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Monday, January 30, 2012

Oracular practices and magic - when cultures meet

  This is one of those posts I've been meaning to do since I started the blog but just kept finding reasons to put off; however a recent conversation with a friend about the challenges of writing about spiritually personal practices has prompted me to move forward with it.
   I have been practicing various forms of trancework and magic for a very long time now but often using a more general learn-through-experimentation method, although I have always been interested in culture specific practices. The first ten years or so of my practice was entirely self taught, with the attending mishaps, experimentation, and misadventures. Around 1999 I was lucky enough to meet several people who had actually been trained in various methods and I learned a lot from them by association, but I still wanted to learn more traditional, particularly Irish, practices. The problem was that at that point I wasn't aware of anyone who was actively using them and I lacked the resources to really find out if anyone was reviving these methods and I was unsure how to do so myself. So fast forward to 2006 or so when I started honoring the Norse gods and Odin came calling and I became aware of the Norse practice of seidhr. Now right off the bat I could see the similarities between seidhr and the Irish practices which might have been grouped together and called fáidetóracht*(modern Irish fáidheadóireacht) although there may be a better word that encompasses all aspects from the prophecy to the active magic in the way that seidhr does for the Norse. I do know now that people are working to reconstruct these Irish methods, but so far what I have seen takes the poet's approach and that is not where my focus is. While I am something of a poet I do not follow the poet's path when it comes to magic, but rather take a more, shall we say Druidic approach (we already know my opinion about the fluid nature of the different titles, druid and poet).
    So, anyway, in 2006 or so I began reading about seidhr and soon after started putting what I read into practice with the help of several friends and friends-of-friends who also practiced and could offer practical advice. Again I was lucky here not only to have knowledgeable people to go to with questions, but also because very shortly I had the members of my kindred showing an interest as well and while it was enormously intimidating to feel responsible for training them when I was literally only one step ahead in learning it was a great motivator and provided a needed structure and safety. I have been doing public spae (oracular seidhr) sessions for several years now as well as regularly practicing with my own group and I am at a point when I really need to start transitioning what I know from Seidhr into actively practicing the Irish methods. I have a real block about doing that, for some reason, but the only way to get around it is to just push through it I suppose. So this week's blog will cover Norse and Irish practices.
    We know from the available material that seidhr was something of an outsiders practice, often equated in later material to witchcraft and that men who practiced it were seen as being unmanly. Despite this there is evidence, such as the sory of the Spaekona in Eric the Red's Saga, that people who practiced oracular seidhr, also called spae, travelled from village to village as guests to foretell the community's fate. As with many such practices there is some division of the "good" and "bad", or positive and destructive practices into two different categories with people who were generally seen as positive being called spae workers while those with darker reputations were known as seidhr workers. It seems to me that what each group actually did was very similar and it was only in the judgement of the outcome or who it was being done against that decided the label. According to Ynglinga Saga seidhrworkers were said to be able to control the weather by stilling the ocean or turning the wind, could put out fires, shape shift by sending their spirit out in the form of an animal, could tell the future, could speak to the dead (a practice called utisetta or out-sitting) and could bring death, ill luck and illness, or life, good luck and health. The Voluspa mentions the seidhr worker's ability to influence the minds of other people and to use magic charms, and of course Eric the Red's Saga talks about spirit communication and telling the future.
    In the Irish we see Druids having the power of prophecy, later described as being done through several methods inclduing imbas forosnai, dichetal do chennaib and tenm laida which were attributed to the poets, but seem to have been Druidic in nature to me as St. Patrick outlawed two of the three for calling on pagan gods. The idea of extemporaneous prophecy appears in several Irish legends were a Druid predicts a certain outcome of a day or event, or, as in the legend of Deirdre of the Sorrows, after touching someone or something which are methods in line with the poetic methods. Druids are also able to either literally change shape with the fith fath or to make others percieve them in another shape, and also in the old stories have the power to influence the weather, call fog, as well as to effect people's health for good or ill.
    Today's blog was the background for everything and the next one will cover how I actually reconstructed seidhr as well as hwo I pratice it; saturday's blog will be about Irish seership and magical practices and how I see those being used.
 Further reading:
 Imbas Forosnai by Nora Chadwick
 Nine Worlds of Seidhr Magic by Jenny Blain
 Any and all Irish and Norse mythology and folklore, but especially the Saga of Eric the Red, Ynglinga Saga, Voluspa, the Cath Maige Tuired, the Tain Bo Cuiligne, any of the stories of the Fianna...

 *from the eDIL: fáidetóracht
ā,f. (fáith) prophesying, prophecy; second sight: do firadh an ḟaidhedóracht sin  BCC § 104 dorinde se faidhetoracht don baile sin  § 207 . an fháidhedóracht  § 66 . tre spiraid fhaidhedorachta  § 352 . go ffuil spirat fhaid- etorachta innam,  Fl. Earls 222y  although often given heavy Biblical connotations:

fáitsine may be another option, although it may be that Fili really is the best word and I'm just making this harder for myself because the modern connotation is so strongly poetic and not as much emphasis on prophecy or divination.... 

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