I sit in the hard wood of the chair, watching the proceedings, lending part of myself to the will of the guide and warders, while another part prepares myself for what is ahead. My stave is leaning against my shoulder, gripped loosely in my hands, connecting me to earth and sky. The guide walks around the enclosure, sealing it off. Songs are sung, invocations and offerings made…
I have worn a lot of hats in the communities I belong to. One of them is seeress, although in the case of that particular job veil might be a more appropriate metaphor.
We call it seidh or spae. Technically, seidh is a broader term for what I like to sum up for folks who are unfamiliar with it as “Norse witchcraft”. People may argue the accuracy of that, but the things that seidhkona in the stories have attributed to them follow the pattern of the various powers of witches through much of Europe (and even other parts of the world, unsurprisingly). Flight, changing shape, affecting peoples’ minds and the weather. Changing peoples’ luck. And, of course, divination. Seeing. Oracular work. Spae, which comes from the same root as “spy”. To see, to witness.
The guide speaks in soft tones, describing us sinking into the earth, into ourselves, and then stepping out of ourselves. She takes us on a path to follow, outside of the enclosure, and out to a place I know well. A forest that leads to a plain; beyond the plain is a tree so vast that we cannot see the edges of it, that much of it is lost in the blueness of distance. I “see” the others with me too, as well as crow that guides me while I wander here, and the high-flying falcon above. We start toward the tree as a group, watching it grow steadily closer…
Over a decade ago I was fascinated by what I read of seidh. My group of friends who were interested in it had only second hand information found in popular New Age books, and we knew that it didn’t sit right with us. We tried experimenting with things that fit with what we knew. We learned some things, but a lot of what we learned was that few people knew anything about it.
Years ago at the Sirius Rising festival at Brushwood New York I attended a week-long intensive class by Diana Paxson regarding oracular work. While what she taught was somewhat tradition-neutral, all of the basics described in what scant lore we have of the practice were there. Taking what I learned home I practiced in private with her book, and occasionally with a few other people. Over time people asked me to perform it for them privately, and I did, teaching people to ward for me as the full oracular part of it is not something easily done alone. I talked to others who performed the same practice, in person and online, and we shared notes and ideas.
I don’t call myself something until others whose opinions I respect have a certain number of times. I wouldn’t refer to myself as seidhkona or seeress if those who had more experience and wisdom in it hadn’t already done so.
We walk to where the soil becomes branch, and thence to the trunk of the tree. Touching it we connect to its overwhelming vastness. Yggdrasil, the mighty tree, nine worlds supporting, all things connecting. We spend a moment with it and move on, following the guide.
More properly what we do in the high seat is spae, to see is the goal, and seidh encompasses a much broader set of practices. The two terms have become conflated however, and may even have been during the Viking era where we get our information about it. Certainly it seems that seidhkonas practiced spae, and some were called volva. A volva figures heavily in the first poem of the Elder Eddas, “Voluspa”, which could be translated to “What the Seeress Saw”.
The songs, the well-trodden path that we walk, the relationships that we forge with the beings that we ask for assistance in spae are all part of establishing a deeply-rooted practice, one that we can perform smoothly. While I’ve developed my own style, songs and practice it’s easy for me to slip into the familiar ones that others use as well, and it’s important to be able to when I’m not the only one seeing. It’s generally done as a gift to community, though that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t come with a price; some kind of compensation, often in the form of food and hospitality, is typically provided when doing it for Heathen groups. Some of us have performed spae for money; I’m among them. We help others by trying to assist them in finding and untangling the knots in their wyrd, and that gift demands a gift.
We approach the place that I know, the small cave. The guide bids the others to wait while I go inside. I greet the guardian who crouches in the corner; it and I have an understanding. I sit against the wall and seem to melt into place, staring into the depths of a pool that reflects the light of the flames that dance behind me. I draw my veil over my face as the guide calls me by a different name and the self that I know melts away. The questions begin, and as they do, images resolve themselves in the water. I tell what I see, occasionally battling aside the voice of my Self that wants to interpret them. That can wait for later, for now I’m Seeing and speaking with as little between the two as possible.
When it comes down to it every seeress does it differently. Some have spirits come to them and relay information directly Others, like me, see images that we share. Part of the work (in my practice) is trying to prevent my own commentary. These images already pass through the filter of my consciousness to come out of my mouth; they don’t need any additional obfuscation. Often when I’ve tried to interpret images I’m flat out wrong; I had a disturbing example where I relayed, moment for moment, a violent and damaging incident in a person’s life. The interpretations I tried to provide fell flat whereas the images were a blow-by-blow description of a real event. I have a solid ego and getting it to shut up can be hard, but again, that’s part of what those who are best at this learn to do while we are seeing. When I can’t do it for a particular question I tell them to “ask another”.
The images are usually interpretive, sometimes painful, and often difficult to hear. A good seeress doesn’t dull the edge of what she sees, she acts as much as she can as a clear channel to the wisdom that is being shared. Life isn’t easy, and the answers are often hard as well. Breaking down and crying is not at all uncommon at a spae session; we don’t go to a seeress to ask frivolous questions; we ask about the things that are hooked deeply into who we are. Livelihood, family, Gods, Ancestors, health; those are the things most frequently asked about, and unlike some modern mediums we don’t by and large believe in making the responses more palatable.
I speak what I see, sharing the images over and over as they flow through me. One image leads to another until the water is black and still again.
“How fares the seeress?” The guide asks. I’ve spent a while in the chair so she bids me return and reluctantly disengage from the well, rise, bid farewell to the guardian, and rejoin the group. The veil comes off, and I move from the seat, joining the rest of the group, as another takes my place.
Some take their querents with them on the journey to wherever it is that they go to see. Some go alone, claiming that it is safer for not to take those with no training. I’m of the former crowd, as that was how I was trained, and it seems like signal clarity between myself and those who come with questions is better. They are “closer” and as a result the images that I see are more pertinent to them and easier for them to interpret. We have good guides and Gods and I’ve yet to run into an issue of someone running off or getting lost, and I hope that I don’t (although once upon I time I was that person).
There are a lot of stylistic variations, but by and large the rite is the same (and it is it’s own ritual); the seeress is guarded, fares forth, finds wisdom, and bears it back to the folk. Like a hunter tracking down a beast to feed our communities’ bodies, we track down information and knowledge, speaking with Gods, with the Dead, with various wights, and looking into the Well of Wyrd itself to return with advice and spiritual nourishment for the people who call on us to.
The questions have petered out. “Well has been asked, and well answered.” We follow the guide back on the long journey to our world and our bodies. As we re-enter them, the song of returning is sung, drawing us back to our space and our world. The powers are thanked, the space is opened, and we eat and chat about what happened before the memories fade from the seeresses’ minds as so often happens soon after.
This is a gift. I don’t mean that I have a gift that others don’t have; honestly I think most people could learn to do spae work if they had a will and training. I mean that it is a gift to me that I’ve received this training in something that I sought after for so very long. It’s a gift to be able to do this work for people who need it. It’s a gift from Freyja and the other Powers involved to me that I get to be a seidhkona, that I get to do spae, that I get to be engaged in such a fascinating and rewarding practice, and I am grateful every day for it. There are other ways that I contribute to my community, but this is the one that resonates most deeply with who I am and what I am good at. May we all find the answers we seek, and all find the services that we can perform gladly and with skill to lift one another up and strengthen our tribes.