Paxson, Diana

Paxson, Diana – Contemporary Heathen whose Hrafnar group in San Francisco was one of the first to reconstruct seidr. The practice has taken on a distinctly different identity in Great Britain under the auspices of Jenny Blain, and in Scandinavia with the work of Annette Høst. Paxson has also established a deity possession practice in her group. Paxson noticed how traditional shamanic societies often incorporated possession into their rites, and to build on the fragmentary Nordic evidence with contemporary possession techniques, she studied and took part in the rituals of an Umbanda community in San Francisco. Regarding the Norse sources, in the Saga of King Óláfr Tryggvason (Flateyjarbók 1), an idol of the fertility god Freyr is described as being carried around the country in a wagon, accompanied by his “wife,” a priestess. The hero of the tale, Gunnar, fights with the idol and takes its place, whereupon the Swedes are delighted that the god can now feast and drink and are even more pleased when his “wife” becomes pregnant. If interpreted as a possible example of possession, as Paxson suggests, then it may have been common practice among the Swedes for people to take on the part of a deity and let the deity speak through them when needed. Gunnar, then, is the “shaman,” or whoever else was accompanying the priestess before being usurped by him: Gunnar’s struggle with Freyr would actually be a fight with the previous shaman. Alternatively, or in addition— for each interpretation is not mutually exclusive—Blain suggests the possibility that a “spirit-marriage” is described, similar to examples in Siberia, with the wife as the “shaman”: she has a spirit-spouse, Freyr, and a human-spouse, Gunnar, which is customary for the Swedes but is incomprehensible to the Norwegians, who assume Gunnar must be impersonating Freyr. And if Freyr is said to speak, this must “really” be Gunnar speaking, rather than the priestess relaying Freyr’s messages. Attending to these sorts of interpretations, Paxson has combined ethnographic analogy with Norse sources to reconstruct a Heathen possession technique for the present.


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