The Kraftaskalds: Available Article Translation and an Update on My PhD Studies

My PhD studies are nearly done—I submitted my dissertation back in February, and I’m only waiting for the final evaluation and then the defense. My dissertation is titled: “Chanting Up the Kraftaskalds: An Investigation into Their Image, Roles, and Magic.”

And what are the kraftaskalds? They are poets from Icelandic folktales who do magic through their improvised poetry. They use this magic for a wide variety of purposes: cursing enemies, blessing those who treat them well, chanting down walking corpses (draugar), changing the weather, managing animals, and much more. Folklore about kraftaskalds is mostly post-medieval, with the bulk of the sources having been recorded in the 19th century. But the phenomenon goes back into the medieval period—Egill Skallagrímsson and Þorleifr jarlsskáld are the prime examples. The magic poetry of kraftaskalds is generally in the rímur forms that dominated Iceland throughout the post-medieval period. The tradition of Icelandic folklore is rich and complex, and just as worthy of translation and scholarship as the more famous saga tradition. Yet while the sagas are widely studied and translated, Icelandic folklore is still largely obscure in comparison. And I’m happy to say that I’ve been working on one of the most fascinating and uniquely Icelandic parts of the Icelandic folklore tradition—for instance, trolls and similar creatures are quite widespread in European folklore, but this sort of magical poet, not so much.

Once my dissertation is defended, I plan to revise it into a monograph for publication through a scholarly press. For that reason, my dissertation will likely be closed access and thus not publicly available on a website, although I will have some printed copies, of course. I know that many of you are eager to see what I’ve been working on, but it’ll be a while before the monograph is finally in print.

However, there is something I can share now! In 1961, Bo Almqvist, a renowned folklorist, published an article in Icelandic, “Um ákvæðaskáld,” about the kraftaskalds, at roughly 8200 words in length. It is a superb and unbeatable short introduction to the phenomenon, even after 60 years. And so I made a translation (with Teresa Dröfn Njarðvík) of it, and that was published as “Concerning the Icelandic Spell-Poets” in the middle of last July by the journal Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft. I haven’t said much about it until now, since it’s published under what is called “Green Open Access,” which means that it is kept with the journal (which is behind a paywall for most people) for an embargo period (in their case, one year) before the author may make it open-access available on a public website. So now that it’s been a year, I’ve posted it on my academia.edu page, where you can read a short introduction to the really cool topic that I’ve been writing a book about.

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