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10.02.2020

Shamanism in Seidr, Warrior Magic and Religion

Freia is the divine archetype of Velva, a professional or semi-professional practitioner of the German magical tradition known as Saydr. Seidr (Old Northern Seismus) was a form of magic aimed at recognizing the fateful course of events and symbolically intertwining new events according to the framework of fate. For this purpose, the practitioner, having in his hands a ritual outcome, entered a trance and traveled in the spirit of the Nine Worlds, fulfilling his task. This usually took the form of a prophecy, a blessing or a curse.

Velva wandered from city to city and from farm to farm prophecy and performed other magical acts in exchange for room, food, and often other forms of compensation. The most detailed account of such a woman and her actions goes back to the "Saga of Erik the Red", but numerous sagas, as well as some of the mythical poems (in particular, "Velva's Epiphany") contain meagre stories about sorcerers and their customs.

Like other shamans of northern Eurasia, Völva was "detached" from society in the positive and negative sense - it was simultaneously sublime, in demand, feared and, in some cases, censured. However, Völva is very much like a veil, a business card or a prophetess, who occupied a more clearly defined and highly respected position among Germanic tribes in the first few centuries AD. In any of these roles, a female practitioner of these arts played a more or less worthy role among her people, despite the fact that her degree of dignity varied considerably over time.

As a rule, this does not apply to men practicing seidre. According to traditional German gender constructions, men were extremely ashamed and dishonest to assume a female social or sexual role. The man who practiced the seidre could count on his peers to call him argor (the Old Norse term for "manless"; the noun "ergi"), one of the gravest insults that a German man could suffer. Although there may have been several reasons why seidr was considered to belong to the category of ergi, the largest seems to have been the central part of weaving, an example of the traditional female economic sphere, in seidr. However, this did not prevent many men from taking up seidr, sometimes even as a profession. Some of these men were recorded in sagas. Among such sayrmen were none other than Odin himself - and even he did not escape the accusation that he was an archbishop. Under the surface of this mockery one can find a high degree of ambivalence; the inhuman seidre, which could be seen as a creature, was undoubtedly the source of an incredible power - perhaps the greatest power in the cosmos, given that it could change the course of fate itself. Perhaps the sacrifice of social prestige for these abilities was not a bad deal. For such people could have looked to the ruler of Asgard himself as an example and a patron.

In any case, there were other forms of shamanism that were much more socially acceptable to men. One of the central institutions of traditional German society was a group of elite, ecstatic, totemistic warriors. Some of the warriors in these fraternities were berserkers. They were not ordinary soldiers; the initiation rituals, fighting techniques and other spiritual practices of these groups were such that their members could be aptly described as "shaman warriors.

The divine guide and inspiration for these people was the same as for the seiders: One. The Ingling saga can say this about them:

Odin's men without armor went into battle and were crazy about dogs or wolves and strong as bears or bulls. They bit their shields and killed people while they themselves were not affected by fire or iron. It's called a walking berserk.

Or in the insightful and expressive words of archaeologist Neil Price:

They howl and foam groups of struggling people. Some wear animal skins, some wear naked skins, and some throw away shields and armour to rely only on their absorbing madness. Perhaps some of the greatest warriors do not go out on the battlefield at all, but stay in tents, their minds are still focused on the battle. Like huge animals, their spirit sneaks through the battle, destroying the destruction.

This battle madness ("coming berserk") was one of the most common and powerful forms that Odin (ur) could take. In such a battle, these holy warriors bit or threw their shields - symbolic indicators of their social identity - and became completely obsessed with the spirit of their totem animal, sometimes even changing their forms to become a bear or wolf. In this way, they have achieved a state of unity with the master of these animals and the giver of this sublime furor: Alone.

Given the popularity of shamanism in other traditional northern Eurasian societies, it would be shocking if it were absent from traditional German society. So it is not surprising that instead the established social customs of pre-Christian Germanic peoples were overflowing with shamanic elements.

It is equally important to emphasize the unique German form of these elements. In the center of the German shamanic complex is "All Father" One, which inspires both women and men - "warriors shamans" their dangerous gift of ecstasy, giving them an advantage in life's battles, as well as in communicating with the divine world of lasting importance.

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