As it happens another Halloween is upon us, and as it happens, it coincides with Hothouse‘s website launch for the 2018-19 academic year. To celebrate, as an act of inauguration, we thought we’d do something collaborative, something that will stir up the spirits and press them to set a watchful eye over our site. Just kidding—we’re not superstitious. Not all of us. Not always. We just like magic. Especially the kind that makes us feel a little shaken and a little spooked; the kind that repeats in our heads when we walk home at night and a car alarm goes off. So here’s what we came up with. If you want to contribute, share your favorite incantation in the comments below, so we can keep this spook fest going.

About, about, in reel and rout
The death-fires danced at night
The water, like a witch’s oils, 
Burnt green, and blue, and white.

– Samuel Taylor Coleridge, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”

     Ever since I read this poem in high school it stuck with me over the years. When reading this section of the poem one feels as though one has fallen into the cauldron itself. Coleridge has some very strong imagery throughout the work and the poem is truly disturbing, not only for the scenes it evokes but for the moral dilemma it reveals. This chilling verse presents itself as he describes the ocean the hopeless seamen face, and the audience is left wondering what is illusion and what is true. After all, no one really knows what the depths of the ocean hides, nor what happens to the hapless sailors who sail its depths.  

— Christie Basson, Website Staff Writer

I ride a horse
With hoarfrost mane
And dripping forelocks
Bringing evil; 
The torch ends burn
The middle brings bane.

 – Njal’s Saga, Author Unknown, Translation by Robert Cook

        This verse is a premonition spoken by a man carrying a torch on a grey horse surrounded by fire. This particular vision (referred to as a “witch-ride”) precedes an act of immense evil that will bring about widespread death, and in this case, the message is delivered by a frost-covered horse surrounded by a ring of flame. The “torch ends” burning illustrates essentially a ticking clock – once the torch burns down to the center, the evil will occur. The image conjured up by the author of this saga is powerfully haunting, and the image of a horse with a frosted and partially melting mane remains firmly embedded in my mind. 

—Sydney E. Stewart, Website Staff Writer

 

Let his blood leave no stain
Though they beat  him
Let him feel no pain 
Let his bones never break
And however they try
To destroy him
Let him never die
Let him never die.

-“No Good Deed,” Wicked, written by Stephen Schwartz and originally sung by Idina Menzel

     The imagery in the second verse of this song is gruesome, with Elphaba listing out all of the torture that poor Fiyero is going through. The first verse, the actual magical chant, is written in trochaic meter, which is the opposite of the iambic meter that we’re so used to hearing. This lends a jumpy beat to the spell. It helps, of course, to listen to the actual song because the music and Idina Menzel’s incredibly powerful vocals add panic and fear to the overall tone. The sounds, coupled with the realization that one can never truly do good in this world, make this incantation dreadfully terrifying.

 —Alyssa Jingling, Website Staff Writer

 

Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn.

     Straight from the chanting of a Louisiana cult come these words, to the terror and dismay of the investigator in “The Call of Cthulhu” by H.P. Lovecraft. As unpronounceable and unintelligible as the words look at first glance, it only gets stranger when the meaning is later revealed—this phrase roughly translates to “In his house at R’lyeh dead Cthulhu waits dreaming.” Though it appears to make more sense than the jumble of letters that came before, it is still incomprehensible—how can a dead being possibly dream? It is a secret, the story argues, that you mercifully cannot understand—for if you could, the eldritch knowledge it would impart would surely drive you screaming into madness. No one wants that. Or do we?

—Alex Taylor, Website Staff Writer

 

(Nancy continues with a new chant) Serpent of old, ruler of the deep. Guardian of the bitter sea. Show us your glory. Show us your power! We pray of thee, we pray of thee. We invoke thee. (lightning crashes)

-The Craft

     “The Craft” demonstrates how witches are most powerful working in tandem with others. In this incantation, the four corners are invoked, and with them the four elements: air, fire, earth, and water. The number four is of definite pagan significance, and in this scene the fourth member of their clan is cemented. Their incantation is successful, and their powers subsequently surge.

—Jay O’Bryant, Website Staff Writer

 

The lake is my friend—a witch and the water
Are bound with a tie—are mother and daughter;
But the Fire is my lover, and licks my bones
and the roar of his joy it covers my groans.
My mother the Water,
My lover the Fire
One shall deliver me
One shall betray me
For an old hire.
-Katherine Anne Porter, “Witch’s Song”

 

     I find this poem haunting for how it invokes the image of witches being drowned, the sacred feminine’s connection to Nature, and how that sacred connection might give woman power (of intuition, of knowledge, of sensitivity) though it can also destroy her as others use her nature against her. But all is not lost, alas if woman reclaims that power—Women who Run with the Wolves readily comes to mind.

—Eleni Theodoropoulos, Website Editor

 

SECOND WITCH: Fillet of a fenny snake, 
In the cauldron 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 cauldron bubble.
Macbeth

 

     An oldie but a goodie in terms of incantations, Macbeth’s witches hold a special place in my heart, as I have a vivid memory of a live Macbeth performance, where by the time the witches and their cauldron appeared on the stage, the air had become just slightly less muggy and the sun had retreated lower onto the horizon, perfectly timed for the witches’ brew and the mist. The witches’ screeches and laughter as they prepared this concoction were almost harrowing, and I’ve spent a long time thinking about them. 

lves readily comes to mind.

—Julia Schoos, Editor-in-Chief

 

The chrysanthemum has gone sour,
the chrysanthemum aches and drops,
a pity what a pity, in early Frost Month,
my platinum hand wilts, 
as I sharpen my fingers, 
hoping to nip the chrysanthemum, 
the chrysanthemum lest it be nipped,
in a corner of glittering heaven,
the chrysanthemum is ill,
the rancid chrysanthemum aches.

-“Chrysanthemum Gone Rancid” by Sakutarō Hagiwara (trans. by Hiroaki Sato)

     There’s something about the music and imagery of the poem that makes it seem incantatory and spell-like. The poem, written by Japanese poet Sakutarō Hagiwara (1886-1942), uses repetition to generate a discomforting sense of fixation or obsession–it almost seems like saying the word “chrysanthemum” is a compulsion that the speaker can’t disobey. At the same time, the flower’s name is a structuring component of the poem, lending the poem a stilted, irregular rhythm and serving as the nucleus around which the rest of the poem revolves. The imagery of the speaker’s wilting “platinum hand” and its desire to nip the sickly flower, too, is unnatural and uncanny–it’s a wonderfully weird way to describe a pair of pruning shears. The poem succeeds in elevating this encounter between an aching chrysanthemum and aching human into something that is at once charmingly strange and disconcertingly beautiful; unfamiliar, yet oddly mesmerizing.

—Luis De La Cruz, Managing Editor

 

I bake my bread, I brew my beer,
Soon the queen’s own son I’ll claim!
For no one knows that 
Rumpelstiltskin is my name!
-The Brothers Grimm, “Rumpelstiltskin”

     This chant is at the climax of the tale right before Rumpelstiltskin falls. He revels in his triumph before he has achieved it and that helps the queen to defeat him, by naming him. I read this story as a boy, a version paired with vivid illustrations—and I never forgot the chant. I suppose it’s his hubris that makes me appreciate the gleeful song; he is about to rob a mother of her child and walk away scot free, but first he has to crow about it. Then, as now, it was satisfying to see someone cruel be tripped up by their own pride, so that their cruelty would be foiled. Or perhaps it’s the world of fairness most obvious in children’s stories still captivates me.

—Kevin LaTorre, Website Staff Writer

157

Þat kann ek it tólpta

ef ek sé á tré uppi

váfa virgilná

svá ek ríst

ok í rúnum fák

at sá gengr gumi

ok mælir við mik

I know the twelfth:if I see up in a tree

a hanged corpse swinging,

I carve

and colour the runes

that the man moves

and speaks with me.

-Hávamál

     These are Odin’s words, translated from the Old Norse epic poem Hávamál, carved into bone or brick in the early Viking Age. The twelfth of eighteen Ljóðatal (spells) which the Wisdom God won, this particular spell details the runes necessary to bring a man back from the cold darkness of Helheim. The Norse People believed in the physical power of language and the use of the word “colour” refers to the actual process of carving the rune. Thus the spell is as much an act of forming a character as it is the aural power of the incantation, and the song describing the power of the magic is the physical manifestation of that same magic. They were not wrong—literature has kept many living long past their last breath. 

—Jojo Phillips, Website Staff Writer

 

Give them some way of braying brassily
For caressive calling
Or to homophonous hiccoughs
Transpose the laugh
Let them suppose that tears
Are snowdrops or molasses
Or anything
Than human insufficiencies
Begging dorsal vertebrae
 
Mina Loy, “Songs to Johannes”

     I have been recommending Mina Loy’s work to everyone lately, and this “incantation” was no exception. Though this poem is more of a love song than a spell, the excerpt reminded me of a faerie’s mutterings. From its captivating alliteration and transformative imagery to the vertebral descriptions and commanding voice, the passage has all the haunting, harrowing power of a fantastical creature’s croon.

—Anna Dolliver, Website Staff Writer

Posted by:hothouselitjournal

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