Recently, along with practically every other sort of magic under the sun, we’ve seen a revival of interest in Icelandic magical practices. I’ve already examined two books that came to us via the Museum of Icelandic Witchcraft and Sorcery. Now we have a new release that provides us with more examples of such texts – Sorcerer’s Screed: The Icelandic Book of Magic Spells, by “Skuggi,” the pen name of Jochum Magnús Eggertsson. The book was recently featured in a story on Mental Floss, so the time has come for a review.
Unlike the grimoires from Iceland we’ve examined previously, Sorcerer’s Screed is a compilation of spells from many different texts, compiled by “Skuggi” and first published around 1940. I had some qualms about a twentieth-century grimoire compilation, but based upon comparisons with the materials in other works, most of it seems accurate – although I still have questions about the sphinx on page 172. The individual items are not sourced, so if you were hoping to track a particular ritual back to its origin, you won’t have an opportunity. A list of different manuscripts does appear near the end.
Most of the rituals within are based upon staves, so we receive a book full of beautiful illustrations. Most of these have been redrawn from the original manuscripts, and redrawn again by a graphic designer, which does raise questions as to how accurate they are. Nonetheless, all of them are reproduced in red, and many of them are quite elaborate, which makes for a striking book.
The staves within are used for a good number of purposes – victory over enemies, catching thieves, winning at legal cases, and healing injuries. These contain a mixture of Christian and pagan elements. The work also features a number of short rituals to create magical helpers, including the tide-mouse and a “speaking spirit.” My personal favorite is the tilberi, a magical helper made out of a human rib wrapped with wool that drinks your blood in exchange for stealing milk that you can make into butter.
Perhaps the main draw of the book is the complete procedure to create the infamous necropants. Stephen Fry can explain these for you, if you don’t know already:
What really scares me, however, is the epilogue, in which the author claims he is also preparing another book (never completed, to my knowledge), on black magic. The fact that this procedure turned up in the book of good magic should trouble all of us.
I quite enjoyed the Screed, although it does have properties noted above that might annoy people approaching it from one angle or another. I’m on the fence about which book I’d recommend for those who only wanted to have one – perhaps the Two Books would be the best choice? If you like Icelandic magic, though, this is a definite buy.