Seiðr – Forms of Shamanism in Ásatrú
Segment I - History:
Seiðr is the name given to the Ásatrú practice of Shamanism, a practice which is documented in several instances of the sagas. Seiðr’s practitioners were primarily female. While there were also accounts of male practitioners, called seiðmenn or seiðmaðr these cases were far less frequent due to the practice of Seiðr being seen as effeminate and often resulting in the practitioner being castrated as a result of his involvement. Earliest evidence of the castration of male practitioners dates back to the German Iron age where the act was described on the Golden horns of Gallehus as part of the initiation rites. From looking at the histories of societies both geographically and culturally similar, we can discern that the ritual would have also involved the removal of the man’s penis which was not an uncommon practice in the region and often used as a means of demonstrating superiority, demoralizing enemy soldiers, or to bring an end to a person’s lineage. Armies have been known to sever the penises of their enemies as a means of counting the dead, as well as to take them as trophies, which was the case during the Norman invasion of Rome where defeated opponents were forcibly castrated. While there are no surviving records of what these rituals entailed, it should be noted that in many pagan cultures around the world, the penis is one of the most commonly consumed organs in acts of ritualistic cannibalism- along with the vulva, clitoris, phalanges, and heart.
Should the male practitioner survive the castration- gangrene and bleeding out were common results, he would be officially recognized as a practitioner of Seiðr and admitted into their kinship. Unlike their female counterparts however, males who survived the castration were referred to as “Níðings” outside of the magical community, and considered to be highly poisonous and a threat. So much so that in order to prevent reanimation after death, their corpses were often impaled, burned or sunk into bogs. Female practitioners of Seiðr however, were seen as being religious leaders within their communities and were often called upon to invoke the will of a particular deity- most commonly Freyja, the Goddess in the Vanir associated with love, beauty, fertility and war; or Odin the principal figure of the Aesir who is associated with battle, victory, death, wisdom, magic, poetry and prophecy. Both Odin and Freyja have strong links to Seiðr, Freyja being credited for instructing the Aesir in its practice, and Odin who was himself a practitioner- a fact he was mocked for by his brother Loki in the Lokasenna. Other times practitioners of Seiðr would take part in Nīþ, a malevolent magic, to predict the future or kill opponents by means of a curse.
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