One-Eyed Cat: Heathenry / Slavic Paganism

Sharing safe seidhr (Norse trance work) practice, working with the Gods and spirits through divination and devotional magic. We'll also explore the wider Eurasian influences on central and northern European religion, including Norse, Slavic, Celtic, Baltic, Siberian, Mediterranean and ancient Indo-European beliefs and discuss how to apply them to contemporary practice.

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Seidhr: Real Life Examples of Norse Oracular Trance Magic

Posted by on in Paths Blogs

There are many ways of performing seidhr-- Norse trance magic, mediumship and fate weaving. Here are two real-life examples of the results, drawn from several sessions I witnessed or participated in, illustrating the pitfalls, challenges, divine connection and deep lessons that come with this amazing work.

Seidhr For the Hel of It

A lone woman sits at the head of a crowd under the stars, in a place that was never consecrated as a temple. Standing there open to the darkness and the wind, we all feel exposed. Our deepest heart’s yearnings, things we have to phrase so that others do not know our private matters, are voiced for the whole group to hear as we wait for answers they will also hear coming from this frail woman perched on her high seat. For there are no natural boundaries here no sacred grove, no sheltering rock outcropping, no enclosure and no circle of women keeping the energies raised contained.

No amulets for the people seeking counsel, either. 

Just for her.

She trusts in a simple warding , calling the quarters, not even calling on Thor or carrying a candle around those present to hallow the space. Instead, audience members are asked to sing her special triggering song, the one she uses to go into deep trance with the stern warning that if she hears the song practiced she will fall into a dangerous premature trance; or, if her trance is suddenly broken, she can be greatly harmed.

And who, after all, would want to harm the seer, blocking the others’ questions that so desperately need answering?

Instead of welcoming Freyja’s presence into the crowd, she glowers at the young man who holds an icon of the Goddess of seidhr on his lap while she takes her seat.

A tense, eerie silence reigns as the seidhr performance begins. The air seems to thicken and cool as the trance-inducing song progresses, though the summer night is hot. A trusting crowd, many of whom have never trance journeyed before, are brought down to the gates of Hel to meet with the ancestors, while the seidhkona alone walks through them.

As the séance starts, the seidhkona sways on her high seat, leaning heavily on her staff, and speaks in a different voice.  In the shadow of her black velvet hood, her face is unnaturally pale, even for a white woman in the moonlight. She seems… ill. Like she has aged a decade in the space of a few minutes. You can see she had been beautiful in youth; she could be beautiful, still. But, with the way she carries herself, she is not.

When the first woman of the crowd comes forward with her question, hesitantly, fears for the future naked on her face, the seidhkona’s expression twists.

In the shadows of the campground, dark, misshapen flickers appear. They lurch towards the central fire, groping in the dark. Eerie blue and green lights dance through and over the trees, visible to everyone present. They’re not the Northern lights.

For those who can see the other side, a circle of pale, sad beings with shadowed pits for eyes and hungry mouths encircle the camp, coming closer. Their longing is palpable. Mostly, though, it’s grief.

Someone flees the crowd, spooked, running toward the safety of electric lights.

The seidhkona ignores it.

When this seidhkona gives answers, they are cryptic and violent. The visions conjured are not ones anyone would wish to follow for themselves. Her voice is strained, distant and impatient her teeth show whitely under the shadow of that hood, but not her eyes: she seems to gloat when people are distressed by her words.

Several present see a black shadow walk up behind the high seat, standing over her, arms out as if to encircle her, before an alarmed yell shatters her trance.

Earlier that day, she had made a great show of fasting in preparation until her hands began to shake. Now, she can barely stand up, lurching off the high chair. Several of the audience members leave the event exhausted confused and feeling like something has been taken out of them.

It has.

Around the campsite, people report nightmares of being chased by monsters and difficulty sleeping the next day.

This is seidhr gone wrong.   


         Weaving With The Fates:

Elsewhere, on midsummer evening, a healthy young woman sets up an altar on a coffee table in the center of the room. She hums to herself as she does it, giving her mind time to relax and clear. No, she’s not so young. She is at least a decade older than she looks. Sometimes, more.

The heady, spicy-sweet smell of frankincense fills the room. Incense smoke flows to the seidhkona as she prepares.

It’s the season of summer storms: a natural power tide and the right time to approach Earth and Thunder for wisdom. It’s been long enough for the hearty beef dinner to settle, giving her strength and for the neighbors to quiet down for the evening, allowing her to focus. She wears a nice little summer dress, as if going out for dinner, nothing more. Unlike a dinner date, she wears protective amulets.

The room the young volva works in is guarded by both magic and mundane security: a gated community, an alarm system, a private staircase before this fortress of an apartment can be entered. Because she knows this is a very safe location, magically and otherwise, she does not ward the room again. It would undermine her previous work.

First, she places a beautiful red cloth on the table to designate that it is no longer mundane space. Red for protection, red for bloodlines, red for the inherited fate that flows from ancestors now resting in the earth. Then, she puts something down to honor those ancestors. Stones and a live plant for the Earth. She lights a white candle in the center as a focal point and others to the sides to keep the purifying energy of fire present and to help raise energy for the oracular session. She offers alcohol to both the Gods and ancestors to say thank you. Between the scent of the incense, the beautifully arranged altar, and the flickering of the candles, the atmosphere is warm, intimate and inviting, allowing everyone to relax.

Following Earth’s advice, the volva makes a simple red thread amulet, tied at the left wrist, for both herself and the woman seeking advice through her.

The young seidhkona brings her staff in as an anchor to the World Tree, which runs within all beings and all realms. For all true volva’s staves are the World Tree, as all ordinary sticks are Odhin’s spear to those who know how to use them. She sets out a brimming cup of honey and water for the ancient, wise moist mother Earth, whose counsel she seeks, following an almost universal tradition in Europe.

Her preparations finished, she calls in her friend and purifies herself, the room, and the woman who awaits the Gods’ answers. She ties the amulet around her friend’s wrist.

Then, she begins.

Since there is no warrior to stand guard and hide the abundant energies she’s raising from hungry and disruptive spirits, she calls upon the Thunderer as Odhin warns her to do. She calls Him, husband of Earth and champion of the Gods, by the name her ancestors knew, and honors primal Earth, Fate-weaver and Mother, the same way. The entire preparation, it seems, has been a light conversation back and forth with several Gods, guiding each step.

She opens the front door and invites Thunder inside as an honored guest, with a cordial bow and flourish of her arm. Then locks the door. It’s night, after all.

Both Earth and Thunder are thanked for their presence, with Thunder offered a place across the table from the seidhkona.

There is no high chair here, so the seidhkona sits on the floor, closest to Earth, setting her staff across her lap this time as Earth instructs her to. Her friend sits on the couch beside her.

The seidhkona stares into the flame awhile, breathing deeply, then closes her eyes to focus. She stills her mind and waits to sense the Earth’s heightened presence.

In the physical realm, she cocks her head as if listening… and opens her eyes.

When she’s asked a question, the answers are clear, precise and in her own voice yet not quite worded as she would normally speak. Earth has a pragmatic sensibility and wry humor altogether different from the seidhkona’s usual disposition and, to both women’s surprise, gives sound advice quite counter to the seidhkona’s earlier, mundane assessment of a situation! (The advice, as it later turns out, is perfect.)

As she speaks, the volva seems to weave, stretch and untangle patterns in the air with her fingers, occasionally pausing the questions and answers to do this. For her friend, she describes a distinct and recognizable event in the future, a fateful (but not ominous) interaction between two people that will have more importance than is immediately apparent. When this will happen, she can’t see, only the immediate event.

Some questions, however, are not answered. The reason for not answering them is also given, patiently, no matter how insistent her friend becomes.

The seidhkona is able to conduct a conversation while doing this, relaying questions back and forth, and it is clear that she retains a light, dual awareness of both realms. Lacking a scribe, she even pauses occasionally to jot down notes.

When it’s done, she thanks everyone who helped her, both known and unknown, and blows the candles out. A little bit of chocolate is passed around and eaten for grounding. Unnecessary now, the red threads are cut and disposed of. Both women go to their separate ways to bed.

Although tired from the late hour, they wake up feeling just fine in the morning and remember most of the event.

This is seidhr done right.


Analysis:

 Let’s go through this step by step to see what went wrong and what worked.

In the first account, a lot of the traditional-seeming steps were followed, along with using some atmospheric outer trappings while, at first glance, the second seidhkona skipped all that, instead relying on the Gods, herself, and her own staff to work. The first seer, or whoever trained her, was familiar with the medieval account from Erik the Red’s saga of the Greenlandic seidhkona, which includes sitting on a high seat, wearing a hood, and having the wardlokkur, a special traditional song, sung to her to call in the spirits. Many aspects of this invaluable account are backed up by archaeological finds.

However, a lot of attention was drawn to the seer herself, rather than focusing on the Gods or preparing properly to defend a group of people whose emotional energies left them particularly vulnerable even if only as people who needed comfort and guidance from a responsible leader. Many details of the Greenlandic seer’s work were also left out, including the fact that she summoned the spirits rather than journeying to them.

The exposed, outdoor location was never hallowed or sufficiently warded and was not previously used by the Heathens present as holy ground. Furthermore, the working area was physically undefined, so that once the gate to the underworld was opened anything in the area that needed to or just wanted to cross over was drawn to it. Hundreds of spirits answered that call.

The energies raised were not given a strong container, instead trusting in a generic four quarters call drawn from ceremonial magic for protection. When energies are loosed like this, every hungry being around flocks to the spike of power to feed. It’s like a lighthouse beacon for them. The eerie lights were a physically visible manifestation of those beings. ‘Witch lights’ of this sort do not typically bode well in folklore. And while it may seem glamorous to follow the path of Gods and heroes visiting Hel to seek power, glory and answers from the dead, none of their precautions were taken in this instance . (Also, at no point were these trips accompanied by groups of bystanders in the myths!)

Whatever being had previously infected the seidhkona came out when she went into trance, twisting her facial expression and voice. The seidhkona’s ill health and apparent aging are a classic symptom of the energy drain caused by such a parasite. She also seemed unable to remain in full control of her faculties while prophesying: giving up her will allowed whatever being attached to her to burrow deeper each time she entered into such a trance.

Notice, I never said she was evil or stupid. She could have started on this path with great sincerity and under a fine teacher, but for whatever reason, that’s not how things progressed.

Going to the underworld for wisdom isn’t evil, either. It is simply very dangerous. Within the Eddas, we are shown that Odhin and others take on false names and masks whenever they do it. This has been my experience as well. As Odhin told me: any time that threshold is crossed, there is no guarantee Hel will release you! Not even for him. Baldr’s myth also bears this out: Hel demands a heavy price for the possibility of releasing him. In the end, she does not.

Within a group setting, you can’t trust that everyone will honor the warning not to go past a gate, or even be able to keep from crossing over if the call is strong enough, no matter how much you warn them of the danger. When you are presiding over any such a ritual, you are responsible in a very real sense for what happens to those you bring along. So it’s up to you to protect everyone and fix them up if something goes wrong. The Gods will hold you accountable. If you want to stay on good terms with them, you’ve got to listen to them, take care of the folk, and follow through.

In contrast, in the second account, the seidhkona worked within a protected space, in privacy. She had previously worked the space, so she did not need to put up new wards, but still purified it for this working. The energy of a group was also not needed to raise external power, as she was an experienced trance worker who set down offerings and a direct energy source, the fire, to power the connections.

As this seidhkona did her preparations, the deities came to her and advised her about what was needed, warning her about pitfalls beforehand and teaching her some new magic in the process. She stayed in a very light trance, aware of her surroundings and mundane life, gradually going into the deeper trance of the evening through physical darkness (night), relaxation and a point of focus. The opening ritual of setting up an altar and setting down offerings helped her prepare for this without dramatic steps like fasting.

She did not “borrow” nor “reconstruct” from another tradition, but relied on living knowledge from a source built up through balanced worship and years of partnership maintained over the long course. She followed the simplest course: she just did what the Gods told her, rather than trying to make a ritual up! On Odhin’s advice, she called a powerful deity of protection in, the very power who protects Earth and is symbolically wedded to Her something implied by Thor’s role in several mythic events. That invitation was underscored by physically opening the space in a selective manner (the door), and going through gestures and spoken words appropriate to an honored guest— as if Thunder were physically present. So, when you set forth to do this work, be careful about what the sources are leaving out. This is why you need a solid, working relationship with the Gods as direct teachers.

Instead of carrying a newcomer on a journey, she invited a Divine presence with whom she was familiar, one of the oldest oracular deities to come forth into the room: Earth. Literal height is not appropriate for Earth; so, in this instance, she sat down low. Instead of going to the underworld  and opening a portal, she connected through the staff to a much safer, protected location: the world tree. The portal was within herself, within the space protected by Thunder, and grounded by her staff.

During the session, she not only spoke potential fate but wove it with the consent of the Gods and her querent. Seeing that Fate manifest, however, was up to others. She merely laid the path to it.

While these are not the only ways to perform seidhr, I hope these two accounts give you a better idea of the possibilities and dangers of seidhr working. Seidhr is a rewarding magic that needs to be practiced with deep respect, compassion, devotion to the Gods and community  and serious attention to the safety of all involved.

You’ve seen it from the outside, now. Slowly, we’ll go within.


For an overview of seidhr, please see my previous posts:

1.Asatru 101: What is seidhr?

2.Why are Heathen Women So Afraid of Magic?

3.Seidhr: Dispelling Misconceptions About Norse Trance Magic

Please familiarize yourself with the Eddas, recent archaeology, and the Saga of the Erik the Red if you engage in this work. Don’t rely on summaries of myths, or famous elders’ commentaries on those myths: read the original texts yourself, meet the Powers mentioned in them, and draw your own conclusions! 

You can also read more accounts of seidhr journeys in this blog and on my website, staffandcup.com

Other solid resources:

  • Non-fiction books by Maria Kvilhaug, Lady of the Labyrinth (above)

Illustration of the Norns by Arthur Rackham.

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Shirl Sazynski was trained by Frey, Odin and Freyja and has been practicing the Norse magical and priestly art of seidhr (trance journeying/fate weaving) for fifteen years. Her column, "One-Eyed Cat", runs in Witches and Pagans Magazine. An oracle, icon painter and author, her work has appeared in popular and pagan media outlets for the last fifteen years. She teaches workshops around the US, and was a popular presenter at PantheaCon.

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