There is a remarkable story in the Eyrbiggia Saga, (Historia Eyranorum,) giving the result of such a controversy between two of these gifted women, one of whom was determined on discovering and putting to death the son of the other, named Katla, who in a brawl had cut off* the hand of the daughter-in-law of Geirada. A party detached to avenge this wrong, by putting Oddo to death, returned deceived by the skill of his mother. They had found only Katla, they said, spinning flax from a large distaff. " Fools," said Geirada, "that distaff was the man you sought." They returned, seized the distaff, and burnt it. But this second time, the witch disguised her son under the appearance of a tame kid. A third time he was a hog, which grovelled among the ashes. The party returned yet again; augmented, as one of Katla's maidens who kept watch informed her mistress, by one in a blue mantle. " Alas ! " said Katla, " it is the sorceress Geirada, against whom spells avail not." Accordingly, the hostile party, entering for the fourth time, seized on the object of their animosity, and put him to death.* This species of witchcraft is well known in Scotland as the glamour, or deceptio visus, and was supposed to be a special attribute of the race of Gipsies.
* Eyrbiggia Saga, in. Northern Antiquities.
Neither are those prophetesses to be forgotten, so much honoured among the German tribes that, as we are assured by Tacitus, they rose to the highest rank in their councils, by their supposed supernatural knowledge, and even obtained a share in the direction of their armies. This peculiarity in the habits of the north was so general, that it was no unusual thing to see females, from respect to their supposed views into futurity, and the degree of divine inspiration which was vouchsafed to them, arise to the degree of Haxa, or chief priestess, from which comes the word Hexe, now universally used for a witch; a circumstance which plainly shows, that the mythological system of the ancient natives of the North had given to the modern language, an appropriate word for distinguishing those females who had intercourse with the spiritual world.*
It is undeniable that these Pythonesses were held in high respect while the pagan religion lasted; but for that very reason they became odious so soon as the tribe was converted to Christianity. They were, of course, if they pretended to retain their influence, either despised as impostors, or feared as sorceresses ; and the more that, in particular instances, they became dreaded for their power, the more they were detested, under the conviction that they derived it from the Enemy of man. The deities of the northern heathens underwent a similar metamorphosis, resembling that proposed by Drawcansir in the Rehearsal, who threatens " to make a god subscribe himself a devil."
* It may be worth while to notice, that the word Haxa is still used in Scotland in its sense of a dmidess, or chief priestess, to distinguish the places where such females exercised their ritual. There is a species of small iutrenchment on the western descent of the Eildon hills, which Mr. Milne, in his account of the parish of Melrose, drawn up about eighty years ago, says was denominated Bourjo, a word of unknown derivation, by which the place is still known. Here an universal and subsisting tradition bore, that human sacrifices were of yore offered, while the people assisting could behold the ceremony from the elevation of the glacis, which slopes inward. With this place of sacrifice communicated a path, still discernible, called the Haxell-gate, leading to a small glen, or narrow valley, called the Haxellckuch óboth which words are probably derived from the Haxa, or chief priestess of the pagans.
The warriors of the North received this new impression concerning the influence of their deities, and the source from which it was derived, with the more indifference, as their worship, when their mythology was most generally established, was never of a very reverential or devotional character. Their ideas of their own merely human prowess was so high, that the champions made it their boast, as we have already hinted, they would not give way in fight even to the immortal gods themselves. Such, we learn from Caesar, was the idea of the Germans concerning the Suevi or Swabians, a tribe to whom the others yielded the palm of valour; and many individual stories are told in the Sagas concerning bold champions, who had fought, not only with the sorcerers, but with the demigods of the system, and come off unharmed, if not victorious, in the contest. Hother, for example, encountered the god Thor in battle, as Diomede in the Iliad, engages with Mars, and with like success. Bartholine* gives us repeated examples of the same kind. " Know this," said Kiartan to Olaus Trigguasen, " that I believe either in idols nor demons. i have travelled through various strange countries, and have encountered many giants and monsters, and have never been conquered by them ; i therefore put my sole trust in my own strength of body and courage of soul." Another yet more broad answer was made to St. Olaus, King of Norway, by Gaukater. "i am neither Pagan nor Christian. My comrades and i profess no other religion than a perfect confidence in our own strength and invincibility in battle." Such chieftains were of the sect of Mezentius " Dextra mini Deus, et telum, quod missile libro, Nunc adsint! " *
* De Causis Contempt® Necis, lib. i. cap. 6.
And we cannot wonder that champions of such a character, careless of their gods while yet acknowledged as such, readily regarded them as demons after their conversion to Christianity.
To incur the highest extremity of danger became accounted a proof of that insuperable valour for which every Northman desired to be famed ; and their anna's afford numerous instances of encounters with ghosts, witches, furies, and fiends, whom the Kiempe, or champions, compelled to submit to their mere mortal strength, and yield to their service the weapons or other treasures which they guarded in their tombs.