Discuss both the role of seers within at least one Indo-European culture and the relationship of seers to other members of the society, including in that discussion how seers or visionaries would have supported themselves or how they would have been supported by their people. (minimum two paragraphs)
The implication in Scandinavian and Germanic societies is that seership is a woman’s art (born out by other references to seership, and by Loki’s calling Odin “unmanly” for practicing seidhr), and that even in the age of Christianity, women still knew and practiced the art of seeing. Leif Eriksson’s Saga (ch. 4) states that Thorbjorg was one of 10 sisters, all of whom had the gift of prophecy, and she traveled from farm to farm, looking into the spirit world and into the future for people. Clearly she is held in great esteem, and her position puts her “above” the rest – she sits on a high seat to see into the spirit world.
It was clearly highly valuable in the society, as the seeress was treated with great respect and given a place of honor at the farm. As well, Odin himself consults a seer (a volva) to find out what the fate of the Gods will be in the Voluspa. Most of these seeresses seem to be older women who are somewhat outside the bounds of society – they are no longer raising children or helping husbands – but the women who help them can be of any age. Freyja, who is said to be the one who teaches Odin the art of seidhr, is similarly a woman outside of society – her husband is gone, and she is clearly mistress of her own affairs. While the majority of women probably had mundane jobs and only occasionally helped with seeing, at least in Thorbjorg’s case she seems to spend a lot of time traveling from farm to farm, exchanging food and shelter for her skills in prophecy. This may be a purely practical concern (it would be hard for a woman with a house full of small children to devote any time to a practice that required trance work or substantial travel), and it makes some amount of sense that any woman who was devoted to spending a large amount of time on seership would need to be supported by her community, or she would quickly starve.
In other stories, seers get brought back from the dead in order to continue their work of seership (Odin with Baldr’s Dream, Odr’s Saga), which implies that they are valued for their gifts, and also that they are valued for being “outside” of society. If the best way to get a good seer is not to go to the one down the street, but to raise one from the dead, they are clearly a specialized group. (This does not take into account the possibility of them receiving greater knowledge from having passed into the Otherworld, or that their “otherworldliness” is part of what sets them apart as talented seeresses.)
According to Tacitus, divination of a more mundane sort (by casting of lots) was done by a priest or the father of the household (Germania 10), so there may be a division in the society by gender (or perhaps Tacitus’ bias is showing).