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Women and Magic in the Sagas: Seiðr and Spá

By Gunnvör

The Norse practitioners of the various arts of magic were highly respected professionals whose services were valued by their communities (Jochens, Old Norse Magic and Gender, 307; Ellis-Davidson, 37). In the Norse literature, men as well as women appear wielding the arts of magic, however, it is explicitly stated in several places that by doing so these men were taking on a female art so thoroughly that it endangered their reputation and manhood (Ynglingasaga, ch. 7, for instance). Since Norse magic was so intrinsically a woman’s art, throughout this paper I will deal with magic as practiced by women, using the feminine pronoun, but it should be remembered that men as well as women practiced the art as recorded in the sagas.

Many of the most important cult practices of the pagan Norse religion occurred in the housewife’s domain, where the woman of the house would act as priestess or gyðja (Steffensen, 191). From the time of the ancient Germanic tribes, women were revered by the Northern peoples as being holy, imbued with magical power, and with a special ability to prophecy, a reverence which endured in Scandinavia until the advent of Christianity. It is therefore necessary when examining materials dealing with women in general, and most especially with women involved in pagan or magical activities, to carefully evaluate the effect that Christian attitudes may have exerted upon the author recording the material in question. In general, Christian accounts, most especially those describing the Conversion of Scandinavia, have a hostile view of magic and pagan religion, demoting gods to devils, pagan worshipers into malevolent sorcerers, and those practicing magic in a pagan context become regarded practitioners of the most perverse and evil deeds (Simpson, 165). The further an account is removed in time from the pagan era, the more confusion and inaccuracies creep into the accounts. This is especially demonstrable in the confusion over the concepts of seiðr and spá, as will be discussed below.

Read the original article at: Viking Answer Lady

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