June 21, 2020 — In ancient times, the tales of mighty gods and powerful Titans have been passed down through the ages. But what about us mysterious shamans, we who came before organized religion? Our existence has been hidden in the shadows of history, only to be unearthed in the early 1900s century with the discovery of a shamaness’s burial site in the Czech Republic, dating back to 26,000 BCE.
Like in ancient times, we are still magic practitioners and can connect to the spirit world. My profession has left its mark on the stories and legends. We are mentioned in the Icelandic Sagas to the myths of the far-off lands of Ásaland. And yet, few speak of our power for fear of unraveling the secrets and real history of the past when man was closer to nature. But make no mistake, shamanic sorcerers and necromancers played a crucial role in shaping the fate of empires, as evidenced by our presence on the battlefields where we foretold the outcome and wielded arcane powers alongside warriors and archers.
The Icelandic Saga of Hervör and Heidrek (Hervarar saga ok Heiðreks) describes the war between the Goths and the Huns in the Gothic realm of Aujum near the Black Sea. Legend has it the war included warriors and mounted archers but also Haliurunnae, who were female Geatish necromancers from Sweden. The Haliurunnae brought Vanir rune magic and seiðr-magic against the Tengrist male sorcerers of the Huns, known as qam/gam/ch’am — a word that comes from the Scythian goddess Argimpasa, also spelled Argampasa.
The nature-based magic of ancient Scandinavia around the time of the Gotho-Hunnic wars was known as seiðr and resembled shamanic practices of nomadic cultures in the East. Those included the rituals and chants of the whip-lashing Scythian shamans known as Enarees and the drum-beating dances of bone-burning Hunnic qam. Unlike Eastern shamanism, Norse seiðr was intuitive and required the practitioner to enter into an almost unconscious state of trance through psychoactive substances that caused alterations in perception, cognition, and mood.
At the height of the Viking Age, around 450 years after Attila’s Hunnic Empire had collapsed and roughly 700 years after the first Gotho-Hunnic war, two types of magic were practiced in Scandinavia — seiðr and “Odinic” galdr. Seiðr was commonly performed by women, and in the Viking Age, it was viewed as “womanish” and especially shameful if carried out by a man. Galdr, however, was considered honorable and manly, contrary to the somewhat mainstream belief that magic and foretelling were almost exclusively carried out by women in Norse culture. This is made apparent in the saga of Egil Skalla-Grímssonar, who was a highly skilled rune magician, skaldic poet, and loyal follower of Óðinn. Unlike seiðr, galdr seems more analytical, conscious, willed, and ego-oriented. Typical of galdr would be the enactment of a “magical persona,” or alter ego, for working the will.
Galdr is derived from the verb gala, which means “to crow, chant,” and was used to verbally invoke a spell or a ritual charm through speech or “singing.” According to medieval Icelandic literature from the 1400s and 1500s, Óðinn was considered the natural master of galdr and was referred to as Galdraföður, meaning “father of galdr.” In the Hávamál, there is a boasting song in which Óðinn recounts the magical feats he can perform. The sagas also tell of Óðinn learning the arts of seiðr from the Vanir goddess Freyja — although the reverse is not clearly stated in the Old Norse sources. However, it is known that women also practiced galdr.
Though rooted in ages long gone by, the practice of ancient nature magic has not vanished entirely. Contemporary folklore enthusiasts have revived both galdr and seiðr to various degrees. Also, an onslaught of successful folk music artists has helped revive ancient chant and singing traditions. Most of them hail from the Scandinavian countries, while some come from France, Russia, The Netherlands, and Scotland, to name a few places. This new generation of highly talented artists is actively exploring seiðr-chants, galdr, and throat-singing. In doing so, they are reaching worldwide audiences through millions of music streams, indicating a growing interest in the nature-based sound and wisdom of the past.