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Forums -> Norse Paganism -> Magick and Sexuality

Magick and Sexuality
By: Moderator / Knowledgeable
Post # 1

Norse Magick and Sexuality

For those who have interests in learning Seidhr or Norse magick, discussing the highly-debated topic of "ergi" is a must. As a quick note, seidhr is a magickal practice that is very similar to shamanism and was taught by the Goddess Freyja, the Goddess of ferility and love (if you want to learn more about the practice, I'll include a link later). In seidhr, most of the practitioners are female- and are known as the Volva. However, commonly today many men are beginning to practice seidhr as well. This raises up the controversial issue of "ergi", which more or less translates to meaning "unmanly, acting in the ways of a woman, gender-transgressing behavior". Some people mistakenly equate this to "homosexuality", though this is a wrong comparison.

Traditionally, in Norse society, being called an "ergi" was seen as one of the worst insults you can bestoy upon another. Thus, if the person accused of being an ergi either did not immediately challenge the other person who called them the name, or they did not take physical action, they were often beat up, killed, or outcast from their homes.

There are a few mentions in the Eddas and Sagas of men practicing Seidhr, but unlike the tales of women who practiced- the men were treated differently. For instance in Heimskingla they mention Ragnvald, the son of Harald Fairhair, as a male who practiced seidhr. However, they believed that Ragnvald had brought a shame to his family and honor by taking up this "feminine" practice. His own father and kin locked him in a building and burned the building down.

Seidhr was considered to be unmanly, because the person who practices seidhr must become a type of vessel to be used in the practice. It promotes the person to be in a very vulnerable state, as they go into the deep seidhr trances, and this state of vulnerability was seen as feminine and not manly- thus it was rejected by the culture. "If we look further into the receptive qualities that could be associated with seidr, we see that to the Norse- to be sexually passive was a feminine quality and to be sexually active was a male quality". (Katie Gerrard)

Another term that you'll note occasionally is the word "argr". This word can be roughly translated to simply meaning "pervert", and like ergi it is a word with negative connotations which suggests feminine sexuality. It is thought to be a term related to the word "ragr" which is meant to reference someone who is effeminate In the Flyting of Loki, when Loki calls out the other Gods, he and Odin exchange words. Odin makes fun of Loki for shapeshifting into a woman and giving birth, but then Loki points out that Odin once practiced Seidhr- and calls him unmanly:


Odin (to Loki):
Yet eight winters you were beneath the Earth
A woman milking cows
And there you bore children
And that, I thought, the hallmark of a pervert(argr)

Loki (to Odin):
But you once practiced Seid on Samsey
And you beat on a drum, as the witches do,
In the likeness of a wizard you journeyed amoung mankind
And that, I thought, the hallmark of a pervert(argr)


"Of all the "bright" and "upper-worldly" Aesir gods, Odin is paradoxically the "darkest", as any survey of the rest of his heiti will show. He is a god of the Dead in his own right as leader of the Einherjar, a god of war and frenzied berserker states, a god of sorcery who cohabits with ravens and wolves, a dead man hanged on the Tree. He is also just as ergi in his own way as his blood-brother Loki, if less obvious about it. He has also managed to overshadow the ergi archetype with the King archetype in most people's eyes, and so avoid being outcast, and thus he is a God of both those in power and those cast out at the fringes, the ruling class and the homeless wanderer. He is a deity of extreme opposites, and so it is not unusual that he takes both uber-manly warriors and argr spirit-workers." (Raven Kaldera)

My personal belief is this: Seidhr is, and was, a form of ecstatic magick. Seidhr does, and did, include sexuality and sexual acts. When practicing seidhr, the vessel has to be able to physically and spiritually transcend boundaries. It is not unthinkable then, to me, that it was thought that the vessel practicing seidhr was able to transcend gender roles- and this was what the Norse considered taboo, as their culture was heavily focused on what defines manly action and what defines feminine action. If Odin, the God of War and "manly man" of the pantheon, could transcend gender roles and master seidhr- as he did- then it surely is not this taboo "unmanly" practice. Not to mention that men commonly practiced galdr and spa, which were related practices, and did not receive negative connotation for that.

I would say that anyone who still uses the term ergi to try and insult a seidhr practitioner is ignorant. I think that seidhr is meant for both sexes, and I am happy to see that in modern times we have more men becoming a part of the experience. I encourage all genders to practice seidhr. I would definitely be interested in hearing other Heathens ideas about the old usage of ergi and their views on seidhr ties with sexuality.

If you'd like to read more about Ergi:
http://www.northernshamanism.org/shamanic-techniques/gender-sexuality/ergi-the-way-of-the-third.html

If you'd like to read more about Seidhr:
http://www.spellsofmagic.com/read_post.html?post=395224&...

Sources:
Being Ergi by Lydia Helasdottir
Seidr: The Gate is Open by Katie Gerrard
Wightridden by Raven Kaldera

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Re: Magick and Sexuality
By:
Post # 2

This is a really informative post Percy. I always enjoy learning more about the Norse culture as well as the practices. I had no idea what an ergi was until I read this. So thanks!

I like the bit on Odin and Loki. I hadn't known what an argr was neither. I hadn't thought much about Odin's seidr practice, but I suppose he would make himself "womanly" by doing so. Loki just changes gender with the winds so no surprises there.

As a shaman I can attest to the need to be comfortable with sexuality, gender roles and identity, and just overall learning to be comfortable in (or out of) your own skin. I have become more comfortable with gender and sexuality and it's excelled my practiced greatly.

I don't view seidr as womanly, I view it as something that takes guts. You have to have the mental strength to practice it. As you said, Odin himself practices it. I think that the idea of seidr being womanly is just an unfounded stereotype.

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Re: Magick and Sexuality
By: Moderator / Knowledgeable
Post # 3
This thread is awesome .I am with you guys on this .
To be seidhr(shaman ) does require mental and emotional strength .
It also requires the inner ability to let go of your pride in perfect trust ,toward the spirits you are about to be vessel for .
Shamans are in service of their people in similar ways as warriors or leaders are too .
When I started my path I had very hard time letting go of my own Ego and trusting the part of me that came here to do the job .
If you are full with judgment and ego ,and you have a pride to guide and expectation to match,you can not be empty vessel, fully .However ,achieving such state of mind is not easy task at all for most of us .If you have the courage and will to even attempt it that means that you also own a part of you that strive for full control and for reputation .I think Odin did understood this idea during his ordeals in order to achieve wisdom and knowledge .It is but state which leads to battle with someone's own self .
We all know that our greatest enemy is not the enemy that is outside our world ,but the one inside .It takes a lot of guts to fight your own fear to let go and to strive to pass around your own judgment or what is honorable or not .To me this is the greatest battle that practitioner can embark on ,and achieving a victory against yourself is far more harder than fighting normal enemy .
Therefore the people that deal with it on daily basis deserve the same respect as any warrior who is fighting a battle on the battle field.To all shamans out there I would like to say that we need to keep our chins up ,never the less our gender and keep working as we always did .Honor to all of you .
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Re: Magick and Sexuality
By: Moderator / Knowledgeable
Post # 4

Thank you both for reading it. I appreciate it and the feedback!

I definitely think for shamanism, or even for magickal practices in general, you have to be able to step out of your comfort zone and transcend some of those boundaries. I don't really see any particular practice as being "manly" or "girly". I think bringing gender into it, at least in this case, is a bit counter-productive and pointless. It doesn't add to the practice, moreso it inhibits it and limits those who can practice.

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Re: Magick and Sexuality
By: / Novice
Post # 5
An excellent and very informative post Personified. Coming at this with no prior knowledge of the topic (so kindly indulge my ignorance if you will) I would concur that Seidhr probably contained ecstatic, sexual elements that were considered "unmanly". If it was acceptable for men to practice galdr and spa there must have been a reason for the extreme reaction of "manly" men against Seidhr.
This would lead me to question how Seidhr has evolved and developed over time. Has it adapted its sexual practices to become more mainstream and acceptable? I would also like to know how Norse women that practiced Seidhr were treated, were they seen as outcasts or excepted within the community? Personified you stated that within Norse society 'anyone' called "ergi"(unmanly) was subjected to one of the worst insults so did this insult also apply to women and if so how?
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Re: Magick and Sexuality
By: Moderator / Knowledgeable
Post # 6

Good questions! I will try to address them all if I can.

Has it adapted its sexual practices to become more mainstream and acceptable?

Unfortunately a lot of original texts concerning how Seidhr was practiced have been lost or destroyed. The way it is practiced now is largely reconstructionalist based, and thus there are likely large differences. I would say that modern use of Seidhr doesn't focus much on the sexual aspect of things, though it certainly can, as it is largely determined by the individual. It's really hard to say.

I would also like to know how Norse women that practiced Seidhr were treated, were they seen as outcasts or accepted within the community?

They were outcasts, but of their own choosing. From the texts and literature we do have- it tells us that the Volva often would stay out of town, prefering to live in the wilderness (with possibly a group of attendants who chose to go with them). They would only venture into town to perform oracular seidhr and help the townspeople in spiritual ways. They were always treated with respect and often given food, clothes, shelter, etc when they came into the towns. So I would say it was considered to be a highly respectable thing to be a Volva.

They were, however, viewed to be potentially dangerous by some in Norse society. The volva was thought to be sexualized in connection with their patron deity. The Goddess of Love, Freyja, was the one who taught Seidhr. You must take into consideration that not only was Freyja a sexualized deity, she was also a goddess of blood and death, as she led the Valkyr into battle- choosing who lived, died and who won wars, and overall was a very strong woman figure. Odin was the other main God who practiced seidhr, and he is obviously a warlike deity in his own right. So it was believed that the Volva actually had influence in the battles of men. Warlords paid great respect to the Volva.

Within Norse society 'anyone' called "ergi"(unmanly) was subjected to one of the worst insults so did this insult also apply to women and if so how?

It was actually a term that could apply to women, though it is far far less common to hear of that. More or less, when applied to a woman, the term ergi then means something more like "madness, crazy" but also implied they were "sexually-crazed/nympho".

Some extra reading:

http://vsnrweb-publications.org.uk/Nid,%20ergi%20and%20Old%20Norse%20moral%20attitudes.pdf

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Re: Magick and Sexuality
By: / Novice
Post # 7
Thanks for your detailed response Personified. As a curious individual I must confess that this has raised a couple more questions; Freyja is acknowledged as a goddess of love and fertility so it's fascinating to discover that in addition to the above she was the deity that led the Valkyr into war. Love, sex,blood and death, a deadly and powerfully emotive cocktail. This explains why women practicing Seidhr were feared and respected, however I fail to understand why they would live in a self imposed exile from their communities. How did this effect their social standing? Did they have relationships with each other or did they marry men from outside the Volva? Apart from practicing Seidhr did members of the Volva engage in other aspects of witchcraft? Once it was acknowledged that Odin had participated in Seidhr practices was it perceived as being more acceptable for men to participate?
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Re: Magick and Sexuality
By: Moderator / Knowledgeable
Post # 8

I fail to understand why they would live in a self imposed exile from their communities. How did this effect their social standing?

The self imposed exile was to help the Volva get more in touch with nature, and the landvaettir of spirits of nature, as well as the Gods. I guess the idea there is that by isolating themselves they didn't have to focus much on the affairs going on around them, and could spend more of their attention on working with the spirits and learning the ways of their practice. They kind of wandered from town to town, helping people and offering readings essentially. Some even charged for their services. I mentioned they were highly respected. Often they weren't completely isolated. Young adults, interested in the practice, would sometimes follow them out of town and become the attendants of the volva and learn from her as she traveled.

Did they have relationships with each other or did they marry men from outside the Volva?

Unfortunately, there's little in the remaining literature that tells us much about that. I can say though that I've never run across something mentioning who and if a volva married.

Apart from practicing Seidhr did members of the Volva engage in other aspects of witchcraft?

Seidhr contains a lot of components to it. It is similar to many aspects of witchcraft and shamanism. Within seidhr you find cursing, healing, spirit-work, trance-work, divination, journeying or projecting, "love spells', and all sorts of things. It's very comprehensive, which is why it's hard to practice and also hard to study and define. Spae-craft was commonly practiced with seidhr, and it is largely divination and foresight.

Once it was acknowledged that Odin had participated in Seidhr practices was it perceived as being more acceptable for men to participate?

Interestingly enough, no. Odin ended up dressing as a female when practicing Seidhr, to trascend the gender boundary and ideally put him past the border of gender. Later on in the literature, Loki makes fun of Odin for doing so and Odin doesn't have a comeback. The views on it after that were still more or less the same. I think it was a cultural and social thing more than a magickal thing.

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Re: Magick and Sexuality
By:
Post # 9

You did a great job writing this Perc, It really explaines that taboo of men with seidr, and you really were able to take several parts of the eddas to explain this with out it sounding like it was out of text, awesome yet again..

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Re: Magick and Sexuality
By: / Novice
Post # 10
What can I say, you really are the authority on all things Norse! I will check out the links you sent.
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