Northern Europe

Northern Europe – Shamanistic themes have been identified, with some speculation, in the pre-Christian pagan religions across northern Europe, the “Old North.” While it is likely that prehistoric communities in the region had shamanistic practitioners, identifying these individuals or their traditions as specific examples is controversial. The oldest evidence is that of European Paleolithic cave art, particularly in France and more recently northern England, some examples of which contain geometric shapes known as entoptics that are held to be specifically derived from some altered states of consciousness, as well as anthropomorphic images including therianthropes thought to depict shaman–animal composites or theriomorphism. From the Mesolithic period (Middle Stone Age), a find of perforated antler frontlets at the site of Star Carr in Yorkshire, England, may have comprised part of a headdress, perhaps used in shamanic rites. The rock art of Neolithic and Bronze Age structures has also been examined vis-à-vis entoptic phenomena, with the Neolithic passage tombs of Ireland receiving the most attention. The Northern religions of the Celtic, Norse, Anglo-Saxon, and related peoples have also been cited as shamanistic, primarily due to the style of their art as well as recurrent mythological themes in various literary sources that were written in the Christian era but may refer to earlier pagan traditions. Key examples here are the Celtic practice of Awenyddion, described by Gerald of Wales, in which a priest may enter a trance, and a detailed description of a seidr séance in the Saga of Erik the Red, according to which a seeress communicates with spirits in order to divine supernatural knowledge for a Norse community in Greenland. The Germanic god Odin and goddess Freyja may display shamanic themes: the Hávamál in the Poetic Edda records Odin’s self-initiation, in which he hangs from a tree for nine nights, pierced by his own spear, in order to receive the vision of the runes, and Freyja is said to have taught Odin the practice of seidr, for which he is accused of ergi (unmanly behavior). Such examples as these have inspired a number of contemporary Pagan neo-shamanic practices and beliefs, including the notion of a shamanic “Old Religion” among some Wiccans, derived in part from Margaret Murray’s thesis that medieval witchcraft reaches back to the Paleolithic era. The recent Druidic reconstruction of Awenyddion has been pioneered by Philip “Greywolf” Shallcrass of the British Druid Order. The better-known Heathen reconstructions of seidr began with the work of Diana Paxson and the Hrafnar group in California, but there are now manifestations in Great Britain, largely due to the work of Jenny Blain, and elsewhere in Europe. Such innovative revivals and reconstructions attest to the vitality of neo-shamanisms in the early 21st century.


Historical Dictionary of Shamanism by Graham Harvey and Robert J. Wallis 2007