Irminsul Ættir

Called By the Disir

©1999 by Susan Granquist. All rights reserved.

Originally published in Spirit Talk, Early Summer 1999 Issue 9.

In descriptions of Seiğr the term shamanism is often used in a vague way, with a few general parallels to other shamanic cultures and magical communities.. We find statements that Seiğr in the Eddas, sagas and other literature and lore of Northern Europe is obviously related, or perhaps derivative of shamanism, but such articles and studies rarely lead the reader to any firm conclusion as to how they are related. From an academic or reconstructionist position it remains partially obscure and distant. For a shaman it is anything but vague, as the experience informs and the lore expands on that knowledge, but that is in itself in the nature of the shaman or seidkona. It is easier for the shaman to identify important information that is often overlooked or dismissed without further investigation.

It is important to remember that the term "shaman" is a technical definition, one that was proposed by Mircea Eliade, not to demonstrate that shamanism existed around the world, but to curtail the movement to refer to every primitive magico-religious practitioner as a "shaman" or primitive religion as shamanistic. It makes the study of Seiğr as a shaman far easier as it creates a structure and outline of critical examination as well as the intuitive experience.

In "Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy" Eliade discusses the shamanic elements of Seiğr, but also stops short of identifying the seidkona or seidmadhur as a shaman, citing missing elements as the reason as he demonstrates how the definition he proposed could be applied to other than the Buryat tribes where the phenomenon was first studied and identified. Yet those elements do exist, and are overlooked by academics, like Eliade, who attempt to reconstruct things that already exist in an ever renewing cycle. They rarely approach the reality of dealing with gods and spirits which they view as mythological figures, beliefs of past ages...not as vital active beings who can inform and teach now, just as in the past.

In a journey I asked "What am I?" of the three women who had welcomed me at the well after a lengthy search to try and determine where I fit in, what I was, what explanation was there for the strange experiences that had begun with a spiritual and emotional crisis following a collapse of my previous belief system. "Seidkona," they answered as runes blazed between us then metamorphosed into the dreamlike seeth(e)kon(n)a, that led to the discovery of the term Seiğr in the Norse lore.

Excited about this new discovery I was also suddenly confronted by the additional identity of "shaman" which at the time explained Seiğr to me. I was isolated, living in a high mountain desert with limited contact with any one, but one where the golden eagle watched me and the red-tailed hawks spun across the sky. It was there that I met my patron god, Tır, a god I know I've loved many lifetimes before. Yet when I emerged into the Ásatrú community on an electronic bulletin board system and the Internet it was to laughter and challenges. No one knew what Seiğr was. I was insane to worship the disir, they were "just landspirits." I cited the evaluations of them as tutelary deities by experts in Old Norse studies but that raised more questions. "what about Tır...I was no policeman, no judge or could he be my patron? How could I possibly have chosen such obscure spirits and deities?"

The answer to the last question was, and is simple, I didn't. They chose me long before I even knew their names, or found them discussed in any books or by others who knew them. As the years roll by more and more academic material is made available that supports the experience and expands the knowledge gained in journey and vision it surprises me less but still impresses me with the wonder and power of the spirits and gods.

But in the meantime I met more and more people whose experiences were paralleling mine...who half a world away were seeing and being taught the same things, either from traditions from Otherworld sources. I learned that other seidkonur were using a staff in their journey, they too sat on platforms or out at night among rocks or trees. They too heard the voices in the wind, saw the spirits in the fields. Discussions centred on the practicalities and shared experiences.

But still the arguments came from the academics. And so did the answers from the spirits. Eliade made a case for Seiğr as shamanism, and the practitioner as a shaman, but noted that it fell short...for neither Odin nor Thor were Sky Fathers, but rather Sky Gods. Yet here was my patron god, in the classical shamanic sense, who was noted as being rather obscure and his role taken over by Odin but who was the ancient Germanic Sky Father. He had followed the same pattern as in other shamanic cultures, becoming more remote. His association with the assembly or thing, and with law, as well as sacrifice of self compare with other Sky Fathers. The disir as tutelary deities and guardians, as well as psychopomps are easily documented in the lore. They provide escort to other worlds, luck, knowledge of the hidden realms.

If we apply the definition that Eliade supplied, then we find the role of the seidkona becoming clearer. We have the example of the spákona in Eric the Red's Saga who is said to do "Seiğr." As in Eliade's initial observation that a shaman may be a magician, healer, prophet, poet and many other things, a magician is not necessarily a shaman, nor is healer necessarily a shaman. Just so is the use of spá in the lore as Scandinavian speakers are quick to point out when confronted with some popular American practices of "spaecraft." It means divination and can apply equally to the practitioner of Seiğr, or to the clairvoyant or rune reader. Also part of Seiğr were magical techniques that go beyond simple prophecy, and that require an active knowledge and ability that compare to the abilities of the shaman including weather working, calling game or fish, journeying out from her platform to do magic as well as to foresee.

The ability of a shaman to work with a group is not limited to theatrics, as the special relationship with the spirits and deities helps enable others to journey with the shaman, or provides a way of helping others journey to achieve their own vision and answers, or to seek answers or do healing as in the past. And there is comfort in a world that seems to be going mad to find that the answers are the same whether on a platform in Seattle, Washington, the mountains of Norway, the seashore of Denmark...or even the distant land of Australia and New Zealand.

© 1999 by Susan Granquist. All rights reserved.
Irminsul Ættir