Divinatory Seiðr – Saga Texts

If you want to know who the völva-völur are, see the introduction:

There are many references to the völur in the Icelandic sagas, several of them depicting the völva in her traditional role; a woman who wanders from place to place, often in the company of apprentices or other völur. They would be invited to visit people and would be offered gifts, food and signs of reverence in return for their favor, which seems to have been focused mainly on divination. The prophecies of the völva had a magical quality that transcended the mere seeing of the future: She would also be able to influence fate itself and thus change people´s fates through her divination (this is called “operative divination”). No wonder people were so keen on making her happy… In the stories where she is treated with disrespect, the völva would offer a dire prophecy to the offender, and the moral is always that her prophecy comes out true, for better and for worse. Thus the prophecies had the quality of spells.

From the Saga of Arrow-Odd, chapter 2

“There was a witch woman called Heiðr who possessed prophetic sight, so with her uncanny knowledge she knew all about things before they happened. She would go to feasts, telling people their destinies and forecasting the weather for the coming winter. She used to have a following of fifteen girls and fifteen boys…

Ásmundr went off and invited the sorceress to the feast, and she accepted and came with her following. Ingjalð went to meet her with his men and invited her into the hall. Then they got things ready for the performance of the seiðr on the following night. After the meal was over, people went to sleep, but the witch and her company went to carry out their night-rituals. In the morning, Ingjalð  came to see her and asked how the witchcraft had turned out.

“I think I have found out all you want to know,” she said.

“Then everyone had better go to his seat and take turns to hear you,” said Ingjalð and he was the first man to come before her…

…the rest of the household went in turn to the prophetess. She told each of them what the future held for him…then she predicted the weather for the following winter and a lot more that was not previously known…”

Þórbjörg “Little Witch” performs Seiðr in Greenland around the year 1000 A.D.             [Eiriks saga Rauda – The Saga of Eirik the Red, chapter 4]

“There was a great famine in Greenland that time: People who had gone fishing and hunting achieved little, and some of them never returned. There was a woman there who was called Þórbjörg in that county. She was a prophet [spákona] and was called the Little Witch [Litilvölva]. She had nine sisters, and all had been prophets, but now only she remained alive. In the winter, Þórbjörg had the habit of traveling around visiting people; she was usually invited home to people who wished to know their destiny or how the harvest would turn out. Since Þórkell was the greatest farmer in that area, he thought it was his responsibility to find out when the famine would end. Þórkell invited the prophet to his home and received her well according to the custom when such women were visiting.

A High Seat was prepared for her and she had pillows to sit on – they had to be stuffed with hens feathers. She arrived in the evening with the man who had been sent to meet her, and she was dressed like this: She was wearing a dark blue mantle to be tied at the neck. It was decorated with stones from the top to the bottom. Around her neck she wore glass pearls, on her head a black hood made out of lamb fur, dressed on the inside with white cat fur. In   her hand she held a wand with a knob on, it had a steel coating and the knob was surrounded by stones. Around her waist she wore a …belt with a large pouch. In that she hid the magical equipment she needed for her divinations [i.e. the pouch with cannabis seeds and amulets found in the Oseberg burial, see p. NB!]. (…)

When she entered, all felt that they owed to greet her with great reverence. She returned the greetings exactly as she felt like according to how she liked the person or not. Þórkell farmer gave her his arm and led her to the seat they had prepared for her. Þórkell asked her to glance at the people and the animals and even on the farm itself. She spoke little in response to this.

The tables were brought forth in the evening, and it must be told what the prophet received for her food: A porridge was cooked made out of the milk of young goats, and a dish was prepared from the hearts of all the kinds of animals present on the farm. She had a steel spoon and a knife…The point was broken. When the tables were stored away, Þórkell farmer came before Þórbjörg and asked what she thought about what she had seen, and how she liked the house and the lifestyle, and how quickly she could reveal what she had asked her about, and that people in general were eager to know. She said that she could not say anything about it until the next morning, when she had slept there overnight.

The morning after, when dawn had come, they gave her the things she needed to perform the seiðr. She asked the women for help, if they knew the words of a spell called “Invoking the Spirits” [vardlokur – vard= spirit, guardian, loka= to call, lure, invoke].

“But there were no such women present. Then they searched the household for someone who could. Then said Guðrið: “I am not versed in magic or a wise woman, but Halldis, my foster mother, taught me on Iceland a song that she called “Invoking the Spirits”. Þórkell said: “Then you possess a good knowledge”. She said: “This is a course of action I wish not to take, for I am a Christian.” Þórbjörg said: “Maybe you can be of help to people with it, and you will not be worse than before for doing it. I shall ask Þórkell to fetch us the things we need.” Þórkell now urged Guðrið strongly, and she said that she would do as he wanted.

Then the women held hands and made a circle around the seiðr-platform. Þórbjörg sat on top of it. Then Guðrið sang the spell-song so beautifully than none of them who were present thought they had ever heard a song performed with a lovelier voice. The prophet thanked her for the song and said that now many entities had arrived, and that they had thought it was beautiful to listen to the song so well performed – “but before they have wanted to separate from us and not listen to us. And now I see well many things that before were hidden, for me and many others.”

“To you, Þórkell, I can say this, that this famine will not last more than the present winter, and the outcomes will be better come spring. The plague that has ridden us will pass swifter than we would think possible. And you, Guðrið, I shall reward immediately for the help you have offered us, for your destiny I now see clearly. You will have the best marriage here on Greenland, but it will not last too long for you, for your path is destined for Iceland, and from you will be born a clan that is great and good. Over your descendants brighter rays are shining than I have the power to see clearly. But fare well and be whole, you daughter!”

After that, one after the other came before the prophet woman and each asked what he or she most wanted to know. She had many good things to say, and it usually happened as she said it. But then people came from another farm to invite her, and she went there. Then they called for Torbjörn, for he [a Christian] had not wanted to be present when such witchcraft was taking place.”

6 Responses to Divinatory Seiðr – Saga Texts

  1. Linda Ursin says:

    Thanks for bringing up the subject. I’ve found a great difference between what people think it is. I must have read every report and book available in the Norwegian libraries, but some americans seem to only have read Harner.

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  3. Pingback: The Völva – The Norse Witch | Musings of the Heart

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  5. Ivy Mulligan says:

    Hello! I my name is Ivy, and I am 52 years old, an initiated Shaman in the Sami tradition, and my teacher was the late Ailo Gaup and a Norse Witch. I also teach a re-claiming class that teaches the Arts of the Volva, the Seidr and the Northern shaman. I am writing you in hopes that you will give me your educated opinion on a pressing question I have, and I feel your input will help in my thesis to clarify the misnomers a few American and English writers have created since the mid 90′s: That Seid is a form of shamanism. If I may explain; Ailo never once equated Seid with Sami Shamanism, and he had participated in many different core Shamanic traditions and rituals. Through many years of practice and reading, I have concluded that Seid is an oracle art, much like the Oracle at Delphi in Greece, and it would have been a practice a Volva would have done. Witchcraft utilizes many techniques that a Shaman does-animal helpers, altered consciousness, and spirit possession, HOWEVER, it is NOT the same practice as Cultural Shamanism. So my question to you as a Doctorate of Norse mythology, how do you view the way a few American and English authors have passed as fact, that a Norse Seid was a Norse Shaman? I know this might seem like a trivial question seeing as these paths are being newly constructed by modern people with very limited history to draw from; however, I am driven to make clear the terminology and concepts each art contains, thereby giving history and Cultural Mysticism the proper respect it deserves. I am very grateful for all the work and clarification(as well as education) your life’s work has provided. That is why I am asking your opinion as I highly respect what you view as terminology for Norse Spa Arts. Thank you for your time! ~Ivy Mulligan, 21st Century Heathen, Shaman and Volva.

  6. Pingback: The Völva – The Norse Witch | Exploring LokaBrenna

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