"Journeys on the World Tree: Seišr and Spae"

 

Submitted for translation and publication in a French Heathen/Pagan Publication

 

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     “One is for the World Tree, standing straight and tall,” begins the Counting Song by Diana Paxson.  That World Tree is known by many names in many cultures, including in our own Germanic ones as Yggdrasil, Mķmameišr, and Irminsul.  Yggdrasil holds the Nine Worlds in place.  It gives order to the Multiverse.  Even Óšinn himself knows not whence the roots of it rise.  Before Ymir and Aušhumla, it was.  Before the Gods were born, it was.  Before Askr and Embla were shaped on the seashore, it stood alone.  It stands even now at the sacred Center.  Not even the Ragnarökr will cast it down.  It will tremble but Mķmir’s Tree will not fall.  It will stand firm, and from that standing new worlds and new lives will spring and dead Gods rise to new life.  A new Cycle will arise from the ending of an old one, as no doubt they have before.  This we know.

     All who live and all that is benefit from the support and structure provided by the World Tree.  For others, that which sustains and gives order has yet another purpose.  That which holds all the Worlds in place is by the same token a highway between those Worlds.  Ratatoskr is not alone on his journeys on the Tree.  Many peoples have known this.  In the film The Blair Witch Project, the stick figures on a tree were a representation of Shamans journeying on the World Tree.  Even after a thousand years of repression, that image has not died.  It breaks once again into our collective Consciousness.  In that film, it entered with terror, but it can also enter with ecstasy.  This is a Mystery of Óšinn, and of Freyja.  The Terrible One is also the Wish-God.  She who takes half the battle-slain is also the fertile Sow.  The Journey on the World Tree is a Mystery of some mortal folk as well.  We are farers-forth into the Spae-Realms.  We are Seiš-folk, and like those of Yggdrasil itself, our roots, like those of our craft, are lost in the mists of the Ages.  When we fare forth, here are some of the things we do, and how what was long lost began once again…

     My own practice of Seišr goes back nine years now.  Before that, I studied on my own while in contact with Diana Paxson of the Hrafnar Seišr Group in Berkeley California (San Francisco Bay area) for a year and a half.  They were the first to reconstruct Seišr in modern times.  The process began in a very odd way.  Women attending Įsatrś gatherings wanted to do something while the men were involved in the Viking Games.  They decided to work on reconstructing Seišr, and it has been practiced with great success for nearly twenty years now.

     The greatest debate in the Anglophone Seišr community has been over the definitions of “Seišr” and “Spae.”  Many very academically-oriented Heathens wish to define “Seišr” as active magic performed to alter people’s consciousness or manipulate an individual’s multipartite soul complex, usually for negative or unfriendly ends.  They wish for the more “prophetic” work to be classed as “Spae” (Old Norse “Spį”).

     Others, myself included, point out that the “Seiškona” = “Seiš-woman”) mentioned in Erik the Red’s Saga (Eirīks Saga Rauša) is described as doing Seišr.  There are many who have wisely indicated that words change in meaning over time.  This may well be an example of this in a specifically Heathen context.  Whatever one’s own understanding of the terms “Seišr” and “Spae” may be, it is necessary to keep in mind contemporary usage in order to communicate with a wider audience.  It has also been pointed out that the understanding of the academic community of these matters is in a constant state of flux.  The works of Jon Hnefill Adhalsteinsson, Neil Price and Preben M. Sorenson are very pertinent in this matter.

     Modern Seišr practice, be it individual or group-based, focuses on service to the Heathen community and whoever else may attend the sessions or come to the Seišr practitioner for help.  Certainly the “nastier” aspects of Seišr are being explored and redeveloped as well, usually in a very private context due to very real safety factors and concern about the reputation of the Seišr practitioners in question.  Given the overall highly individualized nature of contemporary Heathen ethical systems, it comes as no surprise that there is widespread disagreement on under what circumstances, if any, such work should be done.  My own viewpoint is that it is occasionally justified but should form at the very most, a very small part of a Seišworker’s activities.   Germanic Heathenism lacks the “Threefold Law” of Wicca and while Wiccans generally maintain an absolute condemnation of and rejection of negative or “black” magic, the general Heathen attitude, insofar as one can be said to exist, is as a general rule more nuanced.

     Although less than among “old-time” Heathens, Seišworkers can find themselves somewhat on the fringes of the Heathen community in some aspects.  In ancient times, the practice was widely seen as being at least partially derived from the magic of the geographically adjacent (north Scandinavian) but linguistically, economically, and culturally very distinct Saami/Lappish tribes.  It was also viewed somewhat suspiciously, especially when practiced by men, due to connotations of “ergi,” a spiritual and/or sexually passive condition.  For more on this rather convoluted matter please see Diana Paxson’s article on “Sex, Status and Seidh” linked from http://www.thetroth.org/resources/.  Some still hold to the more traditional viewpoints on this practice, although this is not very common and seems to be decreasing over time.  Still, most individual Heathens do not (consciously) venture deeply and unguided into the Spae-Realms and in my opinion almost certainly should not.  Those who do fare forth to those realms, which includes Seišfolk, are seen by many as somewhat “other.”  However, in our own times this labeling of “otherness” usually comes without condemnation and very often with a willingness to seek out Seišfolk for advice and assistance as needed.  It never ceases to amaze me that large, muscular, masculine men are sometimes badly frightened of practices that I, as a small, unathletic and middle-aged man took to very naturally (the English expression “like a duck to water” comes to mind here).

     In pre-Christian times, Seišfolk did not hesitate to accept payment for their services, perhaps because they spent time, effort and resources that could have been directed toward their “mundane” employments in an era when physical survival could be very difficult.  While modern attitudes vary, they seem to mostly agree that at most the practitioner should receive reimbursement for expenses incurred and complimentary food, lodging, and entertainment, along with small gifts.

     My own Spae or Oracular Seišr practice is based substantially on that of the Hrafnar group.  I was trained by Diana Paxson, who essentially revived modern Oracular Seišr and is the leader of Hrafnar and by Laurel Olsen-Mendes, a founding member of that group who now lives on the east coast of the USA and is active in Seišr there.

     Other methods for performing Oracular Seišr differ from the Hrafnar method in two main ways.   In those alternative methods, only the Seer (which for the purpose of this article includes individuals of both genders, as well as intersexed and transgendered persons) enters a “shamanic”-type trance, while in the Hrafnar method the entire audience journeys to the gates of Hel, while only the Seer passes through the gate itself.  In the alternative methods, in some cases the Seer journeys to Hel or to another of the Nine Worlds of Norse mythology, or in some cases calls the spirits to himself or herself here in Mišgaršr, without “journeying” to other Worlds, and questions the spirits to obtain needed information or negotiate for their aid in a variety of matters.  The role of the audience is limited to answering questions, except for an individual or individuals who sing a “Varšlokkur” = “Spirit-Locks” song to summon, entertain, and please the spirits, thus greatly increasing the probability that they will show up and be inclined to cooperate upon arriving.

     For me, the journeying of the entire group is optional, although it can raise more energy for the Seišr session, keeps folks asking questions more focused and able to ask and understand questions, and last but not least gives them something to do and prevents them from engaging in activities disruptive to the Seiš-folk and their work.

     I personally do not wish to call spirits from another realm into Midgaršr and work with them here in a Seišr session.  They might not be friendly in nature and might not want to go back home when my work with them has ended!  Those choosing to work in this fashion, which may or may not be more historically accurate, need to have a plan for dealing with this possibility and the necessary skill and strength to successfully carry it out in case the need arises.

     A variety of types of questions are asked in Oracular Seišr sessions.  Frequent requests are to ask for or pass on messages between the questioner and dead friends or kin; to enquire as to the probable future course of events in some aspect of an individual’s life; to ask questions of Gods or Goddesses; to ask questions of a “spiritual direction” type, including an appropriate choice of a Patron Deity; and to ask what course of action to take in order to resolve a life situation.

     In addition to Oracular Seišr, I have also used Seišr or Seišr-derived techniques to:

1.  Help Earthbound human spirits enter the Afterlife.

2.  Facilitate the healing of physically and/or psychologically ill individuals by removing unwanted spiritual intrusions, known in ancient times as “Elf-Shot.” I have also retrieved lost soul components from various places, including the other eight of the Nine Worlds separate from Mišgaršr, and reintegrating them into the individual.  Another aspect of my work has been to help realign and balance the elements that make up a human being in Germanic Heathen cosmology, which include the physical body and several “non-corporeal” ones.

3.  On rare occasions to attack the very worst of human beings, including pedophiles and other child abusers.  When doing such work on individuals whose behavior is extremely destructive but not to the point of the above-mentioned categories of individuals, I always leave an “out” for them, i.e. cutting ties with their malicious practices to avoid being dragged, along with those behaviors, to someplace where they cannot harm others.  Please note that in most cases of this type, the appropriate thing for an individual to do is to work in a votive fashion with the Gods, asking them for help with the situation, rather than work magic.  In addition, Seišr techniques can be used to ward off psychic attacks and/or respond aggressively to them.  They can also be used to find and cut unwanted links to former friends, partners, etc.  Such links can also exist between an individual and a psychic vampire (“megin-thief” in Heathen terms???) and can be found and cut.  An alternative would be to “sour the milk” with a blast of elemental fire or the Thurisaz Rune.  The miscreant would then most likely take care of the link-cutting.

4.  Do “shape-shifting” for self protection or other needs.  This involves changing the appearance or energy of your “aura” or in Heathen terms “hyde” (a term of Anglo-Saxon derivation).  With proper training and practice, you can change its shape to something dangerous and scary-looking to decrease danger when obliged to travel in bad neighborhoods at night.  It can also provide more “personal space” in a crowded environment in a bar.  I was able to verify the effectiveness of this technique in just such an environment.  While physical shape-shifting is to my knowledge not possible, others pick up on the shape-shifting on a subconscious level.  On a more humorous note, I have seen someone project a bit of his hyde and/or hammingja from his finger though the glass of an aquarium and have watched the fish react to it!  One can also shape the hyde into something very attractive and appealing in order to make oneself more attractive to others or to make others more receptive to what one has to say.

5.  A variation of technique # 4 is to use Seišr techniques to put a “glamour” on an object, at times in conjunction with Runework.  Putting Thurisaz-Runes on the front, back and sides of your automobile can cause other drivers to give you more room while driving.  I have found this effective.  I have also used the glamour to make my automobile less conspicuous when I have had to park it in dubious locations.  A word of warning, however: while my car was well-hidden or at least not very noticeable to thieves and the people who hand out parking citations, it was for the same reason difficult for me to find when I returned!  In any case, be sure you take off and reabsorb or ground the glamour, or change the shape of the hyde back to its normal form, when your work is through.

     While Seišr is not subjectable to scientific verification, anecdotal evidence suggests that I have often been very successful in my Spae and my more “active” workings.  Nevertheless and above all in Spae workings, it is vital to remember that the information is filtered through a human consciousness, that even the Gods themselves are not all-powerful or all-knowing, and that ultimately the person asking the questions is ultimately responsible for deciding what value to assign to what the Seer or Seeress has said, interpreting the information (although at times with the help of others), and deciding how and even if to put it into action in one’s life.

     In addition, others in contemporary (and often ancient) Heathenry have used Seišr and techniques derived from it to:

1.  Bring back good fishing to an area by calling in fish from elsewhere.

2.  Place an animal into a state of trance for more humane slaughter.

3.  Work with weather to end droughts, flooding or other harmful or dangerous fluctuations in normal weather patterns.

4.  Engage in “remote viewing” or “astral projection” with the context of our own world, Mišgaršr, in order to obtain information otherwise unavailable (Old Norse “hamfaringja”).

     It is probably clear to the reader by now that these sorts of spiritual and magical practice are far from safe.  In fact, in my honest opinion, they are inherently dangerous.  For the practitioner, dangers include loss of energy or soul parts, risk of aggravating and worsening existing psychological disorders, being bothered by the thoughts and feelings of others entering into one’s own being (particularly bothersome to individuals with strong clairsentient or empathic abilities), possible but unlikely attack, possession or haunting by non-corporeal Wights, and possible manifestations in the form of physical health problems.  Common short-term reactions include coming out of trance with feelings of excessive heat or cold, ravenous hunger, and exhaustion followed by a delayed “Seišr-rush, which can lead to insomnia later that night (I prefer to work Seišr after dark when possible, as do many others).  In addition, as in any sort of position of spiritual guidance or leadership, there is a danger of individuals, corporeal or otherwise, attaching themselves to the practitioner in one sort or another of psychic vampirism.

     While these dangers cannot be eliminated, they can at least be kept to a minimum.  Prospective Seišfolk should be in good physical and mental health, in my opinion at least 25, preferably 30 years old (I started practicing at age 36), and have a good knowledge of Germanic mythology, cosmology, etc.  Practitioners should learn to recharge vital energies expended in Seišr work, and ground left-over energies appropriately.  This should be done as well for the group energies raised during a Seišr working.

     A good working relationship with various spiritual beings, including but not limited to Gods and Goddesses, “power animals,” land-spirits, and ancestral spirits can be very helpful both to the success and safety of working Seišr.  Choosing one’s Seišr partners carefully and learning when to say “no” to individuals you feel you cannot or should not help, whom you are unqualified to help, or have no energy to help can also make a great difference.

     Especially for the psychically very sensitive, it is vital to strengthen personal barriers by drawing megin/magical energy from appropriate sources and using it to strengthen the aura or hyde on a daily basis is very useful.  This works along the line of Thórr's magic belt, which doubles his strength at need.  I was taught not to enter Hel alone without a warder to stand watch over my physical body and to abstain from alcohol before Seišr, as well as not to do this work while exhausted or ill.  Finally, endeavor to know yourself well and to have a well-established personal ethical system.  Decide definitively what you are willing and unwilling to do before starting to practice Seišr or for that matter any form of magical work.

     For participants in Oracular Seišr sessions, common side effects include going too deeply into trance or wandering away from the journeying group while in the Spae-realms, which in extreme cases can lead to problems in the soul-complex.  For this reason, I advise parents of young children to leave them at home.  Occasional encounters with frightening or unfriendly spirits also occur, which is another reason for the light level of trance for non-Seers and the presence of trained Warders to watch over both Seers and participants throughout the rite.

     I also advise Seišfolk to make clear before each session what behaviors are expected from participants and which ones are not acceptable.  These include for me touching the entranced Seer or Seeress, directing questions directly to a Deity (can lead to unwanted channelings or possessions), wandering away from the groups during journeying, and asking questions of beings outside the Germanic Pantheon (one of the big reasons for the success of this technique is its being grounded in a specific cultural and religious context).  Seišfolk are routinely offered salt and water to “ground” after leaving Hel or other Worlds and returning to the gathered community, and these are available at need to other participants during or after the Seišr session.  The work of a good Warder or Warders is vital.

     Much more information, including translations of the Hrafnar Seišr ritual into French, Spanish, Portuguese, and (partially) German, along with a bibliography, can be found at http://home.earthlink.net/~jordsvin/Seidhr/Index.htm; http://home.earthlink.net/~jordsvin is my main Heathen webpage.

     Finally, thanks are due, not only to my teachers and Seišr companions, human and otherwise, but also to the scholars who continue to provide additional understanding of Seišr and related practices and to the individuals who have provided me with information and suggestions during the preparation of this article.

Jordsvin,

Seidhmadhr

Created by Chandonn and Jordsvin

all works used by permission of the authors

last modified 11/03/2004