Knowing Freya. Part 11: Seid

To the ancient Norse people and to many modern Heathens, the whole world was and is alive. There is nowhere where Consciousness is not. The trees, the stones, rivers, mountains and even human-made objects have soul. The veil between the physical world and the spirit world is thin, if not non-existent. And for many Heathens, connecting to Consciousness is a central part of their practice.

It can be to maintain a relationship to Deities and spirits, or to try and get clarity and guidance about the future. Some also believe that they can cast spells and curses through help from the spirit world.

Völva prophesying. Book illustration by Carl Larsson.

Whether you believe such things work is really a question of personal beliefs and UPG. It’s good to retain a healthy dose of scepticism when people make claims about their experiences and capabilities. Especially if they ask money from you. There are many unscrupulous people out there who use spirituality for their own gain.

But to get back on topic: seid, also spelled seidh or seidr, is a form of magic or shamanic practice aimed at reading and altering the threads of fate. There are a number of rituals that fall under the category of seid but they commonly involve vardlokkur (roughly translated: ‘songs to call spirits’) and the waving or riding of a staff to ‘spin’ the threads of Wyrd. The seidworker will often fall into an altered state of consciousness, from where they hope to get answers and work their magic.

Frigga riding a distaff. From a 12th century mural at the cathedral of Schleswig in Germany. The images of Goddesses riding distaffs likely inspired the idea of witches riding brooms.

Much has been lost when it comes to knowledge about seid, primarily because of the vicious persecution of seidworkers by Christians. But seid is still practiced, often with rituals reconstructed from the surviving written sources. And Freya is the foremost Goddess seidworkers turn to.

As mentioned in the previous post, Freya is likely Gullveig and the one who introduced seid to the Æsir. She is the High-Priestess who presides over the sacrifice and the prime völva, or female seidworker. When the Völuspa tells us that She was a ‘delight to wicked women’, this could relate to Her being a Goddess of the völor, who were revered in ancient days but also feared because of their (potentially corruptible) power.

Men who practiced seid were also looked at with suspicion. Because seid was then considered a feminine art, male seidworkers were seen as effeminate and potentially homosexual, which was rarely seen favorably in the patriarchal Norse society.

Freya was in this way associated with people who were set apart from society. Which can seem paradoxical considering that She and Frey were also associated with nobility and the Swedish royal house. But Freya is known as the Goddess most inclined to humans’ prayers and it would make sense for Her to be sought out by and giving blessing to a wide range of people.

There is also things Freya has in common with the ancient seidworkers. Many of them were itinerant, travelling from town to town and offering their services along the way. Freya is said to travel all over the world under many different Names. She came to Asgard as a foreigner and was not exactly welcomed at first, even if She did eventually become a honorary and beloved member of the Æsir tribe.

For Freya to be associated with a class of itinerant outcasts who were both feared and revered makes sense for these reasons.

A seid staff and other objects found in a völva’s grave in Öland, Sweden. Image credit: Swedish History Museum in Stockholm.

There is of course so much more to be said about seid and about its connection to Freya. It’s a topic I will be coming back to and continously study.

In the next post, the second-last in this series, we will be looking at another interesting topic: Freya and Ragnarök.

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