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'Sitting Out' A Practice for a Pagan Witch: Utiseta Sitja Uti

Updated: Oct 11, 2023


Man Sitting Out on Mound

A fair few words have already been put to the digital page regarding the practice of 'Sitting Out' or Utiseta. These blogs and articles tend to look at the historicity of the practice, it's legitimacy as a 'pagan' practice or something that a viking might well have done so can we copy it. These accounts look at the sagas, the law codes and archaeology to how such a thing might have taken place.


All tend to ignore or gloss over how to do so in practice and why you may want to!


Let me spend a few words summing up what WAS Utiseta so I can be sure we are on the same track before I move onto the practice. Skip ahead if you want.


What WAS Utiseta?


Utiseta translates as 'Sitting Out' in Old Norse and 'Sitja Uti' in Icelandic. It is a well documented practice where a person would spend a night in a vigil in a grove, on a mound, later at a crossroad, in order by magical means to connect with spirits of the land or the dead. From these spirits the person would gain secret knowledge of power or prophecy.


The practice stems from Scandinavia where it was outlawed in 12th century Norway with the spread of Christianity. In doing so we have the law codes as records about the practice. Look up the Frostaþingslǫg if you are interested and the Gulating law these, though two hundred year apart both try to combat the pagan practices of Utiseta. From these laws we know that Utiseta involved Witchcraft or magic work. Practitioners were believed to conjure up Trolls, the dwellers of the grave, the landvetter (land spirits) and elves by invocation using galdr. This was done to gain knowledge of power, the future or treasure. Any person caught doing this was be exiled. this was a harsh sentence, but it was seen as a practice which would undermine and de-stable the growing christian social order. All the more reason to bring it back in my book.


scholar writing laws

There are some other mentions, in Svipdagsmal in the Poetic Edda there is a conversation with the dead; in Voluspa the volva sits out to prophesies; in Flateyjarbók & Heimskringla regarding King Olaf who had a vision that he should be buried inside a mound on his impending death from plague in order to return as an else to protect his people; in Islendingabok on considering conversion to Christianity Thorgeirr Lawspeaker undertakes Utiseta to determine what will be best for his people. Later in Icelandic folklore there is an account of how one should take a cat, a sheepskin, a large ox skin and an axe, things do not end well for the cat. There are many other instances I am glossing over because I don't want to make this a history lesson.


What can we Extrapolate from these Sources?


Firstly, there seems to be an equal division of men and women who sit out! This would imply that

volva practicing seidr

Utiseta was involved in seiðr practices but was not limited to seiðr. By this I mean that seiðr was the woman's craft (even though men did do it too), the volva was never a man, though you had man seiðrmaðr. Utiseta also doesn't include the same ritual as seiðr all the time though there are similarities. It could be said that the people of the time saw no difference, though there may have been for the practitioners. Both involved sitting on a high place, a platform or mound, divining the future and using galdr.


The burial mound was central to the practice and most likely hearkens to a cult of the dead once celebrated in Scandinavian belief. We can see this by the use of mounds. I need to do a whole separate article on burial mounds, but in Norway and Sweden they tend to be flat topped and near towns where the 'Althings' the 'political meetings' took place. The story of king

burial mound

Olaf implies that the dead lived on in the mounds, elves being part of the soul of the dead, who would want to be part of the area's governance. Likewise when people sat on the mounds they went for mounds of their ancestors, or important people, people who in life may have been inclined to help them.




Was there a relation to Freyja? We know that Freyja received 'half of the souls' of the dead, she was in some way a chthonic deity and furthermore she had this connection to cats. In Icelandic folklore there is an implied sacrifice of a cat. You take a skin to sit on, a skin to cover yourself, an axe and a cat...poor cat. If we remember as well that the volva wears furs among them was cat lined gloves. this undoubtedly nods to a role Freyja once had, now lost to time.


Accounts of experiences


There are many different accounts of what people have seen. Elves, Valkyries, the dead, lights, music, people who appear then disappear just as quickly. The visions try to lead the practitioner astray, make them laugh when they should be somber, trick them or scare them into leaving. It is no easy feat.


How to do It!


Finally I get down to how to do it. What you need.


When?

Always at night. Best bet is to find your place, a mound, a grove or a cemetery preferably with the graves of your family in the light. Find a place to sit comfortably, but not so comfortably that you fall asleep. Make sure you are not trespassing or disturbing anyone or are likely to be disturbed. Get there at sundown, you won't be leaving till sunrise.


What to Wear?


You could go traditional and wear furs. It isn't necessary, furs were to keep you warm, because it gets cold at night. So furs, or layer up. Even in the summer time it can get damn cold at night. Check the weather forecast. If it is due to rain, don't do it, you'll make yourself ill. Utiseta Is sitting out, not camping out.


Before hand


Fast. Why, because fasting puts you in a focused mindset and also you don't want to get caught short needing the loo when you are supposed to be talking with your ancestors. There is nothing like going to the loo behind a gravestone to kill the mood. Also leave a note or tell someone where you are going.


What to bring?


Bring a sacrifice. If not an animal sacrifice then I leave this to your discretion. I take alcohol, Mead or ale, spiked with Henbane (know what you are doing here this can be poisonous) to share with the dead, a knife to offer some blood (a clean lancet is ideal, careful not to cut yourself more than necessary) I do this because the dead are drawn to it, some food but usually only a little meat, I will only eat it if I can bury some at the site as sacrifice, the meal should be shared. I don't take an axe, I do take my staff, it's more useful for walking about, whacking people/animals and an axe will get me arrested in the UK. You also want to take some light. A torch to find your way if you need it, but when you don't, keep it turned off.


The Utiseta


Turn your phone off. Get your area set. Go to the loo. Sit or lie. Relax.


Don't look at the time. You are there for the whole night. You are not going to sleep.


Do not talk to yourself. Do not make a sound. Whatever you do don't laugh! Keep silent.


The whole of the day is taken up with a barrage on the senses and we increase this by watching TV or social media.


This time is for shutting that off and trying to see and listen to what is really there.


Acclimatise yourself to the sounds of the night. Listen. Look. Wait for the sun to go. Experience true darkness and wait.


Let an hour pass you by. Let yourself be bored. Get past the boredom.


Listen to the sounds of your body. Take your self inward and really get to know the aches and pains, the noises your stomach makes, your heartbeat. Keep listening to the noises of the night.


You'll know when you are ready to 'sink down'. You will feel the night around you.


Here I would undertake some heavy breathing methods. If you know how to meditate then start, if you know how to shamanic trance then start.


The goal is to sink down into the earth, into the darkness. Let the possibility of anything happening be, no matter how absurd that thing might be. In the darkness anything could come to you. This is why you are out here.


With breathing exercises done I will make my sacrifice to the mound. Share my wine, my food, my blood and see what decides to eat with me. All in silence.


If nothing has yet to appear, try galdr. I will write more on it another time. Think of galdr like this. Sing the song of your spirit to the world. Words or wordless it doesn't matter, just sing from within. Not a song you remember the lyrics to, but a song you have not sung before. Call the spirits by song, wake them up from the silence of the night. Let the chant become repetitive and lie or sit and continue as you focus on the song. Do not stop even if you see something or hear something. Only stop when it is right to stop.


What to do when Something Arrives?


Now something may have come to you to talk, let it talk first. Let it talk it's feel. Try to understand what it wants and if it is friendly.


Some things will try to make you stop singing or to scare you away. You are more powerful than it, so sit it out.


Wait until you can have that conversation. When they are desperate for you to talk, only then do you talk back. Remember you have called them up. Don't run off now.


Sit the night with them and only with daylight leave. If they don't seem to want to leave you alone, then on your walk back take a long way, and even walk backwards in some places. Generally they will keep to their grave.


Conclusion


This is a basic 'How To Sit Out'. As more occurs to me I shall write more articles and maybe insert more info in this one. If you have any questions just message me. I shall also record one of my Utisetas coming up and put it on social media.

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