Patreon Topic 9: On Seiðr

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From my third Raiðo supporter comes this topic:

“The distinguishing characteristics of *authentic* seiðr, from your perspective and from the perspective of the medieval sources (as relevant).”

When we’re talking about authentic I think getting to what is vs is not authentic is worth taking some time to define.

When it comes to authentic seiðr I care far less about what may be historically authentic comparative to what is authentic to the requirements of our Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, religions, and communities now. This is not to say historically authentic seiðr is something to brush off, but I recognize that we have a handful of sources and one detailed account of what seiðr looked like at one point in time, and conjecture in a handful of other sections. Further, it can be argued in one instance we see, in Eiríks saga rauða (The Saga of Erik the Red), what we are seeing is a spá rite rather than a seiðr rite. Our map of seiðr, like a lot of what we have available to us, is far less complete than ideal.

This comes to how we define terms in the modern age vs how they may have been divided (or not) in the past. Because I like discrete categories for explanation and for looking at things, I put seiðr and spá into two separate categories. Generally, the way I tend to divide the categories is to the purpose of the rite. If the point is only to contact the spirits for divination, it is a spá rite. If divination is involved but the point is to affect change on a spiritual/magical level, it is a seiðr rite.

I likewise will use descriptions for the people performing the magic. If a person’s primary training and involvement in a ritual is for divination/transmission of spiritual messages with the calling in of spirits, it is a spákona (prophecy woman), spámaðr (prophecy man/human). If a person’s primary training and involvement in a ritual is for affecting Urðr/Wyrd then it would be seiðkona (magic/spell/enchantment woman) or seiðmaðr (magic/spell/enchantment man/human). A prophetess then would be a völva. As I usually use the term a völva can do both even she specializes in one or the other.

How I separate seiðr from other forms of magic, eg sympathetic magic, is that seiðr requires the use of óðr, frenzy, both in the sense of the furious rocking back and forth and/or other forms of ecstatic trance, and the working with of the soul part of the same name. It is spellwork that affects the flow/weaving of Urðr primarily through the use of óðr and other techinques and soul parts as needed. Now, that is not to say that you cannot blend seiðr with sympathetic magic, or other works as you need, are called to, etc. You might find blending magic work to be effective. Given each person engaging in seiðr is doing so in a modern context I would hardly be surprised to find a wide variety of seiðr practices.

All of this is to say that how I define ‘authentic’ may run completely contrary to how another Heathen or Northern Tradition Pagan may define it. Since my definitions and ideas of how seiðr is conducted take from the medieval sources we have, I would say that my understanding of authentic is not counter to them, but inclusive of them. This holds with how I treat much of the surviving material. None of what we have was meant as religious instruction and none of what we have is primary source. All is secondary sourcing, and most of that buried behind Christian or Christian-biased writing on the subject.

Authentic seiðr, like any modern Heathen practice, is what schews as close to our Heathen sources, and moreover, what works. We know in the sources that she sits in a high seat and that there is a vardlokkur, a ward song, held before the seiðr rite. What was this song? We are not told, and so, it may be the seiðkona needs to find her own vardlokkur and teach it to someone else to perform, or perform it herself prior to the rite.

What to wear? Thankfully, this is where The Saga of Erik the Red is a lot more explicit.

“Now, when she came in the evening, accompanied by the man who had been sent to meet her, she was dressed in such wise that she had a blue mantle over her, with strings for the neck, and it was inlaid with gems quite down to the skirt. On her neck she had glass beads. On her head she had a black hood of lambskin, lined with ermine. A staff she had in her hand, with a knob thereon; it was ornamented with brass, and inlaid with gems round about the knob. Around her she wore a girdle of soft hair, and therein was a large skin-bag, in which she kept the talismans needful to her in her wisdom. She wore hairy calf-skin shoes on her feet, with long and strong-looking thongs to them, and great knobs of latten at the ends. On her hands she had gloves of ermine-skin, and they were white and hairy within…

…She had a brazen spoon, and a knife with a handle of walrus-tusk, which was mounted with two rings of brass, and the point of it was broken off.”

Now, consider this in the modern age and that many of us are operating on shoe-string budgets and our communities even more so. I think most of the accoutremonts make sense for the time period, and that they were often patronized by the wealthy. A stripped down variation of this would be a blue head covering, or a blue hoody with a black hood. Some kind of necklace with glass beads. A brass-headed staff on the more expensive end (JoAnn Fabrics and hardware stores have pieces that could work here), a simple wooden staff on the other. Mind, I do not think a person needs to dress the part exactly to work with seiðr. It might help some folks to recreate the look of a seiðkona as accurately as possible. It might help others to just work with the suggestions here, or a good blindfold or a cloak to get a similar effect to get them in the seiðr headspace.

How to bring in the spirits? We only have a few hints at how seiðr was done, and these are sparse. We know the seiðkona sat on a highest seat and the spirits came in after the vardlokkur was sung. From my reading it is likely some kind of heavy trance was entered into, and something akin to mediumship work or channeling took place. I am not comfortable talking in depth on this in a modern context for a few reasons. First, is that my process was given to me by Freyja when Óðinn handed me to Her for instruction. Second, divulging how to do this without training brings a lot of risks and it would be fairly irresponsible of me just to outline what to do. Third, whatever I do write may not work for you -at all.

What matters is whether or not a given seiðr working is a success. Does it enable the seiðr worker to contact the Holy Powers they need to? Does it provide accurate, actionable information? Does the hamingja and megin of those engaged in it improve through its use? To my mind the reason seiðr survived so long as it did is because it worked. It is the same reason seiðr is seeing a revival now.

Smoking Prayers

I breathe in slowly

Vindrvaettir about me

Drawing the holy smoke inside

I exhale a prayer

 

I breathe in slowly

Vatnvaettir thrum in my chest

Each limb enlivened

I exhale tension

 

I breathe in slowly

Eldrvaettir dance on the cigar’s tip

Dancing a holy ring on my lips

I exhale offering

 

I breathe in slowly

Jorðvaettir reach up to draw me down

My roots settle in

I exhale relief

 

I breathe in slowly

Ancestors sit beside me

Speaking, listening, smoking with me

I exhale with Them

 

I breathe in slowly

Gods on every side

Their Presence comforting, hearing my prayers

I exhale thanks