Shamanism, Sejd and the
Indoeuropean Way
Part II (IV)

There is a lot of confusion and admixture of the two ways of addressing the powers of Nature. In popular literature and especially in current New Age circles the concepts of “Shamanism” and “Sejd” have in fact nearly merged with each other, so much that “sejd” these days by many is more or less just considered to be just the Norse equivalent of “shamanism”. Well, Rolf has done an excellent job of defining what “shamanism” really is, so now I will do my best to do the same with the Norse concept of “sejd.” This will perhaps not be to everyone’s liking, so please remember that what I am about to tell you is simply what now an overwhelming majority of Norse scholars agree on, are the plain facts. This is in no way considered to be an absolute truth, but simply a statement of what most of the scientific community in Scandinavia now believe what my ancestors thought of “seidr” or “sejd,” as we now call it. It is even possible that this may shock some people, who are deeply in to the modern form of “sejd”, but again we are only here to give you the plain facts of what the ancients believed, nothing more! There is no value judgement involved here at all! Just a statement of facts about the ancient “sejd” practice, as most academics in the Nordic field now see it.


First of all, and perhaps most important of all, is the fact that the old  “sejd” in no way whatsoever was a part of the cult of the Vanir. I think that this is actually the most common and most erroneous of all the modern concepts of what the ancient “sejd” was and its modern equivalent is today.


So why this confusion in the first place? As in so many other ways, it all started with Snorri Sturlusonar, (today more commonly known as Snorre Sturlasson), that spinner of confusing tales and misconceptions about the ancient “Sidr” (The “Nordic” Way). To remind you, Snorri was a devout Christian who really wanted to first and foremost write a manual of Norse poetry as this knowledge of old Norse ways was swiftly disappearing in his Christian world. Secondly, he wanted to write a history of the mythology of his ancestors, that would equal the Classical mythology that he loved so much and by this gain the respect of continental, classical scholars the he corresponded with. (Naturally Snorri had a good knowledge of Latin, the Lingua Franca of the scholars of his time).


To achieve his goal of writing a history of Norse mythology he picked what he thought would please his correspondents the most and also remind them of their own ancient Classical mythology. He also excluded several things that he for some reason did not like or thought offensive or somehow confusing, because he simply did not understand them. We have now realised, he also in some instances added some facts he thought would make that particular myth more understandable to the continental scholars he wrote for. In all those instances he was wrong! (As in so many other things). So, one of those facts he added was the statement that the evil witch Gullveig that gave “sejd” to the Aesir was in fact a Freja in disguise, that is a hypostasis of the Great Goddess.


The original myth in Völuspa tells of an evil witch, sometimes called Gullveig and sometimes Heid, who is burned three times for her evil doings, but comes back stronger and even more evil, every time she is resurrected. The oldest term for “witch” in the Norse language is “hagatusi,” which roughly means “fence rider”, as all fences for a long time were made of bundles of sticks lashed together. And that naturally brings to mind the common modern picture of a witch flying on a broomstick on her way to meet the Devil. Apparently, that is a very ancient concept, actually going all the way back to Indo-European times. Also, a very fitting picture at Easter-time. By the way, in modern German a witch is sometimes called a “hagazussa,” which is an Old High German term for “witch,” that predates “hexe.” It is also interesting that, in stark contrast to what so many modern, so called “witches” think today, it most certainly does not mean “benevolent old woman collecting harmless herbs in the fields and selflessly helping sick people”. Instead, all those terms from the earliest times to the present, carry with them a potent stain of pure evil! Anyway, Gullveig is blamed for the introduction of “sejd” in Gudheim, the realm of the Aesir. In the Edda myths, naturally Odin eagerly embraced this highly questionable, cross-dressing, cross-gender practice of acquiring forbidden knowledge and by dark, devious ways influencing your enemies. But, this statement, added of Snorri, is in fact the only reference anywhere that Gullveig was Freja. In some other instances in the old texts, Gullveig or Heid is mentioned in clear opposition to the Vanir, so this simply could not be true. Snorri got it wrong – again! But so many early researchers and scholars and later many modern day neo-shamanists, took this questionable statement of Snorri at face value and just assumed that this was true. So, there we have it once more, a factoid falsehood, that has been repeated so many times it is now considered to be the plain truth.


But hello there, says the knowledgeable person, how can you say that? What about the völva staff, that surely must have some references to Freja, doesn’t it? Well, yes and no. I´ll come to that, later in the article. Well, if “sejd” is really not of the Vanir, what then is it? In the opinion of most scholars nowadays, (myself included), “sejd” is in fact an integral part of the cult of Odin and it obviously accompanied that cult from its early start in present Southern Denmark! Most modern Scandinavian scholars agree on that now, I´m happy to say. Not so long ago this was considered a very odd opinion indeed. Now, this connection to the cult of Odin may come as a surprise to some, but it really shouldn’t. Odin is in many texts described as a master of deception and deceit and holder of much dark knowledge that he specifically acquired by being a “sejd-man”. And what is that? You might well ask.


To really understand that we must make one important thing clear. In Norse ancient lore, as in fact in all Indo-European lore from the earliest times, ALL power comes from women! And I do mean ALL!!! Women are the very source of everything living and the origin of all forms of life! Women are the life givers and the life preservers! No man could ever equal that, period!


So, what in the name of Hel, is the purpose of men in that old Indo-European scheme of things you then ask yourself? Actually, quite simply, to be a wielder of power. According to the old Indo-European lore, power without a wielder is simply power lost in the wind, or worse power going sour or power without direction, going dangerously destructive. And a wielder without power, is simply a fool, shouting in the wind to no avail and waving a stick in the empty air and all the time thinking he is great. Both man and woman need one another as both only becomes whole, when they work together as a unit. Then and only then will they together realise their full potentials! In Norse lore there is much talk about the Balance of the world and this is one very important part of that. Balance! This is of course these days a much misunderstood and over the years much maligned concept.


I could only shudder at the thought of far too many nasty commentaries from male chauvinist fundamentalists, who are utterly convinced of male superiority and all the angry ravings of so many furious feminists, totally sure of feminine superiority. Both sides believe they, and they alone both are the source of and the wielders of power and that the other side could go to Hell in a bucket. Sigh and Double Sigh!


Well to return to what a “sejd-man” really is. He is a man who, according to the old texts, to be able to access female power, he pretends to be a female! He does that by cross-dressing, wearing female jewellery and female garments, talking shrilly and sometimes willingly acts and behaves like the receiving party in a homosexual relationship, even if he is not gay at all. Everything to gain access to that alluring female power. All this was not only frowned upon by the rest of Norse society, it was actually deeply resented. The “sejd-men” were both despised and hated and naturally feared as well. The reason being, they had access to power forbidden to men, power they most often did not fully understand and most often therefore used wrongly. In old Norse society they were indeed universally, hated outcasts. That stolen female power was called “ergi” and was considered the be the very epitome of evil. So very fitting that Odin, by his worshippers considered to be the highest of all Gods and Goddesses should quite willingly do this, the most despicable of all practices, just to steal some of that precious, female knowledge. As for the true gay men of the time, they were mostly ignored, as were the gay women. As long as you didn´t flaunt it, your sexual orientation was most of the time considered as your personal choice, that no one else had anything to do with.


Incidentally, I personally don´t give a rat’s ass for all modern “queer” studies about ancient “gender changes” that tries to modernise the concepts of “sejd”, “völvas” and in particular “sejd-men” and see them as “archetypical gender-change representatives” in quite modern “gender studies”. That is, trying to impose highly questionable, modern theories on an ancient society, when those theories in reality had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the old Norse society, we are talking about here. So, what they are proposing is, at least to me, a load of pure BS nonsense!


Good to remember is also, that there is not even a single mention of “sejd” outside Scandinavia or its colonies. Nor has there ever been found any archaeological trace of anything, that even remotely could be linked to “sejd” outside Scandinavia. This is obviously a purely Nordic concept!


Now we come to the question of the “völvas,” who most certainly all of them were females. The name itself comes from the Norse word “volr” and that means roughly “the one who is a stave bearer.” From the beginning “volr” most probably meant “any person in authority,” as any bearer of a stave or rod, (“stafr”), meant that he or she was a person of authority, wielding power. From the beginning the “stafr” was a symbol of the mighty World Tree, “Läradr,” (that the Odin worshippers called “Yggdrasil.”) Then it fell out of use, probably at the advent of the cult of Odin in Scandinavia and all that remained was its derivative word “völva.” In the Eddas “völvas” are sometimes mentioned, but actually quite seldom.


However, they are then not usually called “völvas” at all, but “sejdkonur.” That means simply “sejdwomen.” Some researchers have doubted that this term really means “völvas,” but in this I agree with professor Price at Uppsala University. It simply must be just another term for “völva.” They are actually also sometimes called “spákonur,” or “galdrkonur” and sometimes “visendakonur.” The first term means “women who mainly uses divinatory techniques”, the second “women who mainly sings the magical song, the galdr” and the third simply means “wise women.” (I will explain what “galdr” is later in the article.) Here, the problem really is the third term “visendakonur.” Both in the Eddas and in Norse literature in general that can certainly sometimes mean a woman who knows how to do “sejd”. But it can also mean just a “wise woman” in general. She could be a healer, or a teller of old tales and have nothing at all to do with “sejd.” It was in all probability an ancient term for wise women in general, that later, after the advent of the cult of Odin, sometimes also referred to “völvas.” This is strengthened by the fact that all the oldest references to “visendakonur” does not mention “sejd” at all. A “visandakona” commanded great respect and most often had at least some connection with the cult of Freja and the Vanir.


Confusing? Yea, it certainly is, I agree! Many strange names? You bet! But who promised you that this was going to be easy? Not me, I can tell you. So, you really have to navigate with great caution here. Well, I will at least try to do my very best to guide among all the submerged rocks and skerries that you can find in the difficult archipelago of the völvas, so that you don´t hit a hidden rock and sink.


These days we know quite a lot about who the “völvas” actually were, what they did and how they saw themselves. Firstly, to the best of our knowledge, they were in the beginning, all of them, very much upper-class women, living in opulent surroundings in the great halls of the Odin worshipping nobility. Their graves are full of valuable grave goods, as are all of the graves of the high-born Odin-worshippers.


This is however in stark contrast to the graves of the common people living around the great halls and in particular all women’s graves, where there is a markedly less amount of grave goods and what there could be found, is in general of a much poorer quality, than before the advent of the cult of Odin to the area in question. So here we have a few women’s graves filled with opulent luxury items and great many more graves of other women, that has next to nothing when it comes to grave goods. In other words, a very unequal society!


You have to go far forwards in time to the days of early industrialism and the early, extremely rich capitalists living in sumptuous luxury in great mansions with many servants, but surrounded by heaps of impoverished, half-starving, grossly underpaid workers, living in filth in ramshackle hovels, to get at least a feel of that incredibly large division between rich and poor, that existed in the times of the cult of Odin. (I have in fact already talked of all of this at length in an earlier article called “The Rise and Fall of the cult of Odin”). 


In many of those rich, upper class women´s graves around the great halls we also find that foremost symbol of the “völvas,” the “völva” rod. It is really a most curious thing. As usual in the cult of Odin it is a combination of several, very diverse things, mostly taken from other cults. On one hand it is a “Gand,” that is a rod of magical power. Then it is a “Stafr,” that is a rod or staff of authority, Remember, what I told you about the power and authority of the old, pre-cult of Odin, “stafr” bearers. Next it is, (perhaps), a “flax rod.” This was formerly a very common interpretation of the “völva” rod, but it has of lately been seriously questioned by many researchers. The old interpretation, dating back at least a hundred years, was that this proved the “völvas” were an integral part of the cult of Freja, but as I have stated before, most academic researchers now strongly disagree on this. However, personally I think it must at least have some old connection to the cult of the Vanir, or even much more possible to the Norns.


Some “völva” rods have a curious addition at the top, looking like a basket, but most do not have that. I think it is quite possible that the rich women of the cult of Odin carved out a niche of their own, sometimes openly demonstrated with this added contraption to their “völva” rods, that possibly depicts a distaff, (weaving basket). The reason being that they quite obviously identified themselves with the three Norns, Urd. Skuld and Verdandi. While their men were out fighting for glory and power, they wove battle-luck for their men and misfortune and death for their enemies.


We now believe that is the main reason some large and very imposing looms had such a prominent place in the great feasting halls of the nobility, while most other more mundane looms were banished to back rooms. In the case of the special looms in the great halls, it was obviously mostly used for a ceremonial, magical weaving that most probably was accompanied by spells said out loud. Perhaps even sung as magical “galdrs”. Exactly that scene is portrayed in “Njals saga,” where in a cottage, hidden away in a dell, a passerby happened to see some old women sitting on a large loom, busy weaving death and destruction for their enemies. In the saga they used human intestines as thread and used real, bloody swords as weaving sticks, all the time jointly intoning a horrible, evil spell. (The infamous “spearsong”, that was considered to be the most evil of all spells in the entire Norse world.) I seriously doubt even the women of the very bloody cult of Odin did that in real life. However, that grisly scene certainly gives you at least a glimpse of what must have gone through their heads, when the “völvas” sat at their large looms in their great halls. I must say, it was a very smart move by those noble women, as the cult of Odin was well known for its deep distain of women. Women in general were considered as being deeply below men, almost at the level of personal belongings, with approximately the same value as thralls or cattle.


(This, by the way, was not at all the case, before the arrival of the cult and most certainly not the case, after the fall of the cult. Again, I refer to my earlier lecture on the subject.) Anyway, by this use of the magical power of the Norns the most powerful and high-born of the women in the cult of Odin thus regained at least something of their old power and prestige they had before the arrival of the cult. And, as far as we know, in their time, they were indeed feared, but certainly not revered. Lastly, in several instances in the old texts “völvas” are said to “belong to Odin, all of them”. That is indeed a very revealing statement in itself!


So, what were the other attributes of the völvas, apart from those important weaving looms?  As I told you before, the most important one was without question, the “völva rod.” About 40 “völva” rods have been found all over Sweden, a few in southern Norway and several in Denmark. Some have even been found in the old trade town of Birka on the island of Björkö in lake Mälaren, far from the great halls on the mainland. This was formerly considered really strange. However, we know now that Birka was actually ruled by a small, extremely rich, trader elite, who had their great halls, close by the harbour. So, maybe not so strange at all.


Some of the “völva” rods were made of iron and some were made of wood. The wooden ones had nearly all of them totally disappeared over the years, but they always left a very clear imprint in the ground, as indeed all artefacts made of wood do. Most of the iron ones had as well completely rusted away, but they also left an imprint in the ground, that was quite easy to interpret. In a very few instances they were preserved more or less intact,


In all the graves of the supposed “völvas” where “völva” rods, wooden or iron, was found there were an abundance of gravegoods, most often of high quality. Thereby strengthening the strong connection between the “völvas” and the upper classes of old, Norse society.


One of those “völva” rods from Birka is of particular interest, as it at the top of the stave had this basket-like contraption at the top of the rod, that I mentioned before. It is fairly well preserved as well. It has been identified as a possible distaff, that looks suspiciously like an early version of a spindle. Maybe it actually is, or maybe it isn´t. The scholars really disagree on this. Personally, I think it is just that. Some “völva” rods had that contraption, but most actually did not have it. It could and probably did represent weaving, as source of power as in the ceremonial looms. Whether this was originally taken from the cult of the Great Vana Goddess Freja or not, is an open question. The opinions of the Nordic academics are divided on this.


The connection with the upper classes is however further strengthened by the fact that a few of the metal “völva” rods have a small model of a house at the very top. That should obviously represent a great feasting-hall in the Nordic traditional style. The great hall in ancient times was the residing place of a king, a jarl or great chieftain and so could indicate that the “völva” in question, was the wife of one of the highest nobles in the land. An alternative interpretation is that it is a representation of “Valhall”, (or “Valhalla” as the English speaking community persist in calling it.) Some modern researchers find that the most plausible interpretation, but these days most don´t. Well, the “völvas” were indeed part of the cult of Odin, but I personally find it very hard to believe that any woman would willingly and proudly go around with a rod, representing a place where all women are both banned and shunned.


How was the “völva” rod used in practice? I, and many academics agree with me in this, do propose that the “völva” rod mainly was a heraldic symbol of high status, representing both a socio-political and a religious status of the highest kind. It was most probably used in elaborate ceremonies and on formal social occasions at the many sumptuous feasts in the great halls. To get a feel of this and how it was used I remind you of that fact that both the ancient “stafrs” and the later “völva” rods actually have both their historical and later modern equivalents. Think of the marshal batons from the Napoleonic era and earlier than that, the royal sceptres of the old European kings and emperors. The last time a royal sceptre was actually used in Europe in the ancient, formal way, was at the festive coronation of King Charles in Westminster Abbey, not so long ago. The importance of the ceremonial “stafr” lives on!


Some academic researchers have suggested that the “völva” rod also may on occasion have been used as a witch wand. I found the idea quite amusing, but I doubted it. The idea of a “völva” waving a rod uttering spells, like Hermione in the “Harry Potter” books and films is indeed ludicrous. ---  But, then again, maybe not so funny after all. When I thought about it, suddenly a picture of a furious “völva” sprang to mind. Her face, contorted with anger, she pointed her “völva” rod at some unfortunate bastard and screamed an evil “galdr.” That person must have been frightened out of his or her mind by this. I know I would have been, had I lived then.  To the people of the time, magic and spells were very much real. So, you never know, even if there are no proofs of this whatsoever, maybe, just maybe…


To summarise, the “völva” rod was at thing of power, representing power taken from many sources. It was mainly ceremonial and most probably used on ceremonial occasions and perhaps, but doubtfully, sometimes as a magical tool.


There is one more other interesting item I must mention that was found in some “völva” graves. It is a small representation in silver of what we in Sweden and Norway call a “kubb stol,” that is what the English speaking community sometimes call a “Block Chair,” that is a “Dug Out Pine Tree Chair.” A really curious type of chair, carved out from the trunk of a tree. It is in fact a very ancient type of a chair, once fairly common all over Europe, but it more or less disappeared on the continent in early Medieval times. However, the type did indeed live on in Norway and Sweden, where there is an abundance of large pine trees. Historically it is found carved on both runestones and on picture stones, as well as being described in Norse literature. In all those instances it is either shown or described as a “ceremonial seat of power.” A seat for a God or Goddess, a king, a queen, a jarl and his spouse or a chieftain and his wife. We think it actually once was regarded as an easily recognized symbol of authority. Hence, the silver miniatures found in some “völva” graves. This of course is just another proof of the aristocratic origin of the “völvas.”


A few academic researchers at Stockholm university have suggested that the “kubb stol” also could be used as “sejd-häll”, that is a ceremonial platform on which a “sejd” ceremony sometimes was performed, but personally I seriously doubt that. I believe the “kubb stol” represented many things, mainly authority, but certainly not “sejd.” 


But there is more to it than that. The “kubb stol” was once also common in both western Sweden and southern Norway up until modern times in well to do, large farms and even sometimes in old castles and it was really used as well. We have reports of this ceremonial use as late as in the 1950s in Telemark in Norway and In Dalsland in Sweden.


The chair was often, most of the year, found tucked away in corner of the living room or the feasting hall, but it was taken out on important occasions like weddings or funerals or large feasts. It was also always taken out for the Yule celebration and it really had the pride of place then. In the chair always sat the Master or Mistress of the house. No one else was ever allowed to sit in the chair, when it wasn’t used officially and transgressions were severely punished. This curious custom is therefore very ancient indeed and in fact persevered right up until modern times. My own family once possessed an supposedly, interictally carved and painted ”kubb-stol,” but it was lost in a house fire long ago. At least that was the family tradition says and all know about those… I actually found a “kubb-stol” on the net in the 1990s, bought it and proudly brought it home to my apartment I then had in Stockholm. Yes, the family honour restored!


But, my then girlfriend really wanted it as well and pestered me with pleas and petitions to get it. She never ever stopped. Finally, I gave in and gave it to her. Something I now bitterly regret, (as with so many other things concerning that woman.) “Kubb stol´s” are very hard to find these days and they are very expensive.


Now we come to that most mysterious and most elusive of all the attributes of the “völvas,” the drum. What I am about to say will undisputedly chock many of you. The völvas actually did not at any time use any drums at all! And we know this how? Well, you see, no drums have never ever been found in any of the “völva” graves! Fact is, no remains or imprints of drums have ever been found in any grave or at any archaeological dig site anywhere in the whole of Scandinavia! And his goes for the entire archaeological period from the Stone Age up to Medieval Times. But seriously, drums are made of natural materials and they disappear with time, you might object.


Not so! As a trained archaeologist myself, I can attest to the fact that all wooden objects always leave an imprint in the ground, that can be analysed and correctly interpreted. Also, no picture of drums is ever shown on any of the runestones or picture stones. The same with archaeological finds. Even the famous Celtic-inspired, so called “Balkåkra drum” from the early Nordic Bronze Age, has now been conclusively proven to be just a cult item. Most scholars believe it was used a sun altar. Alternative interpretations are it was used a throne or maybe as a gong. It does not work as a drum at all, nor are there any markings on the top, that could indicate it was ever used as such. For the same reasons, few now believe it was ever used as a gong. Instead, the top had obviously once been highly polished. Similar finds have also been found in Celtic graves in France and Hungary that more or less proves this sun altar interpretation. It also seems highly unlikely that it was used throne as it is very uncomfortable and no indications of this is found on the item. However, to be absolutely impartial, it is now officially called “The Balkåkra Cult Item.”


Nor is there any mention at all of drums in any of the preserved Norse literature. What some of the older academics thought were references to drums, have all of them now been conclusively proven to refer to something else. The old academics just assumed it referred to drums, because drums are so common in the modern world, that we take it for granted that also was the case with our forefathers and foremothers. BUT, archaeology and literary research tell a very different story. NO DRUMS FOUND ANYWHERE!


Brace yourself, it gets worse! The fact is, no drums or remains of drums have ever been found in any grave or at any archaeological site in “Germania Magna” either! There might be some remains of drums found in Köln, but those finds are very inconclusive and because Köln was founded by the Romans it doesn´t mean anything, anyway. Besides, I am a trained classical scholar as well and as far as I can ascertain, the Romans did not use any drums either. (For example, they used large, hanging metal rods to get base tones.) Actually, no drums have ever been found on the territories of any of the old Celtic peoples either. The famous Irish Bodrun drum is for example a very modern concept. On further research as far as I could see, there were in fact no drums used anywhere in the entire old Indo-European world up until Medieval times.


To any modern person this may seem totally absurd, as drums these days could be found anywhere and everyone just assumed it always had been that way, but as far as I can see, the plain truth is: NO DRUMS FOUND ANYWHERE!


So, what in the name of Hel did the “völvas” use to get into trance if they did not use any drums. In short, “vardlockur.” That is a magical, repetitive song, sung in a high pitched voice. It obviously could go on for a very long time. Sometimes it was the “völva” herself that sung, sometimes a helper sang. The purpose of the song was to attract sprits that could be asked, flattered, cajoled or forced to reveal magical secrets, visions of the future or the secrets of enemies, that could be used to either bribe or cajole someone, or to be of future use against them.


A particular form of “vardlockur” was the much feared “galdr.” A “galdr” should properly not be sung, but screamed in a very high pitched voice at an enemy. It was considered to be the very worst, most evil and darkest of all Norse magic and was very much feared by all. The “galdr” even had its own extremely strict rules and a very peculiar metre, the “galdralag,” that was very hard to learn. It was told that, if something went wrong at anytime, anywhere in the verses or in the performance, horrible things was supposed to happen to both the executor of the “galdr” and to everyone present at the occasion. Even the smallest of mistakes would inevitably lead to disaster. It was “dark art” indeed!


To top it off, I direct your attention to the old English word “warlock”. Quite often that word has been regarded as a mere synonym for wizard, but there is actually far more to it than that. The word “warlock” is simply an English garbling and misspelling of the Norse word “vardlockur”. In other words, a “warlock” is just the English equivalent of a “sejd-man” and that really makes you wonder about all those heroic stories about the mighty English warlocks of old…


Where on earth did the cult of Odin pick up the strange technique of “vardlockur”, is a legitimate question. That is really strange, because it quite obviously did not exist in the Norse world before the cult of Odin started to spread over Scandinavia. Well, we now believe that maybe it actually did exist, but then in the far North of the Scandinavian peninsula. The Lapps, (or Samis as they call themselves), actually had something very similar and we now think the cult most probably picked it up from the Samis.


The Samis had from old a fearsome reputation of having access to powerful spells and the people of the cult of Odin were always interested in anything that could boost their magical power and prestige. The “vardlockur” must have had its origin in the Sami “jojk.” On that many academics now agree. I think they are right in this.


The executor of the “jojk” was called a “nåjd” or “noajdde” in Samish. He was the central figure in old Samish society and had always been specially appointed by the Gods, so he was sacrosanct. A figure commanding great respect. (He was in olden times always a man.) His main purpose was to uphold the contact with the Gods and Goddesses and try to foresee the future for his tribe. Sometimes he cursed the enemies of the tribe with very effective, horrible, dark spells, (at least as people of the time understood it,) hence his fearful reputation.


And yes, the “nåjd” did indeed use a drum, but not at all, as you might think! The drum was called “Goabdes, Goavddis” or sometimes “Gievrie” and was made in a special ritual way and was always used as a ceremonial drum. It was also considered a sacred, magical object in itself. Think of the old Sami drum and especially its shape. It was not round, but oval and very shallow. The drumskin was always painted with figures from Samish mythology. The sound such a drum produced was very muted and very soft and not sharp at all. That was because it was used mainly to see what the future would be and not as we today would use a drum. The “nåjd” held the drum vertical and then placed a so called pointer on the drum, made of reindeer horn and gave the drum a few, small taps in a special way. Sometimes it was accompanied by a special, magical song. The pointer then moved with the soft drumbeats and pointed to a picture on the drumskin and the “nåjd” then interpreted that picture.


When he wanted to converse with the spirits, he tapped the drum softly just a few times, then put it away and started to sing his magical “jojk” and that was how he got in contact with (most often) the many spirits of the magical world and (sometimes) even the Gods and Goddesses. So, not even the Samis of old used drums, as we now use them. It is once again a modern, false factoid repeated so many times, you now think it is the actual truth. By all this and what the “nåjd” actually did, no one these days even call the religion of the old Samis a form of “Shamanism,” because it quite obviously wasn`t! That name and use is now universally considered to be a purely Arctic concept, particular for peoples of Mongolian descent. (Just like Rolf already told you about.)


The old world of the Samis was destroyed by the Christians, many drums were collected and burned and the most of the “nåjds” were hunted down and killed. Even their language was banned. Approximately, a little over a hundred years ago, there started a Sami revival movement that is ongoing. One of the things that was more or less rediscovered was the “jojk”.


Where formerly the only practiser of the magical “jojk” had been a male “nåjd”, and that “jojk” was done according to very strict magical and religious rules. Now everyone in the vast area where the Samis live today, by them called “Sapmi,” could do a “jojk,” male, female, adults, children etc. New “jojks” are written all the time and have lost all of their old, magical meaning and are now written to your own feelings, people, rivers, mountains, animals or whatever that takes your fancy. So, these days, anyone and his/her dog, could have his or her own “jojk.” I do wonder what the old “nåjds” really would have to say about all this.


The Sami drum has undergone a similar sad change. All modern Sami drums these days, look exactly like and even is even used exactly like a Siberian or Native American drum. It really has no connection at all either with the old Sami customs or the old Sami religion. They even nearly always got the pictures on the drum skin wrong. It is a purely New Age phenomena.  


Some thoughts now on the practical side of “sejd”. How was it done? There is at least one story of a “sejd” session preserved in “The Saga of Eirik the Red” and I will come to that later. However, that story was written down very late and is not especially trustworthy, so we will have to look to some older descriptions in the Eddas and old Norse poetry to come a bit closer to the truth.


As the practice of “sejd” was considered to be an evil, forbidden art by most people, not much is written down and what little there is, universally have a very sinister ring to it. Even so, here are some facts distilled out of that meagre material:


  1. The “völva” must be seated in some kind of high seat, or at least on an elaborate chair of some kind. (Maybe on a “kubb stol,” but I very much doubt that.)
  2. That seat or chair should preferably also be placed on some kind of platform called a “sejd-häll”, that was significantly raised from the floor. That custom was obviously taken from the cult of Odin, where the god is imagined to sit in “Hlidskjalf,” sometimes imagined to be a hight seat, sometimes as a large hall building and sometimes as a high mountain top. Common to all the descriptions is that “Hlidskjalf” always is described as a very high place, from where everything going on could be seen, in this world and in all other worlds as well. The “völvas” thus emulated that power, given to them from their god.
  3. Absolutely essential to reach a trance state was the “vardlockur”. The magical repetitive, high pitched song, that could go on for a very long time. In essence as long as was needed. Sometimes it was the völva who sang, sometimes a female helper. The song had a double purpose. Firstly, it was to let the “völva” keep her trance state as long as was needed and secondly, to attract as many spirits as possible, for her to question or command as she saw fit. And, yes, we now know for certain that no drums were ever used in a “sejd” ceremony!
  4. As far as we know, the “völva rod” was not used other than on ceremonial occasions as a sign of authority and power and not as a magical tool in itself. But, to be honest, we simply do not know which…


So, were did the “völvas” go in the spirit world, when they did their “sejd” sessions? We naturally do not know for sure, but here is a suggestion, based on the ancient texts. I believe that without any question of a doubt the “völvas” went to Yggdrasil instead of going to Läradr! That is to say, they practised in essence a dark art. As have tried to illustrate before in other articles, there is a vast difference between “Läradr” the living World tree of the “Sidr” (The “Nordic” Way) and “Yggdrasil,” the dead world tree of the cult of Odin and its “sejd”. That fatal change happens, because, as soon as you try to bend the power of the living tree to your own will, you are manipulating, instead of observing.


In other words, you are trespassing into magical areas, you do not as a mere human have free access to. In the old Norse world that is equated with dark, forbidden magic. According to this lore, there simply cannot ever be anything called “white sejd”! It really is a quite modern misunderstanding and is never even hinted at in the old texts. In spite of what many of the earlier academics and researchers thought (and unfortunately many New Age inspired persons today believe,) as soon as you start to try to influence or use the power, you are trespassing. It simply does not matter at all that you say: ”But, I´m only trying to do good. I´m not an evil person at all, I´m a good person with good intentions.”


No matter! If you in any way, anytime, try to bend the power of the World tree, i.e. Nature itself, to your own will, no matter for what reason, you are then considered to be doing dark magic, as you are infringing on the powers of the High Ones and the powers of Nature itself! Without any question of a doubt the ancient “völvas” did just that, every time they did a “sejd” session and so definitely worked their dark magic in “Yggdrasil”. But all dark magic always comes with a huge price, more times than not. Of that we can be absolutely sure! What price they in the end had to pay for their work, we can only guess at, but it must indeed have been very high…


At last, a little something about that happened to the “völvas” and “sejd” after the fall of the cult of Odin and the burnings of all the great halls. We now think, the concepts lived on, after a fashion. The glamour was gone, as was most of the power. But the “völvas” had a fierce reputation of old and some people were definitely going to make use of that reputation and at the best of their abilities try to get something out of it. In all probability money. Because of that, we now believe there were a lot of “fake” “völvas” going around the countryside, trying to con superstitious people.


They had, of course no concept at all of how the old, true “völvas” either dressed or behaved, so they invented outrageous, many-colored, ragged, outfits out of the empty air, trying to impress their gullible audience of country bumpkins. Some of them might actually have imagined themselves to be real “völvas,” but I am quite certain, the majority of them didn´t. They were just in it for the money and maybe at best some prestige. We also think that most, if not all of them, came from very humble circumstances. They probably saw a chance to better their humble position at least a little. Who could blame them.


In spite of what you might have read in popular books, they had in reality, quite a nasty reputation and were barely tolerated by the Norse society at large. That much is now made clear by actually reading what their contemporaries wrote of them, instead of trying to impose a preconceived, rose-tinted, idealized, but false version of them, that some people of our time would like them to have been. In reality, in their own time, they were universally considered to be ill-mannered, smelly, itinerant vagabonds, that could not be trusted. Some even had a bad reputation for thievery as well.


But some of them were actually feared and they definitely had a sinister reputation of sorts. We now think, mainly because of the memory of the real “völvas” of old, that still lingered on. The name of “völva” still meant something to most people back then. The people of that time had long memories. There is an excellent description of one of those women in “The Saga of Eirik the Red”. It tells the story of the ragged “völva” Torbjörg on Greenland. Supposedly taking place around CE 1000. We are lucky to have it, as most of Greenland already had been christened by then. It must have been one of the very last seances in Greenland. Their time was really over by then. The overall problem is, that the saga was written down as late as in the 1290s and the authors wrote from a purely Christian standpoint trying both to belittle and minimize any non-Christian standpoints. Besides, how much did they really know about old “pagan” practices taking place nearly 300 years before their time and how much was pure fantasy? The academics are really divided on this. Maybe, at least some of it was true. Let´s hope that, as this is just about the only account there is, of how one of these late “sejd” sessions was done.


However, it is a great pity that those late, ragged, “fake” “völvas”, dressed in many-colored smelly rags and bits of half-rotten furs, by so many early researchers should be mistaken for the real thing. A typical factoid mistake that lingers on in far too many popular books on the Viking age to this day.


Actually, those poor, ragged women wandering forlorn around the countryside looking for a way to con some trusting country bumpkin out of his money, were in reality a glaring contrast to the proud, aristocratic “völvas” of old, who were dressed in long, beautiful garments of the latest fashion from the Imperial court in Constantinople, adorned with the finest jewellery, living in opulent luxury in their brightly painted, great halls surrounded by an army of servants and thralls that catered to their every whim and all of them coming from the very top segment of Norse society.


This was actually very similar to the fate of the elite warriors of the old cult of Odin, the berserkers. Once proud, fearsome and feared, they ended their days as simple ruffians for hire and at the end, even as despised buffoons and clowns at the mercy of ridicule and scorn in late Norse and early Nordic Medieval literature. How the mighty have fallen!


Now, what have we really learned here? Here are the major points:


  1. “Sejd” is not a shamanic technique, in spite of what many now believe, but does indeed have at least some of its origins in the old Sami religion.
  2. “Sejd” was a purely Nordic concept and was never found outside Scandinavia proper and its colonies.
  3. “Sejd” was definitely not part of the cult of the Vanir, also in spite of what many people think today, but instead was an integral part of the cult of Odin.
  4. The “völvas” of old really were magical practitioners with great power and prestige belonging to the highest part of society. But the “völvas” of later years were mostly con-women coming from humble origins and had very little power and understood what remnants of power they had, even less.
  5. There really did not exist anything called “white sejd.” All “sejd” is based on bending the power of the World tree, i.e. Nature, to your own will and because of this, it was by its very nature dark!
  6. The drum was not used at all in the ancient world! I must say, that fact surprised the hell out of me as well. This means in practice three things:
  7. a) If you are trying to emulate your Germanic ancestors: Do not use any drums anywhere at any time!
  8. b) If you are trying to emulate the Mongolian Siberian shamans: Use all kinds of drums at all possible occasions.

c)If you are inclined to New Age: You don’t care what the hell which and use your drums whenever you feel for it.


  • The choice is yours!  –


- So, no drums in the Germanic world! I would never have believed that possible. But I have checked the facts and then double checked them and to be absolutely sure, triple checked them as well. I have also checked to Nordic archaeologists I know at the University of Gothenburg, my own “Alma Mater.” They all concur:




Very surprising!!!


And on that surprising note, I wish you all well and say thank you for your time!


© The Fellowship of Kvasir. Ver. II, 2024