In my last post about Northern Tradition Shamanism and Shaman Sickness, the topic of Mound Sitting ended up being brought to spotlight. So I wanted to take some time and explain this practice, and my understanding of it. Its really interesting, and not practiced by a large number of people. Ill link the other article at the end of this post, as well as some sources you can look into if youre interested in learning more about it.
As suggested by the wonderful authors of Uppsala:
The order of the rites, from easiest to most difficult is:
- Hedge Sitting
- Mound Sitting
- Seidh Trance
As you can see, Mound Sitting is about in the middle of this list and thus I would say it (accurately) is a moderately hard practice. It also dabbles in a bit of seidh/seidhr which is even more difficult to achieve, so this is not something I recommend someone with little to no experience to jump into. This is a practice that typically is done by someone who is well advanced in their workings, and is familiar with trance-work, magick, etc.
Mound sitting is very traditional, very cultural. If you flip through some of the Eddas and Sagas you will come across several different stories involving a character who is mound sitting for some various purpose. Even Odin himself did something very similar with a volva. This makes the practice a very important part of the culture and its magickal paths.
The point of mound sitting is to seek visions or divination from the dead and the deceased. The goal through this practice is to literally hear the voices of the dead, to ask them questions and to (hopefully) get answers. In a way this practice can be seen as similar to types of necromancy and shamanism at the same time. Within this practice you are going to find a combination of other difficult practices which you would need experience in before attempting this. A member named Aphoristichas two posts that I will link at the bottom, the posts regarding blood-letting and ordeal work. These two practices are combined in Mound Sitting to achieve a unitary state and often a deep trance- which is essential to go anywhere in this practice, because seidhr work cannot be done without trance and altered states of consciousness.
Mound sitting also incorporates Val-Galdr into its practice, so let me take a moment to explain this.
As seen throughout Norse magick practices, galdr is a song or spell. It is very similar in origin and meaning to the English words "enchant" and "incantation". Galdr is a type of verbal, and often ceremonial magick. Most commonly used and known for "calling the runes" and similar aspects to that. It's thought that these types of spells were originally sung in falsetto. Though now they are sung however the singer wishes. Val-galdr is a type of galdr that dealsin death. These types of incantations/verbal spells are used to "wake" the dead and learn from them. (Invoking the spirit of a dead person. It was also common for Shamans in the North to "fare forth" to the land of the dead in order to learn something, thus I personally think val-galdr could be used either while "faring forth" or while getting into the trance as preparation).
The way this was done is very vague, as you can imagine, due to the lack of writing out there available for it. Aside from the verbal summoning, which was done through chanting of the runes as well as impromptu verse, there were other things associated with the rites involved in val-galdr. Runes were carved on chips and placed under the tongue of a corpse, ( as if to prompt them to speak) if the practitioner was working with a dead body and that specific spirit. These were called val-runar, or "death runes". They're very vague, as I said. Sometimes the word "helliruna" pops up. This is referring to the singing in said heathen fashion on graves/barrows to make the dead "wake" and "speak". This are is rather vague, and not a lot of information can be found. Kudos to anyone who can find more sources on this. Im trying to find someone who still knows the oral stories regarding this. However, the practice has been reconstructed and now varies more depending on the user and UPG. Its not common (or accepted) to actually work with a physical corpse anymore, so we make symbols and representations to help us along with the work, and the runes and such tend to be written in the dirt rather than placed on the corpse or grave itself.
The calling to the dead focuses the mind in the desired direction. The writing in the dirt is an effort that improves that focus. Runes themselves are highly symbolic, and therefore aid in the experience. The word AKOZER is a galdric word which shines a light into the world of the dead, and compels travel to this world. Any practitioner familiar with the runes will benefit from the additional densely packed symbolism of the runes of this word . (www.uppsalaonline.com)
The Valnott **It tends to be more commonly known as the valknut** is sometimes a symbol associated with val-galdr (and is said to have been used in some of the ritual work). In Asatru (most commonly) the valnott represents a symbol of those who have dedicated their lives to Odin. The valnott is called the "Death knot" and with good reason. It is said that those who chose to follow Odin tended to die very horribly deaths. Those who wear the valnott are supposedly showing Odin that they are ready to die, and accepting of their fate. It's use should be with caution and care, in my opinion, if you intend to use it for this meaning. Some like to view it as just a simple symbol for the afterlife, but I find it to be more complex than that. It can symbolize many things: the three sided nature of Odin, the three worlds, the three Norns, etc.
Throughout the Eddas, lays, sagas- calling upon the dead is seen often. This begins to cross between galdr and seidr (a different type of Norse magick). There are several instances throughout these stories where a main character will be in need of something: a weapon, an item, an answer, a question- and will seek the dead's help via galdr and other types of magick.
How Mound Sitting is Done:
Typically, this practice is done in the evening or during the night- as it is thought to increase the awareness of the person doing it, and help them to get into the needed state of mind for this work. This work is done either on a grave, in a crypt, in a graveyard (preferably as close as you can get to a grave), or on a burial mound. Some suggest it is okay to practice this at a crossroad, where the dead may be called upon as well. First, the person needs to sit in an upright manner ontop of the dirt where they have chosen to be. The practice begins by simple meditation. The Path of Breath, as I suggested in my Altered States of Consciousness article, is an idea way of getting the head clear in an easy and simple manner. The four-fold breath technique can be used to help clear the head, as the person focuses only on the repetition of the four beat rhythm breathing. When the person has reached a clear state of mind, they light a candle or a small ritual fire near their working.
Uppsala suggests that around the ritual fire you write nine runic sentences, which go as follows:
Far below, Hela's hall
Holds the dear departed.
Dwelling there as well is one,
Wise and strong, whose aid I seek.
And frosty, frail, the Gioll bridge
From here to there does run.
How to call from out of howe
Hero, shade, and ghost I know.
Now I call, now I call
AKOZER, the dead shall rise!
Hear my call, harken well
Head across the bridge to me.
Sacrifice of strength I've made
Sent to aid the journey here.
Take it all, take it now
Tell me what I want to hear.
My word is binding, more binding than sleep,
More binding than the promise of a hero!
I dont find this step to be necessary, because I think each individual will approach this practice differently. Ideally, you would want to call upon Hel or do some kind of ritual for her beforehand- as she is the Goddess of Death and in charge of those who have passed. An offering is accepted at this time, and generally with this type of working (especially due to Hels nature) a blood offering is seen as the appropriate measure of sacrifice. If you feel comfortable, bringing bones with you may help- as bones are often a symbol of Hel and her workings. The blood-letting itself should not serve to distract the person from their work, instead it should help by boosting energy and awareness and serving as a personal connection between the person and the work they have just committed themselves to doing. The adrenaline that is released from this can be used to help achieve an altered state at a much faster pace.
The next step is to essential practice Going Under. Ive already written an article about it, which you can find down below in the source section. The person doing this work has a few options on how to proceed. They can either lay down, placing stone(s) on their chest to inhibit breathing (but not heavy enough to be dangerous or a distraction), or if they have brought a cloak/hood/animal hide with them, they can continue to sit upright and simply cover themselves in the cloak. Ideally, if youre going to be doing this you may want someone out there to help you set this up. They can easily place stones around the lining of the cloak/etc to hold it down so that it does not move as you do your work. Once again, the person goes back into meditation to clear their mind. Using the Path of Breath, the person deepens their state into an almost trance- where they begin to focus on everything around them and take in as much sensory information as possible. When a high sense of awareness has been achieved, the person then focuses all of their attention inside themselves. This stage can take an hour or so to accomplish.
Raven K suggests this as the next step: You expand your attention outwards, but you go past the boundary of your body, so now you're experiencing all that stuff that's around you, but not as separate from you any more. And at that point, often it's easier to commune with the wights and the dead people and whatever else. And you do five or six or twelve or so cycles of that during the night. That's pretty potent stuff. You can get people who are relative brickheads - thick people who can't see things or hear things - to at least have an unusual experience in doing that....if only because when you pull your cloak over your head it changes the oxygen content of your breathing. At this point in the process, you are fully encompassed in the sitting-out practice and have achieved the trance stage you need to actually do the working.
From here, the ancestor or deceased spirit is called to either by name or just by a generic title/symbol. Like scrying, the person allows images to come and pass, making sure to do their best to interpret what is seen without interrupting the process. Often, especially to those with little experience with genuine spirit contact, the spirit will seem to be just over the shoulder. If this occurs no effort must be made to turn to face it or to make it stand in front, for either of these will just likely ruin the state of mind necessary for the mystery. The spirit may be questioned, either aloud or with the thoughts. (Uppsala). Its probably a good idea before going into this, that you know what questions you have to ask the spirits that you are going to be attempting to communicate with. Going into this without such can lead to negative outcomes.
And as Raven K points out: The deal with sitting out is that you actually need to have a purpose. Why am I doing this? Just to see what's out there and talk to something cool is not a purpose. I have a question that I can't get an answer to, and I need to talk to my ancestors. Or There's a part of me that I don't understand, and I need to get some clarity. Or Someone has come to me with a problem that they need help on and I don't get it. Or The land is really sick and I need to understand what to do about it. These are all good reasons, but not Hey, maybe something cool is out there and I can talk to it. No.
Going deeper than this, there are some who use this opportunity to experience spirit channeling and possession. This type of work is something I do not suggest unless you have others there with you to watch over your body and help you through the process. If this experience is not desired, the person practicing should make this clear when they go into the trance-work beforehand.
When you are done, you should always be sure to thank and leave the spirits who made contact. I generally consider it manners to make another small offering as a sign of appreciation for the work that was done, and thanks. When the fire is put out, you may wish to say a short chant or prayer to Hel. As an alternate method to this, some people merely sit on the mound, light the fire and attempt to do fire-scrying or otherwise provoke some sort of vision in which they hope to have their questions answered. If you wish to do it this way, which I would probably suggest for a beginner, heres an article to help you out:
Of course, there are more details and specifics to this- but I think the person who really desires to do this practice will take it upon themselves to learn more about how it is accomplished, and attempt it on their own. I personally find it to be a very enlightening and useful working, and interesting if nothing more.
Altered States of Consciousness: