Seiðr (which is sometimes anglicized as seidhr, seidh, seidr, seithr, or seith) is an Old Norse term for a type of sorcery which was practised in Norse society during the Late Scandinavian Iron Age. Connected with Norse religion, its origins are largely unknown, although it gradually eroded following the Christianization of Scandinavia. Accounts of seiðr later made it into sagas and other literary sources, while further evidence has been unearthed by archaeologists. Various scholars have debated the nature of seiðr, arguing that it was shamanic in context, involving visionary journeys by its practitioners.
Seiðr's practitioners were of both genders, although females are more widely attested, with such sorceresses being variously known as vǫlur, seiðkonur and vísendakona. There were also accounts of male practitioners, known as seiðmenn, but in practising magic they brought a social taboo, known as ergi, on to themselves, and were sometimes persecuted as a result. In many cases these magical practitioners would have had assistants to aid them in their rituals.
Within pre-Christian Norse mythology, seiðr was associated with both the god Oðinn, a deity who was simultaneously responsible for war, poetry and sorcery, as well as the goddess Freyja, a member of the Vanir who was believed to have taught the practice to the Æsir.
In the 20th century, adherents of various Contemporary Pagan new religious movements adopted forms of magico-religious practice that they have referred to as 'seiðr'. The practices of these contemporary 'seiðr'-workers have since been investigated by various academic researchers operating in the field of Pagan studies.
Terminology and etymology 
The etymology of seiðr is unclear, but related words in Old High German (see German Saite, used both in string instruments and in bows) and Old English are related to 'cord, string,' or 'snare, cord, halter' and there is a line in verse 15 of the skaldic poem 'Ragnarsdrápa' that uses seiðr in that sense. However, it is not clear how this derivation relates to the practice of seiðr. It has been suggested that the use of a cord in attraction may be related to seiðr, where attraction is one element of the practice of seiðr magic described in Norse literature and with witchcraft in Scandinavian folklore. However, if seiðr involved 'spinning charms', that would explain the distaff, a tool used in spinning flax or sometimes wool, that appears to be associated with seiðr practice.
Old English terms cognate with 'seiðr' are 'siden' and 'sidsa', both of which are attested only in contexts which suggest that they were used by elves ('ælfe'); these seem likely to have meant something similar to 'seiðr'. Among the Old English words for practitioners of magic are 'wicca' (m.) or 'wicce' (f.), the etymons of Modern English 'witch'.
Seið involved the incantation of spells ('galðrar'; sing. 'galðr') and possibly a circular dance. Practitioners of seid were predominantly women ('völva', or 'seiðkona', lit. 'seid woman'), although there were male practitioners ('seiðmaðr', lit. "seid man") as well.
These female practitioners were religious leaders of the Viking community, and usually required the help of other practitioners to invoke their deities, gods, or spirits. The seidr ritual required not just the powers of a female spiritual medium, but of the spiritual participation of other women within the Norse community. It was indeed a 'communal' effort. As they are described in a number of other Scandinavian sagas, Eiriks saga rauda in particular, the female practitioners connected with the spiritual realm through chanting and prayer. Viking texts suggest that the seidr ritual was used in times of inherent crisis, as a tool used in the process of seeing into the future, and for cursing and hexing one's enemies. With that said, it could have been used for great good or destructive evil, as well as for daily guidance.
Old Norse literature 
In the Viking Age, the practice of seid by men had connotations of unmanliness or effeminacy, known as 'ergi', as its manipulative aspects ran counter to the male ideal of forthright, open behaviour. Freyja and perhaps some of the other goddesses of Norse mythology were seid practitioners, as was Odin, a fact for which he is taunted by Loki in the 'Lokasenna'.
Eric the Red 
In the 13th century 'Saga of Eric the Red', there was a seiðkona or 'völva' in Greenland named Thorbjorg ('protected by Thor'). She wore a blue cloak and a headpiece of black lamb trimmed with white cat skin, carried the symbolic distaff ('seiðstafr'), which was often buried with her, and would sit on a high platform. As related in the Saga:
En er hon kom um kveldit ok sá maðr, er móti henni var sendr, þá var hon svá búin, at hon hafði yfir sér tuglamöttul blán, ok var settr steinum allt í skaut ofan. Hon hafði á hálsi sér glertölur, lambskinnskofra svartan á höfði ok við innan kattarskinn hvít. Ok hon hafði staf í hendi, ok var á knappr. Hann var búinn með messingu ok settr steinum ofan um knappinn. Hon hafði um sik hnjóskulinda, ok var þar á skjóðupungr mikill, ok varðveitti hon þar í töfr sín, þau er hon þurfti til fróðleiks at hafa. Hon hafði á fótum kálfskinnsskúa loðna ok í þvengi langa ok á tinknappar miklir á endunum. Hon hafði á höndum sér kattskinnsglófa, ok váru hvítir innan ok loðnir.
Now, when she came in the evening, accompanied by the man who had been sent to meet her, she was dressed in such wise that she had a blue mantle over her, with strings for the neck, and it was inlaid with gems quite down to the skirt. On her neck she had glass beads. On her head she had a black hood of lambskin, lined with ermine. A staff she had in her hand, with a knob thereon; it was ornamented with brass, and inlaid with gems round about the knob. Around her she wore a girdle of soft hair, and therein was a large skin-bag, in which she kept the talismans needful to her in her wisdom. She wore hairy calf-skin shoes on her feet, with long and strong-looking thongs to them, and great knobs of latten at the ends. On her hands she had gloves of ermine-skin, and they were white and hairy within.
Other sagas 
As described by Snorri Sturluson in his 'Ynglinga saga' (sec. 7), seid includes both divination and manipulative magic. It seems likely that the type of divination practised by seid was generally distinct, by dint of an altogether more metaphysical nature, from the day-to-day auguries performed by the seers ('menn framsýnir', 'menn forspáir').
In 'Örvar-Odd's Saga', however, the cloak is black, yet the seiðkona also carries the distaff (which allegedly has the power of causing forgetfulness in one who is tapped three times on the cheek by it).
Price noted that, because of its connection with ergi, seidr was undoubtedly located on 'one of society's moral and psychological borders'.
Sex magic 
Certain aspects of Seidr[which?] were sexual in nature, leading Neil Price to argue that it was very likely that seidr actually involved sexual acts. Various scholars have argued that the staff used by seidr practitioners may have been used as an imitation penis. As evidence, they have highlighted the fact that the staffs have phallic epithets in various Icelandic sagas.
Oðinn and Seiðr 
In 'Lokasenna', Loki accuses Odin of practising seid, condemning it as an unmanly art. A justification for this may be found in the 'Ynglinga saga' where Snorri opines that following the practice of seid rendered the practitioner weak and helpless.
One possible example of seid in Norse mythology is the prophetic vision given to Odin in the 'Völuspá' by the 'völva', 'vala' or seeress, after whom the poem is named. Her vision is not connected explicitly with 'seiðr'; however, the word occurs in the poem in relation to a character called Heiðr (who is traditionally associated with Freyja but may be identical with the völva). The interrelationship between the 'völva' in this account and the Norns, the fates of Norse lore, is strong and striking.
Freyja and Seiðr 
Like Oðinn, the Norse goddess Freyja is also associated with 'seiðr' in the surviving literature. In the 'Ynglingasaga' (c.1225), written by Icelandic poet Snorri Sturluson, it is stated that 'seiðr' had originally been a practice among the Vanir clan of gods, but that Freyja, who was herself a member of the Vanir, had introduced it to the Æsir clan when she joined them.
The goddess Freyja is identified in 'Ynglinga saga' as an adept of the mysteries of seid, and it is said that it was she who taught it to Odin: 'Dóttir Njarðar var Freyja. Hon var blótgyðja. Hon kenndi fyrst með Ásum seið, sem Vönum var títt' ('Njörðr’s daughter was Freyja. She presided over the sacrifice. It was she who first acquainted the Æsir with 'seiðr', which was customary among the Vanir').
Since the publication of Jakob Grimm's socio-linguistical 'Deutsches Wörterbuch' (p. 638) in 1835, scholarship draws a Balto-Finnic link to seid, citing the depiction of its practitioners as such in the sagas and elsewhere, and linking seid to the practices of the noaidi, the patrilineal shamans of the Sami people. However, Indo-European origins are also possible. Note that the word 'seita' (Finnish) or 'sieidde' (Sami) is a human-shaped body formed by a tree, or a large and strangely shaped stone or rock, and does not involve 'magic' or 'sorcery'. There is a good case, however, that these words do derive ultimately from 'seiðr'.
Jordanes in his 'De Origine Actibusque Getarum' ('Origins and Deeds of the Goths') gives an account of the origins of the Huns from the union of witches with 'unclean spirits'. These witches are said to have been expelled from the army of the Goths by king Filimer (fl. late 2nd century). Jordanes gives the Gothic name of these 'magae mulieres' as 'haliurunnae' (sg. *haljaruna). Old English has hellrúna (f. hellrúne) 'witch'. Old High German has hellirúna 'necromancy'.
Contemporary Paganism 
Contemporary Paganism, also referred to as Neo-Paganism, is an umbrella term used to identify a wide variety of modern religious movements, particularly those influenced by, or claiming to be derived from, the various pagan beliefs of pre-modern Europe. Several of these contemporary Pagan religions draw specifically on the original mediaeval religious beliefs and practices of Anglo-Saxon England as sources of inspiration, adopting such Anglo-Saxon deities as their own.
'Seidr' is interpreted differently by different groups and practitioners, but usually taken to indicate altered consciousness or even total loss of physical control. Diana Paxson and her group, 'Hrafnar', have attempted reconstructions of seid (particularly the oracular form) from historical material. Jan Fries regards seid as a form of 'shamanic trembling' which he relates to 'seething', used as a shamanic technique, the idea being his own and developed through experimentation.
- Price 2002. pp. 91 and 108.
- Heide (2006:164-168).
- Hall (2004:117-130).
- Edred Thorsson.
- Hall (2007:148).
- Eiríks saga rauða, Chapter 4.
- 'The Saga of Erik the Red', Chapter 4.
- Price 2002. p. 210.
- Price 2002. p. 217.
- Price 2002. p. 94.
- See McKinnell (2001).
- Price 2002. p. 108.
- For references regarding these origins, see Hall (2004:121-122).
- Parpola (2004).
- Jordanes, Origins and Deeds of the Goths, Ch. XXIV, trans. Charles C. Mierow.
- Carpenter 1996. p. 40.
- Lewis 2004. p. 13.
- Harvey (1997)
- Blain (2002). p.21
- Fries (1996).
- Blain (2002). P.13
- Academic books and papers
- Blain, Jenny (2002). Nine Worlds of Seid-Magic: Ecstasy and Neo-Shamanism in North European Paganism. London: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-25650-X.
- DuBois, Thomas A. (1999). Nordic Religions in the Viking Age. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. ISBN 0-8122-3511-8. Ch. 6.
- Carpenter, Dennis D. (1996). "Emergent Nature Spirituality: An Examination of the Major Spiritual Contours of the Contemporary Pagan Worldview". In James R. Lewis. Magical Religion and Modern Witchcraft (Albany: State University of New York Press). pp. 35–72. ISBN 978-0-7914-2890-0.
- Hall, Alaric Timothy Peter (2004). The Meanings of Elf and Elves in Medieval England (Ph.D. University of Glasgow).
- Hall, Alaric (2007). Elves in Anglo-Saxon England: Matters of Belief, Health, Gender and Identity. Woodbridge: Boydell Press. ISBN 97811-84383-294-2 Check
- Harvey, Graham (1997). Listening people, Speaking Earth. London: C. Hurst & Co. Publishers. ISBN 978-1-85065-272-4.
- Lewis, James R. (2004). The Oxford Handbook of New Religious Movements. London and New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-514986-9.
- North, Richard (1997). Heathen Gods in Old English Literature. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-03026-7.
- Pollington, Stephen (2011). The Elder Gods: The Otherworld of Early England. Little Downham, Cambs.: Anglo-Saxon Books. ISBN 978-1-898281-64-1.
- Price, Neil (2002). The Viking Way: Religion and War in Late Iron Age Scandinavia. Uppsala: Department of Archaeology and Ancient History, Uppsala University. ISBN 91-506-1626-9.
- Tolley, Clive (2009). Shamanism in Norse Myth and Magic: Volume One. Helsinki: Suomalainen Tiedeakatemia. ISBN 978-951-41-1028-3.
Jolly, Louise Karen, Catherine Raudvere, and Edward Peters. Witchcraft and Magic in Europe: The Middle Ages. Continuum International Publishing Group, 2002.
Price, Neil. The Viking Way: Religion and War in late Iron Age Scandinavia. Uppsala: Department of Archaeology and Ancient History, 2002.
Gardela, Leszek. “Into Viking Minds: Reinterpreting the Staffs of Sorcery and Unraveling Seidr” Brepols Publishers, 2009.
- Heide, Eldar (2006). "Spinning Seiðr". In Andrén, Anders; Jennbert, Kristina et al. Old Norse Religion in Long-Term Perspectives: Origins, Changes, and Interactions. Lund, Sweden: Nordic Academic Press. pp. 164–168. ISBN 91-89116-81-X.
- Jakobsson, Ármann (2011). "Óðinn as mother: The Old Norse deviant patriarch," Arkiv för nordisk filologi 126, pp. 5–16.
- Karlsson, Thomas, Ketola, T., Eriksson, Tommie (transl.) (2002). Uthark - Nightside of the runes. Ouroboros Produktion. ISBN 91-974102-1-7.
- McKinnell, John (2001). "On Heiðr". Saga-Book of the Viking Society 25 (4). pp. 394–417.
- Parpola, Asko (2004). 'Old Norse SEIÐ(R), Finnish SEITA and Saami Shamanism', in Etymologie, Entlehnungen und Entwicklungen: Festschrift für Jorma Koivulehto zum 70. Geburtstag, ed. by Irma Hyvärinen, Petri Kallio & Jarmo Korhonen, Mémoires de la Société Néophilologique de Helsinki, 64 (Helsinki: Société Néophilologique), pp. 235–273.
- Non-academic sources