Norse Magic: Seidr, Shapeshifting, Runes, & More
Every culture on the planet had their own form of sorcery and divination. The people of Northern Europe were no different. In fact, it’s one of the few cultures who retained their magical practices for quite some time following the rise of the Church. At least until the Swedes were converted in the twelfth century AD. The Old Sagas and Eddas talk of Odin himself practicing a form of Norse magic called Seidr, and that he learned it from the goddess Freya. In this article, we explore the world of Norse Magic, namely Seidr. And we discover the practices of the Volva including visionary journeying, shapeshifting, prophesizing, reading the runes and more.
Norse Magic: Defining Seidr
Seidr is pronounced seethe, like to seethe with anger. It’s just as hard to succinctly define seidr as it is to define witch. However, seidr is essentially another word for witch or witchcraft in the old Norse Sagas. One theory relates seidr to the word “sooth” or “soothsayer”. Another theory says it means “to sing” or “speak”. All of these definitions only begin to explain the essence of Seidr. If I had to define Seidr Magic – it’s an ancient form of Norse Magic that continued into the Medieval and Viking Age being explored again by modern witches.
Who Practiced Norse Seidr Magic? The Volva, Seidkona and Seidmenn
Seidr is the practice but the person who practices this form of Norse Magic could have one or more labels. Volva – a term reserved for female witches. You might notice the term Volva evokes images of the Vulva, a part of the female genitalia. Which is a latin derivation for womb. A Norse witch is also called a Seidkona, which more specifically seems to relate to a female who prophesizes. Or there’s a Seidmenn, which is a man who practiced this form of Norse magic. Interestingly, men were frequently ostracized for practicing Seidr, as it was thought to solely be a female practice. In fact, in the Lokesenna, Loki criticizes Odin for practicing Seidr, stating it’s a female practice.
“Bright one, they called her. Whenever she came to houses, the seer with pleasing prophecies, she charmed them with spells; she made magic wherever she could, with magic she played with minds, she was always the favourite of wicked women.” ~ Excerpt from the Voluspa, translated by Carolyne Larrington
Norse Magic: Seidr With Freya and Odin
It’s said the goddess of magic, Freya, taught the practices of Seidr to Odin. In the Saga of Baldur’s dream, Odin travels down the world tree on his eight-legged steed Sleipnir to find and speak to a dead Volva. Interestingly, even the god of wisdom had to seek insight from the Volva! What’s more, Odin doesn’t find this Volva in Helheim. Instead, she’s on the edge of the realm of the dead. Which gives a nod to witches who live on the edge of society…in those liminal spaces. And confirms this volva’s magnitude of power.
Seidr isn’t a practice that was or is for everyone. It’s a lifelong journey and dedication. Often the Volva or Seidhmenn was called to do this work through an initiation process similar to shamans of Siberian culture or other shamanic traditions: if you’ve had spontaneous visions or dreams of being disemboweled, your bones removed, etc. then being put back together or stuffed with other items from nature, this is often the sign of true initiation. The more I learn about Seidr the more I feel like this has been a natural practice for me. I had a dream when I was twelve of being taken into a dark cave and having my intestines removed!
Next we’re going to get into the main practices of the Volva or Seidkhkona. And keep in mind if this is a path you’re interested, these are practices you should start to study and try out for yourself.
The Volva or Seidhkona would travel from place to place, visiting various tribes and families, offering her services of telling the future or clarifying on events from the past or present. They did this by entering into a trance state…how they did this isn’t explained in the Eddas or Sagas so we only assume. Most likely each volva had her own way of achieving trance and tapping into the spirit realm. Each volva may have used a combination of intoxicating herbs, music like singing or drumming, as well as chanting and prayer.
Shamanic visionary journeying: this is a modern thought but Volvas today believe Volvas of the past practiced visionary journeying to receive their information and to prophesize which goes along with trance. Visionary journeying is enlightening but also dangerous. If you’re a beginner to trance and visionary journeys, take your time. Work up to staying in the other realms for long periods of time. Start out for a few minutes and then go from there. Use a trigger to get into the trance state and consider calling on an animal guardian to protect and guide you. Triggers like drumming, dancing, chanting, incense, music, deep relaxation help get into a trance state…try out all of these and also some in combination. For me it’s drumming or music and incense.
Ending the Visionary Journey and Post-Care
Be sure to ground and center yourself thereafter. Cleansing after if you’ve met a questionable spirit along your journey is recommended. Set an alarm if you’re journeying alone so you can be snapped out of it. otherwise you might get stuck there. Traveling up and down the world tree Yggdrasil to Asgard or Helheim is a common volva journey.
Speaking To the Dead
Speaking to the dead: through trance and journeying, you may learn to speak to the dead and prophesize. Spirits in Helheim and in the other realms are known for granting their wisdom and insight to the Volva. Write down everything you experience. Know that you wont always see things but you might hear, smell, taste, or feel things on your journeys too. (I recently have had more and more spirits coming to me in the WILD hours of the morning)
Cursing: the Volva was called upon and known to curse and particularly throw night-mares at the victim or enemy
Shapeshifting in Norse Magic
Shape-changing, astral travel and dreams: these are practices that were practiced in combination either during sleep or through ritual. In the old days, if you couldn’t dream, it was considered a bad thing. Having prophetic dreams, shifting shape while astral traveling, and astral projection into the other realms was a crucial part of Norse Magic.
The Volva’s Tools
We know the Volva used certain tools because of archaeology and because of the old Sagas. Many volvas were buried with their magical tools and herbal ingredients. Tools often used by the Volva include a (blue) cloak, a magical staff, herbs, and charms. The volva sat atop a stage (Seidhjallr) so she was able to look out over the people and to the surrounding environment. Runes were kept in a bag on the person at all times. If a volva didn’t read the runes, she had her own bag of divinatory charms.
Animal Spirit Guides and Guardians
If you plan to learn Norse Magic, develop a spiritual relationship with an animal spirit guardian. It doesn’t have to be a sacred Norse animal. Allow one to come to you and then request their presence in your journeys, sleep and life. Also, women who practiced Seidr were associated with snakes as they were ambiguous symbols of good and evil. Snakes spirits were consulted by female ritual specialists. A few animals sacred to the Norse include: boar, bear, wolf, raven, horse, cat, dog, goat, eagle, snake.
Further Resources on Norse Magic:
To truly understand Norse Magic in all of its many facets, study the Norse and Germanic Sagas as well as the Prose and Poetic Eddas. It’s also wise to research Norse history, archaeological finds, and the culture in general.
Check out Freyia Norling on YouTube, not only does she live in Norway and is part Swedish but she also has a master’s degree in Norse folklore and mythology. And she is a practitioner of Norse craft. Her channel is AMAZING and thoroughly educational. Arith Harger on YouTube, he is an artist and Norse pagan spiritualist (idk specifics because he didn’t list them out). He also has a blog called Whispers of Yggdrasil and his videos elaborate on his blog posts. Heaps of books are available, just google Seidr magic. There are numerous articles on the Norse gods and goddesses and even some on snow and ice magick available here at the Otherworldlyoracle.com.