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loki

Seidr

On one of the lists I'm on, someone was asking about seidr. Since I wasn't sure what in partiicular they were researching on the subject, I kinda wrote a bit of an umbrella place to start... and here's that info below



Usually one of the places I always start with things, is the word itself. Simek lists that the etymology for the word Seidr is Old Norse, and is believed to mean "magic, spell, incantation". The word itself to my mind doesn't necessarily imply if it's good or evil, just magic. As such, the odds are favorable that as you're reading translations of the lore, most places where you see words like magic, or sorcery, the original word may very well have been seidr. Similarly the word seidrkona, or female practitioner of magic, is often times translated as 'witch' or sorceress. Seidrmadr, or a male practitioner of magic, may somethimes be translated in the lore as a sorcerer. Also you may want to look out for instances in our lore where you see the word 'ergi' as that is a term usually used as a derogatory insult with implications or insinuations of a man being a practitioner of seidr.

Other terms to look out for: seidrlaetti - magical tune; may be interchangeable with vardlokkur and galdr.

But as is noted in a great deal of academic analysis about this and other magicoreligious traditions, almost all of our "lore" was penned by Christian scholars after the time of conversion, and Christian attitudes and contemporary literary traits for that time period creep into the content. The problem then for us trying to wrestle with, analyze, and figure out pre-Christian beliefs is that while some items are pretty clear to pick out (like Thor being descended of Agamemnon), others are far more difficult for us to distinguish what may be an authentic pre-Christian attitude or not.

The problem in this particular case of course is that Christianity is definitevely anti-magic, as most of us remember from things like the Salem Witch-trials. (I know I at least I had to read the Crucible in school). One of the 'sources' for this view point within that religion are lines from the Bible including from the Old Testament book of Exodus: "Thou Shalt Not Suffer a Witch to Live."

The impact theorized by scholars (including Stromback) of this Christian attitude, is that magic became an evil thing for the most part, and only specific things were not considered evil. In other words it's at this point where we appear to have a separation of magic into categories of good or evil. Some theorize that the term 'spae" may actually simply have come into being as the excised portions of seidr sorcery deemed 'white' or good inherently in nature. Or others point to it perhaps referring to a 'flavor' of magic imported from regional cousins like the Balto-Finns, or Sami.

In my opinion if we really pick it apart, I don't think there was a distinction made in the terms themselves pre-Christian times of what was bad or good. Seidr simply was magic, and the practice thereof, the person and their intent is what could make any act of seidr either good or bad.

The following are at least some bits of written lore where there are other references to seidr, you really won't find the term seidr used in Germanic sources, so it's limited to places influenced specifically by the Old Norse language and customs:
  • Egil's Saga
  • Eirik's saga rauda
  • Eyrbyggja saga
  • Gisli's saga
  • Haralds saga ins Harfarga
  • Havamal
  • Hrolf's saga kraka
  • Landnambok
  • Laxdaela saga
  • Orvar-Odds saga
  • Pattr af Norna-Gesti
  • Saxo's Gesta Danorum
  • Vatnsdola Saga
  • Volupsa
  • Ynglinga saga

    For Further Reading I highly recommend, Dubois' Nordic Religions in the Viking Age for an illuminating examination of the lore on this topic and other related topics with religion and magic. I'd also recommend Jenny Blain's 9 Worlds of Seid-Magic. It's a scholarly work but she really only touches on the source material, and then examines it in anthropological and ethnographical terms with it's usage in the modern community today.



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