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Seid or seiðr is an Old Norse term for a type of sorcery or witchcraft which was practiced by the pre-Christian Norse. Sometimes anglicized as "seidhr," "seidh," "seidr," "seithr," or "seith," the term is also used to refer to modern Neopagan reconstructions or emulations of the practice.


Terminology and etymology

The etymology of seiðr is unclear, but related words in Old High German 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.[1] 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.[1] However, if seiðr involved "spinning charms," that would explain the distaff, a tool used in spinning wool, that appears to be associated with seiðr practice.[1]

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.[2] Among the Old English words for practitioners of magic are wicca (m.) or wicce (f.), the etymons of Modern English witch.

Seid involved the incantation of spells (galðrar; sing. galðr). Practitioners of seid were predominantly women (völva, or seiðkona, lit. "seid woman"), although there were male practitioners (seiðmaðr, lit. "seid man") as well.

Old Norse literature

In the Viking Age, seid had connotations of ergi ("unmanliness" or "effeminacy") for men, 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; she 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.[3]

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.[4]

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 practiced 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).


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').

In Lokasenna Loki accuses Odin of practicing 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, the practitioner was rendered 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.[5] The interrelationship between the völva in this account and the Norns, the fates of Norse lore, are strong and striking.

Another noted mythological practitioner of seiðr was the witch Groa, who attempted to assist Thor, and who is summoned from beyond the grave in the Svipdagsmál.


Shamanism refers to traditions which have been maintained widely throughout the world and are probably of prehistoric origin. 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 link seid to the practices of the noajdde, the patrilineal shamans of the Sami people. However, Indo-European origins are also possible.[6] 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.[7]

Belief in witchcraft has been part of Germanic religion from earliest times. 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."[8] 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 reconstruction

Diana Paxson and her group, Hrafnar, have attempted reconstructions of seid from available historical material, particularly the oracular form. Jan Fries regards seid as a form of 'shamanic trembling' which he relates to "seething", used as a shamanic technique, though he is less concerned with precise historical reconstruction, the idea being his own and developed through experimentation[9]. See further the works of Jenny Blain[10], which discusses different ways in which seidr is being re-constituted today, in Scandinavia, the United Kingdom and the United States from the point of view as a practitoner and an ethnographer.

Within British Heathenry, seidr according to Blain (2002) is becoming an intrinsic part of spiritual practice. This is not necessarily 'reconstruction,' but may relate more to associations of people, land, and spirits.

It has been suggested that during seances the seiðkona would enter a state of trance in which her soul was supposed to "become discorporeal," "take the likeness of an animal," "travel through space," and so on. This state of trance may have been achieved through any of several methods: entheogens, sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, for instance. to galdra, which is the chanting of galdrar, also involved in creating the state of trance.


  1. ^ a b c Heide (2006:164-168).
  2. ^ Hall (2004:117-130).
  3. ^ Eiríks saga rauða, Chapter 4.
  4. ^ The Saga of Erik the Red, Chapter 4.
  5. ^ See McKinnell (2001).
  6. ^ For references regarding these origins, see Hall (2004:121-122).
  7. ^ Parpola (2004).
  8. ^ Jordanes, Origins and Deeds of the Goths, Ch. XXIV, trans. Charles C. Mierow.
  9. ^ Seidways: Jan Fries ISBN 1869928-369
  10. ^ Nine Worlds of Seid-Magic: Jenny Blain ISBN 0-415-25651-8


See also


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