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Burning Herring Heads Produces Visions

And a fishy odor that is heard to get rid of no doubt, but a reader emailed me about this little tidbit which I originally read in Kathryn Paulsen’s underrated beginner’s spellbook The Complete Book of Magic and Witchcraft which I thought was interesting enough to share.

Herring is fumigated to produce magical visions. “If one put the head of a fresh herring upon the coals to fumigate and he will get upon the house in the night, he will think all the stars run into one”

Paulsen cites Cyranus’ The Magick of Kirani, King of Persia (1685) as the source. As far as I know their are several copies of this work in academic libraries but few commercial versions. New York University has a copy.

Kitani is a fictitious King of Persia so this book is similar to the chap books popular at the time that attribute authorship to legendary magicians, like the Albertus Magnus.

To me the passage is unclear in it’s purpose. Are the visions a kind of divination or mystical experience? Likely, but it could also be a curse similar to the charms used to make people “think they were bears” etc, although since this involved burning fish in someones house I don’t see how this could work unless it was assumed that the victim would be unfamiliar with the rite and very trusting. I’ve been told that it is a way to “experience the cosmos” so to speak.

The herring, aside from being a tasty treat, has many curious superstitions around it. Some people believe eating a herring on the first day of the year will bring them luck, and according to The Encyclopedia of Superstitions the people’s of the Outer Hebrides believed that eating a salted herring, bones and all, in three bites would cause dreams foretelling the future.

Being married I cannot try this out myself, but I have a second hand Probatim on this. Anyone else who tries it please let me know how it turns out.

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