top of page

What WAS Seiðr & What IS Seiðr?

Updated: Jun 23, 2023

Rune Bone Casting

There is a very good chance if you are reading this that you have come across the term ‘Seiðr’ or ‘Seidr’ before, (it is central to my practice & I mention it often) and you probably have only a vague notion what it is or maybe think it is some kind of viking word for magic. I’m going to try and explain it as simply as possible.

What it Was

‘Seiðr’ the word is Proto-Germanic (Scandinavian) in origin and means something along the lines ‘to tie’, or ‘Rope, String’ although this is VERY open to debate. The ‘ð’ is pronounced like a ‘th’ with a sharp ‘T’ with the tongue against the teeth ‘Say-Ther’. It was a practice of magic in the late iron age through the mediaeval period in Scandinavian countries which largely died out due to Christianisation but practices have remained in some families and in folklore, particularly in Iceland.

What we know about the practice is due to it being mentioned largely in mediaeval Scandinavian/Icelandic sagas. We know that it was one magic practice amongst several. That it was largely practised by women known as Volvas (Staff Bearers) or women known as Seiðkona, it was frowned on that men should engage in the practice although they very much did, known as Seiðmaðr, that it was greatly attributed to the Sami people and is centred mainly around Divination or foretelling the future by various methods.

I will not go into the specific texts that mention these practices, instead I'll make a list below, you can pop across to wikipedia for more generic information on Seiðr, what I will now discuss is Seiðr as a practice and how it continues.

Seiðr as Magic

In ancient and mediaeval Scandinavian culture magic was a part of every day existence. This magic is connected to religious worship, in the vague state that religious worship then existed, but is also separate from it. For example, the gods (Odin & Freyja at least) practised Seiðr and taught it to mankind, but it was also the purview of the Nornir (Fates), and was used by mankind to work out if crops would fail etc. You also didn’t have to be a priestly figure to work magic. The Volva would travel around from farmstead to town, would be fed, given lodgings and paid for her craft. It was a role much like that of the blacksmith, the farmer, etc.

But Seiðr was one magic among many!

Another common form was Galdr, this is sung magic or spoken magic. It is the magic of magical incantations and the magic of poetry. Remember we are talking about a largely illiterate society, knowledge was passed along by word of mouth. Songs were sung, in the songs were stories, genealogies, news, myths. Poetry was so integral to society that people would attempt to outdo one another in verse, much like a modern day rap battle. Words were incredibly important because a word can shape a world. Your words elicit responses from others, you declare intention, whether that be to love someone, allegiance to a king, to make a promise, to talk to the gods; words shape worlds.

Another form was that of the Runes. The runes were primarily a writing system and the majority of magic staves we have are simply people learning to master written language. But remember how important words are! By mastering runes you are able to capture language in a physical, tangible form. Swords are engraved with words of strength, or inscribed with names like ‘biter’ because by carving that into the blade you are making a solid intention.

Lastly, you have Utiseti, which probably was not a magical practice in it’s own right, which revolves around the practice of magic outside, usually at burial mounds. Lastly, Gandr which is akin to being ‘elf-shot’, think psycho-magical projectiles and fetches.

The most important thing to remember is that this list is far from complete and furthermore that these magical disciplines were not seen as separate magical schools. We are talking about a culture with no structured religious life and no Hogwarts Magical Curriculum. This means that Seiðr encompasses all of these crafts, but is none of them. There is a HUGE area for overlap and this was very much encouraged. A person who knew their Runes, some Galdr, practiced Seiðr etc was known as ‘fjolkunnig’ (Highly Knowledgeable). Seiðr is divination which involves singing songs or poetry, it can involve runecraft, it takes place outside in a sacred space and has elements of vision questing or shamanism. But it is not one of those things.

Seiðr & Gender Roles

I cannot write an article without touching on this topic, which is something of a tempestuous one in our community at present and that is Seiðr and Ergi, but I will not turn this into a conversation about historical accuracy of gender roles. The nuts and bolts of it is this:

  • Scandinavian culture had quite strict gender roles, which became more strict through christianization, which even dictated what clothes men and women could wear.

  • Ergi is an insult which means something along the lines of ‘Perverted’ with emphasis on sexual passivity.

  • Men who practised Seiðr were considered Ergi and could be openly insulted or even exiled. No one knows for sure why.

  • Yet men still practiced Seiðr and even the primary deity Odin (maybe you've heard of him) practiced Seiðr.

  • There is no evidence that Seiðr involved sexual conduct.

To summarise, the male Seiðr practitioner existed, but was not openly embraced by society, he was taboo and as such people were both afraid and in awe of him. We now live in a society which is not based on a warrior honour code so men can freely practise Seiðr but will still be persecuted and people are still suspicious of witches.

A side note here: In the 1600’s during the Icelandic witch trials, the majority of persecuted and executed practitioners were men. Finland too, go look it up.

How to Practice Today

How is Seiðr still relevant as a practice? You probably have engaged in Seiðr without knowing it. Any time you have approached Tarot cards, astrology, or tried to divine the future, that is Seiðr. Any time you have made an assumption about a future event based on the past and your present situation, that is Seiðr. But Seiðr as a practice focuses on the physical and spiritual state of the universe in the past, present and future, accepts what it cannot change and considers how to actualise change in the future.

To do this it means forming a relationship with the Nornir, the fates, both the universal three and the individual fates. Also relationships with the spirits, personal spirits to you and the spirits of the land.

We also need to create a sacred space. That is a space separate from the mundane world to do your work.

You will need the right tools for the job. These vary. Also the right clothing, no need for flowing robes but there are some prerequisites.

You will need to find your voice and learn basic chants, or some other musical form to attract the spirits. Think more humming than ‘The Voice’.

You will need to learn how to put your mind in an altered state. Experience with shamanic practices are helpful here, but not necessary as Seiðr is not strictly shamanism.

With this you will come to know Seiðr. You will be able to slip your mind and glimpse the unseen and potentially have the tools to change the future, if and when it needs changing.

Why do this? It certainly isn't as easy as lighting a few candles, and isn't about power or wealth. It is just a calling, for those who already live on the fringe of society, to experience the fringe of reality.

In Closing

There was so much more I wanted to cover but didn’t get a chance to in what was supposed to be an introductory blog. I shall do more in depth blogs on Seiðr in due course. If there are any areas you would like more info on please contact me, and thank you for reading.


bottom of page