Magic, Mystery, a little Whisky, and a Cat

I is for Incantation

An incantation is a spell—a chant or rhyme meant to have magical effect. It comes from a Latin word meaning to sing or chant. As time passed, the word took on the more specific magical meaning.
Partly for fun, partly to make this blog entry super easy for me, here is the best incantation of all time. From “the Scottish play” of course, and easily the freakiest thing you will see in the next fifteen minutes. You can’t really hear the words in the clip so I’ve posted them below—and yes that is Patrick Stuart who pops in at the end.

▶ Double Double Toil and Trouble – YouTube.

The weird sisters are raising power to do mischief. Shakespeare did a lot of, well, stealing is a harsh word. Let’s say he took old ideas and refashioned them—always with his own twist. Doing that well is a kind of magic, too, and I’m thinking J.R.R. Tolkein and J.K. Rowling here. In the case of the weird sisters, Bill may have had in mind an Old Norse skaldic poem in which twelve valkyries choose who is to be slain in battle. He might have been thinking of the Fates from Greek mythology who weave the fabric of life. He may also have been influenced by King James proclamation concerning witches, which was in effect when Willie Bill was writing the play, and for another 130 years. Who knows?

What he did was use the witches and their spell to lay the groundwork for the tragedy to come. They remind me of a Greek chorus, too, commenting on the actions though in this case they not only comment, they prophesy and maybe even cause things to happen. Theatrical legend has it that Shakespeare used a real witch’s spell and thus the Scottish play was cursed.
The incantation:
William Shakespeare (1564-1616)
from Macbeth
A dark Cave. In the middle, a Caldron boiling. Thunder.
Enter the three Witches.
1 WITCH. Thrice the brinded cat hath mew’d.
2 WITCH. Thrice and once, the hedge-pig whin’d.
3 WITCH. Harpier cries:—’tis time! ’tis time!
1 WITCH. Round about the caldron go;
In the poison’d entrails throw.—
Toad, that under cold stone,
Days and nights has thirty-one;
Swelter’d venom sleeping got,
Boil thou first i’ the charmed pot!
ALL. Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and caldron bubble.
2 WITCH. Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the caldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt, and toe of frog,
Wool of bat, and tongue of dog,
Adder’s fork, and blind-worm’s sting,
Lizard’s leg, and owlet’s wing,—
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.
ALL. Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and caldron bubble.
3 WITCH. Scale of dragon; tooth of wolf;
Witches’ mummy; maw and gulf
Of the ravin’d salt-sea shark;
Root of hemlock digg’d i the dark;
Liver of blaspheming Jew;
Gall of goat, and slips of yew
Sliver’d in the moon’s eclipse;
Nose of Turk, and Tartar’s lips;
Finger of birth-strangled babe
Ditch-deliver’d by a drab,—
Make the gruel thick and slab:
Add thereto a tiger’s chaudron,
For the ingrediants of our caldron.
ALL. Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and caldron bubble.
2 WITCH. Cool it with a baboon’s blood,
Then the charm is firm and good.


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