Historical or fictional, magical and mysterious characters are what good legends are made of. Take a look at this selection of sizzling sorcerers from the past.
Erik Vaderhatt (830/850AD-882AD)
Known as “Weather Hat”, this mythical Swedish king was believed to be able to control the winds with just the hat from his head. He had only to remove the item and point it in the direction he wanted to go for the winds to take him wherever he desired. He put this skill to good use in expanding his lands, adding to his empire until he was a force to be reckoned with.
It is thought that the legend of Vaderhatt is based on a real king of Sweden, Erik Anundsson or Eymundsson, who ruled in the 9th Century. The Saga of Olaf Haraldsson tells of how Erik spent each Summer on expeditions conquering the surrounding lands, taking, amongst others, Finland and Estonia to add to his rapidly growing Empire. He was defeated finally in 882AD.
Sir Francis Drake (c.1540-1596)
Better known for his roles as a great admiral and explorer, Drake also earned a reputation as a powerful sorcerer both in his own lifetime and beyond. Known to the Spanish as “El Draco”, or “The Dragon”, he was said by his enemies to be working with the Devil himself. Rumoured to have a magical mirror that showed him the positions of the enemy ships, he proved a formidable foe, conspiring, according to legend, with local witches to create the winds that saw off the ships of the Spanish Armada. Among the many other fabulous deeds attributed to him, Drake was also credited with bringing water to Plymouth by enchanting a spring of water that followed him to the town – the equally laudable but less exciting truth is that he oversaw the redirection of the stream in order to provide the inhabitants with the water they needed.
After Drake finally met his end at the hands of the Spanish, his drum was sent home to England. Since then, Drake’s drum is said to beat of it’s own accord whenever England is in peril, summoning the spirit of its long dead master. It is said to have been heard before Trafalgar, the Battle of Jutland and, most recently, at the start of The Blitz. Drake was also believed to have been reincarnated as Horatio Nelson who defeated Napoleon’s forces at Trafalgar and Naval Commander Captain Frederick Walker.
Circe (12th Century BCE)
This mythical Greek sorceress was the daughter of Helios, the sun god, and a sea nymph called Perse. She also bears the dubious honour of being aunt to the fabled Minotaur. Circe is best known however for the part she played in the journey of Odysseus in Homer’s Odyssey. Well-known for turning those she disliked into animals, Circe enchanted those of Odysseus’ crew who rashly strayed close to her home. Feeding them a banquet of food laced with one of her potions, she turned them all into grunting, snuffling swine. One man escaped to alert Odysseus, who, with the advice of Hermes, managed to avoid the same fate. He ended up staying with Circe for a year before, with her help, heading for home. Some later works state that Circe bore Odysseus three sons, continuing the story through until the death of their father. She also gives her name to an asteroid and the genus of plants known as Circaea, or Enchanter’s Nightshade.
Gerald Fitzgerald, 3rd Earl of Desmond (1335-1398)
Gerald Fitzgerald, or Gearóid Iarla as he is also known, resided close to Lough Gur, Co. Limerick, Ireland. With Aine, the Irish goddess of summer, love, and fertility credited as his mother, the Earl entered legend when, in 1398, he is said to have vanished without a trace.
There are several explanations for his puzzling disappearance; one tradition states that Desmond was a very powerful magician, and his wife frequently asked for a demonstration of his powers. Eventually he agreed, but on the understanding that she must remain silent. Lady Desmond held out through many magical feats until, when he stretched himself from one end of the room to the other, she screamed, and, in doing so, consigned the castle and all its contents to the bottom of the lake.
It is believed that they rest there still in an enchanted sleep. The Earl is said to rise, however, once every seven years and there have been many sightings as he rides through his former lands on a fine white horse shod with silver shoes. Legend states that when the shoes eventually wear out, the Earl will rise again for good to retake his lands and power. Like Drake, it is said that he will return when his family, or Ireland, needs him the most.
Alice Kyteler (1280-post 1324)
This fourteenth century Irishwoman has the dubious honour of being the first woman in Ireland to be accused of and condemned for witchcraft. Surviving the suspicion that she and her third husband had been responsible for the death of her second, she was accused by her various step-children in 1324 of poisoning and bewitching their fathers – a total of four husbands for Alice – to death. Not only that, she was accused of animal sacrifice and consorting with the devil in the form of an imp named Robyn Artysson and performing heretical acts with her several accomplices which included her own son. This time the accusations stuck and she was summoned to trial. Kyteler escaped to England where nothing else is known of her, but her maidservant, Petronilla, who had confessed under torture and implicated Kyteler, was burnt at the stake. Kyteler’s former home in Kilkenny, Ireland, has been restored as Kyteler’s Inn.
Lord of Pengersick (Dates Unknown, Pre-1450)
The Lord of Pengersick Castle, Somerset, was the sworn enemy of the Black Witch of Fraddam. Due to her machinations at the behest of his own stepmother, he was disowned and banished to Morocco where he was sold as a slave. The young man returned from the East however many years after his father’s death, bringing with him a beautiful wife, and finally had his revenge. Having learnt dark magic during his time away he spent his days thwarting the evil witch, finally defeating her for good when the devil double-crossed the witch, being fearful of Pengersick’s superior powers. Pengersick was also rumoured to be able to raise the dead or the devil, and was known to ride a jet black steed that was feared by all. The earl was rarely seen, spending his time with his potions in his castle, from which often came strange smells and sounds. One night the castle was set ablaze and the lord and his lady were never seen again. There were indeed historic Lords of Pengersick, and the ruins of the rebuilt castle can still be seen today, but the origin of the legend of the Pengersick sorcerer is still unclear.
Willow C Winsham can be found blogging about The Witch, The Weird, and The Wonderful at winsham.blogspot.com. When not running around after two small children and crocheting a never-ending blanket, she can be found researching her local witch and writing her first book, Accused: Britain’s Witches Throughout History, to be published by Pen and Sword Books.