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 Seir and Spe

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Silver Wind
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PostSubject: Seir and Spe   Sun Sep 02, 2007 7:10 pm

Seir

Of these terms, seir is the most common, as well as the most difficult to define. The term seir is most commonly translated as "witchcraft," and is used to describe actions ranging from shamanic magic (such as spirit journeys, magical healing by removing "spirit missiles" such as elf-shot from the body, magical psychiatric treatment in the form of recovering lost portions of the soul-complex, etc.), to prophecy, channeling the gods or the gods' voices through a human agent, performing magic that affects weather or animal movements, as well as a wide range of malefic magic. The single most characteristic element of seir, however, seems to be magic of a type which works by affecting the mind by illusion, madness, forgetfulness or other means. The practitioner of seir was known as a sei-kona (sei-wife) or sei-man, but these terms tended to suggest a "black magician," so that frequently a sei-worker is called a sp-kona or spae-wife instead to avoid blackening their name with the negative connotations of seir. This "politically correct" title usage for the sei-worker has resulted in much confusion over the types of native

Scandinavian magic since the categories between seir and sp became blurred by later writers. seir could give the worker knowledge of the future, but rather than directly perceiving rlg or fate, as a sp-kona or vlva would, the sei-practitioner summoned spirits to communicate the knowledge of the future. Other terms in common use for those practicing seir include fjlkunnigr-kona, "full-cunning-wife, knowledgeable women" and hamhleypa, "hamingja-leaper, shape- or skin-changer" (Simpson, 183).

Seir was a solitary art, where the sei-witch was not a member of a coven, as in found in other European witch traditions, although a sei-practitioner might have attendants or a chorus to assist her in the practice of her magic. In a very few rare instances only do the sagas report a group of sei-workers practicing together, there they are usually kin folk, such as a pair of sisters, a father and his family, and the like (Ellis-Davidson, 37-38).

Sp

The second type of magic was known as sp, or in a slightly archaic English or Scottish term, spae. Sp is often referred to as sp-craft or spae-craft, and the practitioners of sp as sp-kona or spae-wife. sp is intrinsically the art of determining rlg, usually by intuition or personal gnosis. rlg is literally "ur", meaning ancient or primeval, and "lg" is law: rlg is the law of how things will be, laid down by wyrd or fate by the three Norns. The Norns, Urr ("That Which Is"), Verandi ("That Which Is Becoming") and Skuld ("That Which Should Become") are the embodiment of wyrd. In fact, the Norns are the prototypical Weird Sisters who are found in Macbeth, and their seething kettle is both the bubbling Well of Wyrd and the sei-kona's cauldron. Many of the goddesses wield the art of sp: in Lokasenna we are told that Frigga knows all rlgs, though she does not speak of them; and that Gefjion knows all rlgs as well as inn; and the Prose Edda says that Thrr's wife Sif was likewise a sp-kona.

Another term for practitioners of sp is vlva, usually translated as "prophetess" or "sybil". Vlva comes from a root meaning "magical staff," and throughout the Norse literature one sees female prophetesses and witches bearing a staff. The term vlva dates back to the early Germanic tribes, where the term is found in the name or title of some tribal seeresses. The vlva was an especially honored figure: Tacitus tells us of one such prophetess called Veleda, who prophesied the victory of her tribe over the Romans and saw that a general uprising against the legions would meet with success:

They believe that there resides in women an element of holiness and a gift of prophecy; and so they do not scorn to ask their advice, or lightly disregard their replies. In the reign of the emperor Vespasian we saw Veleda long honored by many Germans as a divinity; and even earlier they showed similar reverence for Aurinia and a number of others -- reverence untainted by servile flattery or any pretense of turning women into goddesses.
--Germania, ch. 8

The vlva appears many times in Norse myth as well, for inn routinely seeks knowledge of the future by using his powers over the dead to interrogate a vlva in her grave.


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