Patreon Topic 39: Decolonizing Magical Practice vs Honoring Ancestral Traditions

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From Elfwort comes this question:

“Would you talk about decolonizing magickal practice vs honoring ancestral traditions?”

I am going to start with the point that I do not view this as an either/or. I look at this with the perspective that this is an ‘and’ approach. In my view honoring Ancestral traditions requires we decolonize them. We also need to be clear when borrowing has occured vs appropriation. If information, techniques, or inroads into relationships were shared that would be one thing, and quite another if these were gained by pressure, stolen, or obtained under false pretenses.

Decolonizing our practices may require us to do a lot of work, including digging, soul searching, and work with our Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir. Lots of websites feature discussions of decolonizing ecology, education, and so many more ways. I like to define terms before digging into how we are going to apply them. So, what is decolonizing? To briefly summarize, it is deconstructing white Western European methods of thought, reasoning, understanding, worldview, and perspectives as the dominant and privileged ones. It is bringing in other modes and methods of thought, reasoning, understanding, and perspectives as co-equals, and centering them.

Each Pagan community and person will have its own decolonizing to do. This work, in and of itself, can have many layers. At the least we Heathens have to separate out Christian, atheist, nationalist, and racist influences on our communities. Decolonizing our worldview and personal mindset requires us to reckon with the nationalist and racist history behind modern Heathen revivals. It also requires us to approach the stories and myths we have with a critical eye, as many of these were originally written down by Christians, and later interpreted through Christian or Christian-dominated frameworks. Doing this work gets us closer to our Ancestors’ worldview, and so, doing the decolonizing work and honoring Ancestral traditions goes hand-in-hand.

Taking off that many layers in front of our understanding of the Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, and the root culture we are reviving can seem like a lot at first. In practice we begin with the best information we have, make our cultus as good as we can, and that as new and useful information comes to light we integrate this new understanding. Not all information is useful to our endeavors, even if it is based in history. Likewise, we have to be critical with what information we take in and apply. A given author may be furthering outmoded or historically incorrect ideas, and this can be true of modern Heathen authors as it can scholars. A given author can also be speaking for or on behalf of the Ginnreginn and the information they are sharing does not apply to us, our situation, or is wrong for our relationships with the Ginnreginn.

Decolonization of our mindset also requires us to look at what spiritual tools, technologies, ideas, and work we employ, why, for what reason. If we have learned these from someone else we need to ask if they have the authority to teach it to us and we have the permission to use it and/or pass it on. For instance, I do not do smudging. It is a ritual unto itself. I have not been taught how to do it. What I do with mugwort, aka Ama Una, whether I work with Her as an offering, cleansing by reykr (smoke) as incense or by smoking Her, etc, are not a Native American teachings, rituals, or relationships. When we are firmly rooted in our own relationship with the Ginnreginn we have no need to appropriate others’ cultures, practices, relationship, ways, or spiritual technologies.

This is not to say that we should not look to Native Americans for how to live with the vaettir we share this world with. An example: I offer the landvaettir tobacco, something I picked up by observation and teaching from Native American friends of mine. However, I also offer alcohol to the landvaettir, and this is something that is generally acceptable in our relationship with Them as Heathens that would not be with the Native folks I know. So why would I offer tobacco and not engage in smudging?

Smudging is not merely the burning of herbs in a shell or other fire-safe holder. It is a ritual, one I have not been taught or cleared to do. Offering tobacco, so far as I know, is open to everyone, and a good gift to almost every vaettr I have encountered. One is a closed practice, the other is not. Smudging would be theft of a spiritual practice while offering tobacco is being a good neighbor with the vaettir. Decolonizing our ways excludes those practices that harm, diminish, or marginalize Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPoC) while also including those practices that center their voices, experiences, and practices as they are appropriate for us to engage in.

Honoring Ancestral traditions can be a powerful, lived experience. Since a good many of us Heathens are reviving our own, and some of us are starting to pass on our ways to a second or even third generation, this is a huge responsibility on our parts. Decolonizing our traditions as much as we can before passing them on, and being willing to correct ourselves and our descendents when we err is our responsibility. The creation of Ancestral traditions is also very much in our hands and that of our Ginnreginn. Perhaps the older ways no longer apply because we live in radically different climates, or our relationships with Them are so different that we have to develop new traditions.

There is NOTHING wrong with developing new traditions when the old no longer can apply to us. Given how many of us are taking up broken threads across a good expanse of time in reviving our Heathen religions, there are a lot of traditions that are next to impossible to revive, and then there are traditions we cannot revive because we live in a wholly different society. We are going to have to develop new traditions in many cases, and this provides both us and the Ginnreginn with powerful opportunities to turn aside from the colonization that has marked a lot of modern Pagan religions.

One example that comes to mind is the establishment of vé, sacred space. We know our Ancestors had them outside, and given the role of hearth cultus, they likely had them inside as well. Each of us has the ability to develop family hearth cultus, and traditions that unfold from that. We have the ability to bring in old customs with respect to how to worship and treat the húsvaettir (house spirits), and together with Them, we can make new ways forward. After all, few of us live in a farm house so a lot of the ways you would build a relationship with, interact with, and/or ask for help from a tomte, nisse, etc may no longer apply. Those that we interact with might be totally different since They are likely not attached to a farmhouse, but apartments and single-family homes. Hearth cultus itself has had to change over the years since vanishingly few Heathens even have a literal hearth!

These subjects can range far and wide. Just the two websites I linked on decolonization go over education and ecology. Robin Wall Kimmerer’s books Gathering Moss and Braiding Sweetgrass are powerful explorations of her lived Native relationship with science and ecology. Erika Buenaflor covers Curanderismo centered in Mexica and Maya cultures in her book Curanderismo Soul Retrieval. Sade Musa does ongoing education and anti-colonialism work for African American diasporia, especially with regards to herbs and healing ways with her Roots of Resistance. We had both Erika Buenaflor and Sade Musa on Around the Grandfather Fire.

I cannot hope to cover all perpsectives with this post or to do them justice. Whatever our paths forward, we can decolonize our paths while honoring our Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir, and the traditions we build with Them.

Patreon Song/Poem/Prayer 21 -For Freya

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 from Maleck Odinsson for Freya.

Seiðkona Who shakes in the throes of vaettir

Spákona Who hears the vaettir speak

Ginnregin Who embodies power

Whose mouth is full of blood

Whose hand hold the sacrificial knife

Whose spear is keen and wet

Whose sword is fierce and eager

Whose hair is braided for battle

Whose eyes pierce the foe

Whose wings cut the air

Whose words stir Urðr

Patreon Topic 19: On Seiðr

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From Elfwort comes this topic:

“Would it be possible for you to discuss seidr work in some depth?”

I will. Before I get started a few things need to be acknowledged up front. Seiðr is a lot of things to a lot of people. This website provides a good very basic overview on it. I also recommend reading my overview post on seiðr here.

When I write about seiðr I am specifically writing about the working with spirits to achieve an end even when establishing communication and retrieving information is involved. Spá is working with spirits to make prophecies, establish communication, or retrieve information. I differentiate seiðr from spá, while some use the terms interchangeably or as close to one another. While it could be said that a seiðkona could also be a spákona, I like to keep terms as neat and tidy as I can. The big difference, as I see it, is the purpose. In doing a seiðr working you are seeking to cause some kind of change, whereas with a spá working you are seeking to see what is there or to prophesy.

When it comes to seiðr I cannot speak about seiðr work in depth as Hrafnar does it. In my experiences with their oracular seiðr, it strikes me as being spá, since the work is about getting information from the Gods, Ancestors, and/or vaettir and to those gathered for the work. I also cannot speak to how others do it. Most folks who do seiðr and spá take inspiration from The Saga of Erik the Red, or Eirík’s saga rauða and the few scant references to it in the lore.

The majority of my experience in seiðr and spá is being told by Óðinn I was going to study it from Freyja. Her instructions were very clear and to the point. It started with my usual regimen of cleansing, grounding, centering, shielding, and then warding the space. Describing the work itself is simple: I start by breathing deep, rocking, and shaking. Once in trance, I call to the spirit or group of spirits I am to work with. They are to come to me, or come into me, as is needed for the working. Once done they depart, and I do cleansing, grounding, centering, and shield work to be sure I was clear of spirits and then the space was clear prior to taking down the wards.

In going back and rereading my experiences and looking around online, what I learned from Freyja was more in line with the interpretation of Jan Fries’ understanding in the book Seidways, which I have only recently run into since writing this post. I would have to read the book to see where what Fries’ understanding and practice of seiðr and spá is.

What does it feel like, engaging in seiðr and spá?

It is a spirit sliding into you, not unlike in The Matrix or Shadowrun where a person is jacked in, a feeling of sliding into the base of your skull and a click, or some other sensation that lets you know the seiðr or spá has taken hold. One moment you are trancing to the beat of a drum, a song, and/or the rhythm of your own breath and heart. I usually do this work with my eyes shut or under a cloak or hat.

The next moment, a new consciousness joins you in the dark. Maybe it is a voice, a scent, a taste in the air, a touch, or a knowing. Whatever it is, it is outside you, definitely not you, and in this space between with you. Assuming this vaettr (spirit) is not one of your fylgja, kinfylgja, Ancestors, and other vaettir (spirits) that you trust and are with you, you ask if the vaettr that has joined you is legit, both that it is a vaettr and that it is who it says it is. Maybe you get confirmation from Them, maybe They turn hostile and eject the vaettr. Maybe you have to do divination so you are not just relying on your own experience and intuition, so you take a moment in this space to pluck or throw a Rune, or draw a card.

Working with the Runevaettir before, during, and after the seiðr or spá through galdr or other spiritwork, putting Them on your body, or through asking Them to help through a reading, can be a powerful ballast. Provided you have done right by Them, the Runevaettir can help provide clarity or power in a working that your Ancestors, fylgja, etc may not be able to. So much of seiðr and spá work is dependent on the reason you are doing the work. It depends on what you are looking to do, or to bring back knowledge on. It can also depend on Who you ask the question. Given I have seen and experienced Gods in seiðr and spá work, it is entirely possible They can come into the session whether you ask Them or They come on Their own.

For however long the work needs to be done, I am often engaging in some kind of rocking motion alongside regular breath patterns, often in groups of three, six, or nine. I generally will lose my sense of time. Timing is often a fruitless endeavor for me. It takes however long it takes to do the work. It can feel like I have been gone mere moments, or for days, depending on the working.

For anyone who has received divination from me, you have likely seen me do this spá work. When I learned how to do seiðr and spá from Freyja I incorporated this into my divination work. It stayed as I developed my divination protocols.

There is only so far in depth I can really get until we hit the wall of experience.

The way to learn how to do seiðr or spá is to do it.

Patreon Song/Poem/Pray 9 -For the Seiðfólk Dead

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 from my third Raiðo patron for the Seiðfólk Dead.

Deep deep deep I call to You

Who did seiðr for Their fólk

Who called in vaettir and took Them up

Who helped Their people and blessed Their hosts

 

Deep deep deep I call to You

Women, men, beyond and between

Whose holy rites over grave and ground

Linked megin and let vaettir speak

 

Deep deep deep I call to You

Who fought in war and healed the ill

Who brought deep knowledge into light

Who fared forth fierce to fight and kill

 

Deep deep deep I call to You

Hear my voice, and hear my heart

Come to me from where You are

Teach to me Your Sacred Art

 

Deep deep deep I call to You

Hear my song and hear my praise

See the gifts I leave to You

Given for the lessons gave

 

Patreon Topic 9: On Seiðr

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 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.