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Excerpt from "The Norse Shaman"

Chapter 10

by Evelyn C. Rysdyk


Preparing to Perform Seiðr 

The seiðr worker is one who is adept at entering trance. She, or in some cases he, was able to alter consciousness for the purpose of gaining information, to seek council with the spirits of nature or the ancestors, to work magic on behalf of the people, and to generally attend to the spiritual well-being of the community. For these reasons, a Viking Age seiðr practitioner may be considered that culture’s shamanic equivalent. 

Elements of Seiðr 

Practitioners in modern Europe and in North America have reconstructed several variations of seiðr rituals. Rather than share their methods, I would like to explore a shamanic framework for this work. While we do not have any accurate records of a Viking Age seiðr ceremony, these elements were recorded in the sagas: 

1.   The seiðworker prepares herself or himself for the work to come, and a ritual space is prepared before the ritual is performed. 

2.    The seiðworker sits in the seiðhjallr while she practices. This sets the practitioner “above the crowd” or perhaps more pointedly, outside of ordinary reality. 

3.    The seiðworker carries a staff, which is often adorned with precious stones. This is both a badge of office and an object used during the ritual. 

4.   The seiðworker may employ ritual clothing including a cloak or hood. 

5.    The seiðworker has a group of people (most often women) who form a protective circle around her. 

6.    Singing seems to have been an essential element for the trance induction of the seiðworker, a prerequisite for the “seeing” or connecting with ancestors, the objective of seiðr. The seiðworker did not sing for herself, but usually had a group of people singing special spiritual songs called varðlokur. 

7.    Dreaming or entering a solitary state of deepened awareness--particularly in nature--is another common facet. 

8.    While in an altered consciousness, the seiðworker receives information that would have been otherwise hidden from ordinary perception. 

9.    The seiðworker brings that information back to the gathered people. 

10.    Upon completion of her duties, the seiðworker returns to ordinary consciousness to rejoin the community. 

Like shamans of other times and places, the Viking-age seers followed specific rituals and used specialized tools and songs to assist in their work. The information below address each of the elements of seiðr and the exercises that follow will assist you in making preparations for exploring this ritual from a shamanic point of view. 

Creating Your Own Seiðstafr 

The seiðstafr or völ is a staff that is a ritual tool of the seer. It not only functions as a symbol of office, it amplifies the spiritual power available to the seiðworker for her or his work. Choosing and creating a seiðstafr is a multi-step process. The following journeys guide you through this process. 

Choosing a Branch or Sapling 

You may not have access to a blacksmith who can make you an iron seiðstafr like those depicted in figure 10.1. Instead, you can make your seiðr staff from wood. Wooden examples of magical staffs have been found in excavations of völur graves and were typically either carved with runes or are of wood that is naturally twisted or crooked. To find your seiðstafr, go out onto land on which you have determined it is both safe and legal to harvest wood. Prepare yourself by wearing the right outdoor clothing and sturdy walking shoes. Bring your rattle or drum, your offering materials, a notebook, food and water for yourself. If it is unfamiliar land, bring a map and compass or GPS receiver so that you won’t get lost. It is also a good idea to let someone else know when and where you are going to be extra safe. 

When you get to the land but prior to stepping onto it: 

Call your shamanic ancestor to you and your power animal. 

Next, make an offering to them and then the spirits of place or landvættir and let them know of your intent. 

Ask the female forest keepers, or skogsrå, to support you in your work. When you feel ready, alter consciousness with your drum and or rattle. Connect with your shamanic ancestor and ask her or him to take you to Freyja or the Earth Goddess/Shaman in one of her other forms. 

Ask Freyja to aid you in choosing a piece of tree for a seiðstafr. Since she is both the Goddess of Nature and of Prophecy, all of the actions from choosing the wood, to empowering the staff, to performing seiðr are under her auspices. Here is a nine-line chant or galdr you may sing/speak to Freyja when you meet: 

Freyja! All Mother, Great Goddess 

Lady of beasts, Mistress of Nature, 

Seer before all others, 

You gave birth to prophecy. 

You know the breadth and depth of Wyrd 

And what the Norns conceal. 

Guide me to the staff I require. 

Thank you for clear sight. 

Thank you for my deep heart knowing. 

Once you have received Freyja’s guidance, reverently step onto the land and begin connecting with the tree spirits. Each species of tree has a different energy. Notice what varieties of trees draw you and how you are being led. 

When a specific tree has been chosen, ask that living being for permission to have some of its wood. 

Look around under the tree. A branch may be there ready for you to harvest. Only cut the flesh of a living tree when no other source is possible! Remember that shamans understand that every living being has spiritual sentience. 

Before you cut its flesh with knife or saw, make an offering and pray aloud your thanksgiving to the tree. As you are cutting, sing the tree your power song. This lets the spirit of the tree know who you are and the sacred heart-centered place from which your work flows. 

Only take what you absolutely need and no more. 

When you are through, leave another heartfelt offering of gratitude behind to thank the tree for its sacrifice.

Evelyn C. Rysdyk is a nationally recognized shamanic healer, teacher, speaker, and author of Spirit Walking, Modern Shamanic Living, and A Spirit Walker’s Guide to Shamanic Tools. A founding practitioner of True North, an integrated medical center in Falmouth, Maine, she is also a founding member of the Society for Shamanic Practitioners. She lives in Yarmouth, Maine.

Norse Shaman by Evelyn C. Rysdyk © 2016 Destiny Books. Printed with permission from the publisher Inner Traditions International. www.InnerTraditions.com

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