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Guildmistress Arwen has given us several papers on the use of Runes In Soothsaying over the last several years. Now she delves into the history of the field to discuss some of the people who used them first


by Arwen Evaine fert Rhys

Certain men and women were recognized as adepts in otherworldly lore by the early Norse; these people were either credited with supranormal powers or were skilled in various types of magic use, or both.

The TROLLMANN (male) and TROLLKJERRING (female) were local "hedge-wizards" or Wise Ones; their knowledge of magic and spells was for workaday applications, such as herbcraft, diagnosing and healing livestock, performing brewing rituals, and providing amulets, charms, protections and curses. Like the far northern Shamans, the troll-wise spoke with the spirits of the land and interpreted omens for the populace. Note that in Norse usage, troll does not necessarily mean a certain kind of fiendish and loutish ogre, but rather the Otherworld or supernature, especially linked with natural events, Earth, land spirits, etc. The "etc." does, of course, also include those beings we call "trolls", but further covers werekind, possessed beings, ghosts and goblins, elves and dwarves, walking dead, and suchlike. The modern word "trill" (to lilt or sing in a high voice) comes from "trylle"' (to sing magic in a high voice) which ultimately derives from "troll". The troll-wise, when performing magic, did frequently wear androgynous clothing and sang their magic in a high, feminine voice. A trollmann or trolkerring stayed as accessible to the local populace as possible, either by settling in a community or by traveling along a repetitive route. They were the most common of the magic users, as well as the ones whose traditions most easily survived the Christianization of Scandinavia.

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The SEIĐMANN (male) specialized in chanted or sung ritual magic (seid), and was perhaps the closest equivalent to the shaman of the Lapps and Finns. One technique of chant-singing magic which was shared by the seidmenn and the shamans was joiking (pronounced yoi-king), a shrill high-treble chant which was pitched to resemble the cries of birds. A seidmann underwent ritual training, spirit journeying, and special purifications to reach adepthood; his magic channelled nature or forces by means of certain tools, ritual, and chants.

The THULR (male) was a wise lore-master who memorized long passages of folklore, legend, tales, ghost stories, etc. When he recited, his voice was pitched in a low murmur (brumming) reminiscent of the low muttering of a bear. These itinerant story-tellers were probably primarily responsible for the creation, spread, and preservation of folklore and folk legends and myths. The Thulr did not actually perform magic, but he was a highly trained reporter (and like-as- not creator) of tales of the Other Worlds. His extensive, varied, and encyclopedic knowledge might well encompass numerous versions of a single supernatural event (as related to him by a number of people); he could compare and contrast these tales to come up with a theory of what actually may have happened; likewise, he could pick out the common thread which proved that two seemingly widely diverse tales were actually descendants of one original report. He was the one who told of the doings of the Ćsir (gods), Jotunn (giants), and all the other races of beings linked to the Norse pantheon, as well as hero tales and other folklore. He may also have been a skald (poet who could create intricate verse as well as recite), but the thulr was more a collector and scholar than a performer.

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The GOĐI (male) was a priest of the Old Religion; he was usually the local chieftain as well. A godi was settled in his community, and his responsibilities included the ritual worship of the AEsir and preservation of the law. He performed the blood sacrifices (blót) and men's magic, and frequently held a great deal of political power, especially if he was also the chieftain. The godi did not, however, generate or use magic spells per se; he repeated a set devotion or ritual which had a traditional format. He usually trained his heir (oldest son or, if he had none, a brother or nephew) to assume his duties upon the event of his death. There was one and only one practicing godi in a given community at a given time, though several men may have been trained and been competent to perform the duties of this office. A woman never became a godi, even if she became chieftain of the local village, as the duties of the godi included strictly warriors' and men's magic.

The VOLVA (female) was a sorceress and seeress; she dealt with birth and death as well as prophecy and interpretation of omens. These women could be itinerant or settled; if the latter, usually in a dwelling set apart from the general community. The volva performed útiseta ("out-sitting") in meditation and for out-of-body (astral) travel, and was not associated with generation or performance of magical spells. People came far distances to consult her for oracular divination and clairvoyant visions, and she was considered "set apart" from the general community.

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The SPÁKONE (female) was a spaewife, herbalist, news-teller, soothsayer, charm-maker, midwife, healer, and practitioner of womens' magic. She frequently specialized in home and hearth magic and divination, and, unlike the oracular volva, her fortune~telling techniques included physiognomy, grain and rune casting, and crystal, water, and fire gazing (scrying). She was generally settled, though itinerant spakoner were not unknown (see Egils Saga). The ERILAR (mostly male) were also called the Herulians or the Eruli, and were the great Rune Adepts. They probably originated as a clan in southern Sweden (Skaane) and from there travel led far and wide in search of lore or to practice their arts. The Erilar had a rigid and demanding training, and their magical knowledge and grasp of theory was wide and sophisticated. The most efficacious nd elaborate runic spells or magical inscriptions were crafted by these adepts, who include in their work the phrase ek (name) erilar risti; "I (name) the Herulian carved (the runes)". There are a wide number of variations on this phrase, but it is found all over Scandinavia in recognizable form. Erilar appears to be a title, perhaps stemming from the ancient Indo-European (note the archaic R ending, which was written by the rune ), denoting a highly trained adept in communion with the Other Worlds. It is interesting to note that an Etruscan cognate, Lars, which means about the same thing, is a title or descriptive, and may very well be a shortened form of an earlier word, perhaps erilar. The rune is pronounced "rzh", so that "" (erilar) said quickly becomes (lars). Thus, the far-travelled Erilar betray their links with Mediterranean culture, and as an ethnic group may have remained as a cohesive unit during and long after the Great Migration, when the proto-Norse traveled to their present lands from their Mediterranean and near-Eastern origins. The Erilar were the first to vanish when Christianity came to the North; their skills and training could not be disguised as could most of the others. The talented and specially selected candidate for the career of an Erilar underwent a long and detailed apprenticeship. He had to speak several languages and fit in with the local ways wherever he found himself. He was a nomad, he travelled throughout Europe and Scandinavia and possibly to the British Isles. He collected and performed runic magic and was a rarely-seen, highly respected and eagerly sought-after transient visitor, more than a little mysterious and awe-inspiring. Of all the Norse magic users, this class held the highest skill in runelore.

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