I’ve written a solid six posts since last time but I had a busy weekend with grove business and Wyrd Sister business and I never got around to editing and publishing them—so e’suse me while I blow up your blog-feed over the next few days? Having submitted finals for two courses and taken care of all m’business, I have some things to share with you. I feel compelled to answer a few questions that should have been asked before assumptions were made and answers were invented. It feels a little like the time The Road Less Traveled asked about the nuances between practices back on m’old blog. I’m glad to have the opportunity to share what I know and I’m pleased to challenge myself to be clear and explicable and to do it in lay terms.
Pull up a chair, this one is long.
What is a Völva? Is a Völva automatically a priestess?
The word Völva translates roughly as staff-carrying-woman. Maria Kvilhaug calls her “The Norse Witch,” to distinguish her from a priestess or gyðia, and explains that Völur (the plural of Völva) “were honored and revered and sought as wise women, healers, prophets, oracles, shamans. . . . The primeval witch was the goddess Freyia, who introduced the art of seiðr [fate-magic, shamanism]. . . . I choose not to refer to the völva as ‘priestess’ because that gives a different association, even if she sometimes leads ritual like a priestess. Priestesses in the old Norse settings were called blótgyðiur [sacrificial priestesses] or hóvgyðiur [temple priestesses].”
So, no. A Völva is not automatically a priestess. This term does not indicate priesthood but rather the practice of seiðr, magic. The Völva is a magician, a sorceress, a healer, an oracle—she is a witch. Plain and simple.
The Völva is a magician who comes from a tradition, unlike Western Esotericism, that venerated her femaleness as well as her skills to the point where she was given high honors—even over royalty. Of course, with great power comes great responsibility. The Völva did not “lord” her power over the community, she served them with it. To be a Völva is not to engage in an ego-trip, but rather to place one’s self in the service of a community. But please do not confuse service with servitude. The Völva was *NOT* in a position of subservience to *ANYONE.*
What is a stav?
Basically? It’s a stick.
More exactly, it is the Völva’s magical implement. It’s her wand. It’s her staff. It is her most important tool aside from her own body. It serves a variety of purposes when working magic, Seiðr. It can be used to aligns the Völva with the energy of Yggdrasil, The World Tree. It is used to channel energy. Here’s a quick link if you need more than that.
There are martial arts devoted to the use of a stav (or bo-stav) for battle and protection. I can’t imagine that the Völva, living on the outskirts of town (Útgarðar), wouldn’t occasionally need it for defensive purposes as well.
Kari Tauring, a performance artist and academic from Minnesota, has strong ties to her Norwegian roots. In her books, Völva Stav Manual (which I’ve read) and The Runes: A Human Journey (which I plan to read soon), Tauring discusses some deeply meaningful methods of aligning one’s self to the universal energies which surround us while using the human body, a stav, and, “energetic sounds and symbols of her Indo-European tradition through personal and family stories, Norse mythology, and Eastern and Native American philosophy” (Lulu.com). I don’t know anyone else who does this. Tauring seems unique to me in her application of the Völva tradition. Have a look, it’s delightful. (And it looks like it takes far more coordination than I will ever have.) Oh, look here too–she’s too adorably amazing. (Kari told me she would be within driving range this spring. I hope to drag a van-full of folk to Ole Miss. And then be as googlie-eyed as I was when I met Susan Bordo. I’m such a nerd.)
I am über fortunate to have a man in my community who makes stav. (Stavs?) He was trained in Harnerism/Core Shamanism and he has made a number of beautiful stav for himself and his wife to use on their journeys (I’ll get to “journeys” in a minute). He has been gracious enough to offer to hold a workshop for our grove in which he will teach our kindred how to make their own stav. We are going to tag-team guide a journey after everyone has made their stav. I’m tickled.
What does a Völva do?
Well? (Ha, ha—yes, there are wells.) Magic!
Like I said, she is a sorceress. Whatever you imagine a magician doing, that’s what a Völva does. She has different methods, of course—the greatest difference it seems to me is that she uses her body as her magical implement far more than she uses the external tools I associate with “Ceremonial Magic.”
Some of the specific things Völur do include:
Spæ — The term Spæ or Spæcraft is given to the divination part of Seiðr and is where we derive the word, “spy.” Some folks conflate this with runic-divination. I’m not sure if I do yet. I would say that rune casting is a personal act of Spæ, but that Spæ can be performed for “broader” issues as well—perhaps they both fall under the term Spæ.
Pathworking/Journeying (what is commonly referred to as shamanism; I’ll talk about that in another post)—The difference between a journey (otherwise called a pathworking) and a meditation tends to be that a meditation is concentrating on a fixed point or idea, whereas a journey takes traverses through different points and is often taken for a specific purpose: typically involving some kind of “quest.” (It’s more complicated than that, obvs; but I’m not focusing on journeys in this post. I’ve been writing them down for you and you can see them soon.) A journey is a mystical process which involves what might be referred to as “astral travel” and “astral work” for a set purpose, like “Going to the Well of Wyrd” to understand, forsee, and even change the “fate” of a community. There are journeys called “Churning” (yes, like butter) and Sleipnir’s Charge, a journey to Helheim for understanding and “shard” searching (if you understand pathworking, you know what I mean). It can be a light-hearted technique but pathworking can also serve to lead a practitioner (male or female) to deeply meaningful and intensely rewarding healing and transformation. While on a journey, a practitioner can unite with primal creative energies, with their ancestor spirits, and with deified energies or spirit guides (fylgja).
Seership—Much like the Oracle at Delphi, the Völva is a seer. The Seiðrhjallr Rite, or The High Seat Trance Oracular Rite is likely the most spectacular (therefore, most well-known—however least understood!) of the Völva’s roles. The Seiðrhjallr is a group rite where the Völva enters into a trance-state to serve as oracle for an assembly. It features one Seer who acts as a channel, several priests and priestesses charged with the raising of energy and the psychic protection of the group, and an assembly who take an active part in the rite.
In our community, we are assembling a Seiðrhjallr group. We have some very talented seers and—like I said, a gentleman and myself serve as journey guides (and he’s also a promising “healer”); I rarely serve as seer—there are some far more naturally “open” than I am right now. I remain too guarded for group work. I’ll grow out of it.
We are small now, but expanding. You see, the level of trust required in trance-work (really, any magical group dynamic) is high. One does not grow a Seiðrhjaller group by leaps and bounds but by slow and careful measures.
Pathworking can be done alone—if you know your way around the landscape—but is best done with a guide, in my opinion. This is where we have had best and most immediate results. Therefore, we work as a group to build trust and maximize results as often as we can. We are having a semi-open pathworking (I mentioned it above)—I’m admittedly a little nervous about expanding. Nervous and excited. And terrified. And thrilled. And . . .
Seiðr—As I’ve mentioned, this is a term for the Northern European concept of magic and sorcery. This word is often misused to signify “Witchcraft,” however Hægtesse is a better word. Where Seiðr is a more familiar term, typically the first thing folks think of involves divination and the High Seat. However, given the other, profoundly powerful (sometimes misunderstood as “darker”) aspects of Seiðr, many modern Heathens are beginning to understand that Seiðr has aspects of Sorcery and Ceremonial Magic. Seiðr is, at its core, about harnessing and shaping energy. *Magic.*
The Völva uses both Galdr—a chant used during Seið—and Vardlokkur—a “song” used during Seið.
How does one become a Völva?
Tauring’s manual, which I pointed to above, indicates that it is the practice of Völva–craft itself that makes one a Völva. And I agree. What makes a magician a magician? A sorcerer a sorcerer? A witch a witch? The practices they (we) practice, of course. For something more personal, you can read about Samantha Catalina Sinclair’s experiences of discovery in her paper, “Traditions of the Nordic Völva.”
There is no formal tradition of initiation in America for Völur. We are comparatively few and far between, therefore we have individual practices. There is, however a rapidly growing interest in Völva-craft and Seiðr and a number of prominent organizations that (I suspect, I am not a member so cannot speak for them) have initiations that have begun to be perpetuated in what would, in other traditions, be called “hive” groups. As for the small Seiðr group to which I belong, we do have initiations—but the ritual is about trust and community, not exclusivity and partitionment.
Some folks are initiated in traditions from other than American traditions (more on what that means in a minute). For instance, Yngona Desmond, founder of the Georgia Heathen Society and the Southlands Tribal Alliance, refers to herself as Vinland’s Völva (Vinland being the Viking name for North America), which she says is “an honorary title of respect and recognition, gifted [her] by Sámi Noaide . . . .”; Desmond defines herself as “a spiritual traveler and sacred pilgrim, visiting and honoring sacred sites across continental Europe, Scandinavia, and Russia.” She says that her “overall focus is on the Folksoul of [her] people. Secondly, it is on education.” It is not unusual to find that Völva are highly educated and academically minded. Author of Völuspá- Seiðr as Wyrd Consciousness, one of the first books I ever read on the subject, Desmond has a Masters in Religious Studies and a Doctorate in Philosophy.
Who are some other notable Völva?
Aside from Tauring and Desmond (who are both Völva but do vastly different things in vastly different ways—if you walk away from this post with nothing else, let it be that Völva-craft is a heterogeneous set of praxis), there are a healthy handful of Seiðrkona and Seiðrmänner. I cannot name them all, so I will list the ones from whom I have garnered some knowledge (either from reading, from personal contact, or whatever). If you are or know someone who practices Seiðr and want to share info, I encourage you to leave it in the comments section.
Most notably in America is Diana Paxson, an Elder in the Covenant of the Goddess. Those of us who cut our prepubescent teeth on The Mists of Avalon will recognize Paxson as Marion Zimmer Bradley’s collaborator and the author of the later Avalon books. Paxson is the co-leader (with Lorrie Wood) of Hrafnar, a Seiðrhjallr group in Berkeley, California, and author of Trance-Portation: Learning to Navigate the Inner World (2008). In her mid-40s, Paxson had a “close encounter with Odin” which started her on the path toward the runes and Seiðr; two years later she began her oracular Seiðr group: “In 1992 she joined the Troth, an international heathen organization.”
Also in California is Ember Cooke, founding Gyðia of the Vanic Conspiracy (2004), she has been a member of Paxson’s Hrafnar and “has served the Pagan community as lay clergy and spiritual counselor for almost nine years .” Like Desmond, Cooke holds a degree in Religious Studies.
Katie Gerrard of London, author of Seiðr: The Gate is Open (parts of which I require my magic students and encourage my Seiðr group to read) and Odin’s Gateways, “has been studying the different forms of Norse magic and working with the Norse Gods since discovering them in the 1990s . . . . She also regularly hosts Seidr and other Seer and Norse Rite within the London area.”
Other helpful folk?
Jenny Blaine, researcher at Sheffield Hallam University, is author of Seiðr and Nine Worlds of Seid-Magic: Ecstasy and Neo-Shamanism in North European Paganism. She may not consider herself a Völva, but I enjoy her work.
Galina Krasskova is another academic Heathen (though she considers herself a Priest of Odin and Loki rather than a Völva). Krasskova’s ideas about working with the Northern gods are controversial—you can see an interview here and decide for yourself.
See the links at the footer for more stuff.
Any male (or transgendered) Seiðr-workers?
Raven Kaldera of Hubbardston, Massachusetts, author of Wyrdwalkers: Techniques of Northern-Tradition Shamanism and many other titles.
Jan Fries, whose book Seidways: Shaking, Swaying, and Serpent Mysteries (which is a favorite-favorite-favorite), is an occultist from Germany and self-acclaimed “freestyle shaman.”
Kveldulf Gundarsson (aka Stephan Grundy), is the author of Our Troth as well as Teutonic Magic and Teutonic Religion.
Oh, and then there’s Runic John!
Why do some people use the term “American Völva”?
Archeological Cultures in Northern and Central Europe at the late pre-Roman Iron Age
Think about Northern Europe. Think about all of the vast and different cultures there were and still are. Norwegians are not Saami are not Bavarian are not any other people from Northern Europe—see? Now imagine each of those cultures transporting their culture to North America and syncretizing it with other religions and other practices and other cultures. American experiences and ancestral öorlog are much different from that of those whose ancestors remained in Europe. This is not a judgment call—it’s just a difference.
For me, being an American Völva indicates how my kindred—specifically my dísr to whom I hold troth—sacrificed and adapted their practices to meet the demands of The New World. I honor my foremothers who are native to North America just as much as I honor my ethnic heritage rooted in Bavaria, Belgium, Scotland, and the Netherlands. I do this as I embrace the Heathen ethic entwined with my wyrd and answer to the voice of my deified ancestor, Freya. Further, I cannot disentangle myself from the religious experiences I have had as an American. My more recent experiences with Hoodoo (which have been profound!) and my older experiences with Western Ceremonial Magic, Evangelical Christianity, Jesuit Catholicism, and Powwow cannot be weeded out from my consciousness. Why would I want to? While I would never deign to speak for another’s experience, I imagine that this rich and wondrous birthright is what causes all Seiðr-workers who claim the title “American Völva” to identify as such: because we are American.
How did you get involved in Völva-craft, did it all come from these books and YouTube?
Don’t be silly.
But even if it did, that would be just fine. I could do worse.
Many of you have been right by my side watching the transformation I have made over the past two+ years. I began as an academic-Witch who couldn’t seem to find her place in her tradition. After a few teen years spent fishing for information, I finally settled into a place with a mentor. But my original training was too theoretical for my practical tendencies—though I still hold to every word Bertie taught me as though it were my lifeline. My secondary experience was too frenetic for my relatively conservative tastes—though I now find that I am re-drawn to the more tempestuous side of magic which I find in Seiðr. My tertiary experience was too solitary. Being in a new place, working on a doctorate, raising kids, I was alone. I go back and forth between wanting to return to my place of hermitdom and knowing I don’t belong there. This is because my quaternary experience left me battered and bruised. For three-and-a-half years I have had to defend my every breath. (Thus, this post.) You can’t blame me for wanting to hold everything in and hide everything away.
I waded into Witchcraft good and deep in my teens. While I studied in my 20s, I learned an array of Western esoteric occult systems. In my 30s, I studied Ceremonialism—a lot—and kinda fell in love with Chaos, John Dee, and then Goetia. But, as you saw in my posts about the Vesica Pieces (“I Call it Like I See It” and “By Jove!” over at TBWF) and the Helix, I have had a real problem with the phallic nature of CM and the spermognostic preferences of GD-based traditions.
I “liked” Heathenry and loved Anglo-Saxon ethics but wasn’t thrilled about Odinism, Ásatrú, or really even Vanatru or Theodism. These too seemed to have phallus smeared all over a perfectly good system. And I couldn’t find any Heathens working “magic.”
Then—ah, I found a “Modern Teutonic Wizard” willing to take me as an apprentice. That was one of the (shortest, strangest) most meaningful moments of my recent religious experience. I found that all of the lessons I was learning were “the same concept with different words.” This is when I really began to struggle with the patristic structure of Western Ceremonialism (and even a great deal of “Goddess Worship” traditions) that reified the male and objectified the female. If the concepts are the same—can we change the words—then change the concepts.
I started studying Seiðr and making connections between what I already knew from twenty-years of study and what this “new” (ancient) tradition had to say about it. To be clear—there are some things that simply do not correspond.
I participated in a Thunarblót with some lovely Heathens in Atlanta last year. By this time, I had figured out what I wanted but couldn’t find anyone (local) who worked Seiðr—still not completely understanding the depth of and healing possibilities of Völvaspæ.
Right when I thought I might throw my hands in the air and submit to phallus-worship (but not really), Brandy Williams published The Woman Magician: Revisioning Western Metaphysics from a Woman’s Perspective and Experience. It was pretty second wave—but better than no wave at all. Amen?
I realized that every path I had traversed, every doubling-back, every self-revision was leading me to the moment when I would realize the word “helix” had such profound meaning. It changed my life, my spirit, my outlook, my ethic, my practice. And it couldn’t have happened at a more perfect time. My spiritual (well, religious anyway) community was about to disintegrate. When it did, I moved on, stopped calling myself The Bad Witch, picked up my stav, and remembered how to journey; I decided to tend my wyrd and my gefrain and heal some öorlog; and I moved ütgard.
Funny thing is, some folks followed me. Now we are all leaning on each other, nourishing each other, and transforming—like honey into mead, like cream into butter, like bacteria into cheese, like yeast into bread. Like a house into a home. Like an idea into a spiritual conversion. Like folk into kin.
And we aren’t pestering anybody.
The most amazing things have happened since I dedicated myself to a new purpose last summer. Chichen Itza is a transformative place. So is Helheim. I came back from both about the same time. And I found my fylgja waiting for me, right where I’d left her—smothering under my HGA.
So now I have a new blog, a new approach, a new peace, a new ritual group—oh, and a new book.
The subject of the book is Dísrtroth, my concept for working with female energies in a Heathen Ceremonial Magic (Seiðr/Völva) practice. There is a full explanation of helical power (as opposed to phallic power) and a very basic set of galdr, vordlokkur, rituals and pathworkings. Basic—but powerful. This concept is the thus-far-culmination of twenty-six years of occult and Pagan study, two decades of feminist study—as it applies to religion, culture, literature, and film—fourteen years of dedication to a life in ministerial service, nine years of Teutonic-based study, two years of seeking, and ten months of finding.
Support me with frith as I finish my travels?
If you simply cannot encourage me in kinship, at least refrain from hindering me? After all, our community shares wyrd whether we like it or not.
 One is about mental illness in the Pagan community (rather, about ministering to those with mental illnesses, defining mental illness in an already nonconformist culture, and the accompanying legal what-not). One is about Pagan seminary structure; one is about gefrain; one about “shamanism” (rather, about the word itself); and one is about community dynamics. This one is none of those.
 Why is Völva capitalized? What about Seiðr? Quite simply—because I turned “auto-correct” on so that my word processor would automatically add the special characters; in auto-correct mode as I have it set, the words are corrected and capitalized. No other reason. I should change it and one day I might. Until then!
 Her graduate thesis The Maiden with the Mead: A Goddess of Initiation Rituals in Old Norse Mythology?is available on her blog, Freyia Völundarhúsins LadyoftheLabyrinth´s Old Norse Mythology Website; I recommend, “The Völva – The Norse Witch.”
 Can I put off a discussion about male magicians until another day? The term ergi and ragr were applied to men who performed seiðr; these words do not mean what the Christian Church would have you believe they mean. I promise. Go read Katie Gerrard’s Seiðr: The Gate is Open (I don’t remember the chapter) if you need to know before I get to it. Deal?
 Doesn’t mean they don’t exist—just that I haven’t run across them, talked to them, etc.
 A subject of a future post.
 Kinda like yours truly—just saying.
 Collaboration with Bradley: The Forest House (1994), Lady of Avalon (1997), and Priestess of Avalon (2000). Author of Ancestors of Avalon (2004), Ravens of Avalon (2007), and Sword of Avalon (2009). She has many more books to her credit.
 Never have I ever been Gardnerian or Alexandrian. Never have I ever claimed to be. As a matter of fact, I’ve always said, “Not Wiccan.”
 I do not claim a lineage other than as a well-trained Ceremonialist and oracular-trance worker who (finally) reclaimed her whoo-ha.
 And boy-howdy can she write rituals and journey scripts. All I have to do is give her my hands.
 Yea, I even tried Episcopal Seminary just before my youngest was born. Thaaaat didn’t work for me either.