Tuesday, 12 October 2010


More seer research ;-) This time on the meaning to the name 'Seith':
Since humans first became conscious beings we have sought to foresee the future and make wise choices. Every culture has some kind of oracular practice, from the pythia of Delphi and the völva of the Viking Age to the nabhi of ancient Israel and the nakaza of Japan. Today, modern seers are seeking to rediscover ancient techniques and develop a practice that will serve the community as the oracles did of old.

Old Norse literature
In the Viking Age, seid had connotations of ''ergi'' ("unmanliness" or "effeminacy") for men, as its manipulative aspects ran counter to the male ideal of forthright, open behaviour. Freyja and perhaps some of the other goddesses of Norse mythology were seid practitioners, as was Odin, a fact for which he is taunted by Loki in the ''Lokasenna''.

As described by Snorri Sturluson in his ''Ynglinga saga'', seid includes both divination and manipulative magic. It seems likely that the type of divination practiced by seid was generally distinct, by dint of an altogether more metaphysical nature, from the day-to-day auguries performed by the seers (''menn framsýnir'', ''menn forspáir'').

In ''The Saga of Eric the Red'', the seiðkona or ''völva'' in Greenland wore a blue cloak and a headpiece of black lamb trimmed with white cat skin; she carried the symbolic distaff (''seiðstafr''), which was often buried with her; and would sit on a high platform. In ''Örvar-Odd's Saga'', however, the cloak is black, yet the seiðkona also carries the distaff (which allegedly has the power of causing forgetfulness in one who is tapped three times on the cheek by it).

The goddess Freyja is identified in ''Ynglinga saga'' as an adept of the mysteries of seid, and it is said that it was she who taught it to Odin: ('Njörðr’s daughter was Freyja. She presided over the sacrifice. It was she who first acquainted the Æsir with ''seiðr'', which was customary among the Vanir').

In ''Lokasenna'' Loki accuses Odin of practicing seid, condemning it as an unmanly art. A justification for this may be found in the ''Ynglinga saga'' where Snorri opines that following the practice of seid, the practitioner was rendered weak and helpless.

One possible example of seid in Norse mythology is the prophetic vision given to Odin in the ''Völuspá'' by the ''völva'', ''vala'', or seeress after whom the poem is named. Her vision is not connected explicitly with ''seiðr'', however: the word occurs in the poem in relation to a character called Heiðr (who is traditionally associated with Freyja but may be identical with the völva). The interrelationship between the ''völva'' in this account and the Norns, the fates of Norse lore, are strong and striking.

Another noted mythological practitioner of ''seiðr'' was the witch Groa, who attempted to assist Thor, and who is summoned from beyond the grave in the Svipdagsmál.

Oracle work requires the seer to be able to move into an altered state in which s/he becomes extremely receptive to rapport with the questioner, while at the same time retaining the inner discipline and skill to find and communicate an answer.

Basic skills include relaxation and breathing, working with power animals and spirit guides, structuring a journey, using archetypes and imagery, grounding and reintegration. An accurate understanding of our own strengths and vulnerabilities is essential. We develop these skills by learning to sense and manipulate energy and establish rapport, to clear the channels for information to come through, and acquire and remember information. We must also be prepared to deal with psychological effects and ethical issues.

Seið, transliterated in English as Seidh or Seith, can also appear as SeiðR (Old Norse nominative form). It is used in the Viking-Age lore for a variety of magical practices involving altered states of consciousness. The list of seidh-skills attributed to the god Odin in Ynglingasaga VII includes:

• knowing the fates of men and predicting events
• causing harm by magic
• causing mental and physical illness
• taking or giving luck
• spirit journeying in altered shape while the body lies in trance
• controlling fire and weather

The first is clearly the oracular form (Oracular Seidh) which is the practice that appears most often in the sagas, especially in The Saga of Eric the Red IV. Modern writers such as H.R. Ellis Davidson refer to the oracular form as seidh, and this is still the best-known term.

Spá (Old Norse) or Spæ (Scots), is a more specific term for Germanic oracular practice. Etymologically it is related to spy, or words from the Latin spectio, "look or contemplate".
Oracle can refer to the medium, or person who gives a prophecy or commandment, the prophecy itself, or the place where the prophet practices. It comes from the Latin oro, "to speak".

The prophetic seance is common to most of the Indo-European peoples. Among the Celts, the bean-drui, or she-druids, learned the skill as well as their male counterparts. The nine priestesses who lived on the isle of Sena off the Breton coast were said to be skilled in prophecy. Farther south, the well known Sibyl of Cumae and the Delphic Oracle were only two of a multitude of prophets. From ancient times to the present people have sought to understand the present and foresee the future.

Norse Oracles
Seidh. The northern version of oracular divination is one of the practices referred to as "seidh", which also includes spell casting, weatherworking, and trance journeying of various kinds and is usually translated as "witchcraft". The oracular tradition was very strong in northern Europe, and a variety of titles-- "volva", "seidhkona", "spákona", are used for its practitioners.

In earlier days there had apparently been many who were trained in this skill, both men and women, who travelled in companies from community to community. Their expertise seems to have been the result of long training. The procedure, as described in Eiriksaga and others, was for the seidhkona to come to a farmstead and take at least a day to "tune in" to the environment before performing. It is possible that the ceremonial meal of hearts from different animals found on the farm also assisted in linking her to the land. In order to prophesy, she was seated on a seidhhjallR, a high seat or raised platform, a detail which appears most consistently in the accounts.

Trance was induced by the singing of a sacred song, the vardhlokkur, the "ward lock" or "spirit lock", from which our "warlock" comes. This might result from the repetition of the chant, or from a conditioned response to the song. In the Greenland story, the volva seems to have gotten her information from the spirits. Elsewhere the source of the knowledge is not mentioned. The Volva in Voluspá, who is herself almost a divine being, seems to apprehend it clairvoyantly. Astral journeying is not specifically mentioned in this context, but such journeys are not only found elsewhere in Norse literature, but are standard practice in most shamanic cultures, so they are at least a possibility. In some of the Eddic poems it is also possible that the person providing information is possessed by a god.

The seidh groups seem to have been led by a senior priestess, assisted by her students. As Christian influence increased, their numbers grew fewer, and the craft was only practiced by women. It is not surprising if women clung to this skill, for the Germanic peoples traditionally ascribed exceptional spiritual power to women. In the first century, the Romans learned to fear the influence of such prophetesses as Veleda and Aliruna on the German tribes.

Oracular goddesses.
Because of this tradition, all Norse goddesses to some extent seem to possess prophetic talents, but two, Frigga and Freyja, are particularly associated with it. Of Frigga, it is said that she "knows all fates but says nothing,". In her manifestation as Vor, however, "She is wise and enquiring, so that nothing can be concealed from her. There is a saying that a woman becomes aware (vor) of something when she finds it out.". This passage appears to suggest that clairvoyance may in fact be an intensification of so-called "women's intuition".

Freyja, known to most as the Norse analogue of Aphrodite, has also an aspect in which she is mistress of magic. It is she who is credited with having taught the craft of seidh to the Aesir, the gods. Heide is sometimes considered to be her "witchy" aspect. In the sagas, many of the seeresses whose deeds are reported have the name "Heide", to the point where modern translators sometimes render it as "witch".

The Volva whom Odin seeks out in the underworld is a primal being of great power. She it is who delivers the great prophecy called "Voluspá", the sayings of the Volva, in which the beginnings of the world are recounted, as are the events that will lead to Ragnarók at its end. Wagner drew upon this material for the figure of the "Vala", mother of the norns and the valkyries, who appears in the operas Rheingold and Seigfried, and is also identified with Erde, Mother Earth.
The Norns. Finally, we must not forget the three Norns, who play a role similar in some ways to that of the Fates of Classical myth in the cosmology of the north. According to the Younger Edda,
There stands ..one beautiful hall under the ash by the well, and out of this hall come three maidens, whose names are UrdhR, Verdandi, Skuld. These maidens shape men's lives. We call them norns. There are also other norns who visit everyone when they are born to shape their lives. . . ." ("Gylfaginning": 15)

The meanings of their names have been much discussed. The name of the first norn, UrdhR, may come from a word which means the past, and is often translated as "wyrd", which means in the old sense something like "fate". The destiny which the word indicates, however, is not so much a thing predetermined as an outcome that is shaped by the interaction between events and an individual's reactions. The second norn, Verdandi-- "being" in an active sense, or "happening"-- knows the present. The name Skuld, the third, is related to "shall". She is sometimes referred to as "Necessity" and is held to know the future. Together, they understand how the events of the past have shaped the present that is coming into being, and how that, in turn, will affect the course of future events. They seem to have fulfilled the same function as the Romano-Celtic Matronæ, or the Parcae in Roman theology, with particular influence on the fates of the newborn, and sometimes three places were laid for them at the table. There are stories in which they give life-gifts like the good fairies. (Ellis-Davidson,1964).

The well referred to in the Edda lies under one of the roots of the Worldtree, and is called the Well of Wyrd. This is of some significance, for the combination of a subterranean location and a sacred spring are elsewhere also associated with prophecy. The Norns have the task of pouring water from the well onto the roots of the Worldtree, which is being gnawed by the Serpent Nidhogg, in order to renew it. We shall see this association of prophetic women with water and a serpent in the archetypes associated with the oracle at Delphi as well.


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