Seidr

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  • #12723
    david poole
    Participant

    Seidr is a word from Old Norse describing a type of magic practiced during the late Scandinvian Iron Age to do with telling the future and shaping it. Seidr may be more than a thousand years old and have roots in Iron Age fertility cults and shamanism. The practice of seidr may have involved visionary journeys. Seidr practitioners were both female and male, although mainly male. Female practitioners were known as volur, seidkonur and visandekona, or spakona meaning seer. Another term sometimes used is fjolkunnigr, meaning a person skilled in magic. When men tried to practice seidt they brought a social taboo known as ergi; ergi, argr or ragr which were used to describe people who were considered to be effeminate. This was a judgement which was made according to the standards of that time, whether it would conform to our current standards of gender roles is a different question. In Iceland and Scandinvia argr had the connotations of a receptive, passive man during homosexual intercourse. In Norse mythology seidr is connected both to Odin and to Freya, who taught the practice to the Aesir; before this, seidr was associated with the Vanir, of whom Freya was a member. In the Ynglinga Saga Freya is identified as an adept of seidr and it is she who teaches this craft to Odin. Freya of course is female, meaning that argr would definitely be an inaccurate term to apply, suggesting that the word itself is very loosely defined as it is simply not accurate in all cases.

    Words connected with seidr indicate signs, soothsaying, sorcery, rope and binding. This may include the use of a cord in attraction. The seidkonr might enter an ecstatic trance with their staff in their hand. Aside from Freya herself the practice of seidr may have covered other goddesses. Loki taunts Odin for practicing seidr in the Lokasenna: “You struck charms as a seeress, in the likeness of a sorceress you travelled above mankind. I consider that the pervert’s essence.” (Stanza 24). This is of course only Loki’s opinion, and Loki has always been known for stirring up trouble. Seidr involved as part of its practices the incantation of verses, this is known as galdr and is still followed by modern heathens today and readily found. In spite of the persecution in past times practitioners of seidr were treated as religious leaders, indicating that the practice actually carried with it some status. Chanting and prayer helped the seidkonr to see into the future and to curse and hex enemies. In the Ynglinga Saga Snorri Sturluson states that the practice of seidr used to make the practitioner weak and helpless; Snorri’s translations, it must be noted, can carry a Christian gloss and interpretation, so this observation may be the result of religious biases. In Norse society a woman practicing seidr was known as a volva, which means seeress, other meanings are prophecy woman or magic woman.

    Seidr rituals covered divination clairvoyance, seeking out hidden things, healing the sick, bringing good luck, controlling the weather, calling game animals and fish; for cursing, blighting, to cause illness, to tell false futures, to injure and kill, in domestic disputes and in battle. The Voluspa or The Insight of the Volva contains accounts of seidr practices.

    #12724
    Dowrgi
    Participant

    Words connected with seidr indicate signs, soothsaying, sorcery, rope and binding …

    This is interesting because the etymology of the word seiðr would have it derive from Proto-IE *soito, which means rope, cord or string and is derived from the root meaning/word to bind. The Proto-Celtic word *soito is the root of the modern Welsh, Cornish and Breton words hud, hus, and hud respectively (s -> h). However, this doesn’t seem to have given us a cognate word in Gaelic. Nevertheless, the idea of magic and fate being connected to threads was indeed found in folk tradition right up to the present day, and in mythology. It is also interesting to note that there seems to be some separation of the words dealing with magic and the words connected to druidry in the Brythonic languages, yet in the Gaelic languages the words for magic seem to be connected to druidry. Was an old(er) word perhaps lost?

    In Norse tradition, Óðinn was a powerful seiðr figure, but seiðr it was Freyja, of the Vanir, who had the knowledge of seiðr and taught it to others. Another interesting thing about seiðr was how it was viewed in Norse culture with a mixture of fear and suspicion, so it must have held a very powerful hold in the minds of the people. It also seems to have been passed from female to male, something with which we see parallels in traditions – supposedly unrelated – found in the West Country (in traditional folklore, magic had to be learned from someone of the opposite sex, male to female or female to male).

    Interesting stuff.

    Bennathow
    /|\

    #12725
    Dowrgi
    Participant

    My edit timed out – I meant to note that the Freyja to Óðinn, tradition is echoed in how we believe the knowledge of seiðr was passed down, i.e. from female to male, which you’ve also indicated.

    #12728
    david poole
    Participant

    I am glad that you are happy with this thread Dowrgi, I learned a lot by researching it. I have a few more ideas along similar lines which I may write very soon. My main reason for writing this was to explore Scandinavian ideas towards sexuality, what I found indicates that the Scandinavians had very rigid ideas about what men and women should be like within their society. It was very serious back than and people could be killed for not being masculine enough.

    #12730
    Dowrgi
    Participant

    My main reason for writing this was to explore Scandinavian ideas towards sexuality, what I found indicates that the Scandinavians had very rigid ideas about what men and women should be like within their society. It was very serious back than and people could be killed for not being masculine enough.

    It’s difficult to tell really because we don’t have many written records from the pre-Christianisation era and, of course, these will inevitably be through the filter of Christian authors, writing two centuries or more later. I think we should bear in mind that the Viking Age was just one period, too, and what the older systems of belief and culture were, are even more difficult to interpret with any degree of certainty.

    Admitting the difficulties with the sources, I believe that for a male to practise seiðr brought down a taboo of ergi on him, but at the same time this figure continued to live within Norse society and was feared and respected. I think what was taken offence too was accusing someone else of being “unmanly”, however that may have been interpreted. Nevertheless, it’s all very ambiguous and the sagas and myths seem to be a bit contradictory at times.

    Finally, I think that Celtic-speaking cultures and Germanic/Norse cultures, acknowledge the chronological differences as well, may have differed quite a lot as well.

    Bennathow
    /|\

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