The Northern Way

Seiðr Praxis 

Oseberg Cart cats

Freyja and Cat Magic

  The back of the Oseberg cart is decorated with cats, bringing to mind the cats that drew the cart of Frøya [Freyja], the goddess of sexual prowess, mind bending seiðr and dark sorcery. The front end of the cart shows a man lying on his back, being attacked by serpents. Seiδr and cats have always been a feature of Old Norse magic but this was supressed in the sagas because sexual magic and the funerary sacrifice of cats which was a rare animal in the North back then as well as other animals such as horses was considered the work of the devil and evil by the Christians.  Freyja’s special animal is the cat, particularly males. Since Freyja is a fertility goddess as well as a sorceress, it is interesting to find that an important sorceress in Erik the Red’s Saga has gloves made of white cat fur. Cats play a part in fertility and/or female magic associated with the goddess Freyja. “The link between cats and the goddess [Freyja] has not been satisfactorily explained, but the gloves made of cat-skin, white and furry inside, mentioned in the Greenland account, suggests that cats were among the animal spirits which would aid the vǫlva (sorceress) on her supernatural journey.” (Davidson 1964:120) This fertility/female magical association may have something to do with the lack of Freyja and her cats in the Icelandic literature, as Christianity disapproved of promoting female sexuality and pagan ritual. (Jochens 1995:6) Freyja’s cats seem to be the only heavenly steeds not named. Why are only Freyja’s cats missing names when so many other important gods’ steeds are not? (Price 2007:56) It seems likely that the relationship between black cats and the Medieval Christian “evil witch” came from the close bond cats shared with pagan “witches.”
Oseberg Cat Cart close up

Göngu-Hrólfs Saga Prologue

  Er þat ok margra heimskra manna náttúra, at þeir trúa því einu, er þeir sjá sínum augum eða heyra sínum eyrum, er þeim þykkir fjarlægt sinni náttúru, svá sem orðit hefir um vitra manna ráðagerðir eða mikit afl eða frábæran léttleika fyrirma nna, svá ok eigi síðr um konstir eða huklaraskap ok mikla fjölkynngi, þá þeir seiddu at sumum mönnum ævinliga ógæfu eða aldrtila, en sumum veraldar virðing, fjár ok metnaðar. Þeir æstu stundum höfuðskepnur, en stundum kyrrðu, svá sem var Óðinn eða aðrir þeir, er af honum námu galdrlistir eða lækningar.   

  There are plenty of people so foolish that they believe nothing but what they have seen with their own eyes or heard with their own ears - never anything unfamiliar to them, such as the councils of the wise, or the strength and amazing skills of the great heroes, or the way in which seiðr [pronounced *sayther*] or skills of the mind ON huklaraskap and powerful sorcery Old Norse fjolkyngi may seiðr death or a lifetime of misery for some, or bestow worldly honours, riches and rank on others. These men would sometimes stir up the elements, and sometimes calm them down, just like Othinn and all those who learnt from him these skills, of galðr and healing.

The seeresses and sorcerers of the Icelandic saga narratives and the Eddic poems are often depicted as wanderers and outsiders (Steinsland 2005:313). They travelled from one estate to another, giving prophesies and received gifts in return. If the word that describes then vǫlva, is to refer to a “female staff bearer” (Simek 2006: 367-368) then we can assume that the staff was her distinctive attribute through which she could be easily identified. But what exactly happened to the Vǫlva’s staff while she was travelling? How was it carried or transported? It is hard to imagine that she held it in her hand during the whole journey. Some staffs are also too small to use them as walking sticks ~ their pointed ends strongly exclude such a possibility. It is also rather unlikely that the staff was somehow attached to the seeresses’ or sorcerer’s belt like a knife or a sword.
 The iron handle would come in the way and hurt her/his side. The only plausible solution I see is that the staffs were carried in something like a sheath or a scabbard. During our recent discussion, Professor Neil Price mentioned that at least two kinds of cloth were wrapped around the staff taken from the Isle of Man—but the purpose of the cloth is still unclear. We have no direct literary of iconographic evidence on how the staffs were used or held during the seiðr seances. Jenny Jochens (1996: 74) once suggested a seerest would perform an actual or metaphorical act or ritualised masturbation with the staff. Eldar Heide on the other hand argued that the staff could have worked as a symbolic distaff and that the whole concept of seiðr was connected to the ideas of spinning and weaving.
 Regarding sexual acts, my personal point of view. It's okay to say housewives practiced a form of seiðr/magic with the distaff when they weaved cloth with protection spells for their loved ones. But as far as erotic arts go, you cannot in my view metaphorically perform a sex act when doing real magic. It must be the actual sex act not a substitute. Full on ritual masturbation not a pretend substitute. By seeing the prophetic seiðr ritual in this way, the seeress would have been sitting on a chair and held her staff between her legs in the same way as distaffs were held strengthening an idea that during the seiδr ritual proper, she was actually riding the staff to the otherworldly realms and mythical landscapes (Price 2002: 178; Bonnetain 2006: 145-146

Historical Seiðr from the sagas

Seiðr or rather a specific type of Northern European Shamanism praxis was and very much remains the magical practices of our honoured and historical Germanic ancestors. However, the historical seiðr of our early Northern European folkway remains obscure and very misunderstood because there are so few folks today left representing this craft in its true and original form today. Based on my personal experiences and research in this area, the following are what I would class as historical heathen era seiðr:
1) Foretelling the future (divination)
Usually with a community impact Many examples exist within the sagas where seiðr was cited as a way to find out about the future such as already mentioned in the case of Orvar-Odds saga where the vǫlva Heiðr was called upon to give fortunes to the peoples in the family home of Berurjóδr.
2) Bestowing good fortune (blessing)
It was always a common belief that the very presence of a vǫlva in a community farmstead of the heathen era brought good fortune with her to all the peoples there. The folks back then were particularly careful not to offend their vǫlva guest in any way fearing retribution on their luck or good fortune if they did.< Erík’s saga rauδa>
3) Bestowing bad fortune (hexing)
Vǫlvas and other magical folk were also feared as they were revered. Just as these little bones women (vǫlvas) could bring good luck to the communities, they were or at least it was believed that these women could also reverse the fortunes of those who found disfavour with them. Seiðr, however, also had a darker side and could be employed to inflict physical or mental harm. There was a darker aspect to seiðr which Dag Strömbäck 1935; 2000 called “black seiðr”.
4) Manipulating the weather
In Gisla Saga Súrssonar . (17-19), weather magic is used to attack the foe of a man named Þorstein by his sorceress mother Auδbiǫrg who wakes up in the night with restlessness, walks anti-clockwise several times outside her house and changes a clear and cloudless night into a tempest which then causes an avalanche against the mountainside which falls on the house of Þorstein’s adversary killing all twelve men there.
5) Attracting game animals or fish
In Landramabok (194) þuriðr sundafyllir (sound filler) employs seiðr to stock a fjord with fish. Seiðr practitioners can also deprive an area of its resources. ON: þuriðr sundafyllir[…]var Þvi kǫlluδ sundafyllir, at hon seiddi [H seiδi]til Þess I hallæri a Hálogalandi, at hvert sund var fullt af fiskum. þuriðr sound filler […] was so called because she performed seiðr to this end in a famine in Hálogaland, so that every sound was filledwith fish.
6) Healing the sick Sækja Sefi (Old Norse)
Sækja Sefi translates roughly as a changed state of emotions or feelings some translate it as changed state of being. It is actually an ancient healing art. In Poetic Edda (Saemundar Edda Grogaldur 9) ok snúisk þeim til sátta sefi = turn them to agreement in mind the word Saekja (sækja) is common in Icelandic and is in many places. It has been argued that there is little to no evidence from the primary sources to suggest that seiδr was involved with healing beyond the fungus herbals belt suggested in Þorbjǫrg lítíl vǫlva in Eírik’s Saga Rauδa ch.4 (87). From the earliest stages of civilisation people have used various forms of medicinal or herbal practices to aid ailments and that healing was a significant activity in pre-Christian Scandinavia. I further argue that healing was simply forgotten in our primary sources written at a time when the Church was taking control away from the power of the historical vǫlvas /holy healers of old.
7) Causing mild harm to people, animals or property.
Enough examples can be found in the early sources to suggest that women were not held to be generally trustworthy and they were thought of as rather disreputable company. Furthermore, it was believed that even the glance of a vǫlva if she did not favour you could bring misfortune to you, your animals and even your property. ON: vǫlva Heiδr æ var hón angan illrar bruδar Ref: Vǫluspa 22 she was always the favourite of wicked women
8) Communicating or mediating with the dead
In Chapter 41 of Færeyinga Saga, (24): a man called Þrándr performs a magical ceremony whereby he calls upon the dead to confirm his suspicions that Sigmundr and his entire party were murdered by Þorgrimr. “Ok eptir þetta ríss Þrándr af stólinum og varpar mæðiliga ǫndunni ok mælti: "Nú megi þér sjá hvat þessum mǫnnum hefir at bana orðtð: Einarr hefir látizk fyrst ok kalit í hel, eða drukknat, er hann var þeirra kraptaminnstr; þá mun Þórir hafa látizk þar næst, ok mun Sigmundr hafa flutt hann ok dasazk mest á því, en Sigmundr mun hafa komizk á land máttlítill, ok munu þessir menn hafa drepit hann, er oss sýndisk hann blóðigr ok hǫfuðlaus." After this Þrándr rises from his stool and wearily draws a deep breath, and said, “Now you can see what was the death of these men. Einarr lost his life first, frozen to death or drowned, for he was the weakest of them; and þórir must have lost his next, and Sigmundr must have carried him, and that must have tired him most of all; but Sigmundr must have come ashore very weak, and these men killed him, since he showed himself to us bloody and headless.”
9) Communicating or mediating with unseen worlds
Saxo Grammaticus, Gesta Danorum Hadingus visits the underworld cites in the female Hadingus visit to the underworld <1.8.14> where she was endowed with magical powers as well as the ability to visit the underworld: “When Hadingus was staying there as a guest, a remarkable portent occurred. As he was dining, a woman beside a brazier, bearing stalks of hemlock, was seen to raise her head from the ground and, extending the lap of her garment, seemed to be asking in what part of the world such fresh plants might have sprung up during the winter season. The king was eager to find out the answer and after she had muffled him in her cloak, she vanished away with him beneath the earth. It was I believe, by the design of the underworld gods that she took a living man to those parts that he must visit when he died”.
10) Communicating or mediating with the gods?
From the Old Norse perspective, there are four categories of what can be classed as Norse spirits
1) Divinity as defined by offerings given to deities in the form of votive offerings such as blót from the framework of the wider communities down to local and family level. Æesir, vanir, álfar, desír and verδir.
2) Fate: Some spirits are connected to fate and the death of individuals or families. These spirits include the nonir, desír (ancestral spirits) and the valkyjur (possibly a later development from desír). The word Valkyrie derives from Old Norse valkyrja (plural valkyrjur)
3) The land and its fertility. Æesir, vanir, giants, dvergar, álfar, desír, landvættir and verδir are some of the
spirits concerned with the primordial creation of the world.
4) Magic as such was used and practise not just by human beings but also by spirits such as the æesir, vanir, giants, troll, álfar verδir, mǫrur and gandar.
  • The term ganga til frétta(r) < to go for news >, means to consult a diviner in order to get prophesies from a divinity or supernatural beings and may be communicated to directly to the host or via a medium.
  • Utiseta < sitting out > usually in the nocturnal hours was practised by men and women alike whose objective was to get intelligence about unseen things such as the past of future to be from the spirit world or gods themselves.
  • Oneiromancy or the foretelling from information discerned from dreams was a widespread practice and very much the magic of the common people.
  • Auspices or divination through examining signs as highlighted in Tacitus Germania was very commonplace
  • Þhriefa < probing someone’s body > to make prognostication for future events is attested in the saga

Leszek Gardeła. (Magic) Staffs in the Viking Age (Studia Medievalia Septentrionalia 27. Vienna: Verlag Fassbaender, 2016, 347pp. 24 b/w figs., 37 plates, numerous tables, hbk, ISBN 978-3-902575-77-7)

  Seiðr Staffs are some of the oldest ritual tools in human history, serving as important attributes of gods and supernatural beings. Created from specific materials, endowed with supernatural qualities through the words and gestures that their bearers employed, these were powerful objects with a multitude of applications. This book investigates the idea of (magic) staffs in the worldviews of the Viking Age Scandinavians and discusses their meanings using both literature and archaeology. Based on a comprehensive study of Old Norse texts and previously unknown archaeological evidence, it provides a history of these objects and uncovers their various forms, purposes and symbolism.

11) War magic e.g. manipulating the minds of your enemies
Kári is killed using seiδr in Laxdœla saga , chp 37 (102). There is also a connection with seiδr and the vígspa The gambanteinn or gamban twig with futhark runes carved on it (twig of potency, twig of power) made from a freshly cut sapling is alleged to possess he power to drive a person to insanity, cause sexual submission followed by uncontrollable lust. Three runes are used here causing burning pains to affect the genitals causing sexual itch and irresistible desire. The runes are translated as Extreme Lust, Burning [with genital connotations] and Unbearable sexual need. Ref: Skirnismal The gambanteinn purpose was used for severely disordering a person’s mind (Price N Viking Way 180)
12) Seiδr Staffs....there were many different types T
he question as to exactly how seiδr staffs were used within a seiδr ritual is a difficult one as we simply do not know. However, seiδr staffs it seems from the sources were in the main quite large and ornately fitted with brass set in gemstones. No man shall have in his house staff or altar, device for sorcery or sacrificial offering or whatever relates to heathen practice. Eiδsivaþingslov 1:24 in NGL 1.383
1) Stafrs: an attribute of the vǫlva used in the course of summoning varδlokkur spirits as well as for for divination.
2) Seiδrstafrs, attributed to a practising vǫlva but usually very ornate and large.
3) Járnstafr…. belonging to spirit beings of the dreamtime and giants of old
4) Stafsprota…used by spákonas in facial attacks on an enemy or to rob them of their memory and instil confusion. 5) Vǫlr…. attributed to a practising vǫlur and has phallic conontations
6) Gandr/Gǫndul…. working of sexual magic, summoning gandir spirits for aid in clairvoyance or prophesy as well as night riding to inflict harm on another
7) Gambanteinn or gamban twig…. was a slender wooden pole or staff possibly with fuþark runes carved on it (twig of potency, twig of power) made from a freshly cut sapling is alleged to possess he power to drive a person to insanity, to cause sexual submission followed by uncontrollable lust. Three runes are used here causing burning pains to affect the genitals causing sexual itch and irresistible desire. The runes are translated as Extreme Lust, Burning [with genital connotations] and Unbearable sexual need. Ref: Skirnismal
8) Tamsvǫndr or taming wand was a wand described in the Skirsnismal. The tamsvǫndr is described thus as capable of inducing the bearer’s sexual will and prowess domination over its female victim who has no say or choice to resist her sexual partner: Tamsvendi ek þik drep / en ek þik temia mun, / mær, at minom munom. “With a tamng wand I touch you / for I will make you tame, / girl, to my wishes”. Dronke U 1997:382
13) Sexual magic
Hér megið sjá heldur rösklegan …. Here you may see a vigorous phallus vingul skorinn af viggs föður …. severed from a father of horses þér er, ambátt, þessi Völsi.... For you, slave-woman this Völsi Allódauflegur innan læra. is not at all dull between your thighs. Ref: Vǫlsa þáttr str 2 Tr. Turville-Petre 1964:265f There remains a considerable amount of sexual imagery connected with seiðr and its performance. Tolley (1995a:70) effectively makes the point that none of this should surprise us, due to the general climate of "sexual anarchy" that attaches to the Vanir deities throughout the Old Norse Myth cycle. The prime example of this is naturally Freyja, the original mistress of seiðr, who was it seems notorious even amongst the gods for her incestuous relationships and liaisons with a range of beings. Her sexuality is discussed by Boyer (1995:49-57) and Nasstrom (1995:65ff, 104-10) Margeret Clunies Ross (1994:209) in her book “Prolonged Echo’s”, argues on the penetrative aspects of seiðr, that we can see the act of spirit possession in terms of a woman allowing herself to be entered.....possibly by a spirit or a god. Regarding the masturbatory use of phallus during the heathen era within female magical rites, those interested in this area would do well to look up and research: Vǫlsa þáttr str 2 Tr. Turville-Petre 1964:265f
14) Death and pain relief
Veiztu hvé sóa skal? Do you know how one must stop up the breath? Havamol 144 Ursula Dronke Vol III Mythological Poems 2011 translation In my view magic as a means to quickly dispatch quickly and more importantly painlessly a very sick person from this life into the next was commonplace amongst the Scandinavian heathens of elder times. As an example, consider that one particular heathen era family in distress might approach the vǫlur of their tribe and ask the question, “Can you do something to help him or her across?” This would be the only thing spoken and the vǫlur would then use such skills and knowledge of fast action poisons possibly combined with body manipulation to ease pain and dispatch the seriously ill person after which she was paid for this service of dispatching the terminally ill and thanked for her services. Today this unspoken form of euthanasia continues in modern hospitals to which I have personally witnessed in the cancer wards. Some would argue that killing arts inferred specialised forms of magical curses or spell against an enemy. Yes, seiðr magic was also used for such purposes but that area is for another discussion.