- Safe Spirit Possession and Preventing Unwanted Possession
- Recommended Diviners
- How can you know an entity you are interacting with is who or what they say they are?
- Silent Periods, Real Life/Spirituality Balance, and Empathy
- The Very Long Post on Verification, Parts Oneand Two
- Resources on Protecting Yourself
- Being pressured to do spiritwork by humans, not spirits
- Some links on Trolldomr (Scandinavian Folk Magic)
- Divine Communication, Ethics, and Manipulation Techniques
- Community, Groupthink, and Popularity Contests
- On Teaching
- Norse Terminology and “Shamanism”
- Grumpy Lokean Elder’s Guide to Finding Articles Using Google
- Oil Safety
- Alright, I’m interested in this Norse stuff. Where do I even start?
- Could you recommend a good book for working with the runes?
- Heathenry-Related Books to Avoid
- Norse/Heathen Books for Small Children
- How about these books, yea or nay?
- Resources on Mindfulness
- Resources on Seidhr
- Books on Herbology in a Mystical Context
- Scandinavian Folk Medicine and Magic (Assorted)
- Icelandic Resources
- An Icelandic-English Dictionary
- More Icelandic Resources
- Alaric’s Old Norse Grammar Cheat Sheet
- Useful Heathenry Websites
Things to Read
Myths Featuring Loki:
Shortcut to poems from the Poetic Edda featuring Loki:
- Völuspá: The creation myth, Ragnarok, and such
- Þrymskviða: Loki and Thor crossdress to get Mjolnir back
- Reginsmál: Loki pisses off a dwarf and inadvertently causes the Volsung Saga
- Lokasenna: Loki crashes a party and challenges the gods to a rap battle
- Völuspá hin skamma: Loki eats a witch’s heart and becomes the “father of all monsters”
- Skáldskaparmál: The abduction of Idunn by Thjazi, Loki tying his balls to a goat to entertain Skadi, the seal fight with Heimdall over Freyja’s necklace
- Gylfaginning: The birth of Sleipnir, Loki’s binding, the visit to Útgarða-Loki
- Loka Táttur: Loki rescues a kid from a giant
Keep in mind that these translations are public domain due to their age, so a lot of the scholarship in the annotations is outdated. We recommend a newer translation of the Eddas if at all possible.
Other Primary Sources:
- Icelandic Saga Database
- Sacred Texts
- Northvegr (defunct but archived)
- Thorraborinn’s List of Primary Sources
- Recommended Edda Translations
- The Theft of Idun’s Apples – a retelling
- The Abduction of Ithunn (audio)
- That one time Loki cut off Sif’s Hair
- The continuation of that ^
- The Building of Asgard’s Wall
- Loki’s Flyting and Binding (audio)
Articles, eShrines, and Useful Loki Posts:
- Wikipedia Entry on Loki – Surprisingly accurate for Wikipedia. Go nuts!
- Loki’s Role in the Northern Religions
- Loke in Younger Tradition
- Loki, the Vätte, and the Ash Lad
- Lokean Book List
- Loki in the Archaeological Record
- An article about Loki (written by a Lokean)
- Loki as a Queer God
- Dealing with Nokeans
- Trickster’s Flame – A ton of personal gnosis and beliefs portrayed as fact, so take everything with a grain of salt. The prayers and stuff could still be useful though.
- Temple of the Flea – Another awesome shrine to Loki with articles and stuff!
- Lokaheim – One last shrine!
- Lokean Playlists
Info on Heathenry and Norse Myth in General:
- GLE’s Frequently Referenced Posts
- Lokavinr’s Master List
- Hedendom’s Resources
- Fuck Yeah Norse Mythology’s Resources
- Heathen Terms and Concepts
- Jackson Crawford’s YouTube Channel
- Huginn’s Heathen Hof
- Books to Avoid
- Old Norse Pronunciation Basics
- Homosexuality and Gender Roles in the Viking Age
- The Valkyrie Squad’s List of Non-Folkish Heathen Blogs
Other Lokean Blogs:
- Grumpy Lokean Elder – a truly awesome resource!
- Lokavinr – another awesome resource!
- Lokisday – great insights from a new Lokean
- Skytreaderdances – Miscellaneous Loki-related goodies
- Ask A Lokean – What it says on the tin (and more!)
Would you be able to elaborate more on something you said in your excellent post about the Norse Gods and homosexuality, about Loki being the “Mother of the line of Trollwomen/Witches”. Where does that come from, and where might I be able to read more in depth about it, and the practices of the trollwomen and witches Loki mothered?
Certainly. The passage in question is from Voluspa hin Skamma (sometimes listed separately, sometimes smooshed into the middle of Hyndluljod). It’s stanza 12 if listed separately, 43 if in Hyndluljod. Please excuse my half-assed translations. I’m away from all of my reference books at the moment.
“Loki át hjarta
fann hann halfsviðinn
varð Loftr kviðugr
af konu illri;
þaðan er á foldu
flagð hvert komit.”
Which is more or less:
“Loki ate the heart, laying in the embers
He found the woman’s heart halfcooked;
Lopt soon was with child from the woman,
And thence come all the flagð.”
flagð is rendered sometimes as giantesses, sometimes troll-women, sometimes witches. To make things more confusing, what is meant by “troll” often varies. It didn’t necessarily mean a particular species of vaettir, but often simply a witch or magic user (or a Finnish or Saami person, who were all assumed to be magic users). Hence, witchcraft is often referred to as Trolldomr.
This passage also gets referenced by Odin in Lokasenna, stanza 23:
“Veiztu, ef ek gaf,
þeim er ek gefa né skylda,
inum slævurum, sigr,
vartu fyr jörð neðan,
kýr mólkandi ok kona,
ok hefr þú þar börn borit,
ok hugða ek þat args aðal.”
Which is more or less:
“Though I gave to him, who deserved not the gift,
To the baser, victory
Winters eight were you under the earth,
Milking the cows like a woman,
and you there bore children.
Unmanly your soul seems.”
It’s been speculated upon whether or not the half-cooked heart was Gullveig’s or not. Further, it’s speculated upon whether or not Gullveig is Angrboda, Freyja, or a separate Goddess. This is where the imagery of heart-devouring comes from, in case any of you were wondering “what is the deal with Loki and hearts and heart-eating?”
Fun fact of the day: Hyndla translates to “bitch”. Literally. She-dog.
- 28 March 2013
Once the Idisi set forth, to this place and that;
Some fastened fetters; some hindered the horde,
Some loosed the bonds from the brave —
Leap forth from the fetters! Escape from the foes!
Phol and Wodan rode into the woods,
There Balder’s foal sprained its foot.
It was charmed by Sinthgunt, her sister Sunna;
It was charmed by Frija, her sister Volla;
It was charmed by Wodan, as he well knew how:
Bone-sprain, like blood-sprain,
Bone to bone; blood to blood;
Limb to limb — like they were glued.
Merseburg Incantations – Galdr and Comparative Folk Beliefs.
- “The Merseburg Incantations or Merseburg Charms are two medieval magic spells, charms or incantations, written in Old High German. They are the only known examples of Germanic pagan belief preserved in this language. They were discovered in 1841 by Georg Waitz, who found them in a theological manuscript from Fulda, written in the 9th or 10th century, although there remains some speculation about the date of the charms themselves. The manuscript was stored in the library of the cathedral chapter of Merseburg, hence the name.”
As mentioned, there are two charms preserved. We will be focusing on this one:
- Phol and Wodan were riding to the woods, and the foot of Balder’s foal was sprained So Sinthgunt, Sunna’s sister, conjured it. and Frija, Volla’s sister, conjured it. and Wodan conjured it, as well he could: Like bone-sprain, so blood-sprain, so joint-sprain: Bone to bone, blood to blood, joints to joints, so may they be mended.
It is my opinion that these incantations are what the Norse tradition would consider as Galdr and should be utilized as a key guide for reconstructing Galdr as a modern practice. Now here’s where things get interesting. While this charm mentions Wodan (Odin), there are surviving Christianized versions throughout all of Europe, including Norway, Sweden, and even Scotland. The Scottish version goes like this:
- The Lord rade and the foal slade; he lighted and he righted, set joint to joint, bone to bone, and sinew to sinew Heal in the Holy Ghost’s name!
One can easily see the parallels. Finally, I will carry you far from the frozen North to South Asia, where the Indo-Europeans settled in modern day India. In the Atharvaveda, a manuscript written atleast a thousand years before Christ, there is also a charm mentioned, it goes like this:
- Grower (Rohani) art thou, grower, grower of severed bone; make this grow. O arundhatī What of thee is torn, what of thee is inflamed, what of thee is crushed in thyself may Dhātar excellently put that together again, joint with joint. Let thy marrow come together with marrow, and thy joint together with joint; together let what of your flesh has fallen apart, together let thy bone grow over. Let marrow be put together with marrow; let skin grow with skin; let thy blood, bone grow; let flesh grow with flesh. Fit thou together hair with hair; fit together skin with skin; let thy blood, bone grow; put together what is severed.
One can clearly see these parallels as well. This lends one to believe that this charm is an ancient archetype of Proto-Indo-European magic. Something to chew on!
This actually bears some resemblance to kemetic structure for spell casting, which I find very fascinating. I was at this talk by some researcher who had identified a basic structure for magic in egypt.
I will likely be a bit off here, but it goes in a couple steps.
The mage identifies himself.
The mage tells the story of the gods doing something similar.
The mage identifies what he wants done.
The mage identifies what happens should it not be done.
The mage “breathes” the spell.
Now, some of these are obviously very specific to egyptian magic, such as the breathing bit, but I am seeing a bit of a pattern here.
- Sacred Singing
- Galdr considered masculine form of magic, where Seidhr is feminine. No specific rules though as men and women practiced both forms.
- Galdr is most easily described as chanting or singing a rune.
- Ask Jackson Crawford- how does this work if Runes are an alphabet and hold no actual power
- When did we first start seeing Galdr as opposed to other magics?
- “Elder” Heathens covers many different eras (Migration age? Vendel? Viking?) and different regions, so there were probably many different forms of Galdr. Like I said above, these formulas are not the be-all and-all of Galdr. This is one way to do it, not the “only way”.
- The rune-poems of the Hávamál are true esoteric descriptors of the Runic powers (the later Norwegian, Icelandic, and Anglo-Saxon poems being mainly secondhand mnemonic devices), it is the verses of the Hávamál that should be used if one is going to attempt Galdr with any of the rune-poems in the first place. The words of Odin himself are a far more direct route to the esoteric mysteries of Runelore than any of the watered-down colloquial rune-poems copied down by monks in the post-Conversion era.
- However, in simplified form, Galdr is simply the essence of the very sounds and vibrations of the runes, and does not necessarily require recitation of any poems at all – and thus can be formulated for any and all of the 4 runic systems.
- Sometimes in the Younger Futhark, the meanings attributed to runes (which, remember, are taken from Rune-poems which are largely mnemonic or memory devices, not necessarily literal meanings) are actually referring to what that rune can protect you from, rather than the nature of the rune itself. For example, Hagal is not just Haegl (hail) but also Hag-All, that which hedges the all, against the hailstorms and wildfires of difficult times. So one could say the outer (primary) level of meaning here is the hail. The secondary, higher level of meaning is the All-Hedge which protects against hail, both physical and psychic. This tertiary level is the higher principle of Hagal, i.e. “God in us” or “manifesting the All in oneself” – the essence of the apotheosis present in the Odinic path.
- I just verified, the Stav master Graham Butcher uses the same terminology as Mr. Pidd, same attributions.
- They try to connect Loki with the rather obscure deity Loptr, and thus to Lodurr (also known as Ve or Thridi), Odin’s latter brother and possible hypostasis. Indeed, even Meister Guido advanced this as one *possible* form of the three-phased “Second Logos” of Wotan (though he didn’t get dogmatic about the idea, as he guessed two alternative sets of names for the “Odinic trinity”, and hardly even addresses the name of Loki like an actual deity anywhere in his books). But even this is a problem in many ways. First of all, claiming that Loki, Loptr and Lodurr are the same being is not reliable, because even though the names sound similar, and all relate to fire, there are yet other beings in the Lore whose names mean fire, and are far closer in structure to Loki’s.
Galdr and Taufr (spells and talismans)
- Galdr = spells or incantations
- Taufr = talismans
- Galdr refers to spells, magic enacted through spoken words. In Old Norse, it also has connotations of singing, as the spells may have actually been sung or spoken in a sing-song way. As there are no existing records of how galdr may have been done, contemporary practices that I have found seem to point to two methods
- Taufr are talismans. Traditionally, they would have been carved on wood, stone, metal or bone. The talisman then serves as the focus of the magic, conveying its power to its target. The power of the taufr comes from the runes placed on it.
- One method comes from Edred Thorsson, and can be seen in his book, Futhark: A handbook of Rune Magic. In describing the runes of the Elder Futhark, one of the things he notes is the runes Galdr. These are ways of chanting the runes name, as a means to attune oneself to that runes specific energy. This method is derived form Guido von Liszt, who developed a method of chanting runes, seemingly derived from Hindu practice of seed mantras. In Hinduism, there are seed word sounds, which have certain qualities associated with them. By combining these word sounds, you create a full mantra, for a specific effect. Liszt developed his own version, based upon his Armanen runes, which combine vowels and consonants. The vowels represent energies, while the consonants are forms. These are combined to create a galdr for a specific effect. Thorsson developed on this, extending the letters through the Elder Futhark. Then chant the combination to activate the galdr.
- The other method uses poetry to write a spell. Using the symbolism of Runes and their meanings, are woven into the galdr, along with poetic devices common to Northern European peoples, namely alliteration (rhyming using the first consonant of a word) and kennings (inventive names used to describe things, people or places). These are then sung or spoken in pitch, to activate the galdr.
- Other methods are based upon chaos magic techniques of sigil production. Writing your intention, eliminate all the double letters. Take the runic equivalent of those letters, and use that to create your taufr. You can also combine them into a graphic design, known as a bind-rune or sigil. This can be used as a means to conceal your intent from others (if you don’t want it known) and in trying to create a graphic that is aesthetically appealing, adds power and intent to your spell.
- Once you have your runes selected, and you have carved them or placed them on the item, at this point a fluid is then placed upon them. Typically, it is a bodily fluid, blood or spit being the most common. A common substitute is alcohol (ale or beer, but even hard liquor) or red dye or paint, which stains the runes red (blood symbolism). At this point a short incantation may be done chanting the runes names, or simply saying “So mote it be” or something along those lines. Then your talisman is complete. It may need to be placed where it is going to exert its influence, such as carried on your person, or deposited near the target of the spell.
Defining Galdr (Bragiteilen’s Galdrbook)
- To put it simply, galdr is the Old Norse word for poems that were possibly, but not for certain, composed in the meter of Galdralag (lit. “meter of magic spells”), and the chanting of these poems was typically accompanied by an action or elaborate ritual meant to bring about a certain effect, like creating a storm, inflicting madness upon a person, causing coins to spontaneously appear in the skinned remains of a dead man’s scrotum (no, that’s not a joke), or making the process of childbirth smoother. Ceremonies involving galdr were performed by vǫlur (singular “vǫlva”).
- The lack of surviving records of actual magic poems suggests that these poems were not formally composed or recorded at all, but were rather more spontaneously created and given to the ephemeral and corruptible nature of spoken words. It seems to me that the use of galdralag was simple enough as to make relatively casual utterances of galdr possible and even common, and it is probably due to the ease of access to the creation of these magic spells that they were rarely recorded.
- In addition, since we have no surviving records of actual galdr, it cannot be said for sure whether or not galdralag was actually used in the magic spells themselves, or was used simply to talk about their use, as in The Havamal.The word “galdralag” itself does not seem to support or disprove either theory.
- The chanting of galdr is known to have been performed at times by groups of young men and women, referred to by Ralph Metzner as “choirs.” Whether or not the chanting involved any actual tune though remains uncertain. The closest surviving relative of the practices of Ancient Norse vǫlur is the shamanistic practices of the modern Sami people, a culture indigenous to Scandinavia that, despite widespread Christianization, still retains many of its indigenous cultural beliefs and practices.
- One of those practices is the communication between living mortals and the dead, the gods, and other spirits by noaidi, priests that are still similar to the ancient vǫlur in significant ways, and whose divinatory ceremonies mirror ancient seiðr rituals. The noaidi’s use of percussive instruments (such as the two types of ceremonial Sami drums) alone would not be enough to suggest one way or another whether the chanting of galdr involved any sort of tune, but the Sami people’s use of a flute called a “fadno” is. By nature, flutes are employed in order to create a tune, and so we may infer from the existence of Sami flutes, and from the considerable extent of cultural exchange between the ancient Sami and Norse peoples, that galdr probably did involve melodic chanting at least sometimes.
Galdrastafir: Icelandic Magical Staves Vegvisir, Lukkustafir, Aegishjalmur and other symbols:
- Galdrastafir are Icelandic and appear from around 1400 through to 1800 (late middle-age to early modern period). Most are from the 17th century, and there are hundreds of them.
- They borrow concepts from pagan times, from Vikings, from Norse / Nordic gods, myths and folklore, and from runic characters, but they also reflect issues current for their times and both pagan and Christian beliefs. It is likely that Galdrastafir gained popularity in Iceland after other symbols were seen in middle-age grimoires from mainland Europe.
- Since 1800 CE, Galdrastafir have been drawn and redrawn, often in compilations, and on many occasions done with missing or added elements that change how they originally looked.
- Esotoric (contemporary) rune meanings have little to do with Galdrastafir. Ásatrú, Odinism and Shamanism (all new age pagan or heathen religions) have adopted some of the symbols for use in their own belief systems – this does mean the symbols are pagan or heathen or symbolic of any particular group.
- Galdrastafir (pl. of galdrastafur) is an Icelandic word which translates to [galdra] magical[stafi] sticks or staves. Steven Flowers writes that they inherited from the old technical designation of runes as staves or sticks because they were often carved on such objects for talismanic purposes.3 A stave (from Old English: staves of staff) is generally some kind of straight supporting structure: a walking stick or staff; a small beam or strut; or the lines drawn holding musical notes and other symbols. However the galdrastafir is best defined as a sigil – an inscribed or painted magical sign or symbol or even a family type seal. They were usually designed to control the elements or steer developments. On its own the word stafr in Icelandic also means a letter (of the alphabet) or character and also means lore or wisdom.
- The shape of the symbols could be grouped into five:
- Asymmetrical – These are often the older galdrastafir, and rarely have any Christian influence. They are characterized more to the traditional definition of stafi, commonly with straight lines intersected with other lines or small shapes. The small shapes are runes in the old sense definition, i.e. a character with hidden meaning. Very occasionally one or more recognisible runes are used, however it is a fallacy to presume galdrastafir are made up of Futharkrune characters.
- Symmetrical – These later aged galdrastafir have greater esthetic value and range from the most simple to very complex and elaborate forms. Some intermix Christian and Pagan elements, or are solely Christian related. Many take the cartwheelform, often with identical rune shapes at the end of each spoke.
- Runic – These are generally a string of single or multiple characters. Again, the meaning of the runic shapes are usually unknown or unclear to us.
- Seal / Insignia – These are almost all Christian influenced, with names given to the symbol such as Seal of Jesusor other entities including Christian leaders, monarchs and angels. The most frequent of these refer to Jesus/Christ/Jehovah/IHS, King Salomon or are labeled as a Rood Cross. Many seem to have shapes and words that are similar to those found in early-modern European grimoires.
- Superstaves – These are the most complex and often the most beautiful of the symbols. They often fall under the Rood-crossbanner (spelt variously in Icelandic as Rúdukross, Ródukross or Rotaskross) and are mostly used for protection against evil.
- In Iceland these people were called galdramennor seið-maðr/kona. It is speculated that they would draw, scratch, carve or engrave lines and symbols, often runic-like characters, and employ ritualistic processes as they fashioned the sigils.
- Runes were used for writing throughout the Germanic and Scandinavian regions up until around 1000CE, at which point their use declined except for marking graves, personal items and less frequently for charms and amulets. From 800CE to 1200CE people colonized and populated Iceland and carried with them the magical practices, their gods and the runes.
- Note however there are very few written records in Iceland prior to 1200 CE. History was kept by the telling of stories, which were passed down through the ages. It was only later that some documents of the magic, the stories and traditions were written down, including the Prose Edda, the Poetic Edda and the Sagas of Icelanders in the 13th and 14th centuries.
- The best of these is the Galdrabók, which gives detailed information about the creation of the sigils. All of these were written using Latin characters, although often old script makes them difficult to read. Runes do appear as alphabetic lists in 17th century scholarly Icelandic manuscripts, but the most significant entry is the Icelandic Rune Poem written approximately in 1300 CE.
- Icelandic legends tell of wizards/magicians that made grimoires written in runes. However the runes they speak of are not those of the alphabetic fathark shown above. What is meant is they were written in secret language. There have been some compilation manuscripts that have used the Modified Danish Futhark or similar to describe the use or purpose of the sigils – most notable among which are the Huld manuscript and the 1940 magazine-like Skuggi Galdra-skræða.
- The late Matthías Viðar Sæmundsson gave a lecture 26in which he put forward the idea that the tvimadur shape (Icel. tvi=two, maður=man[-rune]) that is prevalent in many galdrastafir is a stylized hagall (hail) rune, and its origins come from the lighting-thunderbolt shape found in Zeus and Jupiter symbols (as seen on the reverse side of one Thyatira coinfrom 200BC), therefore comparable to Thor, god of thunder and protector of men and gods. As I see this shape in the many Christian galdrastafir, I extend Matthías theory to parallel Thor, son of Odin with Christ, son of God. This is directly backed by this sigil in the Samtíningur manuscript Lbs 977 4to. On this manuscript page are the many names of Christ along side the tvimadur. It may be that this shape is used frequently in Galdrastafir to invoke the protective nature of the symbol used in past times.
- A similar symbol found in the Netherlands called the Donderbezem(thunder broom) also provided protection. The double ended broom formed a hagall shape which was incorporated into the facade brickwork or masonry of buildings and homes to keep away evil spirits or other perils (including lightning strikes).
- According to Flowers, the power of an ægishjálmur could be invoked through the use of a special kind of magic called seiðr(a Nordic wizardry practiced well before the advent of Vikings). Seiðr could be used to affect the mind with forgetfulness, delusion, illusion, or fear. The ægishjálmur is a special subset of seiðr magic called sjónhverfing, the magical delusion or deceiving of the sight where the seið-witch affects the minds of others so that they cannot see things as they truly are.9
- It is said that only later did the physical symbol come into use, being carved inside the helmets of Viking warriors, displayed on their front, or else impressions made of it on warrior foreheads using blood, saliva or lead stencils. I don’t know who said this, but it seems highly unlikely. I have not seen any evidence of it, and as already stated, galdrastafir became popular in the 17th century, way after the Viking period from roughly 800 AD to 1100 AD.
- What is remarkable, but not unique to this symbol, is the mixture of envoking both Christian and pagan gods. We again see that the symbol, despite having the same title, varies in its appearance, description and instructions.
- This is a reminder that everything about galdrastafir was fluid and flexible, almost at the whim of the galdramenn who created them.
- Fen Alraun speculates that the Vegvísir incorporates 8 different charms of protection on each stave; thus the overall charm becomes one suitable to defend against many kinds of obstacles that might cause one to lose one’s way. He believes it is not necessary to understand the meaning of each stave: As long as the helm is written correctly every time it will still hold its power.
- The Vegvísir has been called a Runicor Viking Compass and been described as a magical symbol of navigation connected with actual compasses.11 I am yet to find any reference to this sigil prior to the 1600s, so it should not be regarded as Viking. Even though the shape looks like a compass, that is just a coincidence – many galdrastafir appear on an eight pointed wheel. Meanwhile, the concept of an actual eight pointed compass used in navigation is only a very recent innovation.
- While on the subject of debunking nonsense – Vegvísir was definately not created by Ásatrú, despite their use of this symbol today – Ásatrú is a new age religion founded in the 1970s. Also it is not in the same category of magic as the Elder Fathurk runes being used in esoteric runology(another modern day innovation). The practice of drawing this or any galdrastafur surrounded by runes of any era is not supported in any pre 20th century manuscript.
- There are many Vegvísir tattoos on Tumblerand Instagram, usually based on the Davíðsson or old Wikipedia versions. This does make for a more simple, less cramped style for tattooing, but I prefer accuracy over such shortcuts. There is also a version that is based on a low resolution image of Björk’s tattoo. After close examination it looks like Björk made a hand drawing of the Davíðsson version which she then took to her tattooist. Brent Barry has made a better version on his web site Brent Berry Arts and shows many other examples of his beautiful work featuring the Vegvísir (but they still lack those key elements).
- The Northern magical process differed from the traditional Southern approach in several ways. In the Southern formula there was a preparation of the ground (with a circle and triangle which was stood in) to protect the magician from the spirit called. The spirit was then ordered to perform some bidding. After the ritual the magician dismissed the spirit. The Northern way had no preparation. The spirit was called to assist or empower the magician rather than it do the work. And there was no specific dismissing at the end. Another difference between South and North was in the person of the magician: the Southern one required little experience whilst in the North the more skilled the better – it was more about the magician than the process.
- In Icelandic Magick one or more of three methods was used: signs or symbols; writing; or spoken chants or words. In the case of Galdrastafir, this used the first with or without the later two.
- Rituals often included blood along with other aspects: woods (ash, oak, alder …); herbs (leek, mosses, rosemary, sage, …) and stones (amber, ruby, diamond). With the growing conversion to Christianity from 1000 to 1550CE, prayers became more prominent and Christian entities were more often called upon. Along with the usual gods of Odin, Thor, Frig and Freya, now Jesus, Mary and Satan were included. Many of the charms transcribed into the various Galdrabok included the phrase In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit
- As a final call from esoteric witchcraft back to reality – I am yet to see any empirical evidence of galdrastafir being used in the Viking age or beyond through to late middle ages. There are no viking warrior gravesites which bore up a helmet with the Ægishjálmar carved within. No ships or mariner graves revealed a Vegvísir in use. And the power of runesseems to be nothing more than myth.
The Legacy of Seiðr: history, experiences and the path ahead
OLD NORSE SEIÐR
- Seidr is originally a Norse shamanic tradition, or could be seen as an old Scandinavian form of magic with strong shamanic traits. Seidr, in Norse seiðr (pronounced somewhat like say-th, where ð is pronounced like th in there) was a living tradition used for divination and transformation up until middle or late Viking age.
- The ritual structure of seidr consists of magic song, staff, and a ritual seat. It is the combination of all three elements, used in a shamanic way, that gives the unique quality of seidr.
- In this literature a practitioner of seiðr is called a seidr woman (seiðkona), seidr man (seiðmaðr), or vǫlva – meaning staff carrier – or spákona, meaning seer. Sometimes the person experienced in the art of seidr is just called fjǫlkunnigr, meaning a person skilled in magic.
- Seidr is much older than both the written sources and the Vikings. Most likely, its roots are in iron age fertility cults and early shamanism, and the tradition thus a lifespan of more than a thousand years. The old texts only offer us glimpses of the practice in its latest days, and clearly it must have undergone many changes through its long life.
- Thorbjörg’s story tells us about seidr done as a big community ritual, but seidr can also be done with just a few people. In Laxdoela saga, Kotkel, Grima and their two sons do an outdoor seidr together, singing strong songs raising a storm to wreck a ship. In other sagas, Thuridr performs seidr to bring fish back into a barren fjord, and Halgrim uses seidr to make his spear axe invincible. Seidr can be done alone in nature, as the few ambiguous hints in the eddic poem, Vǫluspá,(The Vision of the Seeress) might be indicating.
- As in all shamanic work, there is always a purpose for the seidr. And in short, it can be used to transform, both to harm and heal, and to seek vision including knowledge about the future.
- Earlier academic researchers held the view that seidr for the purpose of change or transformation is by nature harmful, black magic. There is no more substance to this claim than similar claims about shamanic work as such. Whether an act is harmful or helpful is determined by the intent of the practitioner, not by the method.
- Some researchers and modern practitioners view seidr as a generic term for all Norse magic as well as a distinct method. The way I understand the written sources, reading with “shamanic” eyes, seidr is one kind of Norse magic. But not all kinds of Norse magic are seidr. In the earlier sagas at least, seidr is clearly distinguished from both other branches of magic and from the shamanic noaide tradition of the Sami.
- There are four main branches of magic described in Norse tradition: galdr, rune magic, seidr and utiseta. Utiseta (sitting out overnight for wisdom) shares many traits with the vision quests of other cultures, and it was practised by laymen as well as professional magically trained people. Galdr (an art of magic singing), rune magic and seidr are skilled magic traditions not found elsewhere in the world. They are arts demanding substantial, even professional, training to learn. Froeði (translated to skill, wisdom) is a word used both about seidr song and about other magic skills, indicating it takes a certain effort and patience to learn.
- An experienced fjǫlkunnigr practitioner of old might combine the different kinds of magic in a session if the task demands it. In “Oddrun’s lament” a “biting” galdr is combined with runes cut on the wrists to aid a difficult childbirth. In Vǫluspá, the ambiguous poetry hints that the vǫlva may be combining seidr and utiseta to call forth her deep visions.
- I call what we do new seidr, acknowledging that it must, of course, be different from the old one. My feet are planted here in modern Northern European shamanism, and my aim has never been to reconstruct the past or do Viking-age seiðr. Rather, my passion has been to find out how it works, and then ask: What does the seidr tradition bring to the magic and spiritual practices of today, and what shamanic skills does it demand of us?
- Today there are several different approaches to the new seidr. I have found working with seidr as a distinct method, defined as a shamanic work using staff, song and magic seat in combination, to be consistent with both the historical sources and the shamanic tradition. In other words: there are four S’s in a seidr: Staff, Song, Seat and Spirits. If any of those four is missing it is not seidr as I see it, but some other method which we may call “seidr-inspired” rather than proper seidr.
- In seidr we use singing instead of drumming to come into contact with the otherworld. Thorbjörg states that without singing, the spirits turn away from her. And without spirits, she cannot “see” to do the seidr. “Sweet was the chanting” or “no one present had ever heard a fairer song” are some of the descriptions of the old seidr songs. At other times they are referred to as “strong” or “harsh.” Both then and now the seidr song is known to often become ecstatic.
- No old seiðr songs have been handed down to us, so I have had to turn to the related traditions of magic and ritual song of the Nordic countries, especially the Norse galdr, the Finnish runolaulo, the Sami joik, to learn the old forgotten skills of magic singing. Traditional magic chanting is characterised by being repetitious and going on for a long time, thereby facilitating trance or a change of consciousness, similar to the way drumming works. This is the old, literal meaning of the word enchantment. Today, this is experienced by both the seidr worker and by the singers in the circle, who, maybe for the first time in their lives, know the basic human experience of letting go completely into singing.
- In different types of seidr, you are either sung over by other people, or you can sing yourself on your journey. In the example from Laxdoela Saga mentioned earlier, Kotkel’s family, as a close-knit unit, sang their own seidr. Just as important, though, chanting is often used by the seidr-worker to communicate with the participants, and to manifest the outcome of the seidr work. When Thorbjörg for example chants “This illness shall end sooner than any of you expect!”, she is doing more than reporting a vision: she is singing it into being! Sung messages, unlike spoken words, have a way of going directly to the heart of the listener, without being first filtered by the brain. It is a way of moving power, strengthening the magic impact, and deeply touching the listener.
- In both Norse and Celtic spiritual tradition this is a strong trait known as inspired (in the literal sense) poetry, and is often ecstatic. It is also used worldwide in shamanic rituals of many traditions, including Siberian and south American. It easily enhances and empowers our own modern healing and other shamanic work.
- In the past, I often translated seiðhiall to “high seat” when speaking English, as do many written translations of the Norse sources. But this inaccurate translation is mixing two terms, which historically and energetically are very different. For example, in the case of Thorbjörg, she is lead to the hásæti on the night she arrives. The next day, doing the seidr, she climbs onto the seiðhiall . The hásæti high seat is a seat of social honor in the hall, often kept in the family for generations. It is of this world, a VIP seat – full of ego. The seidr seat, seiðhiall, is a magic seat or platform, built for the occasion, and it has no room for ego.
- The seidr practitioner– like all shamans – is, while on the job (and the seat!), the servant of the people and at the same time a servant of the spirits, a mediator sitting between the worlds. It can be very seductive to sit on the seidr seat if the distinction between the two seats is not made clear and well understood. The danger is in forgetting that the authority of the words coming out of your mouth does not belong to you, but to the spirits.
- The Staff
The staff (vǫlr, which has given name to the vǫlva) is – also literally speaking – the centre of seiðr. When you sit on the magic seat in a sea of human and spirit voices, or sit in the visions of the twilit forest, it is the staff in your hands which holds the direction of your journey and keeps you centred. At the same time, the staff is your grounding, like the Tree of Life, connecting earth and sky.
- In the old literature another word used for staff is gandr. But gandr can also mean spirit ally, or magic, or all three at once. As in a shamanic experience where the soul of the staff might turn into a horse or move like a snake. In seidr work, it is the inner spirit side that makes a powerful staff, not the looks of its outer surface.
- The ritual forms and variations
The account of Thorbjörg’s seidr outlines a ritual recipe for a community seidr. It has proven a great way of working for a group of people with a common purpose, like finding a guiding vision for a project or re-empowering a neighbourhood. Apart from the results of the work, just being part of such a community seidr can be very empowering for both the unity of the group and for the individuals in the circle.
- However, a big group seidr is far from always the most appropriate or effective method. It all depends on the task. Often a simpler version – done indoor or outdoor – can be a better choice for your mission. If you are just a few people together, you can still let one person journey, carried by the song of the others.
- There is also a related practice for when you work alone, which I call solitary seidr. The term “solitary seidr” is not used in the old literature, but in the mythic poem Vǫluspá it is indicated that such a ritual method was used. If you do it in nature, your seidr seat might be a rock or a root of a tree. With your purpose or intent clear in your heart, you simply sit with your staff and sing yourself into contact with the wind, the night, with the animals and spirits out there, and let their songs blend with yours to guide you and heal you.
- Working with power and ergi
Sometimes the character of a seidr is mostly gentle and clear. But now and then in a strong, ecstatic seidr you may encounter a raw power of nature coming from the earth or whirling in the song, running through the staff or yourself. And sometimes this power has a clearly erotic or sexual character. This can be a profound spiritual experience in itself. But the point is that this is the power that you are given from the spirit-world for the stated purpose of your seidr, be it healing, transformation or deeper insight into the web of life. And the way to deal with it is through surrender without forgetting your mission. For me, this is the beautiful mystery core of seidr.
- This quality of seidr is hinted at and named ergi in the mythic poems and the sagas. Ergi is the most esoteric and enigmatic aspect of seidr. In the academic research it is also the most misunderstood aspect of seidr. In the early medieval texts it is said that men could not perform seiðr without shame due to the ergi inherent in seiðr. Ergi was in the age of the sagas, the Viking age and early middle ages, interpreted as a linking together of unmanliness, magic skilfulness and sexual perversion. Thus the idea of the “unmanly seidr man” is heavily dependent on the Viking age’s narrow definition of acceptable masculinity and sexuality. Still the “unmanly seidr” myth has stuck in almost all later academic and popular speculations.
- It is noteworthy that the whole issue of ergi and reputed unmanliness has had more impact in the modern circles which have studied seidr in the sagas and academic research and adopted their view of ergi before experiencing it firsthand in seidr.
- My personal understanding is that ergi is a skilful way of handling spirit power through focused surrender, by receiving the power and expressing it magically. Voluntary loss of control, the union of ecstasy and consciousness, is also known by both the old Sami noaide and the Siberian shaman. Today it is experienced anew by people, who venture out on the path of shamanism. I should emphasize though that a seidr, especially for divination, easily can be effective without deep ecstasy and ergi: It all depends on the task. The power that needs handling through ergi only reveals itself now and then, and is neither something to fear nor pursue.
- In other words, you don’t have to be ásatrú to practice seidr, galdr and utiseta. Seidr is an independent tradition, much older than the Viking age and the divinities we know of from Norse mythology.
- To me, the mystical core of seidr is inseparable from wild nature. Therefore, a key part of our new seidr training and practice is “sitting out” alone at night with our staff, amongst the hills and trees, singing the power of earth and wind. This offers a beautiful, wild way of literally rooting our spiritual and magic practice in our own landscape and in our own time. What we experience there is both ancient and new, authentic and timeless. People often say it is like coming home.
Galdr and Sedir
- Galdr is toughly translated to “incantation”. As such, it does indeed have ties to the spoken word. Galdr spells were written in the meter “galdralag”. In Havamal, Odin lists eighteen songs he knows for various purposes, from protection and healing to raising the dead. These songs are generally accepted to be galdr spells. He gained these spells from his hanging, indicating the implicit connection of galdr to the runes he gained knowledge of.
- In addition, I’d argue that especially compared to seidr, galdr was very much commonplace and less ‘taboo’ or stigmatized, and that most folkcharms after Christianity were probably descended from galdr spells.
- Seidr in scholarly works is often categorized as “shamanic magic” indicating it was affiliated with altered states of consciousness, typically in an attempt to travel to other worlds, especially a ‘spirit world’. Seidr is also strongly tied to divination or other forms of seeing/knowing what will happen. Most practitioners of seidr were women called ‘volvas’.
- In her book Iron Age Myth and Materiality, Lotte Hedeager makes compelling arguments linking sex and death in Norse cosmology, from arguing about why male sacrifices were often hung or otherwise strangledto examining various kennings linking death to sex. So if seidr had a link to sex, it also had a link to death, perhaps identifying the specific ‘other world’ that volvas were able to access. However, I’d like to also pause and mention that tied up in the concept of death is fate.
- As fate is frequently referred to in the lore as ‘strands’ or strings’, well, this intuitively makes sense. Seidr magic is tied to knowledge of events and the power to change them. If we stop and think about the fact that one’s fylgja could take the form of an animal or a woman, the connection gets stronger. One’s fylgja is an embodiment of one’s luck, which in Norse cosmology was tied directly to one’s fate. The fylgja is is generally regarded as a part of one’s soul yet separate. In addition, the animal identity of one’s fylgja indicated something about your gifts and temperament, e.g. a warrior having a wolf or boar for their fylgja. Related to the fylgja but clearly distinct is the hamr. Like the fylgja, it takes the form of an animal or woman but it can change shape. In addition, skilled magicians were said to be able to slip into a trance or sleep and travel in the guise of their hamr. These magicians were called “hamrammr” (shape-strong) and though I’m not certain if this particular magic was considered part of seidr, it seems to be linked to it as it also involves an altered state of consciousness and spirit manipulation. In addition, several animals are believed to have been viewed as vehicles or guides to the otherworld in Old Norse cosmology.
- The seiðkona or võlva is an itinerant who is invited to visit a householder and prophesy for his household. She must be lavishly entertained and paid with gifts. She may arrive accompanied by a group of helpers, or the women of the household may help her to achieve a trance through singing and/or drumming. The magic is performed on a high platform or mound. The aim of the võlva is to gain control over spirits, who may be called gandar. In a chapter headed DeFinnis ‘On the Lapps’, the HistoriaNorwegiae says that these were raised up by Saami magicians for the purpose of making predictions. However, this probably represents Norse beliefs about Saami magic rather than the reality of it, for the word gandr does not exist in the Saami language.
- The trance involves a seizure in which the võlva opens her mouth wide and gasps for breath (Hrólfssagakraka, Hauksþáttrhábrókar). She may deliver her prophecies within the trance, in which case it is sometimes said that ‘a song came into her mouth’ from elsewhere. This is always in fornyrðislag metre; in it, she may refer to herself either in the first person (Hrólfssagakraka, Baldrsdraumar) or in both first and third persons (Võluspá, Õrvar-Oddssaga, Bósasaga). In other cases, the võlva prophesies in response to questions when she has returned to her normal state (Eiríkssagarauða, Vatnsdœlasaga).
- Alternatively, the võlva might raise the spirits of the dead by ‘sitting out’ at night at a crossroads, on a mound or in a cave. Võluspá reverses this: here it is the probably dead võlva who ‘sits out’ in order to contact the living Óðinn. ‘Sitting out’ may also be implied in stories where the võlva gains her prophetic knowledge at night (as in Õrvar-Oddssaga).
- When võlur are consulted in mythological and legendary sources, it is assumed that they are truthfully predicting an inevitable future.
- (In the passage above, gandr is understood to mean one’s spirit who is sent forth. Gandr is etymologically tied to wind, respiration, and sickness (spewing); indicating there is a tie between one’s soul leaving the body through the mouth and breath. Hence the gasping for breath likely means her soul is believed to have left her body then which is why she can’t get any air in until it returns.)
- The other world seidr practitioners go to is likely any of the other eight realms than Midgard. Seidr is associated strongly with trolls and jotnar to the point that practitioners of seidr can be called “troll-like”. Seidr therefore is all about crossing boundaries from life to death, human to animal, male to female, and wilderness to civilization.