Can You Say Something About What Seiðr Is?
Seiðr is an old Nordic way of shamanism, using ecstatic singing
rather than drumming. If you strip the seiðr ritual structure
as described in the old sources to the bone, then you have the Staff,
the Song and the seiðrhiall (magic high seat). Both the
staff and the song are wonderful and powerful in themselves, and well
known from other shamanic traditions, but it is the combination of
staff, song and ritual seat that promotes the unique quality of seiðr.
They are all essential if you want to call it seiðr.
The basic seiðr ritual goes like this: The
seiðr performer (called volva, seiðrman or seiðrwoman) sits on the
high seat holding onto the staff, surrounded by a circle of singers.
The singing invites the spirits and carries the seiðrworker into an
altered state of awareness, into the enchanted spirit world.
There s/he meets with spirits, gods and forces, and puts forward a
request for help or knowledge. When this main task is completed
and the song dies out, the volva or seiðrman is still “between the
worlds” and in this state s/he can give oracular answers to questions
from members of the group.
How did You First Come Into Contact With Seiðr?
I got into contact with seiðr through the Swedish shamanic network
called “Yggdrasil” in 1987. I believe that they were the very
first to experiment with seiðr. It was there that I got my first practical
introduction, and I went home and started to study the written sources
of sagas and Edda and decided to give it a slightly different approach.
What Role Does It (and Shamanism More Generally) Play in Your Life?
At first I had a fascination with seiðr, a curiosity about this tradition
that had grown out of the same land and the same nature that I have
grown out of. It was like being in love. Now that has
grown into a more mature and sober and clear eyed love and respect
for the tradition of seiðr.
In all the time I have practised shamanism I have
had two themes that are very dear to my heart - one is seiðr
and the other is the cycles of nature. It's hard to say which
of them has done what, but those two ways, together with the on-going
exchange between Jonathan and I, have really impressed on me the need
for rooting our shamanic practice in Nature as the everlasting source
of power and guidance. What that means to me is that I consider
myself an apprentice to the Moon, to the Night, to the Crow,
to the Elder Tree, to the Wind. Shamanism in general is simply the
heart sign and leading star of my path.
Do You Feel It Is Important To Practise A Shamanic Path That Draws
From the Ways Of Our Physical Ancestors?
The way you put this question makes me ask: Why does one want to practise
shamanism? If the main purpose is to help oneself and others
then the first important thing is to feel connected so that you are
part of the flow of life power. What I think you are really
talking about here is the need for roots in order to feel connected
and have a sense of belonging.
I know people hunger for roots. For me it's
important that my practice is rooted in the land I am living on.
That can be different for other people. But as long as it's
something that connects you, makes you feel that you belong,
then it is fine. I don’t see that your path has to be connected
to your physical ancestors. That would narrow that connection
down to only human beings and thereby tend to exclude everything
and everybody else that we also grew out of.
Does This Mean That In Order to Practise Seiðr We Need to Follow
the Religion of the Vikings?
I am glad that you bring this up because I think that this question
lingers maybe unconsciously in many people’s minds.
I’ll put it this way: A lot of the research
connects the tradition of seiðr with the Viking Age, with the Aesir
deities and especially with Odin. This is without considering
the fact that seiðr is much older than the Vikings, much older than
the Aesir gods. I would rather go behind the filter and structure
of any religion in my seiðr working to the source of the spirits and
powers of Nature. That is the same for us as for the old ones
- it is timeless. I don’t see seiðr as being necessarily part
of any religion. I really want to emphasise connecting it to
the power and spirit of Nature rather than any religion.
If we should relate
seiðr to a religion it would be much more relevant to link it to the
older fertility religion and the Vanir. They are the earlier
Nordic gods and spirits concerned with fertility, sexuality, magic,
peace and abundance. We know the main deities of the Vanir:
Frey, Freyja and Njord. But what is interesting is that they
were inseparable from groups of spirits of the land and Nature.
Frey is connected with the Elves (alfar), Freyja with the Disir and
sometimes the whole group of Vanir is called Elves. So they
are much closer to the Earth and shamanism than any later Nordic gods.
I think most people don’t really know about the Vanir, so they have
not yet been the object of romantic interest, but they are much more
in harmony with some important aspects of seiðr, such as the ecstasy
However now that we know how a seiðr works I prefer
to let go of all that historical fringe and concentrate on the timeless
aspect of seiðr. We are not recreating the past.
Traditional Shamanism Places A Great Deal Of Importance On Spirit
Helpers. Can You Say Something About The Role Of The Spirits
My experience is of course flavoured a lot by the fact that I have
chosen shamanism as my starting point for working seiðr. Still after
all these years I think that this is a very sound base to work from,
especially for dealing with the powers and spirits that we meet in
seiðr. Really in my experience the role of spirits in seiðr is no
different than their role in other magic and shamanic work.
I find it important in seiðr to always use the
essential shamanic work principles that we train right from the basic
course: That your intent is clear. That you only “work”
when you are in good contact with your spirit helpers or spirit teachers.
And that your relationship with those spirits is based on co-operation
and trust, not on a need to control. When I hear of problems
in shamanic or other branches of magical work, I can always trace
it back to a lack of one of these principles. This is the discipline
that is just as fundamental for doing good, fruitful seiðr work as
for any other shamanic work.
Given The Ecstatic Nature Of Seiðr, Do You Feel It Requires More
Discipline Than Other Shamanic Practises?
This is very connected to what we just talked about. I see seiðr
as a somewhat advanced shamanic work because there is not so much
in the framework to hold onto. And sometimes it happens in seiðr that
we meet an awesome raw earthy power. In seiðr you might encounter
as great a power and therefore need as great a discipline as, say,
in really strong shamanic
healing work. It is being anchored and centred
in that basic shamanic discipline that makes you skilful in both seiðr
and other shamanic work.
Many of the Sagas Speak of Seiðr as Being Associated With Women.
Do You Feel That This Is Particularly A Female Shamanic Practise?
No, I do not. Again we should remember the limitations of the
written sources and the medieval, Christianized society that they
came from. seiðr developed its form in connection with the older
fertility cult which is closer to Earth and Nature than the younger
Asatru. Some scholars have seen the reasons for the female practitioners
in this fact, but I think we will get more of an answer if we talk
The Saga Speak Of “Ergi”. Do Modern Seiðr Practitioners
Also Experience This?
There is a lot of fuss over ergi in the written sources.
The late Viking understanding of ergi meant a linking together
of unmanliness, magic skilfulness and sexual perversion. If
you look at these concepts you will see that only one - skill in magic
- is an objective term and the other two are very subjective and relative.
They depend solely on how society defines manliness and acceptable
sexual behaviour. Our definition is hopefully not the same in this
day and age as in the militant Viking society. To put it bluntly,
ergi back then expressed a macho Viking paranoia for being
a “soft man”. However that might be what we today would
call a “whole man”.
I was mighty intrigued about ergi when
I first read about it. The understanding that has finally grown
out of practising seiðr for many years is more like what is all the
fuss about? My understanding is that ergi is “just”
the acceptance of the full force of life power and the skilled magical
use of it. seiðr practice, like much shamanic practise, includes a
voluntary loss of control. And sometimes we meet this untameable
power of the Earth or Nature which can also have a sexual or erotic
streak to it. And the way to handle it is to accept it, ride
it, surrender to it, in order to use it. This was what a “real man”
in the Viking society could not deal with socially, but that does
not really need to concern us at all today.
The Practitioners of Seiðr in the Sagas Seem to be at least As
Often Involved in Cursing As In Beneficial Magic. Do You Feel
That Seiðr is Associated With Any Ethical Framework?
A method or tool like seiðr does not have an ethical framework.
It's the user or practitioner that has ethics. I know that all
of this about ethics or seiðr as harmful magic gets some people both
scholars and new practitioners all confused. Partly they fall
prey to the bad talk of seiðr and partly they forget to look behind
the surface to the energy aspect of seiðr.
If we look at the nature of seiðr we see two basic
types of magic. One is seiðr concerned with knowledge, what
we might call divinatory seiðr, and the other is seiðr concerned with
power. seiðr concerned with power works by gathering energy
and sending it in order to influence a distant being or object.
Whether that turns out harmful or healing is a result of the intent
and ethics of the practitioner, it is not a result of the method.
There is nothing mysterious in this.
Please don’t stare yourself blind looking at written
sources which were for the most part written in a time that did not
look positively at seiðr or at magical work in general. What you can
do is simply remember your general shamanic training and keep your
intent clear. Remember to distinguish between power as might
and power as energy and then you have nothing to worry about.
Many Of the Techniques Of Shamanism Are Associated With Healing.
Can Seiðr Be Used For Healing?
To this I would say that it can, but why and when should it?
Often I see that people are in such awe over seiðr because it is an
old North European tradition that they sort of forget their feet.
When you start learning to use seiðr you will see that it is really
just another way of getting into contact with the spirits. It's another
method or ritual tool in your tool kit. When you get it incorporated
into your shamanic practice you will only get it out and use it when
it is the most fitting tool for the occasion. seiðr is wonderful as
a community ritual for gathering and sending power for a common cause.
It's great for divination or for getting answers for a lot of people.
It gives a great sense of community that people appreciate especially
in this culture of separation and isolation. And it can be
used for healing. But in my experience the seat and the staff -
the ritual structure - often sort of get in the way. Some people have
a different experience though. I would rather start out with
free style shamanic healing work in a circle of family or community.
The circle can support the shamans work and help maintain the shamanic
state of awareness by singing the healing songs while the shaman is
working. For me this offers the same qualities.
Most Shamanic Practitioners Balance Community Based Practises With
Work Out Alone In Nature. What Nature Based Practises Are Associated
There is a different kind of magic related to seiðr that is not the
big communal affair. It is a solitary way of contacting the spirits
and powers and this is called “sitting out” or “utiseta”. And
if you do a sitting out as a seiðr - that is using staff, song and
seat - it's strong and beautiful. Using this method has really
for me cast a new light and new inspiration on the other ways
I work shamanically for the same purposes. There is evidence in the
old sources that this has also taken place earlier. The whole eddic
poem “Voluspa” - literally “the Vision of the Volva” - seems to be
an utterance of such an experience. It seems so natural to sit
on your seat with your staff and sing yourself into contact
with the wind, with the night, with the animals, with the spirits
out there. If it was not already indicated in the sources we might
have to invent it ourselves! But please do not do this without the
proper training, and good grounding. Otherwise it can be overwhelming.
How Does Seiðr Connect To Later Folk Witchcraft Practises?
It connects in a lot of ways to later folk magic, it didn’t just disappear.
In Scandinavia this is expressed very clearly in that we have the
same title “troldkyndig” used for a seiðr practitioner and a later
village witch. It was used right up until the eighteenth century instead
of “heks” (witch). Now try to forget everything that you have been
told about witches. Just try to imagine the practise of seiðr
trying to go on in spite of a more hostile climate. The seiðr tradition
did not exist in an isolated way, it was part of the whole Nordic
tradition of seiðr, rune magic and galdr. The first thing that seems
to disappear from a shamanic tradition under political pressure is
the change of consciousness, the trance. What is left is spells
and magic that does not have the change of consciousness but still
work with Power building on a very close relationship to Nature and
Nature spirits. So you can indeed say that there is a connection
and a fascinating one. When we practise seiðr we learn what
the medieval and later folk magic grew out of. It gives us a
knowledge about the factual, historical witch, from the inside, from
the roots. I often call the volva the great great grandmother
of the witch.
Where Is Your Own Practise Taking Your Right Now?
It's taking me farther down the winding path of seiðr and shamanic
singing. I have no idea where it's going to go and it can go
as slow as it wants. On this path I feel very much at home without
knowing where it will take me. But I think that there are a few things
that are going to stay with me as very important for practising seiðr.
I will put it this way: Keep it simple. Keep it shamanic. Keep
it close to Nature.