"He Seidh/She Seidh"
© 1994-95, Maryam Povey, M.Ed, CHT
Part I: On the Metaethics of Oracular Seidhr
One of the most challenging and fascinating explorations of Northern magick today is occurring in the Oracular Seidhr movement here in America. This movement, while spirited and worthy of further study, suffers by its very nature of practice some of the most serious magickal pitfalls and potential for incorrect usage in the Northern European, magicko-religious structure. As another previous portion of this website (Metaethics of Divination) focused broadly upon divination as a whole, I now turn to examine our own tradition's most prevalent and sought-after public expression of magickal theory and practice: Oracular Seidhr.
The term "seidhr" has been used primarily in the late twentieth century America to denote the oracular practices of Northern European spirituality, for which the proper term would actually be "spae" or "spá" craft. "Seidhr", however, has come to designate the specific and elaborate ritual structure that has come to enshroud the practice and shall be used for the purpose of this paper.
Seidhr, then, generally denotes those acts of oracular magick practiced traditionally by women, although increasing modern interest and practice by men is well noted. Such acts include: going to the Well of Wyrd to divine the Future or Past; ascending Hlithskjialf (Odinnís Seat of Seeing) for the same reason; or to the Great Loom in Figgaís castle of Fensalir to scry; or variants, such as one group's interesting practice of scrying just through the gates of Helheim into the mists thereof.
Shapeshifting or Hamfarir may or may not accompany such scrying ventures, although wise spáfolk do well to utilize their animal allies to facilitate spirit-flight and safe return from their journeying.
This article focuses on the most commonly perceived three areas of need:
Part II: Absolutely Positively: Must-Haves and Must Dos for Facilitators of Seidhr Ritual
1. The first "Must-Do" is to advise your audience BEFORE the seidhr what to expect, your particular way of working, and each step of the process you will be undertaking during the seidhr ritual to follow. Explain to them in graphic detail how to protect themselves by personal warding and runic formulae, and how to return from the place you will be visiting during the Seidh-rite in case they find themselves lost. Also at this time introduce your Warders and Healers. Advise your audience that seidhr is not, in general, a rite for the seriously medically compromised. Persons with weak hearts, etc. or the mentally disabled may be overly distressed by the proceedings. For such parties, a private rune reading is a far better option. They should be allowed to stay only under direct one-on-one supervision at all times. Have an "escape with honor" clause in your pre-talk so that those who wish can leave with no embarrassment. Be prepared to counsel such folk after the rite is over, however, as they may still have questions you may be able to answer.
2. Among the group, the most important "Must Have" are strong, confident Warders, well-grounded in the Art of Holding Sacred Space. Many wights are attracted to the diverse and sometimes negative energies of seidhr. The larger and more public the ritual, the more excited nervous energy there is and the more entities will be attracted. Some are not savory and many will take this opportunity to possess the seidhfolk and/or the audience, generally to ill effect. Street-wise Warders are a Must-Have; train them well. The Warder should be someone who is easily able to facilitate his or her own personal trance experience, as well as able to stay completely out of the subjective seidhr trance. The Warder should hover preparedly at a place between all Worlds, where the vantage point is best for viewing the whole seidhr process. With this increased view, s/he will be able to see if participants lose soul-parts or become entirely lost. The Warder should be able to move fluidly between Midgard and the other Nine Worlds to bring the lost, energy-deprived or overly ecstatic out of the trance state.
The Warder position is not, as some seem to feel, a throwaway ego-stroke to "waste" on the most "head-blind" (e.g. trance insensitive) member of the group, nor on the largest and strongest as a sole qualification. The Warder, if none else in the seidhr-group must be the most powerful and versatile Mage of the group since the safety of Innocents is his/her primary responsibility. Head blindness is no qualification for Wardership and, in fact, is a marked disability and hindrance. Also, the least of a Warderís requirements will be having the musculature to scoop up cataleptic audience members or Seers to remove them to another geographical location. In a properly run Seidhr session there should be at least two, and preferably more, Warders who can trade duties if a crisis does occur. One Warder would retrieve the distressed person and guide them back to Midgard and the groupís Healing cadre, while the other Warder concentrates on holding the rest of the Sacred Space. The best set-up Iíve ever seen had four Warders. The first three took up lookout posts moving among three Worlds each, the fourth being an alternate. Other groups might use the Four Directions as posts. Warders should work in concert with the groupís Healers, turning over persons in distress to the Healing cadre after the rescue operation back to Midgard has been completed.
3. Another vital "Must Have" is a dedicated Healer or Healing cadre. There should be at least one as competent a spiritual technician as the Warder, who is also well versed in the psychological and physical healing arts. The Healers of any Seidhr group should first have practiced Seidhr themselves enough to have become proficient in recognizing the pathways to and from, as the Warders do. It is the Healerís responsibility to seek all the Nine Worlds for any person the Warder cannot "find" in Utgard. There should be at least one who is competent in basic first aid. Care should be taken by the Seers involved in giving rede to frame their words in the gentlest of ways, especially when transmitting bad tidings. Such transmissions have been known to cause systemic shock, asthma attacks, and in one instance, a near-fatal heart attack. Therefore, effort should be made to ensure that basic emergency medical assistance is never more than a phone call or fifteen minutes away. This is the primary argument against public rites being done a long hike away from civilization. If the safety of all participants cannot be reasonably assured, the rite should not even be attempted. If you feel that you must proceed anyway, give the audience a full explanation of what to expect and warn those with medical conditions to partake in the rite under advisement and at their own risk. Weíve heard of one trance-working group which now asks all participants to sign medical waivers after having come close to a court battle involving a participant whose severe asthma attack nearly cost her life. Some might feel that this is going a bit far, while others will wish to follow suit. It is up to the individual group how they wish to proceed, but to do so without a competent Healer is folly indeed.
Part III: Post Part 'Em
Four practices that should always accompany the post-Seidhr dismissal of the audience:
1. Make sure EVERYBODY is back in their bodies and well-grounded. Vigorous shaking of a gourd rattle, loud fast drumming in the general vicinity, rock salt to hold on the tongue and cold water or ice for the participants to hold and apply to their faces and hands are tried and true methods of grounding the most stubborn of freely-faring hamrís. Donít attempt to "ice down" a victims of spaciness yourself. To do so is to risk shock to the victims. Guide them to ice or cold water and let them apply it themselves.
2. All querents and all those with unresolved issues should have an opportunity to address their further questions to the seidhkona or seidhmadhr who fielded their queries during the ritual. If the seidhperson (after a brief rest and grounding period) is unable to give audience at this time, the kindred is responsible for appointing an official "Answer Person" to respond to any lingering concerns. Never let a querent go away more puzzled than when s/he came, or feeling wretched from negative rede. If needed, have the Healer spend more time with the person.
3. Establish a "Help Line" phone number and make sure everyone has a copy of it (on the kindredís official stationery or business cards) in case the answers received during Seidhr bear emotional or spiritually wrenching rumination down the line. Group members can either set up a rotation to answer questions by phone, or the phone number of the Healer can be distributed.
4. Because one day there may be a poor innocent who will go completely ëround the bend, supplement the Help Line phone number with numbers for the local Mental Health Association, the Suicide Prevention Crisis line or the Depression Hotline. The inclusion of the contact info for pagan-friendly psychotherapists, body workers and similar spiritual workers can also be extremely helpful. The reason you do this is the same reason people take martial arts training: you hope itís never needed, but if there is need, itís available.
Part IV: For the Audience
As an audience member at a Seidhr session, you can expect several things in common from group to group. These practices may vary their order slightly, but generally will be similar in content. North American variants of Seidhr have only recently emerged from the shadows of history. The only historical information on Seidhr lies in the Greenland Voelva story, which was written a considerable time after the country's conversion to Christianity. Thus most Seidhfolk feel that this story, while informative, cannot be trusted as a definitive source on Seidhr. Only a word here, a sentence or two elsewhere in the sagas are left for us to piece together a viable practice of Seidhr magic. The remainder, which is the bulk of our practice, has come from mantic revelation and personal work with the God/desses of Seidhr: Freyja, Odinn, the Nornir, Hela and Heide, etc.
The audience should realize that human channels filter information through their own acculturation, personal morals, and standards of living. Depending upon the quality and nature of the channel's experience and mental-physical-spiritual state, partial to near-total filtering can occur at any point of the information relay. I have never experienced a completely unfiltered relay of information from anyone, anywhere. Filtering is an effect well-known among seasoned metaphysicians. The form Seidhr takes, as a work of personal revelation, will vary from group to group. Below are several common stages of the North American variants of Seidhr.
1. First, the Seidh-hall (or circle, etc.) will be sained, or made sacred. Rites similar to "circle casting" or hammer-saining are generally used. You would be well advised to leave immediately if this is not done. This step helps seal the space and all in it against the more unsavory wights that might be attracted by the energies raised during Seidhr. As well, it will help keep whatever parts of your soul that might escape due to trance-trauma well contained within a safe boundary. These parts should re-integrate when the journey is over. If you find yourself fuzzy, light-headed or "spacey" afterwards, alert the group's Healer who will help you to re-integrate.
2. The main facilitator of the Seidhr session should also explain to you how to ward and protect yourself (personal wards, apart from the standard circle wards), and about how they work their group's particular rite. The mechanical aspects of Seidhr are not an "inner mystery" and you have the right to know about what you're going to experience.
3. The Seers who will be actively participating in the Seidhr then may sing their own songs of power or call their animal allies or fylgja spirits to aid them. This is often done silently by the individual Seers.
4. Usually there will be a group "journey" on the World Tree, Yggdrasil. Whether to Helheim, to the Well of Wyrd, to Odinn's Seat of Seeing, or elsewhere, both the Seidhfolk and audience work the Nether away from the Mundane world in a rite filled with singing, drumming, chant, or other modes of percussion or sacred vocalization. A guided journey might also be used.
5. The Seers then position themselves, either on high chairs, on the ground rolled up in their cloaks or blankets, or other prearranged positions. The audience may sing, drum, or galdor to power the Seer's trance and lend power to their Seeing.
6. Questions are then taken by the Seidhr facilitator and answered by a Seer, usually in a formulaic (and sometimes archaic) manner. Sometimes rotations of several different Seers answer the questions. When all questions have been answered, the Seers remove themselves from the position of Seeing and the return journey is narrated/sung/drummed back. Any residual issues are addressed, and the space is then de-sanctified.
Here are a few words to aid your participation in the Oracular Seidhr experience.
1. You have the right to accept or reject any rede you are given, no matter what the Seer tells you. You also have the right, following the session, to tell the Seer the veracity of her rede. It can be extremely helpful for Seidhfolk to hear corroboration or refutation of their work. If they are in a space to listen, you would be doing them a favor to tell them how your experience went for you. I would caution you against the temptation to "dump" on the Voelva just because you didn't like what you heard. Sometimes upsetting rede is for your own good and is needed to kick-start you out of a spiritual rut. Refer to the Divination Evaluation Framework
2. There is no reason to deify a Seidhperson or other channeler. There is certainly no reason to treat them as demi-goddesses or to attribute to them powers or perceptions beyond the norm. To do so encourages negative personality changes. It has never been wanted or needed by True Seidhfolk. Treat your Seer as normally as possible. Do not fall into the trap of gushing with awe and wonder over what is simply another human being. She has practiced many times the journey you have just taken with her. You too can learn to practice this journey and learn Seidhr if you are called to it. (There are, however, many other less energy expending, time intensive, and less dramatic ways of obtaining the same information, rune readings for example.) Most Seidhfolk find gushing and other sorts of celebrity treatment embarrassing, tiresome, and taxing. Just remember that from such actions the "High Priestess Syndrome" can develop if a cult is allowed to form around an individual or group. Keep it simple, keep it real, and don't be afraid to disagree. No one benefits from a "yes-man" approach. Civil disagreement helps keep all of us on an even keel and helps keep our Spirituality living, growing, and evolving. Stagnation by way of total agreement never helped anyone.
3. Although the facilitator of the Seidh-session will probably check for you, make sure yourself that you are grounded before you leave the ritual area. Lightheadedness, fuzziness of vision or mental acuity, or the feeling of being slightly dissociated from your body, are all clues that you need assistance in being "brought back" to Midgard. Ask the Warders or Healers to help you get back into your body. If no one is available, jump up and down forcefully and feel the earth solid under your feet, hold ice to your face or a small quantity of salt in your mouth, until you feel your body back in Midgard. (Never go back to a Seer who would leave you in the lurch like that.). Carrying a small bag of rock salt to any rite involving trance is a good idea. Rock salt can be found in the kosher section of most supermarkets.
4. Have a working knowledge of your fylgja or hamr-shape before you join in the rite of Seidhr. If you get lost or find yourself under attack from malignant entities, you can simply hop onto your buffalo, fox or thrush, etc, and "Home, James" it back to Midgard. The Animal Ally tape from the Michael Harner Foundation is a decent working for those not familiar with this concept, but working with a gydjha or godhi close to you is even better.
5. If you suffer repercussions from a Seidhr several days or weeks down the line, talk about them either with your own godhi/gydhja or with the folk that facilitated the Seidhr. The latter are generally used to this kind of reaction and can help you to process it. Don't be embarrassed or shy about contacting the Seidh-group. That's part of their function as active Seidhfolk. Their responsibility to you does not end at the door of the Seidh-hall. Competent and responsible Seidhfolk will have many practical suggestions for coping and will often provide personal assistance. Should the repercussions be long-lasting, however, obtain professional help. Your local Seidhfolk should have contact names and numbers of pagan-friendly psychotherapists and lay counselors.
6.Finally have fun! You never know; you might latch onto the one "key" that you need to facilitate the rest of your project, spiritual journey, or completion of your family history. Seidhr, properly practiced and fail-safed can be as true a blessing to those whom it serves as any ecstatic practice. Go expecting the best and you will very likely find it. Wassail!
© 1994-95 Maryam Povey, M.Ed. Permission is granted for Folk to maintain personal copies of this document for their own use, for Seidhr facilitators to distribute copies to their own groups for ritual use, and Part IV alone as a guide to their own Seidhr audiences. Other copying or distribution of this article in whole or in part is strictly prohibited.
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