Posts Tagged ‘svipdagsmal’

Within the context of a single paleo-pagan Indo-European culture, discuss three different forms of divination or seership, and give an example of each. (minimum 100 words each)

Working from Tacitus, the Sagas, and the Poetic Edda, I’ve found three different forms of divination used by the Germanic culture group, which includes the Scandinavian and Icelandic cultures. While it could be argued that these three cultures are separated by both time and geography, their similar language, alphabet, cosmology and mythology is more than enough for me to be comfortable talking about them as a group together.

First, there’s a documented form of trance-like seership called seidhr. In Leif Eiriksson’s Saga (ch. 4) a seeress named Thorbjorg is featured who is highly honored by the farm she visits. She is brought there during a difficult time for the farm, and she spends a night there, honored by the various guests and given special food (milk porridge and animal hearts). After some reluctance (ostensibly due to being Christian) the women of the farm come and form a circle around her, and sing the ward songs, and she is visited by the spirits, who tell her that the hardship will last no longer. As well, she sees great reward for the woman who sang the ward songs. This type of divination is also seen in the Voluspa, and is perhaps the most formal and ritualistic type of seership among the Germanic and Norse cultures.

In Tacitus Germania, there is a reference to divination by something which sounds a great deal like it would be runecasting. A little bough is chopped off of a tree and cut into small pieces, which are given certain markings. They are thrown at random over a cloth, and then either the priest (or the head of the family) chooses three of them and finds meaning according to the marks. This is extremely similar to most modern practices of runecasting (Germania 10). Also, later sources (Egil’s Saga, Ch 44) show runes being used for magic, and Thorsson believes that runes were “born from a magical tradition, not a purely linguistic one” (5). Between the rune’s associations with magic and their predating Tacitus’ encountering them among the Germanic tribes (Thorsson states as early as 200 BCE (12)), I am comfortable considering runic divination, at least in terms of the casting of lots inscribed with magically meaningful marks, a divination tradition among the Germanic and related cultures.

In Svipdagsmal (Poetic Edda, Hollander) young Svipdag is given a terrible task by his evil step-mother (proving that Evil Stepmothers existed from quite a ways back). In order to get help and learn how he can complete his task, he goes and sits outside on his mother Groa’s grave, a practice called utiseta or “outsitting”. Groa comes through for Svipdag, and he not only learns how to complete his terrible task, but also is granted nine magical spells. This practice was also used in the conversion of Iceland to Christianity, when Thorgeirr (who was chosen to moderate the conflict between the Pagan Icelanders and the Christian forces from Norway) sits out for a day and a night under a skin in order to determine the fate of religion in Iceland. This practice of outsitting is a way of getting information and help, often specifically from the ancestors, and divining the future with their aid.


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