Patreon Topic 50: On Völur Past and Present

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From Emily comes this topic:

“What was a volva and what being a volva would encompass today.”

The word völva means ‘staff-bearer’ per Neil Price in The Viking Way. This is a spiritual specialist who engages in seiðr and/or spá. Seiðr and spá are a galaxy of practices, among them being what we would readily recognize today as spiritwork, divination, prophecying, and various kinds of magic including curse work, protection, empowerment, and enchantment. What is most striking to me is that the staff referred to is both itself an instrument of power for directing spirits and energies, and a symbol of office. The wand or staff has a number of forms, including that of an iron distaff, a plain staff of iron or wood that is about as high as a walking cane, and a large staff that is made of iron or of wood, the latter carved and embellished. Price has an excellent overview of these in The Viking Way.

Völur (plural of völva) occupy an interesting area in Late Iron Age religion. As near as I can tell, between reading translations of the sagas and books on the subject, including the excellent The Viking Way by Neil Price and Nordic Religions in the Viking Age by Thomas DuBois, they were both admired and treated with fear. It is key to note that we have little to nothing from before this period, what is coloqially called The Viking Age, and almost all of it is filtered through Christian lenses from the period. So what were they? They were seers, witches, people you went to for spiritual work and spiritual advice. They were people who were to be respected. They were people to be feared. If you were a völva you walked a road between that of the people you served and the spirits.

In the Eiriks saga rauða, the Saga of Erik the Red, the völva is an itinerant spiritual specialist that speaks with and/or works with the spirits. At least with the example provided in this saga through Þorbiörg, she did not act alone. She required “a chorus of women and at least one assistant familiar with a magic song or incantation called varðlokkur” (DuBois 124). The use of a varðlokkur, a spirit calling song, is required as part of her seiðr ritual. I have seen this song referred to as an enticement song, a spirit calling song, and a warding song. Singing, chanting, incantations, and the like form or are part of at least a few of the varieties of seiðr as well as galdr.

Both books provide comparison and contrast between the accounts of seiðr, seiðkona, völur, and Sámi naidevuohtta (shamanism) and Finnish shamanism and rituals. Are völur shamans? In the sense that they provide many of the same ritual and societal functions, yes. However, a noaide is not a völva or seiðkona, and vice verse.

It is fairly clear that there was a lot of contact and sharing between the ancient Nordic, Sámi, and Finnish peoples. Each engaged in kinds of spirit contact. In some cases this involved singing, chanting, and/or trance induction through heavy or rapid breathing and/or ‘yawning’. Both DuBois and Price note that the seiðkonur, noaide, and Finnish shamans had mixed reputations for being both potentially helpful and harmful. They were called on to protect, to heal, to harm. In some cases the Sámi and Finno-Ugric peoples were pointed to as being sources of learning seiðr (DuBois 129). Far from being the only connection points, DuBois (71-73) and Price point out the vibrant trade in goods, as well as grave goods, similarities in treatment of and honoring of the dead, ancestor veneration, and so on that are expressed differently within these cultures yet still share touchstones with one another.

To be clear: the words shaman and shamanism are what amounts to academic loanwords in these books for similar spiritual specialists and phenomena. Where we can, I find it better to use words appropriate to the culture we are talking about. I encourage Heathens to use words appropriate to our religions/cultures, such as völva, seiðkona, and the like. When we do not have the words I encourage Heathens to work with newer terms like spiritworker and neologisms like vaettirvirkr (spiritsworker) formed from Old Norse or whatever language is appropriate to the culture background you are engaging with.

Some of the major differences between historical völur and modern völur is that 1) it seems a lot of them traveled a great deal between villages and towns in order to do their spiritual work, and 2) there were people who were expected to be able to perform the varðlokkur, so there was a groundswell of people within the community who had to be familiar with the rites. Eiriks saga rauða provides a very clear overview of a völva, and features of it and other seiðworkers can be found in the archaeological record. DuBois notes that though the practice is nebulous in what it is and how it is performed, it has a fairly consistent picture across time and stories (128).

“Within this array of pagan rituals, seiðr appears to respond primarily to situations of crisis and is undertaken by a religious specialist (usually a woman) at the request of a client and within the context of a communal gathering. The ritual appeals to some sort of spirit helpers, either for divinatory information or help in controlling the minds and wills of others. Typical is the detailed account included in the thirteenth-century Eiríks saga rauða, in which an itinerant seiðr practitioner named Þorbiörg is invited to a Greenland farmstead to help the community discover whether its current run of ill luck will continue.”

Nordic Religions in the Viking Age, DuBois 123

The lack of experience with seiðr, both in terms of familiarity with the subject itself in Heathenry more broadly, and with specific practices within it, means that völur and other seiðworkers have to do a lot of work to revive this practice. The saga accounts, grave goods, what surviving folks practices we may look to, and conjecture from academics only do us so much. A lot of modern völva work is going to have to just be done. In a way, this lack of concrete bounds for modern völur and other seiðworkers means that we are free to cocreate new ways of being these things in modern contexts alongside our Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir. While there has been a lot lost with these traditions, it means that our roles and rites can move with the requirements of our Ginnreginn and communities.

This is where especially The Viking Way is a treasure trove, both in how it lays out the information and in the sheer breadth of information it has available in it. The kinds of magic Price writes about alone is helpful because it helps expand our lexicon for kinds of magic and magical practice such as gandr, fjǫlkyngi, and ljóð, which could be combined with seiðr or performed separately, a kind of seiðr such as kveldriða (cold-rider, Price 77). Since a given völva could well perform any or all of these things, or just stick to one specialty, eg gandr or spá in general, becoming more familiar and working with these terms also means we develop a more specifically Heathen way of working with the sources as inspiration and information. Because a given völva is not limited to one practice it is perhaps better to think on how we use these terms to describe the job of being a völva just as the various -riða terms such as kveldriða describe seiðworkers engaging in magical work on others.

What is a modern völva in Heathenry? A völva is a Heathen spiritual specialist, a seer who works with the spirits to gather and share information, and to enact change. Where a seiðworker may do a variety of things, including spá, a völva’s primary job for whatever community or communities she is part of is to speak and work with the spirits, gather information from Them and/or with Them, and enact change with Them. The way I understand modern völur is that their job is to work for/on behalf of their communities with the vaettir. Since we no longer have any living memory of varðlokkur I think that it is a good thing for anyone wanting to do this work to find or ask for inspiration from the vaettir to gain such a song. Maybe it has words, maybe it is a melody; whatever it ends up being, it is a song that works to bring the vaettir to the völva so the work can begin, and be maintained.

Being a völva is, like every other spiritual specialty, a job. It is taking on Work. Maybe you come to it through being grabbed up by a Goddess, eg Freyja. Maybe you went to Her and asked Her to bring you into the work because you feel called to the Work itself. Whatever your inroad, initially you train, engage in good spiritual discipline, and develop yourself and your relationships so you can effectively do the spiritual work of the job. Then, you do the work of being a völva while continuing to train, engage in good spiritual discipline, and developing yourself and your relationships so you can keep being more effective as you go on. Ideally, you would have a spiritual mentor, as well as at least 1-3 people you can go to for divination so you can keep yourself on an even keel. To this end I highly recommend Jim Two Snake’s Spiritual Accounting PDF.

Since becoming a völva is beyond this post, how would we contrast a modern Heathen völva with a person being a seiðworker? I look at völur as a communal role whereas seiðr is fairly accessible to anyone willing to put the work in. You might work with seiðr to make a taufr, an enchanted physical object (Price 36), in crochet or knitting, eg crafting a blanket for warmth and protection. You might do seiðr to work with vaettir to just gather information for your own purposes, such as through a gandr ritual using a gǫndull, a wand or staff for gandr, and/or a ‘yawn’ or the use of breath such as song, chant, or croaking (Price 184) in where you push the vaettir to give you information. You might work with a spá ritual in a light trance where you commune with the vaettir to that end. All of these are accessible modes of operation to both the völva and the average seiðworker. Now, perhaps a given seiðworker is not comfortable working with völva as a term because it is definitely feminine-gendered, and this is where we need to develop more terms or work with neologisms. In my own case I am fine with the terms vaettirvirkr and seiðmaðr (a seiðr-man) for the moment, as I do spiritswork as a spiritual specialist, with seiðr as part of that work.

The difference between a völva and a seiðworker is that, for our purposes here, völur are spiritual specialists whose job it is to work with/on behalf of a community where a given seiðworker may be working on their own. We develop these meanings, work, and community together. What really makes the difference between a völur and seiðworker in the end is whether the word clicks for you, describes what you do, and if you are serving a community what words that community calls you. Being a völva today is not much different in that regard than what it was centuries ago: you serve a community, connecting them with the spirits to speak with them, gather information and to work with Them to change things.

Patreon Topic 44: On Wolf Cultus

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From Maleck Odinsson comes this topic:

“What does Wolf Cultus look like to you?”

The short answer is that Wolf Cultus looks a lot like my other cultus does. I have places set aside on our family hearth Gods’ vé for the Wolf Gods, spaces on the Ancestors’ vé for the Wolf Ancestors, and spaces on the animalvaettir vé for Wolf and wolves. They each receive offerings, usually water, and occasionally food and/or alcohol like our other Ginnreginn.

I wear a large necklace of Úlfr, the Old Norse word for Wolf and a Míkilvaettr (Big/Mighty spirit) alongside my Valknut for Óðinn and my Mjölnir for Þórr. I carry representations of wolves and úlfheðinn on me otherwise, both as reminders of our relationship and as connection points with Them. I make regular prayers to Them, both in our home during our regular prayers and outside the home.

The way I engage with Wolf Cultus every day looks, acts, is lived, and is in relationship with the Wolf Ginnreginn in ways that are carried a lot like my others are. There are things that I do because of these relationships in addition to cultus. For instance, I donate and write on behalf of causes that specifically have to do with issues around wolves, such as the bullshit wolf hunts that have been called for in the Michigan legislature. A good number of the Gods that are part of my various cultus all tend to have wolf connections -Óðinn, Angrboða, Skaði, Ullr, Hela, Fenris, Lykeios, Lupa, Anpu, and Wepwawet. Small wonder that my hearth cultus does not change much then since so many are connected with or are wolves in some way Themselves!

Does Wolf Cultus involve howling? Sometimes. My son doesn’t like to, but my daughter sure does. So, when she and I do prayers specifically to the Wolf Ginnreginn on our own, we howl. A lot of the other more noticeably wolf-oriented things do not actually occur in the hearth cultus. A lot of that occurs for me in spiritual connection work, but most of that is not during regular cultus of prayers and offerings. Sometimes it occurs on its own. It might be hamfara (faring forth in hamr), or it might be some spiritual work with a group of vaettir, such as in Maleck’s own Pack Magic which you can read about here. So far as I practice Wolf Cultus it is distinct from spiritwork or magic since the point of cultus is to worship rather than to engage in spiritwork or magic.

Private Wolf Cultus rituals, though, look a bit different. I own and work with the vaettr of a wolf that was prepared by Lupa, a wonderful Pagan artist. You can find her work here, here, and here. This wolf and I have bonded on a fairly deep level over the years, and he reflects at least some my inward soul outwardly. He is in a place of honor most days underneath our Gods’ vé, and when I put him on the connection with my wolf self, the Wolf Gods, the Wolf Ancestors, and wolfvaettir is powerful, and fairly instant. Whether I am wearing him or not, when I engage in Wolf Cultus on my own we are engaged in it together. When I do not do Wolf Cultus with him present, sometimes I am engaging with one of the wolf items I carry on my person. It is sometimes hard to write about, not only because of how personal it is.

Sometimes it is hard to write about because of how visceral the connections are, how your senses light up with the power and impact of one of the Wolf Gods making Their Presence known in ways that hit you in every bit of your Soul Matrix. Sometimes it is hard to write about because you have Wolf Ancestors that you connect with, and there is such a feeling of elation, joy, pack that is hard to put into words that do it justice. Other times it is hard to write about because you really are just reaching for words to describe raw feelings, or experiences that are close to the chest and you keep private. Even here my cultus starts out the same: prayers, offerings, and a few moments to connect. Breathing slow, steady breaths at first, perhaps quickening or lengthening if getting into trance is called for. Whether the trance comes on, the Presences are felt, or if there is work to do, being thankful for the connection with Them. Then the prayers of thanks, and prepping to get on with the remainder of the day.

Patreon Poem/Prayer/Song 45: For Allmother Frigga

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This was requested by Maleck Odinsson for Allmother Frigga.


Holy One

Who loves Her People

Who loves Her Children

Born from Her or Another

Hail to You!

Secret Weaver

Who knows Urðr’s tapestry

Who ties the warp with care

Who draw the weft with precision

Who wields the sword with skill

Hail to You!

Allmother

Whose regal bearing inspires

Whose countenance stills

Whose words are matchless

Whose power is undeniable

Hail to You!

Hail to You!

Hail to You, Almóðir!

Patreon Topic 32: On Skaði

If you want to submit a topic you would like me to write on for this blog or my Patreon, sign up for the Uruz or Thurisaz level or above here on my Patreon. From Elfwort comes this topic:”Can you discuss Skaði?”

Sure. A look around my blog yields a lot of older posts where I talk about Skaði, mostly in the role of assigning me work to do. She is a powerful Goddess, one I have worshipped throughout a lot of my time as a Heathen. I started writing that I was not very close to Her, but then, I don’t think closeness is necessarily a goal to have with all of our Gods. She has treated me well, and the relationship we have is friendly. She is among the Gods we honor every day during our family prayers and make offerings to at our Gods’ vé.

She is a Goddess associated with hunting, skis, survival, the cold, and implacability. She brooks no bullshit, and when She showed up in Her war gear demanding weregild for the death of Her Father Þjazi, She got it. She is fierce, powerful, and yet there is a coolness, both of personality and of purpose, that I feel with Her.

I took some time getting to writing this because I wanted to sit down with the sources and reread things, but to be honest, like a lot of jötnar and Asynjur, there is not much on Skaði. If you want to learn about Her from the literary sources She is found in the Gríminsmál when Óðinn is talking with Agnarr, and especially in the Lokasenna when She and Loki have words. Perhaps the most we know about Her are from this section of the Poetic Edda and that of the Gylfaginning and Skáldskaparmál in the Prose Edda. She is noted in the Ynglinga saga as having married Óðinn and having children with Him. I could not find much at all that was conclusive with regards to Her and archaeology.

My dear friend Nick has many blog posts on Her, all of which can be found here, including passages I mentioned above, and his experiences with Her. In it, he notes that there are rock carvings of skiers found in Bola at Nord-Tondelag, but again nothing conclusive or anything regarding Her or Her cult. Could it, and other rock carvings and finds he notes relate to Her? Sure, but again, nothing to where we can say “absolutely!'”

Something Nick notes and that I will pick up on is that Skaði starts off utgard, a word meaning ‘outside the walls/enclosure’. She starts off as an outsider and is brought into Asgarðr. However, as Nick has pointed out, She never loses this wildness.

My first experience with Her came when I was handed over to Her by Óðinn during a nine day ordeal. She taught me quite a bit, meeting me in Niflheimr, and afterward gave me work to do. Among these was learning survival techniques such as making fire, learning how to hunt, and first aid/first response. She also had me take up learning how to shoot a bow and a gun. Of these I have learned how to make fire with flint and steel, and hope to do more with firebow or friction firemaking, have yet to have a succesful hunt, have learned how to shoot a bow and a gun, and have first aid/first response training. So, I still have work to do.

When I go to shoot my bow or my gun I make prayers to Her. When I shoot I offer each shot to Skaði and to Óðinn. I find both of Them have a kind of calm or cold to Them when in this zone.When we were in the Porcupine Mountains in Northern Michigan a couple summers ago, I felt Her presence quite a bit. When I have wandered in the forest behind where our home will be built, I feel Her. Especially as we have come into Vetr, I have felt this connection get ‘louder’. As to where it will go, who knows?

Hail Skaði! May She ever be hailed!

Patreon Song/Poem/Prayer 32 -For the Vetrvaettir

If you want to submit a request for a prayer, poem, or song to be written to you privately or to be posted on this blog or my Patreon for a God, Ancestor, or spirit, sign up for the Ansuz and above level here on my Patreon. This prayer was requested by Elfwort for the Vetrvaettir.

Hail Vetrvaettir

Hail Íss and Snær

Hail Frost and Kaldr

Hail Kala and Hagall

Hail to the frost jötnar

Hail to Kari’s kin

Be gentle with us

May we be safe in the home, the forest, the vé

May we be safe on the roads, the fields, the waters

Spare our kith and kin your harshness

Help us to appreciate the quiet, the dark, the silence

Help us to appreciate this time of rest

Help us to live with vigor this Vetr

Hail Vetravettir!