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Storm Callers: The Art of Weather Magic

A published folklorist, Pollyanna enjoys writing about hidden histories, folk customs, and things that go bump in the night.

Rain, rain, go away...

Rain, rain, go away...

Many tales were bruited about the power of witches and wizards over storms, weapons, spirits, love, and death. I have been assured that at this day the country folk, some of them at least, tremble at the sight of one of these gifted persons, or persons of such repute, lest by some chance the sorcerers eye lighting on them should kindle in him a dislike."

— Rev Oswald Cockayne, 1864

The weather is nothing if unpredictable. For those living off the land, in particular, efforts have been made throughout the ages to predict and even control the sun, wind, and rain. Good weather would ensure a plentiful harvest and safe travels, whilst a wet summer or particularly harsh drought would doom a community to starvation and suffering. Even today, extreme weather events affect us profoundly, claiming lives each year. So it is no wonder that throughout the ages, man has tried to influence the elements around him.

Tales of magical manipulation of the weather appear all over Europe, and they appear in the Sagas as well as Saxon records. Even today, we utter charms to ensure good weather.

Appeasing the Sea

It would seem that some of Britain's earliest superstitions around the sea and weather came to our shores with the Norsemen.

The goddess Rán, one of the deities who ruled the domain of the sea, would catch any who fell overboard with her net. The Helgakviða Hjörvarðssonar Edda describes how she receives those drowned at sea, luring men into the water and sinking ships with her daughters, the waves. As a result, many Norsemen would carry gold with them on a voyage to appease Rán in the unfortunate event they drowned.

This superstition was carried through right up to the present day; it is believed placing a gold coin under the mast will bring good luck and works as a talisman against stormy weather.

Rán's embrace

Rán's embrace

Taming the Tempests

The goddess Rán was the least of their worries though. With the sea being the main transport route of the time, the Norse were vulnerable to the elements, and many accounts speak of how magical forces were at work as a weapon against those sailing the seas. Snorri Sturluson wrote, in Heimskringla:

King Hakon lay in the Southern Isles, the Hebrides, St Michaels mass fell on a Saturday and on the Monday night, that is, the night before Monday, came a mickle storm with wild fury, and drove a cock boat and a long ship upon the coast of Scotland. On Monday the storm was so fierce that some cut away their masts and some ships drove. The kings ship drove also into the sound, and there were seven anchors out, and at last the eighth, which was the biggest, but she drove notwithstanding. A little later the anchor held fast. So mickle was this storm that the men said it was the work of enchantment, and one made upon it these skaldic verses:

There met the much scarching
Maintainer of war
The sorcerers arts
Of Scotlands warlocks.
Roaring the raging sea
Drove with its fair sails
Many a proud ship
Of the beah giver
Broken on land.
Blew with its loud blasts
On the brine skimmers
Full fraught with warriors
Fiercely the sea storm
Stirred up by the wizards.
Up on to Scotland
Scattered and tossed
Broad barking billows
Threw brave men of battle
With shields and war gear
Shivered and torn.

The weather magic of the warlocks of Scotland was at play, denying many a brave warrior his place in Valhalla.

In this piece entitled "Vikings," a ship of Norsemen battle through a storm at sea.

In this piece entitled "Vikings," a ship of Norsemen battle through a storm at sea.

Pitchpine: A Norse Folktale

Another instance of Scottish magic being used against the Norse can be found in the folktale, "Pitchpine: The Norse King's Sorcerous Daughter":

"As they reached the shores, the women of Lochaber used incantations of their own to destroy the vessel. The boat was wrecked at the entrance to Loch Eil, and all souls lost. More ships were sent, and met the same fate.

Finally, the Norse King sent out his most powerful fleet; an armada of sea stallions filled with his best warriors and most experienced sailing men. Their first mission was to weaken the magic of the Scottish folk before moving inland to recover the Norse King's daughter's remains.

They headed to the island of Iona, where it is said that magic was drawn from the fairy wells upon the hill there. The waters of these wells held a power that could call a wind from any direction when needed. In peaceful times this would help the fishermen sail out to the herring shoals, but in times such as these, they could be used to whip up a tempest wherever it was wanted. The islanders just needed to draw water from the wells and empty it in the direction that the wind was needed. The Norsemen knew of this place and its magical waters, and the likeliness that they had been used to ruin their kinsmen before them. If these wells were dried up, then safe passage would be secured, not just for their fleet, but for invaders thereafter.

When the islanders saw the viking ships approaching, they hurried to the fairy wells and began to draw up the water. Nearly emptying the wells themselves, the storm that was called up was so violent that Norse fleet was tossed about and ripped to pieces. The ships were torn apart and hurled onto the shores beneath Fairy Hill on Iona. The power and might of the Norsemen was broken."

The Finns made in the night violent weather with their cunning sorcery and a storm at sea."

— Saga of Saint Olaf

From Ancient Rites to Contemporary Superstitions

As Christianity spread throughout Europe, many of the old observations and rites changed to become superstitions. Evil magic could be found everywhere, and the newly converted Norse, fearful of the ire of the shunned Gods, would not dare set sail on a Friday for fear that they would be easy pickings.

This is observed by some sailors even today, and the superstition is thought to have its origins with the Norse Goddess, Frigga. Friday is thought to have been her day, and as the Old Gods were viewed as being evil, a theory has been put forward that priests in Scandinavia preached that Frigga was an evil hag, and she and her witches would whip up storms on Friday. Friday became branded as an unlucky day, so any ship due to sail would be doomed.

"The Spanish Armada and English Ships in August, 1588," artist unknown.

"The Spanish Armada and English Ships in August, 1588," artist unknown.

Weather Witches

In Elizabethan England, Sir Francis Drake was said to have sold his soul to the Devil in exchange for success as a skilled seaman. He later earned victory in 1588 against the Spanish Armada, heading towards England with great luck on his side.

A terrible storm swept through the English Channel, which hampered Spanish warships. It is said that the Drake had the help of the Devil and witches in the sea battle, who called the storm to aid the English fleet. Folklore tells how the spirits of these witches still haunt the coast around Devonport, at a spot known as Devil's Point.

Weather Manipulation as Evil

By the time that Queen Elizabeth was on the throne, magical ways were deemed dangerous and evil, and steps were taken to hunt out witches and warlocks by the Church. What would once have been a useful skill was now seen as a tool of the devil.

This account of weather manipulation was recorded by a "witch hunter" in Swabia, which is now modern-day southern Germany.

"A strange thing lately happened, as has been ascertained in Swabia: a little girl, eight years old, was led by her father, who was a bailiff, to visit the fields, and when he complained of the extreme drouth*, she said she would soon get up some rain if there were need of it. Her father, in wonder, asked whether she knew how to do it; she declared she could get rain, or even hail if she chose. When asked where she had learn this, she said from her mother, and that instructors in these matters were at hand when required. To learn therefore by trial whether the child told the truth, he bid her call for rain upon his farm. For that purpose the daughter said she should want a little water; when then he had brought her to a small stream just by, the child, in pursuance of her mothers instructions, stirred the water with her finger in the devils name; hereupon the air was agitated and the rain descended as she had predicted. Her father told her to fetch some hail upon another field, and when she had done it the man denounced his wife to the authorities. She was burnt alive, and the child was reconciled to the church and made a nun." [3]


Angela Lansbury as Miss Price, leading a spectral host of warriors to battle and defending Britain from invading foes

Angela Lansbury as Miss Price, leading a spectral host of warriors to battle and defending Britain from invading foes

A Magical Battle

Witchcraft also made an appearance during World War II. Whilst Disney's Bedknobs and Broomsticks is a work of fantasy there is truth in the account that witches in England and Scotland were working against the powers of the enemy to prevent invasion.

Operation Mistletoe was a magical strike organised by a lady named Dion Fortune. Gathering some of Britain's more prominent magicians, including Dennis Wheatley, Aleister Crowley, and Ian Fleming (yes, the author behind James Bond!), a Cone of Power was directed against Germany.

During the rite, spirits of ancient heroes of the British Isles such as King Arthur, St. George, and Merlin were called upon to protect the UK's shores. A cabal of magic workers gathered in the New Forest under Gerald Gardner, and some accounts tell how witches gathered directly on the Cliffs of Dover to stop a Nazi invasion and assist the British airmen during the Battle of Britain.

Bad weather caused a much smaller Luftwaffe force to take to the skies, and with the skill of British airmen, the enemy turned away. Victory in the skies was granted to the RAF on 31 October 1940. It is worth noting that this date coincides with Halloween, or the ancient festival of Samhain— a day of power for many witches, where the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead is at its thinnest.

Wind magic

Wind magic

Modern Beliefs

Of course, we live in an age of reason and logic. The weather is produced through varying factors such as sea currents, air pressure, and many other variables. Whilst our technology allows us to track weather fronts, it is still very difficult to predict the weather seven days from now, let alone control it.

We now have technology such as cloud seeding, which enables us to encourage clouds to drop rain in areas of drought, and there are many conspiracy theories about how technologies exist to create more severe weather events.

None of this could be described as being magic, though. For this, we need to look at our customs and superstitions. A handful of these from England include:

  • "When you've eaten a boiled egg, always smash a hole through the bottom of the shell. If you don't, a witch will ride it out to sea and cause a storm."
    Sea hags could often stir up a storm. Best not to help them by leaving your eggshells intact!
  • "Rain, rain, go away. Come again another day."
    Our best-known charm for improving the weather.
  • "If you pull a face in the wind, it'll stick!"
    The demons that ride with strong winds were thought to have disfiguring powers.
  • "If you sing badly, it'll rain."
    Enchantment finds its origins in "enchanted," or "singing." Witches and sorceresses would use magical songs and chants to perform certain spells. Some of these would no doubt have been used to call the rains.
  • "Tread on an ant, you'll make it rain."
    Ants tend to come out in good weather, on the hunt for foods to take back before the weather turns.
  • "To end a drought, dip an effigy of a saint in water."
    This may have also been done as a punishment to the saint for ignoring the community's prayers! Possibly originating with the custom of leaving holy pre-Christian effigies in springs or lakes, i.e., Nerthus' wain.
  • "Ring bells during a gale to scare the demons away."
    Church bells were often rung during a storm to frighten evil forces.
  • "Gales come to take a great spirit away."
    Some people believe this is the Devil comes to claim a soul, but this superstition is likely to have its origins in legends of the Wild Hunt.

So do any of these hold any truth?

See for yourself. Let me know if you have any results to prove or disprove any of the superstitions above!


[1] Rev Oswald Cockayne - Leechdoms, Wortcunning, and Starcraft of Early England, 1864 - ISBN 978-1298592057

[2] Pitchpine: The Norse King's Sorcerous Daughter

[3] Caesalpinus Daemonum Investigatio, 1593

© 2016 Pollyanna Jones


Mina on January 23, 2020:

Beautiful blog,

But i have a some questions:

do i need to clean the area before trying to practice witchcraft?

And can witchcraft be dangerous?

Pollyanna Jones (author) from United Kingdom on June 09, 2019:

Thank you Ninian, it certainly was an interesting topic to look in to.

Ninian Shepherd from Western Fracking, Yeehaw Land on June 06, 2019:

Absolutely fascinating. Thank you for this well-researched, well-written and relevant article! I love that modern practitioners were able to actually help defend against the invading enemy in a time of war.

Crystal on May 08, 2019:

hmmm...... i will try this.

Tim Begg on June 15, 2018:

The workings did help some, but there are still areas that are in need. The problem is that they are areas that have low rainfall anyway, so the slightest drought can have devastating effects.

Pollyanna Jones (author) from United Kingdom on June 14, 2018:

Sorry to have not replied, I've been absent from HubPages for a little while and have just come back to it. I hope that your group workings were able to help bring the rains.

Morino Ravenberg on August 26, 2017:

I have changed the weather..

My WordPress blog has an article on the spirit Pazuzu.

Tim Begg from South Africa on November 05, 2016:

I would like to give you guys who helped with the weather: It appears that El Nino has worn off. We have had quite a lot of rain, but more is still needed, especially in the catchment areas. Many of our provinces are under strict water restrictions. Keep it up guys, and thanks again. Namaste.

Tim Begg from South Africa on October 20, 2016:

Hi, it's me again. I would just like to let you know that we have had some rain in our part of South Africa these last two days. I thank anyone who answered my previous request (Under 'Earth Warrior'). We're a long way from being out of the woods, so keep up the good work - Namaste.

Earth Warrior on October 12, 2016:

Hey there Pollyanna - Firstly, THANKS for an interesting article. I was especially intrigued to find out that Ian Flemming was in fact a practitioner of the Arts. I didn't know that.

I would like some advice: I live in South Africa, and as you know, we are in the grips of a terrible drought. Crops are failing, livestock and wild animals are dying from lack of food and water. I would like to call upon anyone who is experienced in 'Weather Working' to advise as to what I can do to assist. I am a Shaman, but have had little experience in this area. My thought was that perhaps we could arrange a global working, on one day, or over a period of maybe three days - depending on the time that people have to spare. Regardless of their tradition or background, if we can generate enough positive energy toward this, I am certain we can make a difference.

In support of that, I have somewhat of a testimony to tell: A few years ago, on a number of sites with whom we had contact at the time, there was a global call to assist in counter-acting the devastation that threatened to hit the Caribbean as well as the East Coast of the U.S. This was the result of a cyclone that followed Katrina - Hurricane Irene.

The response was amazing! People from all faiths and traditions pledged their aid, and over almost a week - or more (I can't remember now) - we did whatever we felt necessary to stop the devastation. The result was nothing short of miraculous! Irene veered offshore, and reverted back to a 'Tropical Storm'. While there was still some damage, it was nowhere near as terrible as it could have been.

I would like to call upon those who are interested to respond to this comment, and perhaps we can rescue this part of Gaea's child, planet Earth, from suffering the ravages of the effects of El-Nino.

Thanks again

Pollyanna Jones (author) from United Kingdom on April 01, 2016:

Thank you emge, so glad you enjoyed the read.

MG Singh emge from Singapore on April 01, 2016:

Amazing and interesting hub. WELL done

Pollyanna Jones (author) from United Kingdom on March 30, 2016:

Thanks AliciaC, it's surprising how many of these old rhymes and customs could have got you into trouble 400 years ago!

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on March 29, 2016:

This is very interesting, Pollyanna. My mother taught me the "Rain, rain, go away" rhyme when I was a child. I used to say it a lot, though I never really expected it to work! Thanks for sharing the information. I enjoyed reading your hub.