Cross-cultural comparison of oracular practices reveals a common core which can be analyzed as follows, a question stimulates the formation of information or imagery in the mind of the seer. This is communicated, processed, and interpreted. From culture to culture this basic sequence manifests in a wonderful variety of ways. The oracular process can be as simple as the bean-drui Fedelm’s answer to Queen Maeve– “I see it crimson, I see it red.” or the Hebrew prophet’s interpretation of the first thing he sees when he steps out of his house. Note, on p. 5 of The Way of the Oracle, “spá/spae” is mistakenly interpreted as meaning “to speak”. Actually, it comes from a root meaning “to spy”–so it is another word for vision.
It can be as elaborate as the rituals at Delphi, with purifications and offerings and a team of priests to process the pythia’s ravings into neat hexameters, or the visit of Thorbiorg the Little Volva to the Greenland farm with its ceremonial meal and arguments over the sacred song. In some times and places the seer is always female, in others male, and in some either gender may manifest the power. The seer may sit alone, or three seers may be linked in trance. But everywhere the essence is the same. Whether ceremonial or simple, the oracular process consists of putting the seer into a passive, open state in which she has access to wisdom. In some traditions trance leads to possession in which a spirit or deity provides the answers, in others, the seer gets the information from spirits, while in still others the information seems to emerge from the void.
My own exploration of the oracular process began in 1989, when I worked out a format for the practice of spá, or spae-craft, the oracular aspect of the seidh-magic of Viking Age Scandinavia with the help of a talented circle of friends including Laurel Mendes, Niklas Gander, and Leigh Ann Hussey. For a fuller description of the results, see “The Return of the Völva” linked below. Previously I had learned from a variety of traditions, including ceremonial magic, shamanism, and women’s spirituality. The rediscovery of seidh led me to a deep involvement with the northern tradition, as the seidh group developed into an Asatru kindred called Hrafnar and it and I became part of the Troth, an international heathen organization.
In 1990 our infant seidh-team first offered the ritual to the pagan community at the Ancient Ways festival in northern California. Since that year, the group (now called “Seidhjallr” and distinct from the kindred), has presented the seidh rite regularly at local events such as Pantheacon, where it draws capacity crowds. In 1993 we first presented seidh at the Troth’s national meeting, Trothmoot, and introduced the practice to modern heathenry. 1995 saw the first Seidh training workshop, held in New Mexico. Since then I have conducted one or two workshops a year for groups in the U.S. and Europe. In the process it has been my privilege to work with a great number of talented people. Currently individuals or groups presenting oracular practice in this tradition or forms evolved from it are active in Connecticut, Maryland, Kentucky, Texas, Oregon, California, and the UK.
Although spá, as a Germanic oracular tradition, is best performed in the context of heathen practice, the workshops have consistently attracted students from other pagan traditions. Based on my intensive experience with the northern form of oracular work, I have begun to explore the oracular traditions of other cultures, seeking to identify the essential skills and the methods required to train people to perform them. In 2001 I tried out the first “Core Oracle” training in a workshop in Cornwall, England, conducted in collaboration with Caitlin Matthews. Since then I have continued to refine the process, and I now present Core Oracular workshops in addition to the original Germanic version. We have established a chat-list online so that those who have participated in the workshops can continue to share their experiences.
Seidh studies are a new field, however works on the subject are beginning to appear. In addition to my own, The Way of the Oracle, both of the following include material on “Hrafnar-style” oracular practice.
- Nine Worlds of Seid-Magic, by Jenny Blain (London: Routledge, 2002) This book explores the contemporary practice of seidh from an anthropological perspective, with special attention to gender-roles.
- Shamans and Neo-Shamans, by Robert Wallis (London: Routledge, 2003) The focus here is on the shamanic aspects of the practice.
- For an exhaustive (albeit expensive) look at Viking Age Seidh, I recommend The Viking Way, by Neil S. Price, which delves deeply into the literary and archaeological evidence for Old Norse magical practice. (Department of Archaeology and Ancient History, University of Uppsala, 2002).
Some of my own work is also available online in the following articles:
- The Return of the Völva: Recovering the Practice of Seidh
- The Oracle
- Sex, Status, and Seidh: Homosexuality and Germanic Religion
- Link to Freyja Article
- Link to Heide Article