Vǫrđr and Gandr: Helping Spirits in Norse Magic- The Vardlokur

where the seidkona Heiðr is described as leikin ‘entranced’ while she practises seidr.

Pg 2

It is a kvæài, some form of verse, perhaps a song- Vardlokur

Two names derive from gandr. Gçndul is applied to valkyries (Vsp 30,

Darradarljód 5 (Skj B : I: 490, post 1014)); this is to be seen as deriving

from gandr in the sense ‘wolf, which was one of the beasts of battle.

The vardlokur is to be compared to the Lappish juoigos, sung to enable the shaman to make his trance journey, as well as to call spirits (the Saiva guelie fish appears after the shaman sings a juoigos for it; its length varied according to the length of the song). There is no hint that the song was by preparation for a trance journey in seidr, however.

… seidr séance in so far as the summoning of spirits was involved (cf. Vsp 22). It may be surmised that these were called verdir, a pagan usage barely understood by the time of the composition of Eiriks saga, which refers to them by the Latin word n áttú ru ru It appears that the Norse seidr corresponded to Lappish shamanism, at least in so far as the summoning of ‘guardian spirits’ was concerned, but differed from it in the absence of soul wandering during trance.

 

The Vardlokur

O f greatest interest in the Eiriks saga account is the word vardlokur.

We are told the following about the word, much of which parallels the role of the singing in the Lappish séance;

a. It is a kvæài, some form of verse, perhaps a song.

b. It was normally pronounced by a group of women, who gathered around the seiðkona during the séance.

c. In this instance it was however recited by just one woman, there being no others who knew it.

d. It is recited by way of preparation: the effect is to summon spirits, from whom the seidkona acquires information. The summoning of spirits — gandir— is also mentioned in Vsp 22 in connexion with seidr.

The vardlokur is to be compared to the Lappish juoigos, sung to enable the shaman to make his trance journey, as well as to call spirits (the Saiva guelie fish appears after the shaman sings a juoigos for it; its length varied according to the length of the song). There is no hint that the song was by preparation for a trance journey in seidr, however. The one girl in the Norse replaces, or rather acts as spokesman, for a normal choir, and corresponds to the choir, with its preparatory function, in the Lappish, rather than to the one girl there responsible for rousing the shaman from trance.

8 An assistant with the responsibility o f waking (or assisting in the waking of) the shaman is found elsewhere, e.g. among the Yukagir (Jochelson 1926, 196-9), and the Evenk (Anisimov 1963, 102-3).

Pg 61

Whilst the function of vardlokur in the Eiriks saga account of seidr is clear — it is explicitly used to summon spirits who inform Þórbjprg —the meaning of the word is debatable.

Etymology

Vard- is the stem (used in compounds) derived from vçrdr ‘guard, watch, protector’. In so far as the word designates a spirit it must therefore be a ‘guardian spirit’; such a use is found in modern Norwegian vord and Swedish vård (Pering 1941, 131-4). Thus an independent spirit is implied, who in some way acts as the guardian of the summoner.4

The plural form -lok(k)ur is to be explained as referring to the kvoeði as a collection of verses. Forms with both k and kk occur in the MSS, making two etymologies possible: lokur is the fern. pi. of loka ‘fastening’; lokkur is not recorded as an independent noun: we must assume it is a fern. pi. noun from the verb lokka ‘entice’, thus ‘enticements’.10 Two meanings for varôlok{k)ur are therefore possible: ‘guardian spirit fastenings’, i.e. what ‘locks the spirits in’, under the power of the summoner; and ‘guardian spirit enticements’ — the song entices the spirits to be present; it is in this sense that the author of Eiriks saga appears to have taken the word. There is little difference between these interpretations in practice, as the implied effect of summoning the spirits for consultation is the same.

“Strömbäck (1935, 138) argues that the meaning is the ‘free-soul’ sent out by the seidkona. He cites the parallel between the one girl in the Norse account who recites the verse, and the single girl in the Lapp accounts who is responsible for recalling the shaman’s spirit. However, that there is only one girl singing in Eiriks saga is specifically

mentioned as unusual, and her role there is clearly not to recall the seidkona’s spirit. Moreover, there seems no reason why a free-soul should be designated by a word meaning ‘guardian’, for which nomenclature no evidence exists from the Old Norse period (later uses of vçrdr, as noted by de Vries (AR § 160), no doubt result from confusion between independent spirits and the soul, probably under the influence of Christian antipathy to the idea of independent spirits employed by witches).

1(1 In G g 7 Gróa sings a charm called ‘Urdr’s lokur : lokur here implies the sense ‘spells’; the poet also plays on the sense of ‘lock, hold fast’, for the next word is halda ‘hold, keep safe’. Urdar lokur is similar in sound to vardlokur, it is likely that the poet has deliberately remodelled a no longer understood traditional word vardlokur (or perhaps

by an even closer *vardarlokur: in compound forms the genitive ( vardar) could as well be used as the stem (vard)) bringing in fate in the person of Urðr (the poet’s mention of Urôr is deliberate: she is mentioned again at the end of the poem, indicating a structural use of fate).

Pg 61

Conclusion

Eiriks saga clearly witnesses to a genuine tradition about the circumstances of a seidr séance in so far as the summoning of spirits was involved (cf. Vsp 22). It may be surmised that these were called verdir, a pagan usage barely understood by the time of the composition of Eiriks saga, which refers to them by the Latin word n áttú ru ru It appears that the Norse seidr corresponded to Lappish shamanism, at least in so far as the summoning of ‘guardian spirits’ was concerned,

but differed from it in the absence of soul wandering during trance.

Pg 62

 

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