What is it about?

The Old Norse-Icelandic literary corpus offers a rich and specific lexicon for spells, charms, magic, and other paranormal events. This article offers an etymological overview of the term atkvæði and a selection of textual occurrences in order to investigate the semantic possibilities of the term beyond the context of witchcraft. The founding hypothesis is that a careful look at atkvæði through various types of texts from different periods of time may highlight its origin in a pre-literate phase of the Old Norse-Icelandic culture where the boundaries between magic, poetry, and law-making were not as clear as the contemporary readers might reckon.

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Why is it important?

The contribution provides a specific study of the term atkvæði, which was still lacking in the field of Old Norse-Icelandic studies. Through etymological and textual observations, the broad and complex semantic spectrum of the word is highlighted, especially in comparison with the similar ákvæði, which is often considered a synonym in the context of sorcery. In fact, not only does atkvæði show many notable nuances of meaning but it also seems to shed light on a historical period when the acts of casting spells, reciting poetry, and making laws were still intertwined, if not one and the same.


I believe the relevance of this article lies in the accurate etymological analysis and the wide range of texts that are taken into consideration. Encompassing different types of documents from different periods of time is important for a research on the Old Norse-Icelandic magic and ritualistic lexicon to be relevant for the field. Both atkvæði's etymology and its various occurrences may take modern critics one step closer to understanding the social constructs and customs of preliterate Iceland.

Michael Micci
Haskoli Islands

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This page is a summary of: Forged with Powerful Words, Amsterdamer Beiträge zur älteren Germanistik, October 2022, Brill,
DOI: 10.1163/18756719-12340265.
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