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a Practical Study of the Seidr Ritual


© North Atlantic Studies & Annette Høst 2001    
© Annette Høst 2022    

This article was first presented at the inter-disciplinary conference “Shamanism and Traditional Beliefs”, at Center for North Atlantic Studies, Aarhus University, Denmark, 2001.


The following paper presents a study of the Nordic magic practise of seiðr, based on literary sources, previous research, and the author’s practical, experiential approach, focusing on the core elements of the ritual structure. The staff, the song and the seat used separately are found in other traditions of magic and shamanism as tools for changing consciousness. However, the combination of the three is unique for seiðr. The study suggests that the effect of this combination promotes a set of significant features in the performance or experience, which are an intrinsic, timeless quality of the method of seiðr.

The written sources available to us about seiðr in the Edda and sagas, as well as  archeological sources leave many of its aspects unexplained. Careful research of those sources has added more knowledge, but also pointed out their uncertainty. At this point we have still only a sketchy picture of the practice of seiðr, with big pieces missing. My interest in seiðr has foremost been as a practitioner of modern western shamanism. The idea that has occurred to   me, as well as to other individuals and groups, has been to try to fill in some of the holes in the picture of seiðr by experiential means. The question being: What can we learn about the nature of seiðr by combining a critical study of the literary sources with the practice of the technique itself, using the recipes for seiðr which can be pieced together from the Edda, the mythical poems and sagas?  The aim has not been to reconstruct the saga or Edda seiðr. The aim has been to find out how seiðr works, and if there is a technique or  method of seiðr  that also works for us today. This in turn, might cast some new light on the understanding of the literary sources. In other words, I suggest that it is possible to gather new contributions to the study of seiðr by experiencing it.

Background and Research Strategy
The main idea has been to let seiðr reveal itself and its inherent character through practising it. This means to first draw out the core ritual structure of seiðr from the literary sources, then perform the seiðr ritual, and let the seiðr speak for itself.

There are pitfalls in such an experiential approach. One is the risk of cluttering the subject of the study with "invented tradition" (see Lindquist 1997:125ff), i.e. with romantic projections backward in time. Therefore one of my main premises has been to use only the core structure of seiðr, stripping the seiðr ritual to the bone, to those essential parts of the method that transcend time and culture, and start from there, thus avoiding "Viking" ceremonial attire and paraphernalia, or “dogmas” from Norse mythology. In other words I have not clad the experience in Norse nomenclature.

Following Strömbäck (1935: 110ff) and Steinsland (1991:162) I have chosen to use the staff, the song, the seat and the circle of singers as the key elements of the ritual structure of a seiðr– the apparatus. These four ritual elements of seiðr are the ones which are most often mentioned in the written sources in connection with seiðr when done in a community setting, and their existence and central importance in the seiðr ritual is well established, as shown by Strömbäck and Steinsland.1

The basic ritual procedure of the seiðr seance, which I have used thus looks like this: The volva (the practitioner) sits on the seiðrhiall (the ritual seat) holding onto their staff, surrounded by a circle of singers, and the song transports the volva into an altered state of consciousness. When the main task, depending on the stated mission of the ritual, is completed and the song dies out, the volva is still "between the worlds". In this state she/he can give oracular answers to the questions asked by members of the group.2  This ritual procedure closely follows the pattern which emerges when reading the sources, described in most detail in Erik the Red’s saga.

The other main premise of the study has been that for a practical exploration of seiðr it is appropriate to use shamanic means, performing the seiðr as a disciplined shamanic practise. For the purpose of this paper I shall define a shaman as a person who, at will, changes their state of consciousness in order to contact the spirit world. There, she asks her spirit-guides or -teachers for help, knowledge or power, for himself or members of his community. When her task is done, the shaman returns to this reality, to use the help or knowledge given (see also Horwitz 1993:40). In an altered, or shamanic state of consciousness, what some people call trance, one can perceive and function in the spirit world. Sometimes the shamanic state of consciousness is ecstatic, but not all states of ecstasy are shamanic. So, in relation to the practice of seiðr, "shamanically" means basically that the important part of the seiðr takes place in an altered state of consciousness, that it happens in contact and cooperation with one’s spirit allies.

A survey over recent studies (cf. Dillmann 1994:23) shows that the discussion about seiðr as true shamanism has not yet reached any final conclusion. This is not in itself important to my study. What I argue here is that the shamanic traits of seiðr are so pronounced, that it makes good sense to use shamanic methods for an experiential study of seiðr.

To support this argument, I will first point out that the written sources only describe a small and late fragment of the lifespan of the seiðr tradition. Therefore we should not draw conclusions about the shamanic nature of seiðr based only on the state it was in at the time of our written sources, as seiðr is much older. Much evidence links the seiðr practice or its origin to the cult of the Vanir, the older Nordic group of gods and spirits concerned with fertility, nature, peace, and magic (Davidson 1964 and Ström 1954). Clearly seiðr must have undergone changes and transformations over the centuries in which it was a living tradition. Considering the well-known pattern of shamanic traditions degenerating and disintegrating due to political pressure and religious changes, and considering that the shamanic features of seiðr are still pronounced in its latest days, it seems reasonable to suggest that a similar degeneration took place regarding the art of seiðr.

It is therefore probable that the shamanic traits of seiðr were stronger earlier, and that in the descriptions in the sagas and Snorri's works we are witnessing only the last remnants and transformations of a very old practice. In saga symbolic language this is clearly expressed in Eric the Red’s saga: The seiðr practitioner is the last surviving of ten sisters, all seeresses; and of the whole audience, who should have provided the chorus, only one woman, a young Christian, remembers the old seiðr spirit song.

Therefore we can conclude with Davidson that:"... it seems established that some form of shamanistic practice was so widespread in the heathen North as to have left a considerable impact on the literature" (1964:119). In other words, the shamanic character of seiðr is so pronounced in the late saga descriptions that even with the reservations we must have concerning those descriptions, it is consistent with the main character of seiðr to use shamanic methods for a practical exploration.

My study has taken place over an 8 year period from 1991, during which time I have instructed more than 30 groups in seiðr. The participants have (for the most part) been the students on my courses in shamanism.3 The group size have varied from 12 to 26 . For almost all of the people, my introduction and instruction have been their first encounter with seiðr.

To minimize my influence on the experience and result, I have given the participants just the barest background information of seiðr, instructed them in the technique, and then we have performed the seiðr as described above. I have observed what has happened, how it has worked, collected the results, and watched for patterns. My roles throughout the course of events  have been as the teacher, then as ceremonial leader, and participant observer.

To more fully understand some of my conclusions below, it is necessary to say a little about the basic shamanic principles that I use and teach, which are also the underlying principles for our approach to the seiðr practise. The principles are:

  • One always has a good reason and a stated mission or task when contacting the spirits.
  • There is a clearly defined ritual framework around the ritual or journey, so the borders between the realities stay clear in one's life.
  • One only acts shamanically when in contact with spirit helpers, i. e. in an expanded state of consciousness.
  • The relationship with the spirits is based on an attitude of respectful cooperation, neither through attempt to master or control, nor purposeless submission.
  • At the center of the ethical framework is the concept of power. We work only with power as energy, and refrain from power as might, i.e. dominance.

This is the basis and discipline that the participants all share and have some experience in, when they do their first seiðr. They have learned to change consciousness by the aid of song, dance, drum, rattle, and (some of them) by "sitting out" solitarily in nature. They know how to journey to the “upper world”, to the “lower world”, and, some of them, to the “middle world”.

In recent years, a small number of people have become experienced in the method of seiðr. They have brought the practice of it into their local shamanic groups, and have exchanged experiences. This exchange has been important for reaching many of the results and conclusions below (Høst 1997; Høst et al. 1999). When writing "we" in the following, I refer to this small network.

The Issue of Ethics in Seiðr
Studying seiðr, one quickly confronted with the issue of the ethics of seiðr as it is presented to us in the written sources, and before setting out to practise seiðr it is important to try to sort out the confusion that one meets, both in the literature and amongst new practitioners.

Especially the famous passage in Ynglinga Saga VII seems to have been central in shaping the common view of seiðr as mainly harmful in nature:

"...Odin understood also the art in which the greatest power is lodged, and which he himself practiced: namely what is called magic [seiðr]. By means of this he could know beforehand the predestined fate of men, or their not yet completed lot; and also bring on the death, ill-luck, or bad health of people, and take the strength or wit from one person and give it to another..." (Snorri Sturlason, trans. Samuel Laing, London 1844)

Strömbäck, and many after him, have read this passage as a central description of the character and purpose of seiðr (1935: 33); Grambo calls it a "comprehensive survey of seiðr " (1989:103). In fact, the text itself only gives us a "comprehensive survey" of Odin's use of seiðr, the key words being "...By means of this he could...". Thus, the passage might be central for the study of Odin rather than for the study of seiðr as such.

It has been quite common among researchers to divide seiðr into two categories: white seiðr and black seiðr, or divinatory and harmful (cf. Strömbäck 1935:142; Ström 1985:224). Both sets of labels are biased, presenting a judgement of the object rather than a descriptive distinction, and the latter pair is an illogical constellation, that does not cover the the possible categories of seiðr satisfactorily.  

Lindquist, on the other hand, introduces a much more appropriate set of terms. She distinguishes between divination seiðr, and instrumental seiðr, the latter "performed in order to achieve concrete results" (1997). To this I would add that divination seiðr is concerned with knowledge. Instrumental seiðr is concerned with change, and therefore also power. Instrumental seiðr is mostly used to gather and send power in order to influence or change a (distant) being, object or  project. True, Snorri and the sagas mostly tell stories of harmful instrumental seiðr. However, if one looks behind the stories at the content of instrumental seiðr, it is clear that if one can send harm one can also send help.

It should be evident then, that whether seiðr is used to harm or to help is a result of the intent, and ultimately the ethics of the practitioner (whether human or divine). It is not a result of the method itself.

The States of Consciousness in Seiðr
In a discussion of the results of an experiential study such as this,4 it seems obvious to begin by discussing the character of the experience, that is, the shift in consciousness, and the power. The collection of experiences from my study shows some clear tendencies that can form a tentative map of the states of consciousness related to the performance of seiðr:

Sometimes, but not necessarily, the state, which the seiðr -worker5 is carried into, includes a journey or soul-flight. When there is a journey, there is a significant tendency for it to go to ”the middle world” (including the "big" middleworld, that is to "The end of the world" or "East of the sun, west of the moon") or “the lower world”, but rarely “the upper world”.6

But often the seiðr does not contain a soul flight in the familiar sense of the word. Rather, the practitioner might experience layer upon layer of realities at the same time. The whole poem Voluspá can be read as a description of such an experience, though extremely powerful, "she saw far and wide in all worlds".

There is a tendency so far  that embodiment7of tutelary spirits, guardian spirits, goddesses or gods  takes place more often in seiðr than in other types of shamanic work. It is not uncommon that the seiðr-worker has become one with their tutelary spirit while giving the oracular answers. This would seem to indicate that the ritual method of seiðr facilitates this process, and it might explain why the volva in some accounts, for example in the tale of Norna-Gesti, is called norn. She is perceived, at least while at work, as embodying or representing the goddesses of fate, the norns.

In seiðr, the change of consciousness can sometimes be deep and ecstatic, as in strong shamanic healing work. And now and then one encounters, or is filled by, a mighty, untamable power of the earth or nature, an urkraft, which sometimes also has an erotic streak to it. One cannot control this power, and in order to become skillful in seiðr, one needs to learn to surrender to it, cooperate with it, learn to ride it. At the same time the structure of seiðr does not give the seiðr-worker much to hold onto except their own discipline. For this reason seiðr is recognized as somewhat advanced work, and I see instrumental seiðr as demanding even more skill than divination seiðr.

The Purpose of the Seiðr Song
Previous discussion about the exact purpose of the seiðr singing has centered around the possible meaning of the word vardlok(k)ur as a term for seiðr song in Eric the Red’s saga. The debate deals with whether the song aims at sending the free-soul of the volva out on a journey, or aims at evoking and holding the spirits, or at calling the free-soul back from its soul flight? (cf. Strömbäck 1935:119-139; Siikala 1992:72)

From a practitioner’s point of view, the first two purposes can be contained in the same song. This is because the whole distinction between journeying out to the spirit helpers, or calling them to you (and maybe incorporating them) is basically theoretical, it is a division of two aspects of the seance which in practice are woven together, - and this is even more pronounced in seiðr, as mentioned above.  When the séance begins, the shaman or seiðr -worker does not know if one or the other, or both, will happen. Rather, practical experience has lead me to distinguish between two types of songs, relating to the two types of seiðr: The song that works for divination might not work for an instrumental seiðr, the latter might need to be "stronger".

Regarding a possible song for calling the soul back from the journey, Strömbäck and others see links between the vardlokur and 17th century accounts of noide seances (1935:137). Here it is said that the noide is called back from a deep trance by a song apparently of a tempting or erotic character delivered by a young girl. Several methods have been used during my experiential study to support the return of the traveler. So far, the conclusion is that sometimes the seiðr-performer might need to be sung back into their body, back into this reality. The song for this purpose can sometimes be the same as before, now sung with a different intent. However, taking inspiration from the above mentioned noide séance account, we have found that singing words which remind the seiðr -worker of the joys of being in a body, are indeed helpful.

The Quality and Character of the Song
The song is an important aid for changing consciousness for both the volva, the Sami noide, and the Finnish tietäjä. We should expect some similarities, a kinship in quality and manner of performance, and ultimately a common root in the shamanic seance. One important common feature is the ecstatic character of the song. This is well established both as regards  the noide's joik, and as regards the state of the tietäjä at work (Siikala 1992: 70-72). To support the ecstatic character of the seiðr song, we also have the kinship with the galdr, and the term ergi associated with seiðr, which I shall return to later.

Galdr is a sung spell. The word gala means to yell, to cry, it is the sound of the nightingale, the wailing of a gale, the crowing of a rooster. It has been heard sung in a high register, it has been likened to the sound of a diver or birds of prey (Siikala 1992: 75), and in the Edda poem Oddrúnargrátr it is described as powerful, sharp, biting. To be gal means mad, bewitched, or ecstatic.  The prose Edda account of the giant volva Groa's healing galdr over Thor illustrates that it takes a special state to galdre effectively. Galdr is not the same as a  seiðr song as it has its own independent tradition, but one can end up singing a galdr as part of a seiðr, as in the seiðr described in Laxdæla Saga (chap 35).

The links between galdr and vardlokur are evident, and give us a better idea about the manner of performance of the seiðr song. Furthermore, of the seiðr song itself it is told that "sweet was the singing" (Laxdæla Saga, chap. 36) or it was beautiful to hear (Eric the Reds saga), at other times "strong" (Laxdæla Saga, chap. 35) or uncomfortable (Gongu-Hrolf's Saga).

From the material above it is clear that the seiðr song tends to be ecstatic or shamanic. That is, the song is sung in an altered state of awareness, or in trance. I define ecstasy as a state where one has let go so much of ego, control and convention, that the power of the universe flows through one unhindered. However, ecstasy alone is not shamanic. It is ecstasy combined with clear intention that makes the song, and the work in general shamanic and powerful. The seiðr song only works well if the singers abandon themselves into the song, and at the same time they must not forget their task of collecting spirit power and supporting the volva  in the middle of the circle through their singing.

When finding new seiðr songs, we have focused on the above mentioned qualities. The song can have a repetitive, trance-inducing structure, but it can also from there develop into a freer, multi-voiced form. The new practitioners agree that a good seiðr song gives the seiðr -worker the experience of sitting in a dome of song, or it is like a sea of voices which one can ride on. A good singing has no "holes" in it, and it can be multivoiced, a weaving canon.

When we sing today I have no illusion that we come close to the form of the old Norse seiðr songs, and that is not the point either. It is clear to me, however, that the songs that work well for our new seiðr, work in a way similar to the old ones; they have the same nature and quality in their essence.

The Function of the Staff
The staff must be part of the core of seiðr as it has given the volva her name or title: staff carrier (from volr meaning staff or stick). Moreover, the staff is a well known tool in Nordic magic (often as gand), but apart from a few references to the staff in connection with seiðr or volva,9 little is said in the literature about this tool, or of its function in the seiðr performance.

In our experience, the staff is indispensable in the practice of seiðr. It is physically, and literally central in the seiðr ritual. Most important, it keeps the focus and direction of flight clear. At the same time it grounds, that is, it provides a sense of connection to the physical world and the earth. It works as a power antenna, so that the power moving between heaven and earth streams through the staff in a condensed form, and often it is spontaneously recognized as the world-tree. When the seiðr includes a soul flight or journey, the (spirit of the) staff can sometimes serve as a riding- or flying implement broomstick wise, but this is not at all as pronounced as popular expectations, including my own, would have it.

As to the length of the staff, and the way of holding it, my observations of many practitioners sitting on different kinds of seiðhiall holding different types of staffs, show an almost uniform tendency: The preferred main operating position is to hold the staff more or less upright, though not always still, with one end resting on the ground between the feet, sometimes resting ones forehead on the staff. If we relate this experiential find to the staffs of the archaeological material in a practical way, one could speculate that the short staffs fit with sitting cross-legged on a platform-like seiðhiall, while the longer staffs correspond with sitting chair-like on a seiðhiall providing a foot-rest (Price 2002)

The Concept of Ergi
In the term ergi, two dramatic aspects of seiðr are mixed, the power and the reputation. First, we must return to the passage in Snorri's Ynglinga Saga, VII: "....With this sorcery follows so much ergi, that men did not practise it without shame, therefore this art was taught to the priestesses"  (trans. Samuel Laing, London 1844, with my adjustments).10 This passage has raised the questions: What is it in the character and performance of seiðr, that so provoked the Viking age people and the Christian men who wrote about it? What is the content of the term ergi?

Eliade (1964:385) translates ergi to turpitude, (that is depravation, meanness). Ström (1961:223) reads it as unmanliness, perversion. Grambo (1989:103) as unmanliness, cowardice, passive homosexuality, ritual change of sex. I find that Meulengracht-Sørensen gives the most satisfying analysis of ergi. He suggests that at the time of our written sources ergi meant a linking together of unmanliness, magic skillfulness, and sexual perversion (1980). My point now is that of those three elements I see only magic skillfulness as an objective term. The two others: unmanliness, and sexual perversion, are subjective, or

relative. Thus the whole concept of ergi is totally dependent on how society defines manliness and acceptable sexuality. Much evidence links the seiðr practise or its origin to the older cult of the Vanir (Davidsson 1964; Ström 1954). If the concept of ergi existed then, it must have had another interpretation, since sexuality is both more visible and more ritually celebrated in a fertility religion.

Like everyone else, I was highly intrigued by ergi when I first read about it, wondering how it would manifest in the new practice. The task has been to find out what it is that actually happens in the practise of seiðr that would be interpretated as unmanly or sexually perverted by the Viking age norms? If we look at the following aspects of the practice, it might show us the content of ergi.

The ecstasy: As shown earlier, seiðr, like much shamanic practice, involves a voluntary loss of control, an abandonment or ecstasy, and it is not difficult to recognize the erotic or sexual aspect of ecstasy. The power: Sometimes one encounters in seiðr an untamable power of the earth or nature, which can also have an erotic streak in it,  and which properly could be named Urkraft, Eros, or just "lifepower". The constructive attitude for handling it is surrender or cooperation.  In short: The practise of seiðr includes a voluntarily loss of control and a state of ecstasy where the power of nature and its erotic aspects are accepted, received, and expressed in magical acts. This is what was considered shameful, this is what there was not room for in the narrow definition of a real man in the militant masculine Viking age society. So if a man of that time wanted to fully participate in a seiðr as described here, he would indeed have to overstep the border of gender.

On the other hand, it is easy to see that this condensed picture of seiðr is quite in accordance with the accepted behaviour and values of fertility religion and ceremony, for example, that of the Vanir. There are many opinions as to what extent the constellation Vanir / Aesir should be seen as an opposition (see Schjødt 1991), but when it comes to the interpretation of ergi, the difference between the two sets of values is obvious in the sources.11 This in turn strengthens the viewpoint that seiðr, by nature, is linked to the Vanir rather than to the Aesir.

Thus we can see that the understanding of ergi growing out of practicing it is remarkably undramatic, compared to the common expectations of orgies, symbolic or actual sexual acts,  and transvestism.12 My conclusion is that ergi is "just" the (acceptance of) the full-force life power, and the skilled magic use of it. This content of ergi is thus an inherent quality of seiðr. However, the interpretation of ergi is culture specific. In a time of fertility religion, ergi would be in accordance with the mainstream attitude and nothing special, but in the time of late Iron Age it certainly challenged the prevailing values.

The staff, the song and the magic seat used separately are found in other traditions of magic and shamanism as tools or help for changing consciousness. However, the combination of the three is unique for seiðr. According to my study, the effect of this combination promotes a set of significant features in the performance or experience, which together single seiðr out from other magic or shamanic traditions. This has been the most impressive finding of my study.

This specific pattern of features or traits, which have shown up consistently in the performance of seiðr during the study, can be summed up like this:.

  • Journeys or soul-fligths in seiðr have a tendency to go to the middle world, less often to the lower worlds, rarely to the upper worlds.
  • Seiðr facilitates the embodiment of spirit allies or tutelary spirits.
  • The state(s) of consciousness typically achieved in seiðr, are characterised by an awareness of being in several realities at the same time alternating with journeys.
  • The practitioner often encounters a very special energy, an untamed power of nature, an urkraft, the elemental forces.
  • This power, and the way of handling it through conscious surrender and cooperation, constitutes the  content of the term ergi.

My  suggestion is that this set of features is the very nature of seiðr. It is the intrinsic, inherent and unique quality of the method and as such is timeless. If you sit on the seiðhiall with your staff and let the song move you, the seiðr works the way it works no matter if you are an early medieval Icelander or a modern Dane.

 In contrast to this we have the issues of the ethics of seiðr and the interpretation of ergi, both of which I argue are culture-specific rather than seiðr-specific. Through the discussions in this paper I have shown that whether seiðr is harmful or helpful depends on the intent and ethics of the practitioner, and whether ergi is perceived as unmanliness and sexual perversion depends on society's view of gender and sexuality. In other words: The labels of "harmful magic" and "unmanliness", so often used to describe (and judge) seiðr as such, are not part of the inherent nature or character of seiðr. They are a product of the incorporation of seiðr in the specific cultural context which our written sources come from. Therefore they need not apply to the practise of seiðr in other cultures or times, be it before our written sources, or today.

Finally, I have found much evidence for the relevance of studying seiðr from a practical shamanic angle. It has proven a way to bring the method to life and thereby obtain material, which can be hard to grasp from the written sources alone. Practising seiðr in a disciplined shamanic way has gradually given an understanding of how seiðr works. We know now what it takes to do a good seiðr, and we know which skills it demands. However, I will refrain from any conclusion about whether seiðr is shamanism or not. For me as a practitioner it doesn't really matter. What matters for me is that seiðr works so well when done in a shamanic way, that one should think it was made for it.

© Annette Høst. In North Atlantic Studies: VOL 4, Center for Nordatlantiske Studier, Aarhus Universitets Forlag. (2022: Now out of print).

Presented in a shorter form at the seminar ”Religious Ideas and Practices in the Arctic and North Atlantic Areas”, Aarhus University 1999

NOTES (please note, these are from 2001)

  1. I have not used drums in the study as only one possible reference in Lokasenna's stanza 24, based on a questionable translation, could point to the use of drum (Strömbäck 1935:22-25).
  2. Two other groups or networks have worked experimentally with seiðr for several years. One is the shamanic network Yggdrasil in Sweden, to whom I owe my first practical introduction. They also use the staff, the seidhiall and circle of singers as ritual form, however they also use drumming and a ceremonial terminology relating to Norse mythology. All in all, their platform is shamanic (Lindquist 1997). The other is the Hrafnar group centered around California and the North American Asatrú community. They have developed a much more elaborate ceremonial form and liturgies with a strong Norse inclination. They use seidhiall, singing and drumming, but mostly no staff. The common platform of modern Heathenism or Asatrú is more prominent than shamanism (Paxson 1995; Blain 1999)
  3. It is worth noting about modern western shamanism, that one doesn't go on courses and become a shaman. However, one can practise shamanism, and perform the activities I mention to define a shaman, as a serious shamanic practitioner grounded in one's own society. I see initiation into becoming a shaman as being the result of a long, maybe lifelong apprenticeship to the spirits (see Horwitz 1999).
  4. For the sake of limiting this article, I shall not discuss the questions of the seidhjall, the whole complex around the oracular answers from the entranced volva to the audience, or the solitary type of seiðr sometimes done out of doors as útiseta. It must suffice to say that both the existence and importance of these three elements is well established in the sources, and that the experimental practise positively confirms this.
  5. For simplicity, I shall sometimes use the term "volva" for (modern) practitioner. This does not mean that I equate the education or experience of the saga volva or seiðr-man with that of the modern practitioner of the new seiðr
  6. This seems significant, as the majority of the practitioners only had trained to go to the upper or lower world, but not (yet) to the middle world. The seiðr instruction does not indicate where the journey should go to.
  7. While I realise that the discussion about the relationship between possession, mediumship and shamanism is ongoing, I prefer to use the term embodiment, and to distinguish between possession and embodiment. I see possession as untrained, involuntarily, and undisciplined, whereas I define embodiment as a trained (but not controlled) state combining voluntary surrender and discipline. The embodied spirit relates to the purpose of the shaman’s task, and leaves fairly soon after the work is completed. This distinction has proved to be in accordance with the actual experiences of our shamanic work. In content, the distinction is also similar to that used for example by Larry Peters in his study of Tamang shamanic possession i Nepal (1998: 10, 77ff, 98). However, he uses the Tamang terms ”shamanic possession” versus ”crazy possession”.
  8. Strömbäck finds only 2 direct references to a staff (1935:140), while Steinsland counts 5 (1991:162). Furthermore there is a reference in Voluspá 22 to "spá ganda" (divination staff).
  9. Most translations to both English, Danish and Swedish of this passage are very free or biased, judging rather than describing ergi. This translation is as literal as possible, with my adjustments building on Laing : “But after such witchcraft followed such weakness and anxiety [ergi] that it was not thought respectable for men to practice it; and therefore the priestesses were brought up in this art” (Laing, 1844)
  10. An illustrating example is Saxo's reference to "effeminate gestures" and "the unmanly clatter of bells" in the worship of Freyr (Davidson 1994:96).
  11. This pattern of difference in interpretation of ergi is parallelled today (that is 2001) in the communities of new seiðr practitioners. Roughly said, the groups working from a shamanic basis do not give ergi much thought, and in practise the qualities of ergi are viewed positively (Lindquist 1997). In the communities working from a Asatru, Heathen basis, there is much debate about ergi, there is a tendency to adopt the view of seiðr and ergi expressed in the sagas and early research, and male practitioners ”are hence subject to the taunt of ergi” (Blain 1999:113; Campbell 1999).


Blain, Jenny. 1999. Seidr as Shamanistic Practice: Reconstituting a Tradition of Ambiguity. In: Shaman, vol. 7, number 2. Edited by Mihály Hoppál, pp 99–121. Budapest: Molnar & Kelemen Oriental Publishers.

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