Searching for One True Form
The perfect meter to cast a spell
I skimmed the internet most of the morning and read that the old Norse word for magic might have referred to all the elements of the subconscious. But an attempt to follow that lead (academically) went nowhere fast. Or rather, it lead to the fact that the word definitely meant no such thing.
“No such thing”. The vernacular of my childhood may have been monosyllabic, but it was never concise, and never without an invitation to the imagination.
One writer, who refers to themself in their biography as a scientist (yes, generic), made an anachronistic reading of Norse poetry through the lens of Jung’s theories… and words get scattered over the internet like dandelion seeds on the neighborhood lawns.
This landscape is pretty familiar now: I try to sort through fragmented bits of information when I do “research” for the new book, but mythology and folklore are not about facts. Everything is rightly described as “believed to be”. Beliefs themselves are believed to be. Was there ever such a thing as a Druid, or were the accounts Roman xenophobic propaganda?
But the truth is, I love the circular momentum of exploring the the points of disintegration. Noticing where a fact breaks—no: ravels into perhapses. It’s like a self-reflective form of augury. A kestrel circling the work of her own evisceration.
And like witches convening the elements of the new fortune.
My ex-husband had a grand aunt who knew a spell to stop a wound from bleeding. He told me this matter-of-factly. A one true thing he knew—this engineer who daily calculated the weight of things to keep them afloat on their way to and from the North Sea.
Maybe our need to hold on to the uncertainty of magic is greater than our need for facts?
The old Norse poetry form of Ljodahått is a chant. By adding a line (or two) that repeats the conclusion, the poet turns the verse into Galdralag: a spell.
In The Poet’s Craft, Annie Finch talks about different kinds of diction. The Anglo-Saxon-, Latin, or French-rooted words that color our conversations in English. Inevitably, a Norwegian who chooses to speak to me in English will say that it’s because they “don’t have the words” in Norwegian. Or that “it doesn’t sound as good” in Norwegian. I won’t speculate about unconscious cultural hierarchies now, but I will say that I always feel the need to counter by saying there are Norwegian words whose English equivalents don’t “sound right” to me. It usually comes down to something visceral, not intellectual: words that describe perceivable specifics of the natural world. The sound that water makes when the tide pulls out from between the small pebbles on the shore has a single word. Two syllables.
Random facts I know:
Like charades, spells should be performed.
Mother birds use a unique language to speak to their hatchlings.
A hexagon is the perfect use of space. It is structurally stable. Look at a honeycomb or a wasps’ nest. It’s not kin to Shakespeare’s pentameter, but to the Alexandrine with the alternating feminine and masculine endings.
The Norwegian word for womb is literally the mother of life. The cervix, the mouth of the mother of life. (Talk about taking the human body out of the hands of academics.)
Latin is the language that tamed the Bacchae.
I don’t suppose that is strictly true. But surely, we climb back through the Latin and through the Greek to find the source of magic?
I want to cast spells. But I can’t crawl back through an adopted language to reach a dead one. It goes as much for Old Norse as it does for Greek. The staccato, the syncopation of syllabic verse have no roots in my heart. As an infant, even when the message was wrong, the melody was true: the words of dedication uttered over my bald head at the altar, and the muffled conversations that seeped through the door after bedtime were iambic—sometimes understood, often undermined, but always tucked in at the end: It’s believed to be; [There’s] no such thing.
I have always known a charm from a curse by the lifts repeated in the lines of the community’s song. To turn my back on this music would be academic.
While looking for a nonce meter form to use for this collection about sin-eaters and ornamental hermits, I’ve been wanting to follow numbers. 40. 42. 6.
Today, because of medication, my red blood cells are collectively at a low point—but if left alone, the individual cells would rise and fall independently in a staggered rhythm of roughly 40 days.
It takes 40 days to mend a fracture, and 40 days to replace the epidermis. Hindu women spend 40 days secluded after childbirth. Jesus spent 40 days in the desert. Muslims believe the dead may return on the 6th day or on the 40th.
The list goes on as far as you want to follow it. One half-truth will beget another.
In fact, you can pick any path alongside a river and follow it to the one sea.
This is my path.
Loosely based on the Galdralag, I’d thought to call this an anchorite verse. But that seems like overreaching, since many of the medieval anchorites wrote in verse.
For now, these are my sin-eating verses:
A UI | UI | UI* UI | UI | UI*
B UI | UI | UI* UI | UI | IU* (AB alliteration)
C UI | UI | UI UI | UI | UI (C internal alliteration – 3 primary stresses)
D IU | IU alliteration with above line (Anglo Saxon diction)
(repeat for a complete stanza = 40 beats)
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