Spinning seiðr



Spinning seiðr

In an article called “Spinning seiðr”, which is the basis for the modern connection between seiðr and the Norns, scholar Elder Heide writes:

‘This paper argues that seiðr was about spinning a mind emissary, sending forth such a spun emissary, or attracting things or doing other things with such a mind emissary.’

He begins: ‘The etymology of seiðr is disputed, but it is clear that etymological equivalents are known from Old English and Old High German (cf. for example de Vries, 1961). Those equivalent words mean ‘cord, string’ and ‘snare, halter’. The skaldic poetry also has an example of seiðr in the meaning ‘cord’ or ‘girth, girdle’ (Ragnarsdrapa 15, Finnur Jonsson 1912).’ …The problem is what sense could this make. One suggestion has been that seiðr is about binding, but binding is not very characteristic of seiðr.’

He notes that in Icelandic tradition of more recent times, attraction dominates and most of the sources have the fixed expression seiða til sín (‘seidr to oneself’, attract by seiðr). He acknowledges that there is broad agreement that seiðr was an estatic kind of sorcery, and that the seiðr performer could send forth his mind in animal or other shape, or could ride I the sky. “This may seem contradictory to the etymology ‘cord’”, Heide writes, “ but I will argue it is compatible, because it appears that the sorcerer’s mind emissary could be regarded as something spun: a thread or rope.” Feeling the need to explain, he continues:
“The notion that one could send forth one’s mind in the shape of a thread or ball of yarn seems trange to us. I will suggest a two-step explanation of it:

I. Magic wind could be conceived as a sorcerer’s mind sent forth.
II. Magic wind could be conceived as something spun, a thread.
He adds that “The expression is derived from the notion that one’s breath is one’s mind, spirit or soul (cf. Liestøl 1937). Comparfe the relationship between Old Norse önd, ‘spirit’ and anda, ‘to breathe’ and between Latin spiritus, ‘a breath, breeze; a spirit’ and spirare, “breathe, blow”.
In the five examples Heide uses in support of this notion, everyone is from Saami legend. Not one is from a Nordic source. The examples primarily deal with releasing winds from knotted cords, by untying the knots. A sixteenth century source specifies that “in the cords there are evil spirits, and if the woman unties the knots, she can send the spirits wherever she wants. He concludes: IF WE REMEMBER THAT IN THE SOURCES, there is very often no clear distinction between helping spirits and the sorcerer’s own mind emissary, then this comes very close to what I have been outlining.”

Heide admits “The basis for my theory is mostly later than the High Middle Ages, but the question is whether it can be confirmed by Medieval Viking Age material. Unfortunately, the sources are mostly silent as to what the seiðr performer did.” To shore up this theory, he states: “In German folklore, the spindle was characteristic of wise women and witches, and it was considered dangerous”. He covers this lack of information, by stating “It is striking that none of the sources tell us what the seiðr performer did. I believe it was censored because of the ergi nature of seiðr.” Yet, he concludes that it basically amounts to the “women’s work of spinning”; and explains the ergi nature of the “spinning mind emissaries” as connected to the word göndull, which he sees as a deriviative of gandr, meaning “ball of yarn” and “penis”. “On the basis of this, it is possible that the thread element of the seidr emissary had the same sexual symbolism." Therefore, “it should not be a problem if this cord was spun by a woman,” but would be considered “phallic aggression” if performed by a male. "It's also possible that seiðr included sexual or symbolic sexual acts with the distaff (Jochens 1996). A common way of holding the distaff (between one's legs) is suggestive in that respect."

How does this connect in any way with Norns spinning fate, we are left to wonder?