Seidr

Seidr – An Old Norse term (also spelled seid or sejd) in the Icelandic myths and sagas conventionally translated as “sorcery,” “witchcraft,” or “magic,” but more recently interpreted less pejoratively by scholars and neo-shamans (e.g., Jenny Blain, Thomas DuBois, Annette Høst, Diana Paxson, Neil Price, Robert Wallis) as a shamanistic practice. In ancient Heathenry, the workers of seidr were known variously as völva (wand- or staff-bearer), spakona/spamadr (seeress/seer), or seidkona/seidmadr (“worker of seidr,” that is, a seer or shaman). Examples of seidr practitioners are found in the sagas of Kormak, Erik the Red, Vatansdaela, Grettis, Volsunga, Eyrbyggja, Gull-Thoris, Viga-Glum, Heidarviga, and Harald, among others. Snorri Sturluson (1179–1241) records that Odin “ruled and practiced the art which is the most powerful of all and is called seidr” (Ynglinga saga 7), but we also know that Odin learned this “women’s magic” from Freyja, for which he is accused of being ergi (unmanly). The most detailed description of a seidr séance is in the 13thcentury Saga of Erik the Red, according to which a seeress performed a séance for a Greenlandic community suffering a famine during the 10th century. Many features of the tale may be interpreted shamanistically. The völva eats a strange porridge before the ritual containing the hearts of various creatures. She wears obscure items, perhaps associated with her other-than-human or spirit helpers: a black lambskin hood lined with cat fur, cat-skin gloves, and a pouch at her waist probably containing shamanic power objects. She holds a long staff—topped with a brass knob, studded with stones—which may symbolize the world tree Yggdrasill itself. And, she sits on a ritual “high seat” with a cushion of hen feathers beneath her. The verses that enable the spirits to be present are then sung or chanted by the young woman Gudrid, and in communication with that realm, the völva prophesies a better future and answers questions posed to her by each member of the community.

The increasingly popular practice of “oracular seidr” among contemporary Heathens is based primarily around the description in the Saga of Erik the Red, but practices vary. The seidr developed by Paxson’s Hrafnar group in California is based around this saga, with a journey to the realm of the dead, Hel, as a contemporary innovation based on ancient sources. Runic John in England and Jan Fries in Germany regard seidr as a loose term for shamanistic practice. Blain in Great Britain, on the other hand, has taken Hrafnar-style oracular seidr in an animistic direction. In Scandinavia, Høst began learning seidr with the group Yggdrasil, but has taken this in her own direction with an emphasis on the use of galdr (magical songs), the staff (which gives the seeress her name, völva), and journey to the other world of spirits.

SOURCE:

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

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