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Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Gettin' Seidhr-y With It

 Since my last blog touched on some of the historic tidbits that contribute to the reconstruction aspects of seidhr and Irish magical practices, a couple of quick points before we get into what I actually do on the Norse end. Firstly to clarify terms: seidhr is a Norse word with an uncertain meaning that is often translated as witchcraft, or less commonly as shamanism (I favor the witchcraft translation although neither is really a good English descriptor for what seidhr work encompasses). As I mentioned last time seidhr had something of a bad reputation so seidhr might also be called spá or spae (interestingly spae is actually the Scottish version of the word...). There was a slight technical nuance between the two in terms of oracular work, as a spae worker intiuted information in a manner strongly reminiscent of Celtic forms of divination like tenm laida or imbas forosnai while a seidhr worker called spirits to herself to answer questions (see the link to the Viking Answer Lady below for more on this). In terms of my own practice I do both but I have a bad habit of using the term spae for all oracular work even that which should technically be considered seidhr. Secondly both seidhr and spae involve practices that can be seen as manipulative of other people to various degrees. I am well aware of this and I am comfortable with my own ethics and take responsibility for my actions and the outcomes, which is my way of saying that I understand that these things offend some neo-pagans' morals but I follow a different morality. I believe in the end all magic is neutral and it is through our own perception that it is judged as good or bad, and I'm okay with trusting my own judgment. Thirdly, yes I actually use these methods; this isn't just academic discussion for me. I have spent over a decade - nearly two at this point - learning and practicing these things. I truly believe in them, and I really do them.
   Well first off any type of seidhr work, to me, involves some level of trance work and so needs to be done carefully and with protection. That may mean different things for different people and groups; to me it means warding the space when doing deeper work, especially oracular work, and having allies to watch my back. I am dedicated to Odin, who knows seidhr work, and I have a shrine to Freya, who they say was the first to teach seidhr to the Aesir. Before any planned working I offer to them both, as well as to a certain obscure Germano-Celtic goddess who took an interest in what I do (is anyone really surprised that when I started doing this I had a Germano-Celtic goddess show up?). I offer to my ancestors and to other particular spirits I work with when doing this type of work. For less intense daily work I trust to my personal wards and protection. If you don't know what that is or how to do it then you aren't ready to be doing any of this type of trance work.
  Now things like weather work and shapeshifting I generally do when I am alone; it was common in both traditiona seidhr as well as some types of Irish magic like the tarbh feis for the person working to withdraw to a quiet place alone and lay or sit with their head covered. In seidhr work this is called going under the cloak and was also used by skalds (poets); it is a type of meditation that can be used for a variety of purposes from spellcasting, spirit journeying, to contacting spirits and recieving prophecies and poetic inspiration. I have found that even putting my hands over my eyes is effective for entering a trance. Influencing the weather is not my forte, although I've had success with it; it takes alot of energy and concentration and is usually done in a lighter trance. It involves, for me, going to where I want the change to manifest and then visualizing that change for as long as I can. It is a very tiring thing to do though and I have only ever focused on very slight changes in localized areas. Calling storms is a seidhr practice that I have never done, although I have diverted the damage of a storm around my home. Shapeshifting can occur in any level of awareness, but I find I use it most often when my spirit is journeying outside my body, particularly when travelling in the Otherworld (hedgewitches call this "crossing the Hedge"). Such travelling, at least in human shape, seems to be common in modern seidhr, especially oracular work as many groups use a method where they journey to the gates of Hel or to the Well of Wyrd to answer questions. I haven't seen similar accounts in the lore, accept in the case of one story where a man sent his spirit in the form of a bear to fight against some other men - the bear disappeared when the man was awakened from his trance.
   When alone or with my own group I tend to use this travelling method to go find answers. Now my personal preference for a public oracular method is different, based on what I have reconstructed from the story of the spae worker in Eric the Red's Saga. I sit in a seat before the gathered people, with my face covered*, and in my mind I recite a chant I have written to call any goodly inclined, helpful spirits to me to answer the questions that will be asked. This does involve going into a deeper trance and after the session I will not remember anything that was said, by myself or others, although so far the results have been very good. I do not personally use drumming, although I can work and have worked with someone using drumming; it's just not something that I need. I am contemplating adding the use of a staff though, both to hold and to tap on the floor, so that might be the next experiment. Most of what I do at this point is the result of years of trial and error learning and it is still evolving as I learn new methods.
  Another seidhr practice is called sjonhverfing, or "deceiving of the sight". This is roughly equivalent to Irish glamour or fith fath, where you make others see or percieve what you want them to instead of what is really there. An example of this type of seidhr magic is seen in Eyrbyggja Saga where a seidhr worker saves a man who is being chased by making the men chasing him see only a household object (a staff if I remember correctly) where the man is sitting. I have been doing this type of magic for far longer than any other of the skills listed under the auspices of seidhr, and of all the practices I think this one is the most directly similar between the Irish and Norse. You simply focus on the other person or people seeing what you want them to see, and act as if you are fully confident that they see it. The real trick for me is to pay attention and only do it when I want to, because it's very inconvenient to accidently influence things. And probably irresponsible, but nobody is perfect, and like anything else getting control of this is a matter of practice and time.
  A final well known seidhr practice is utisetta, or sitting out. Utisetta is done to contact the spirits of the dead, by sitting out on a grave or mound wrapped in a cloak. As with the Irish tales of those who choose to sleep on a fairy mound, utisetta in the lore could be very dangerous but could also offer many rewards, especially through new knowledge and prophecy, which the Norse believed could be given by the dead. I have used utisetta with the dead in a cemetary only once; generally I use it to contact the land vaettir and alfar(daione si by another name). Works perfectly well for that, and I suppose the way I do it is truly a synchretic practice as I am using a Norse method for a Celtic end....
  The next installment will look at the flip side of this blog, the Celtic oracular and magical practices and how I do them.

further reading on historic and modern seidhr:  

* most modern seidhr workers that I know of use a veil to cover their face during oracular work. I use a bear skin, with the face covering my own, because that's how I was told to do it. I don't argue with the People who have my back. By a wyrd coincidence the bear was given to me by a family member shortly after I was told I needed one, after it had spent many years as a rug; since acquiring it I made some offerings to it's spirit we are all copacetic.


  1. Thanks for posting this. My magical practices have run alongside, but not with, my religious practice for the last 20 years and it is only now that I'm beginning to look at incorporating ideas from seidhr into my workings.

    I've just started attending a workshop on glamour and enchantment that should run for 8 months or so. I think several people were surprised that it started with trance work. Looking forward to reading more.

    Also, could you recommend a few good books on seidhr? I see a few, but since I'm not as familiar with heathenry as I am CR, I do not know which authors are reputable.

  2. For seidhr your best bet if you can find it is Jenny Blain's book Nine Worlds of Seidhr Magic. It covers everything from historic practice to a survey of modern techniques and the author is both an anthropolgist and a believer/practitioner. I'd also suggest Diana Paxson's book Trance-portation - it isn't seidhr specific but is an excellent resource for laying the essential groundwork needed to practice, especially on the trance end. Diana also has a book on Seership coming out soon that I am looking forward to as well... Otherwise for Seidhr Yngona Desmond's books are also very good; she views the Gods purely as archetypes which I disagree with, but she is an amazing seidhrkona and her books are well worth reading. Gundarsson's Teutonic Magic also includes some good information about seidhr, but it is somewhat limited as the main focus of the book is more aimed at runes and galdr. I tend not to recommend Jan Fries books because he takes a chaotic approach to seidr, relating it to everything from the American Shaker movement to chaos magic. I haven't read Katie Gerroid's new book yet. In general I the people I know who have reputations for practicing seidhr and knowing what they are talking about are Jenny Blain, Diana Paxson (and her group Hrafnar), Bil Linzie, Jordsvin and Yngona Desmond...most have websites or blogs, if not books, although be prepared that everyone reconstructs seidhr a little bit differently - for example Yngona is very into utisetta as an essential practice and Diana and Hrafnar use the method of journeying to Hel to get answers.

  3. Thanks. I nabbed the Kindle version of Blain's book this afternoon. It looks great.