufficiently well to get from one place to another, not everyone can drive a team of horses attached to a coach, especially because the nobility preferred having their coaches pulled by beautiful, powerful but high-strung and frequently temperamental stallions, not nice tame, old, slow donkeys. The coachman who could drive the most difficult team of horses, those horses who couldn’t be driven by just anyone, was the most prized, valued coachman of all.
Driving a team of horses is not the same as beating circus animals into submission so that they’ll perform simple, repetitive tricks. To be an accomplished coachman implied the ability to communicate with horses.
The Hungarian táltos is strongly identified with coachmen. During the witchhunt era, being a táltos was forbidden on pain of death. Rumor had it that individual táltos sought safety and the ability to discreetly maintain their craft by becoming coachmen. Although not all coachmen were táltos, many táltos became coachmen. Those who required their services thus knew where to find them.
In Europe, alongside ravens, bears, and wolves, horses are the animals most identified with shamanism. Horses were once considered exceptionally sacred, and vestiges of this tradition survive in the magical, talking horses that populate fairy tales. In Hungary, not only a human can be a táltos, the indigenous powerful shaman, certain animals can too—most notably horses. (See DICTIONARY: Táltos.)
The coachman who commands horses, simultaneously maintaining a good relationship with them—crucial to long-term success at the occupation—is intrinsically tied to shamanic horse-whispering, the gift of communicating with horses. This coachman can harness the horses to take him on magical journeys as well as on mundane.
Although the professional coachman is now largely obsolete, the coachman remains identified with wizardry and magical powers, especially in creative works but also in legend, although few recollect why:
In Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula, the count’s coachman commands wolves (and presumably werewolves!)
In the MGM musical The Wizard of Oz, actor Frank Morgan portrayed the wizard, the conjurer Professor Marvel, and the coachman of Oz.
Theologian and folklorist Harry Middleton Hyatt amassed a massive folkloric archive, personally interviewing over 1600 people, with special focus on African-American and German-American folk traditions. During the later 1930s, one German-American informant from Quincy, Illinois identified a whipcracking coachman as a witch.
Mention the word “mason” and what automatically springs to mind for many is secret societies. “Mason” is indeed an abbreviation for Freemasonry, the controversial and mysterious fraternal organization. For the past few hundred years, the very notoriety of Masons (whom some still suspect of plotting world domination) has obscured what was so special and mysterious about masons in the first place. After all, Freemasonry’s name evokes the mysterious mystical reputation of the stonemason, not the other way around.
Although there may be Masons who are masons, masons are not necessarily Masons. In the context of these pages, “Mason” with a capital “M” refers to Freemasons; “mason” with a lower-case “m” refers to the professional artisanal craft.
The relationship between Masons and masons is no coincidence, however. As the historical witchcraze died down, hysteria over Freemasonry increased and has never entirely abated. Because Freemasons were initially identified as a small but elite and powerful group (some might also say because Freemasonry was originally exclusively male), the hysteria it engendered never reached witchcraze proportions, however at one time to be a Freemason was a crime punishable by death in many regions. The magus Alessandro Cagliostro, for instance, died in jail, sentenced to life imprisonment in particularly brutal solitary confinement, not for practicing alchemy, the magical arts or fraud (all of which he did indeed perform) but for promulgating Freemasonry.
Freemasons could have called themselves anything but chose the term Freemason because they claimed to be the spiritual descendants of ancient master masons who bore a potent reputation for possessing secret magical and spiritual traditions. The master mason wasn’t just associated with general magical arts but with crucial and significant magical secrets. Master masons were identified as powerful, elite, educated wizards.
For a moment, let’s forget Freemasons and focus on stonemasons. What exactly do masons do? They build architectural structures. Masons are builders but not just any builders. Once upon a time, masons rarely built common, everyday homes, for instance, although as house architecture became more sophisticated, this was no longer necessarily the case. Average people didn’t hire masons, who were fine craftsmen with expectations of proper compensation.
Royalty and nobility who lived in estates, palaces, and castles would hire (or commandeer) masons but, in general, the first professional masons were involved with building places of worship: the massive stone temple structures of Egypt, the Mediterranean, East Asia, and the Middle East. (Similar traditions also existed among the Aztec, Inca, and Maya.)
Like metalworkers and millers, the mason is also a master of transformation:
He transforms raw stone into buildings
He transforms mere edifices into sacred territory
These masons knew architectural secrets: they built arches and vaults. However masons knew spiritual and magical secrets too.
Beyond the required technical expertise, sacred buildings couldn’t just be thrown together like some rustic barn-raising. Simply building a beautiful building wasn’t sufficient to create sacred space. Shrines and temples were dwelling-places for deities; the shrine was intended as the deity’s home.
Centuries before the concept of “Commanding and Compelling” emerged, these supreme deities could not be commanded or compelled to live in homes so carefully built for them. (See MAGICAL ARTS: Commanding and Compelling.) “Inviting” them or summoning them wasn’t sufficient either. Instead the edifice had to be transformed into a dwelling place worthy of the deity. Construction of shrines and temples thus entailed spiritual and magical rituals. Careful attention must be paid to taboos: nothing could offend the deity.
Different deities required different rituals and different types of edifices. Usually some type of sacrifice was incorporated, quite often, once upon a time, blood sacrifice. If an animal was sacrificed, it had to be sacrificed according to specific ritual. Different deities expect different types of animals and different rituals. The wrong ritual or ritual done incorrectly can evoke rage, rather than favor. And, of course, sometimes, once upon a time, animals were considered insufficient: some deities apparently expected human sacrifice.
People were walled up within structures or their blood carefully and ritually spilled. The nature of sacrifice is very tenuous. What is intended to please may enrage instead, as demonstrated in the Greek myth of Tantalus and Pelops. Tantalus thought to please the Olympian gods by offering them his most precious possession, his son Pelops. Perhaps once this would have been acceptable but Tantalus was out of date and behind the times: the Olympian gods now considered human sacrifice passé and reprehensible and so punished Tantalus severely while returning Pelops to life. (It’s believed that the myth exists to remind people of the current unacceptability of human sacrifice and to describe the transition. Notably, one deity is shown accepting Tantalus’ sacrifice: the Corn Mother Demeter.)
Where human sacrifice were once permitted but later forbidden, rituals became especially complex. Substitutions had to be carefully and correctly made to avoid evoking the deity’s displeasure.
The mason needed to know exactly what type of sacrifice was expected and acceptable because as buildings became larger and more impressive they were both more expensive to build and could potentially cause more damage if they fell. The collapse of a thatched cottage does less damage than the collapse of a huge stone structure filled with people—a collapse understood as the displeasure or vengeance of the god.
The Code of Hammurabi decreed the death penalty for builders and masons whose building collapsed onto inhabitants. (Hammurabi himself had trained as a stonemason.) Moreover, important buildings weren’t believed to just collapse: among Merlin’s first feats was explaining to the Saxon overlord Vortigern why the watchtower Vortigern had commissioned would never stand but would continually topple, no matter how well it was rebuilt. (The tower was built over a nest of dragon’s eggs.)
Master masons were the spiritual craftsmen in charge of these rituals and sacrifices. Many practices were secret; master masons were the ones who knew.
These Pagan masons built the Parthenon, the Serapeum, the Pyramids of Egypt, the Temple of Isis at Philae, and so many other ancient, sacred structures. One brotherhood of skilled masons was reputedly initiates of a Dionysian Mystery tradition. Most significantly in terms of their later reputation and their association with witchcraft, ancient master masons built King Solomon’s Jerusalem Temple under the supervision of Solomon, himself a master magician; among his wives was a pharaoh’s daughter. Solomon had access to magical secrets from all over the ancient world and perhaps beyond.
King Solomon is renowned as the first “Commander and Compeller.” Among the many legends told about Solomon is that he harnessed the power of spirits (Djinn) to build the Jerusalem Temple. Asmodeus himself served as master mason and may have passed some professional secrets along to human masons, as well. (See HORNED ONE: Asmodeus.)
Alternative legends, based more closely on biblical accounts, suggest that Solomon hired master craftsmen from many lands. No comparable building had ever been built in the Jewish kingdom and thus Solomon hired experienced craftsmen from elsewhere. History indicates that the Jerusalem Temple was similar in architectural style to Semitic Pagan shrines.
According to legend, among those master craftsmen were those Dionysian initiates. These masons would eventually become associated with the Knights Templars, who set up base on the site of what was once Solomon’s Temple, hence their name.
Legend had it that the Knights Templars did some excavation and exploration. What they learned remained secret, privy only to the innermost circles of their fraternal order. No longer just monastic knights, the Knights Templars also transformed, at least according to this legend, into an elite, secret mystical society. (See HORNED ONE: Baphomet.
The Jerusalem Temple was eventually destroyed, subsequently rebuilt, and destroyed once again, as eventually were most Pagan temples and shrines. Christianity’s rise to political power was accompanied by a strenuous campaign to close and destroy Pagan shrines. (See DIVINE WITCH: Kybele.)
The professional masons who built those shrines and supervised their maintenance survived, however, as did their artisanal skills. Regardless of spiritual orientation or mystic secrets possessed, their professional builder’s secrets were invaluable and irreplaceable. Master masons were soon hard at work supervising the building of cathedrals. Perhaps because their professional expertise was so crucial, former Pagan affiliations were overlooked. From the beginning, masons, not average builders or stonecutters, but elite master masons, carried an aura of magical power and bore a spiritually subversive reputation that never entirely dissipated.
Although master masons were intrinsically associated with the rise and glory of Christianity, they never entirely shook that old reputation of being secret, subversive, magical adepts. Based on the inclusion of Pagan motifs like Sheela na Gigs, gargoyles, and horned deities (sacred or diabolical, take your pick) into sacred Christian architecture, that reputation may not have been undeserved.
Images that later appear on Tarot cards were carved onto church façades. Some believe this indicates that tarot cards are nothing more than a game, deriving from common, everyday medieval life; the cards thus were inspired by sacred architecture. Others interpret this appearance as indicating that some masons were privy to ancient Egyptian mysteries and that the cards and architectural motifs both derive from the same Pagan source.
Modern European stonemasons’ guilds first appeared in approximately 1000 CE. In order to work as a mason, one was required to join a guild. Other masons had to accept you. Upon acceptance, one went through levels of apprenticeship, after which one rose to the rank of journeyman. Finally, after many years and much training, one might earn the status of master. Although many professions had guilds, masons were unusual for their time: they did not sell products but instead sold their labor and expertise, their knowledge.
Many Christian cathedrals are built over the sites of ancient Pagan holy places. It was suspected that master masons were secret guardians of these Pagan sites who maintained authority by infiltrating Christianity. Master masons are also associated with the mysterious Black Madonnas who may or may not be Isis or Mary Magdalen in disguise, as well as with the Grail mysteries of the Priory of Sion, as described in Dan Brown’s bestselling novel The Da Vinci Code.
Various explanations for these rumors were offered, the most popular being that master masons, who pass on their secrets from one to another, generation after generation, were descended from survivors of Pagan Mystery Schools—Dionysian and others. Following the destruction of Paganism, these survivors eventually discreetly joined together in exile. They continued to ply their trade but secretly maintained and preserved Pagan traditions. Some suggested that these masons, like witches, were an insidious fifth column just waiting their opportunity to take over the world—a fear eventually transferred to Freemasons.
Another theory regarding the secret masonic Pagan traditions ties directly into the legendary origins of Freemasonry. When the victorious crusaders, the Knights Templars, settled into their Jerusalem headquarters, they unearthed old metaphysical secrets, many beyond their understanding. In their attempt to comprehend, according to this legend, they made contact with people who possessed ancient Pagan masons’ secrets or somehow became initiated into the secrets of this mystery tradition.
When the order of the Knights Templars was later suppressed, many knights were arrested and executed but some escaped and survived. Some of these surviving knights allegedly traveled to Scotland, where they hid incognito before emerging among Scottish stonemasons’ guilds. These Scottish craftsmen’s guilds, secretly infiltrated by Templars and others possessing ancient masons’ mystical and spiritual secrets, were the seed that sprouted the international fraternal organization known as the Freemasons.
Whether or not this is true, legends purported to stem from the building of the Jerusalem Temple are central to the mythic origins of Freemasonry.
Freemasonry derives its origins from the legendary mason Hiram Abiff, Son of the Widow, who was murdered during the building process, although some suggest this “murder” actually refers to human sacrifice. Freemasonry, like alchemy, has historically employed codes to transmit information and so it is unknown how literally this story should be taken. It is not the story as told in the Bible, which does discuss the building of Solomon’s Temple.
The first book of Kings (7:13-15) describes how Solomon sent for Hiram of Tyre, son of a widow of the tribe of Naphtali, although his father was a Tyrian. Some understand Hiram to be the name of an individual however others interpret the phrase as referring to “the Hiram of Tyre.” Tyre, now located in modern Lebanon, was then an important city-state; its rulers may have been known as “Hirams” just as Egyptian rulers were “pharaohs.” Whether Hiram was common man or king doesn’t preclude his being a magical adept. According to scriptures, however, Hiram did not die but lived to see the completion of the project. Furthermore he was not a stonemason but that most magical of artisans, a metalworker, a man who crafted bronze and brass (see below, Metalworkers).
Metalworkers or smiths are primal magicians, shamans, and alchemists. The most primeval forms of magic are menstrual magic, shamanic spirit-working, and botanical (herbal) magic; modern magic was born with the advent of the Iron Age. The history of the modern magical practitioner is intertwined with the history of smithcraft.
Smiths, the original alchemists, evolved the art of transmutation, transforming one substance into another via the elemental powers of fire and water. The smith’s art was kept secret for centuries: those who possessed its secrets were able to craft weapons and tools by which they could completely dominate their neighbors—world domination indeed. These secrets were invaluable; people died maintaining them or attempting to obtain or steal them.
Metalworkers existed before the Iron Age. Metalworkers created beautiful sacred ritual objects of gold and silver; they crafted alloys of brass and bronze, and both remain sacred amongst many traditional cultures. However, iron was special and not just because it could be used to forge steel and create incredibly sturdy, powerful tools and weapons.
Iron derives from two sources: the purest iron on Earth comes from outer space, in the form of meteorites, thus it was metal from heaven, a gift of the gods. And yes, the ancients recognized where these meteorites came from, perhaps witnessing them fall. We know because some meteorites were extensively described, and were considered holy objects sacred to various powerful goddesses, most notably Artemis of Ephesus and Kybele. (See DIVINE WITCH: Artemis, Kybele.) The black stone that is the center of veneration at Mecca’s Kaaba is a similar meteorite; prior to Islam, the shrine was associated with a mother goddess.
Iron from the sky was affiliated with sacred deified mothers; the other source of iron is iron ore from within Earth. That, too, has primordial associations with primal female power, the power of the Great Earth Mother.
The magical art of metalworking didn’t emerge from thin air as an independent art. It was a continuation, a transformation, of an earlier magical art, the most ancient magic of all: women’s lunar, menstrual mysteries. This is a type of magic obviously restricted to women alone. Ironworking enabled men to participate too.
Menstrual blood was considered the most magical charged substance on Earth (and in many magical traditions it is still considered so). What could possibly be more powerful than an individual woman’s menstrual power? The Earth Mother’s own menstrual secretions—iron. In the right hands, this was regarded as potentially the single most powerful object on Earth.
Central Asia’s Turkic tribes had another perception of iron ore: they perceived raw metals as Earth’s waste products. If left alone, for a sufficient amount of time, they would eventually develop into finished metal. This “sufficient amount of time” might, however, be thousands of years—too long for any individual to wait. Smithcraft was a method of hurrying up the process. (This is the seed from which alchemy grows.)
Of course, not only is no other substance as magical, powerful, and potentially dangerous as menstrual blood, no other substance is subject to so many taboos and restrictions. Mining, shaping, and working iron were thus fraught with danger. Digging around in Earth was once considered akin to rape; it could not be done safely without the guidance and protection of Earth’s guardian spirits, especially snake spirits, powerfully affiliated with both women’s lunar mysteries and magical ironworking. (See ANIMALS: Snakes.)
By virtue of their contact with this magic material and their mastery over the substance and its spiritual mysteries, smiths were more than just artisans. They were the original master magicians, priestesses, and priests of the Earth’s mysteries. Although some smiths might also perform shamanic functions, smiths became the first professional magicians, requested to perform rituals and spell-casting on behalf of other individuals.
No wonder iron and steel swords were so much more powerful and efficient than older bronze weapons! Traditional menstrual magic is often used for defensive, protective reasons; ironworking puts the power of the Earth Mother’s blood into the hands of warriors.
The ironworker is traditionally more than just a metalworker, however. Like the professional witch and midwife, the ironworker is usually a multi-tasker, serving as healer, herbal practitioner, dentist, barber, body artist, and often the only person in the community authorized to perform circumcisions. (To this day, there are Bedouin communities who will await the arrival of a nomadic smith to perform all needed circumcisions, even if it takes years for one to turn up.) The smith carves amulets and musical instruments, performs cures, devises and leads rituals, and communes with the spirits. Metalworking (and associated spiritual and magical) secrets were closely guarded.
Smiths were simultaneously respected and needed, feared and persecuted. Rulers needed master smiths to create weapons and tools for them, so that they could maintain their authority. Others wishing to topple that authority would approach the smith as well, hoping for assistance. Because smiths were master diviners, theoretically they would know which side to back. Smiths thus held a pivotal position of power and an uneasy association with authority.
Smiths’ spiritual associations led to other concerns:
Because he is in daily contact with Earth’s ultimate power substance and is able to bend it to his will, the smith is perceived as having greater magical power than the average person. That magical power is continually replenished and reinvigorated by his proximity to iron.
However, iron, as Earth’s menstrual blood, is not only powerful but dangerous, subject to taboos and spiritual restrictions, especially in the hands of a man. The ironworker who handles it openly and constantly is obviously powerful but also commonly perceived by outsiders as somehow “tainted” or unclean.
Historically, both women and men have been ironworkers. Various myths suggest that women first discovered smithcraft or, conversely, that its mysteries were uncovered by a married couple: forged metal is created from fire and water, the most intensely male and intensely female elements.
Traditional smithcraft often involves a man and woman working together—the man wielding the hammer, the woman working the bellows. This dyad is reproduced in the marriages of sacred smiths: Athena and Hephaestus, Oya and Ogun. Notably, neither marriage worked out happily, perhaps reflecting that professional smithcraft, dependent on physical strength, eventually became a male-dominated profession.
A professional class of magical practitioners was born. Outsiders’ ambivalence toward magic was born, too. Smithcraft evolved into clans in order to keep precious magical secrets in the family. (And also because outsiders liked the smith’s services but often preferred keeping them at arm’s length when not needed.) The smith’s wife, who often worked alongside him, became a power in her own right: many ironworkers’ wives were healers, midwifes, and fortune-tellers. In the Middle East, spiritual and magical use of henna, a botanical substitute for menstrual magic, was strongly associated with Djinn and with ironworkers’ wives.
Iron is the one material that consistently repels harmful spells and malicious spirits. Fairies and Djinn allegedly fear iron, although Djinn, like dwarfs, are also simultaneously considered master metalworkers. A piece of iron or steel, iron’s derivative, placed under the pillow keeps the spiritual dangers of the night away. Iron is considered so powerful common magical wisdom suggests that if you don’t have any, just saying the word “iron” offers spiritual protection.
Many smiths evolve into nomads: the most famous are the Romany whose traditional lifestyle epitomized ironworking clans. Clans travel together and marry within their group. Men work as smiths and musicians; women as healers, shamans, and diviners.
Unlike masons and millers, but like fortunetellers and spell-casters, in many traditional societies, ironsmiths are explicitly identified with magic. Many engage in divination and spell-casting themselves. This type of ironworker still exists in communities in Africa and Asia.
In Christian Europe, ironworking became identified with the devil. The devil was envisioned hard at work in a forge, hammer in hand, frequently wearing the leather apron that is the smith’s uniform and which derives from women’s ancient magical costumes.
Sacred smiths exist too. Like ancient smiths, smith gods are both male and female. Female smith spirits are in touch with their martial side; male smith spirits have intense relationships with women, and often demonstrate complex relationships with their mothers. Male smith spirits tend to be intensely macho, testosteronedriven deities, however the magical art of smithcraft is never entirely divorced from women’s mysteries.
The traditional history of ironworking to a great extent parallels that of magic working. People need and desire smiths. Their services are crucial, yet people are also afraid to get close to them and will often not allow them to live as fully integrated members of society.
Among the spirits identified with metalworking are the following.
The Goddess of Crafts: in addition to dominion over spinning, weaving, and war craft, Athena is credited with inventing metal craft.
Few spirits have gone through as many permutations as Athena. She originated in North Africa as a deity presiding over women’s mysteries. Centuries later, she would emerge as the staunchest defender of Greek patriarchy, the sponsor of such heroic quests as killing Gorgon Medusa, once her alter ego. In her guise as Matron of Smithcraft, Athena was once wed to Hephaestus, sacred Greek metalworker (see page 636). Their son, a snake, was the founder of Athens and progenitor of the Athenian ruling family.
Athena eventually became powerfully associated with literal, physical virginity; her ancient relationship with Hephaestus and ironworking was subsequently downplayed. Athena wears the aegis, a power apron, possibly related to the smith’s leather apron (or vice versa). Her sacred animals include crows, dogs, goats, horses, owls, rams, spiders, wolves, and snakes.
Brigid, whose epithets include “The Fiery Arrow,” “The Ash-less Flame,” and “Moon Crowned Lady of the Undying Flame,” is the Celtic goddess of healing, music, poetry, and smithcraft. Sometimes depicted with a serpent wreathed around her head, she may also manifest as a column of fire. Alternately, a pillar of flame emerges from her head. Her attributes include a cauldron, a spinning wheel, and smith’s tools. Brigid was venerated throughout Celtic Europe and incorporated into the Christian pantheon as St Brigid.
“Dactyls” means “fingers.” These mysterious Anatolian spirits were considered Earth’s first metallurgists. They discovered iron and the art of forging metal. There may be three dactyls or ten; they may be female, male or count both genders among their roster. According to one legend, when the Earth Mother was in the throes of labor, she plunged her fingers into Earth. These fingers took on a life of their own as the Dactyls. The Dactyls travel in Kybele’s retinue, dancing and clashing their cymbals.
Dwarfs are the master smiths of Nordic mythology. They helped forge the World Mill from which Earth was created. (See page 639, Millers.) Dwarfs, also known as dark elves, are ultimately under the dominion of Freyr, the Elven King.
Like Snow White’s seven dwarfs, dwarfs are traditionally miners: they are involved in every aspect of metalworking, from extraction to the crafting of exquisite jewelry and weapons. Unlike Snow White’s dwarfs, however, sacred mythological dwarfs don’t live in little houses but deep within Earth, inside mountain caverns.
Hephaestus is the Greek sacred smith. Like Brigid, he is a fire spirit, in his case Lord of the Forge’s Eternal Flame. Hephaestus’ own forge was believed located within Mt Aetna. (The Romans identified the Sicilian spirit Vulcan with Hephaestus; however, Vulcan was specifically the spirit of Mt Aetna, the volcano, rather than a sacred smith.)
Hephaestus was unique for a Greek god, who are typically described as perfect physical specimens. Hephaestus was described as misshapen and ugly. Some stories suggest that his mother, Hera, was so appalled when she saw her deformed child that she flung him from Mt Olympus; another version of the story suggests that it was Zeus who did the flinging, enraged when Hephaestus sided with his mother during a quarrel.
Like a fallen angel, Hephaestus fell for nine days and nights, landing in the sea where beautiful water spirits rescued and raised him, teaching him the art of smithcraft.
His first projects involved creating beautiful jeweled ornaments for these mermaids. He eventually constructed a palace and forge under a volcano on the island of Lemnos. Eventually, the gods discovered what marvelous, magical crafts Hephaestus could create and subsequently welcomed him back to Olympus.
Hephaestus was usually depicted as a large, lame, bearded man bent over his anvil. He walks with the shaman’s limp. Homer described him as walking with a stick or cane. According to another myth, Hephaestus was unable to walk unassisted so he created the first robots: a pair of incredibly beautiful, naked, life-size mechanized women crafted from gold. One walked on either side of him.
The agora (marketplace) of Athens was dominated by the Hephaistheum: a temple dedicated to Hephaestus and Athena. Snakes are Hephaestus’ sacred animals.
Inari, the Shinto fox spirit, is most often associated with rice but also has dominion over smithcraft. Inari is invoked for abundance, prosperity, longevity, and love. (See ANIMALS: Foxes.)
Ogun, West Africa’s Lord of Iron, is not just the spirit of ironworking—he is iron itself. No need to “offer” Ogun a blood sacrifice; he is present in the very knife that draws blood, thus the Yoruba proverb that Ogun always eats first. His presence may be invoked by crossing two pieces of iron and anointing them with red palm oil.
Ogun cut the first paths through Earth’s primordial wilderness. He creates tools for hunting, protection, war, healing, and magic. Ogun is among the few deities common to the various West African pantheons: under the names Gu, Gun, and Ogou, Ogun remains as constant and reliable as iron. Devotion to and awareness of Ogun is also shared by the various spiritual traditions of the African Diaspora including Candomblé, Santeria, and Vodou. Devotees of Palo know him by the name Zarabanda. Ogun sponsors all those who work with metal: soldiers, police officers, hunters, body artists and circumcisers, surgeons, and taxi and truck drivers. Ogun both protects against car accidents and causes them.
Although Ogun is considered an exceedingly macho deity, and the occupations he sponsors were traditionally almost exclusively associated with men, the connection between iron and women’s mysteries is never forgotten. Ogun’s most sacred attribute is an iron cauldron. Devotees maintain his cauldrons with tremendous care and reverence, placing offerings to Ogun within them. Also within them, one will usually discover carefully cultivated red rust as a reminder that traditional ironworking magic stems from Earth’s menstrual mysteries and never strays very far from those roots.
Attitudes towards Ogun parallel ambivalence toward iron. Santeria tends to view Ogun with caution: he is volatile and potentially dangerous and so should be handled with utmost care. Without iron weapons, Earth would be a much safer place; wars could not be as devastating or as violent. The implication is that it is the nature of iron itself to be blood-thirsty.
In Haitian Vodou, however, Ogun is a heroic figure. The Haitian war for independence began as a slave rebellion, inaugurated at a ritual honoring Ogun. In Vodou, Ogun is syncretized to the Archangel Michael, Protector of Humanity, depicted with his flaming sword in hand, always vigilant to defend those who request his help. Ogun is also syncretized to the ever-victorious warrior, St James the Greater.
In African cosmology, Ogun lives deep within the forest, amongst a band of brothers: orishas like trickster spirit Eshu-Elegbara, master hunters Ochossi and Erinle, and herbalist Osain. (See DIVINE WITCH: Ochossi; HORNED ONE: Exu; PLACES: Forest: Osain, Swamps: Abatan.) Ogun may be a king but he lives simply and works constantly. He was once married to the warrior orisha Oya who worked the bellows for him. Ogun subsequently had a happier relationship with Oshun, crafting the copper, brass, and bronze with which she is closely identified. Ogun’s sacred creatures are dogs and snakes. (See DICTIONARY: Orisha, Palo, Santeria, Vodou; DIVINE WITCH: Orisha Oko, Oshun, Yemaya.)
Svarog, ruler of the sun and spirit of fire, once headed the Slavic pantheon. Svarog is a divine smith and patron of human smiths. He forged the sun. His sacred territory is the hearth; he is present in hearth fire and forge fire. Hearth fire was once called “Svarog’s son.”
He is literally a patriarch, considered the father of other Slavic deities. He invented the concept of marriage. Svarog is a shape-shifter; he can assume any form, sometimes appearing with three heads. Favorite manifestations include his sacred animals: a bull, a horse, a gray wolf or, especially, a falcon.
Post-Christianity, he was demoted to a fire demon or sometimes equated with Satan. Some of his old functions were assigned to St George.
Tubal-Cain is identified in the Bible as the first worker in bronze and iron. A direct descendant of Cain, he is sometimes considered responsible for his ancestor’s death. (See HORNED ONE: Cain.) Tubal-Cain’s brother was the first musician. Masons reputedly venerate Tubal-Cain; a piece of Masonic jewelry allegedly makes sly punning reference to Tubal-Cain and to the fertility power with which smithcraft is associated. A lapel pin or tie stickpin is crafted in the form of a phallic-shaped cane with a ball on either side (Tubal-Cain, Two-ball Cane…).
Wayland the Smith
Wayland the Smith is also known as Weyland, Woland and Völund, depending on region. The legend of Wayland, Saxon Lord of Smithcraft, appears throughout Teutonic territories, most famously in an Icelandic saga but also in Anglo-Saxon, Frankish, Germanic, and Nordic sources.
Wayland learned smithcraft from the dwarves. In his very earliest incarnations, Wayland is an Elven King and the creator of many magical objects. In his most famous tale, Wayland encounters a swan maiden (Valkyrie) bathing in a lake. He steals her feather cloak and she is obliged to remain with him. He falls deeply in love with her and they live happily together for a while—in some versions for as long as seven years. Eventually however, for reasons unknown, the Valkyrie flies away.
Wayland pines for her but remains faithful. He waits, living by her sacred lake, working in his forge, making beautiful things he intends to give his beloved on her return, especially magical, golden rings.
King Nidud of the Swedes and his sons discover Wayland and lust for his gold. They steal his treasures and kidnap him, keeping him imprisoned on a small island complete with smithy. Nidud orders Wayland to produce treasure for him, and he has the sacred blacksmith lamed to prevent his escape and to compel Wayland to serve.
The power of the metalworker trumps all; Wayland begins his process of revenge. He lures Nidud’s two sons to his island with promises of wealth. He kills them and converts their skulls into spectacular jeweled drinking cups.
Ironworking magic is intensely intertwined with sexual capacity and fertility, and metalworkers are traditionally identified with sorcery and spell-craft. Wayland causes the king to lose sexual prowess and vitality; because of this, Nidud stops sleeping with his wife. The queen secretly visits Wayland, and begs him, as a sorcerer, to give her a spell to regain her husband’s affections. He agrees but tells her the price is one night of love: she must spend the night in Wayland’s bed. He assures her that in return she will be the mother of a king.
Further Reading: Various works detail the spiritual and magical traditions surrounding iron and metalworking. Sandra Barnes’ Africa’s Ogun (Indiana University Press, 1997) and Patrick R. McNaughton’s The Mande Blacksmiths (Indiana University Press, 1993) detail the still vibrant traditions of Africa. Nor Hall’s Irons in the Fire (Station Hill, 2002) explores the worldwide poetry and mysteries associated with ironworking.
The next day he gives her the two skull cups, telling her to serve the king wine within them. She does. The king, having drunk deeply, hears the supernal voices of his sons and realizes he has violated a major taboo, akin to cannibalism, by drinking from their skulls. He commits suicide. In the meantime, Wayland has constructed wings for himself and flies away to freedom. The queen discovers she is pregnant with Wayland’s child. She sees him flying away and reproaches him bitterly: he assures her that he is an accurate prophet and that all he has told her is true. In fact, the son she bears does become the next king. Wayland’s son, unlike the previous king, turns out to be a caring, ethical, responsible ruler.
Wayland makes cameos in various myths and sagas including Beowulf, where he forges tools for the hero. Eventually, smiths would be diabolized rather than deified and Wayland’s name would become a synonym for Satan. He may or may not appear, in this guise, in Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel, The Master and Margarita. (See CREATIVE ARTS: Literature.)
Millers or references to millers appear in an amazing number of fairy tales. The most famous are Rumpelstiltskin and Puss in Boots.
In Rumpelstiltskin, a miller boasts to the king that his daughter can spin straw into gold. The king takes him at his word and orders the girl to come to the palace, where she is placed in a room filled with straw, given a spinning wheel and told to get started. If she can complete her task, she’ll marry the king; if not, she’ll be killed. Eventually, through the intercession of the dwarf, goblin, spirit or whatever he is named Rumpelstiltskin, the girl is able to accomplish her tasks and become queen.
In Puss in Boots, a miller dies, leaving three sons behind. The eldest son inherits the mill and the second inherits his donkey. There is nothing left for the youngest son to inherit but the miller’s cat. The boy prepares to eat the cat when the cat suddenly speaks, saying that if the boy will only get the cat a pair of boots, the cat will provide for him forever. In the face of a miracle—a talking cat!—the boy does as requested and spends his last pennies having a pair of boots crafted for the cat’s paws. The cat promptly begins scheming: by the end of the tale the poor miller’s son has been transformed into the fictitious Marquis of Carabas. The cat has killed a giant, given the boy the giant’s castle, and arranged for the boy to be married to a princess.
These stories remain among the most beloved fairy tales but are generally considered silly, nonsense stories. Of course, there’s no reason to consider them otherwise, unless one appreciates the magical reputation millers once possessed.
Milling may seem like commonplace work: what does a miller do after all but grind grain into flour? But that’s a superficial, modern, rationalist view. What does the miller really do? The miller transforms: he takes the harvested grain and through the process of milling, traditionally involving a millstone and millpond, transforms it from botanical material into food.
Milling may be understood as the further continuation, post-harvest, of the mysteries of the Corn Mother. The miller may be understood as the Corn Mother’s priest; a role he undoubtedly played at one time very long ago. (See ERGOT for further details.)
Stonemasons were associated with elite spiritual mysteries. Metalworkers might be sorcerers but theirs was a private craft and always slightly distant from the community. The miller, on the other hand, might be considered the magician next door. Extensive mythology and folklore detail the miller’s magical connections. Let’s take another look at those two fairy tales:
Both father and king in Rumpelstiltskin are usually portrayed as fools. Dad is a braggart: if he hadn’t boasted of his daughter’s ability to spin straw into gold, she would never have gotten into the predicament. The king is gullible: how can he possibly believe that a mere girl could perform such feats? But of course, the average reader no longer understands the central point of the story. There’s a reason why the father’s occupation is named; it isn’t just extraneous detail. The girl isn’t just a mere girl; she’s explicitly identified as a miller’s daughter. Once upon a time, that had a magical resonance, now forgotten. Odds are, the king wouldn’t believe that any old girl could perform magical transmutations—essentially the equivalent of alchemy. But a miller’s daughter? That’s a different matter.
The father (the miller) may be perceived as doing one of two things: he is bragging, but what he’s bragging about is his own magical prowess, so powerful that it has rubbed off on his child or is transmitted genetically. He may also be understood as setting up his child’s future. Like the cat in Puss in Boots, he is manipulating a royal future for his charge. He has faith that she will rise to the challenge, and indeed she does.
It is no accident that Rumpelstiltskin shows up. The girl was never expected to literally turn straw into gold by herself: the king realizes that a human can’t do that. However, millers are traditionally identified with spirit working and spirits can perform miracles, which indeed is exactly what happens in the story.
The girl is expected to tap into her shamanic skills and contact a spirit who will help her. Ultimately she successfully does this. The part of Rumpelstiltskin that is most vague is why the little dwarf shows up—specifically what prompts him. Spirit-summoning techniques are millers’ secrets and the story does not expose (or know) them.
Rumpelstiltskin performs transmutations for the girl: his ultimate price, her first-born child if she can’t identify his name, marks the contest between them. Which of the two will command the other? If she gives up her child, she is making him an offering and pledging obeisance to the spirit; on the other hand, according to tenets of spirit-working going back to tales of Isis and Lilith, one can only have complete power over a spirit, the ability to command, if one knows the spirit’s real name. (See DIVINE WITCH: Isis, Lilith.) By the end of the story, the miller’s daughter is queen and a full-fledged spirit-commanding shaman.
In Puss in Boots, the superficial interpretation (shared by the brothers in the tale who apparently haven’t been privy to their father’s secrets) is that the youngest son has received the least valuable inheritance. From an economic standpoint, that’s true. The eldest son inherited real estate; the second son inherited livestock. The youngest son has inherited only a small pet animal and a disreputable, apparently useless animal at that. This tale was first told during the witch-hunt era when cats were still closely identified with demons and witchcraft. The cat was presumably the guardian of the granary, protecting it from vermin; it’s a useless animal unless one possesses a barn.
But that’s the point: the story demonstrates that the miller’s most precious inheritance is not wealth but his magical traditions. Notably the cat requests footwear: the item of clothing most identified with shamanism. He needs those boots to activate his power.
The stories may also be understood as muffled protests. In both stories, the protagonists, millers’ children, are poor, ignorant, out of touch with their innate magic power, and in trouble. Milling was once a sacred task. Grinding up the Corn Mother’s botanical children into food for her human children was magical work, fraught with spiritual injunctions. Post-Christianity it evolved into menial labor but by the conclusion of those fairy tales, the millers’ children have regained their psychic power (the daughter can summon and command powerful spirits; the son can communicate with the magical cat) and earned positions as rulers.
Millers once rivaled Masons for secret power: in Scotland, an organization or brotherhood called The Miller’s Word was formed in the eighteenth century, inspired by an earlier Freemason group, The Mason’s Word. The Miller’s Word was based upon a system of local groups with initiations and professional secrets. They held nocturnal meetings. Rumors spread that its members acquired magical power via mill equipment.
Millers assert a strong presence in Central, Eastern, and Northern European folklore although the association of millers with magic power was once common throughout Europe. Millers were perceived as ordinary professionals during the daytime; at night, however, they were skilled sorcerers and shamans, commanding spirits that were sometimes believed to erect mills and grind grain for the miller.
The animals closely associated with millers were cats, which protected grain from vermin, and donkeys, traditionally hitched to millstones. Both species developed disreputable reputations in Europe, as did millers. (See ANIMALS: Cats, Donkeys.) In devoutly Christian areas, millers became identified with Satan. Successful millers were frequently rumored to have sold their souls.
The role millers often play in fairy tales (when they’re not standing in for the devil, as they sometimes do) is that of a shamanic guardian or initiator. Millers save heroes or give them little tips that enable the hero to complete his impossible task.
Millers’ associations with shamanism make sense when one realizes that the miller was the last defense against ergot poisoning (see ERGOT). Although, theoretically, ergot-infested grain should not be included in the harvest, millers were the final inspectors, particularly in communities where the secrets of ergot had been suppressed or forgotten. A miller could not be ignorant of the effects of ergot; presumably these were among the secrets passed from one miller to another. One of the more recent cases of ergot poisoning in Europe occurred when a local miller accepted and ground contaminated grain that had earlier been earmarked for destruction.
In Slavic and Teutonic traditions, mills are believed to be the favored haunts of malevolent spirits (or at least spirits described by Christian sources as “evil.”)
In Karelia, all millers were once reputed to be wizards
In Russia, millers were traditionally believed able to shape-shift into animals
In Russia, millers were perceived as sorcerers because of their (alleged) relationship with the Vodianoi.
The Vodianoi is a much-feared Russian water spirit who usually manifests as a very white, naked, old man. He’s bloated, wrinkled, and his skin has the blue tinge of someone who’s spent way too much time in the water. He has green hair and is covered in slime and swamp moss. Sometimes the Vodianoi has scales like a fish, horns, and eyes that glow in the dark. Sometimes he manifests as a fish; sometimes like a scary merman. The Vodianoi lives underwater in a magnificent, luminescent, crystal palace. He never comes completely out of the water. The furthest he ventures out are riverbanks, although his favorite haunts are millponds.
The Vodianoi is feared because he drowns people (either as sacrifice or as pay-back for rude, disrespectful behavior). Not only does he kill people, he often refuses to return their bodies to loved ones until he has been propitiated with offerings.
There is only one kind of person on Earth the Vodianoi likes and that’s a miller. It was once popularly believed that it wasn’t possible to be a successful miller without a spiritual alliance (compact) with the Vodianoi. When new mills were constructed, black roosters were traditionally offered at the threshold. (Offering black roosters to a spirit in Christian Russia was heresy.) Other rumors were less savory: allegedly, at the construction of new mills—or even just periodically on a regular basis—millers drowned drunks as offerings to the Vodianoi. Because these men were intoxicated, they appeared to have merely fallen into the water; no one suspected that they were really pushed in.
In Hungary, the miller’s magical skills include the ability to order rats about. Various Hungarian legends regarding millers feature the following details:
Millers enlist the aid of spirits they keep enclosed in small boxes
Millers fly through the air on broomsticks
Millers can magically make the mill stop and start working
Millers can recall, by magic power, details regarding any object that has ever been stolen from them.
Everyday offerings were allegedly less dramatic: millers reputedly offered the Vodianoi offerings of bread, salt, and vodka. Legends tell of millers invited to dine with the Vodianoi in his underwater palace; notably, the millers return to tell the tale. These tales may be understood as fairytale legends, fantasy stories or tall tales, or they may be understood as descriptions of shamanic soul-journeying.
According to a famous Norwegian legend, a mill burned to the ground twice, each time on Whitsun Eve. Witchcraft was suspected. The third year, a watch was set: a traveling tailor, new to the area, offers to sit watch all night. He engages in a little Christian witchcraft: casting a circle with chalk, he writes the Lord’s Prayer around it and sits within.
At midnight, a gang of cats creep in carrying a cauldron filled with pitch. They hang it up in the hearth and light a fire beneath it. Soon the pitch boils and the cats start swinging the cauldron back and forth to overturn it. The tailor, within his protective circle, orders the cats to stop. The leader of the cats tries to drag him from the circle but the tailor cuts off its paw. All the cats run off howling. In the morning, the mill is still standing but the miller’s wife is in bed nursing her amputated hand.
Mills appear in mythology: alongside the now more famous World Tree, Norse mythology also has a World Mill. Nine giantesses vigorously turn the mill wheel. (See HAG: Giants.) These millstones grind so loudly, they drown out the sound of even the most violent storms. This mill was used to create Earth out of the body of the giant Ymir.
The Kalevala is Finland’s national epic. It, too, features a magical mill created to suit a witch’s specifications. Elias Lönnrot (April 9, 1802—March 19,1884), folklorist and country physician, traveled the length and breadth of Finland—as far south as Estonia, as far north as Lapland and as far east as Russian Karelia—to search for surviving ancient sung poetry or “runot”—Finnish magical songs. (See MAGICAL ARTS: Charms, Runes.) Runot (singular runo) had remained alive in the Eastern Orthodox regions of Finland although they had been long banned and suppressed in Lutheran areas.
Like fairy tales, women were major sources for the Kalevala. Lönnrot organized the material he had gathered into a unified body of work. He selected favored variants of stories, writing connecting passages for them and creating a unified, coherent mythic saga. The first phase of the Kalevala was completed on February 28, 1835, which to this day is celebrated as Kalevala Day in Finland.
Central to the saga contained in the Kalevala is the construction of something called the Magic Sampo. The Sampo remains mysterious; its identity has never been completely established but it is generally believed to be a mill.
On one side the Sampo mills corn
On one side it mills salt
On one side it mills coins
The Sampo effectively grinds out comfort, stability, and prosperity. Louhi, Mistress of the North (see DIVINE WITCH: Louhi), orders a hero to construct the Sampo for her according to her specifications. She offers to pay for it with her daughter’s hand in marriage. The Sampo is forged and Louhi is satisfied and content. She locks the Sampo behind nine locks and roots it in Earth via magic. All seems to be going well except that her daughter, the Maid of the North, doesn’t want to be married and Louhi, respecting her wishes, won’t force her. In response, three heroes decide to steal the Sampo from Louhi.
Vainamoinen, divine shaman and wizard, lulls Louhi to sleep with magical music played on his kantele (a harp-like instrument). Ilmarinen, the divine smith who actually crafted the Sampo, smears the nine locks with butter to open them. The third hero, a lover-boy Don Juan figure, Leminkainen, attempts to pull the Sampo out of the Earth; the roots are too strong so he “borrows” Louhi’s oxen, hitches them to a plough and cuts right through the roots to steal the Sampo.
As the three comrades escape with their prize, Leminkainen can’t resist singing his victory song, which finally wakens Louhi who is enraged. A witch-war between Louhi and Vainamoinen is waged: each trying to outdo the other with magic. Eventually, Louhi transforms herself into a fantastical bird and reaches the heroes’ ship, where she settles on the mast. A little late, Vainamoinen tries to negotiate: “Oh, Mistress of the North,” he asks, “won’t you share your Sampo with us?” Louhi refuses and demands the return of her Sampo. Vainamoinen strikes her with an oar, knocking her off the mast.
Louhi falls into the sea but grabs the Sampo, taking it down with her. The Sampo falls to pieces. The corn mill and money mill are smashed up. Only the salt mill continues to grind out salt on the bottom of the sea.