Traditions of the North Witch: The Völva

In ancient Scandinavia and Germania, there was a class of priestesses or seeresses whose history and lore are of great interest. These seeresses, or völvas/vǫlvas, were a class of women all their own. Responsible for reading omens, prophesying, and divination on behalf of their tribesmen, these women were clearly the conduit between Midgard and the Beyond.

Völvas must surely have looked to the Ancestors’ spirits, as well as spirits that resided in the land and sea. These women were thought to be the mortal divinity of Freyja, as it is said Freyja was the goddess who introduced the art of Seiðr–that is, the practice of seeing into the future, the Unknown, and even the world of the dead, as much wisdom is gained from Spirit conversation.

These women were held in very high esteem, respected as a divinity by all…including men of all ranks. This seems to be so because the culture and religious practices of the Vikings and Germanic tribes attributed all women as having been in some way endowed with this power. Those that chose this path in life because of their strong sight became married to their staves, the working wand of the wild witch.

Völvas who were requested to divine on behalf of the people would do so sometimes publicly, as all were connected to Fate, and would sometimes be called to the home to perform a ceremony. It seems clear that these women acted as Shamans to their communities. They would be imparted with spell-song, to help aid their trance-states so the information from the worlds beyond would be better transmitted.

Not unlike Shamans of many other tribes, völvas would commune with plant and animal spirits as well as those that dwell within the land and hearth and home. For this reason, many were called upon as healers for spirit and body, too.

The Seiðr-craft was so revered and respected (because of its origins from Freyja, no doubt) it is said that Freyja was the one to impart this knowledge to Odin himself. The power of the Feminine Divine, indeed.

The lesson one can take from the völva and other women who are practitioners of this ancient tradition is one of self-discipline and spiritual development. The sight must be practiced, brought into harmony with all of the Self. Such practice seeks to completely eradicate the Ego’s stirring presence of self-doubt, opening the channels for communication between all divine beings, both of Earth and those who dwell beyond and below.

Image courtesy of GermanMythology.com 

of Wild Roses and Fading Dreams…

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Last night my dreams took me to an ancient and serene river, where I stood on the bank looking upstream to where the first bend curved to the North. It was warm and calm and I could smell the scents of the forest behind me.

I remained silently standing, frozen in time…watching. A shadow stirred in my left-hand peripheral vision, beckoning my attention. I think it was my sister that stood to my left; her presence was comforting…I returned my gaze to the river, and scanned everything, and I noticed a plastic Ziploc bag floating down the currents toward me…I remember being curious…

The bag flowed on the currents up to the river bank at my feet. I reached into the water to scoop it out and wonder at its contents. I opened the bag and pulled out what looked like old and forgotten papers…papers with my name on them…like I had signed for a package or insurance policy many years before…

…Then I saw the message. It was a message from an old friend. The words so clearly written in his handwriting asked are you content living the life of a soldier?I didn’t quite understand that question, because I’ve never been a soldier…

The dream shifted and I was riding passenger with my father in his old Jeep as we journeyed through primordial wooded wilds. The light was grey, as if this world would hold no color beyond the deep greens of the mysterious woods surrounding our dirt path. We drove for eternity and yet, only a second in time, and finally arrived at my friend’s house…I said something to my father, and then he was gone, leaving me standing alone before an unfamiliar place. Tall and ancient trees surrounded everything.

The dream hazed and turned again, and I was swimming in a pool with my friend. We swam, watching each others’ blue eyes, knowing this would not be the last time we met in dreams.

He said he was sorry, and I embraced him. He still felt the same…I breathed him in, and his scents still held familiarity inside my nose and throat.

…Then the rain fell and we ran inside. His home was unfamiliar to me…two stories with a balcony ringing the whole living room, looking down. It felt…I don’t know…ancient, in a way…The room upstairs held a computer atop an antique stout wood desk, and every piece of artwork I’ve ever created was displayed lovingly on the walls. He said he saved this spot for me because he know how much I loved to create things of beauty.

The dog came to me and he reminded me that she never really took to anyone but me since I went away. She sat down at my feet, smiling up at me.

Then we were in a garden of tangled herbs and flowers breathing in the scents of a place neither of us had been to before. He handed me some seeds that I couldn’t identify, and I planted them at our feet. Wild roses started creeping up out of the wet black soil, seducing us with their scents. He took my hand then, and said he was sorry once more. He told me your daughter is beautiful, just like you. You’re welcome to stay here…I can’t remember if I said anything back…

…I remember being choked with tears, looking into his blue eyes, and smiling sad smiles. We hugged tightly again…

When I woke up from the restless sleep of this dream, it was raining outside. It had been raining most of the night into the morning. I could tell because the steady rhythm was constant, and the scents were too wet to have been a short rain. I couldn’t get his face and voice out of my mind for a while that morning.

No, that rainy morning was meant for lighting candles and sweet incense, and sending sermons and prayers of remembering, of love, of younger days when things should have mattered more.

As we grow older and learn more, it becomes the smaller packages in life that we are most afraid to open and accept…and this small package of mine—a faded dream of symbolic references—I have been afraid to revisit for fear of the thoughts and visions it pulls back to mind.

But Spirit has subtle yet blindingly powerful lessons that adhere themselves to those little packages we are so afraid to accept. Whether this is a past dream, or one yet to come, dreams are mine, and this one does not lie.

A Short Note on Spirit Animals

What is a spirit animal? Is it the same as an animal totem?

First of all, let me start out by saying that a SPIRIT ANIMAL is totally different from an ANIMAL TOTEM. An animal totem is a spirit animal as it relates to a whole unit, clan, tribe, etc. For a very simplistic example, the animal totem most frequently associated with the United States is a bald eagle. The United States is a collective unit, the eagle being representative of that. An animal totem can also be used to represent an ideology, much like the bald eagle also represents the ideas of freedom, liberty, and patriotism. So to say that an animal is your animal totem for you personally, is not entirely correct.

I would also like to point out that a Spirit animal is not an animal that you just like or find attractive. Spirit animals are sent for specific reasons to you and you alone, to help guide you, teach you an important lesson about your Self, your environment, your current circumstances of living…they are not always animals we like, and they are sometimes animals that we fear or by which we are disgusted. However, one thing remains clear: your spirit animal comes to you–to teach you, to guide you– because there’s great importance and bearing on the lesson. Whether you think it’s cute or hideous is irrelevant.

And lastly, I would also like to give some insight based on my personal experiences as well as what others had to say on the subject…Your spirit animal is one that you will, over time, develop a very deep spiritual connection with. This doesn’t just happen. Just like multiplication/times tables, these Spirit lessons are not completely learned with just one visit from the teacher. It takes time and patience, as well as practice, to develop your senses for recognizing when your guide is present, as well as learning the full lesson as it’s taught.

So to say that wolves are your ‘spirit animal’ because you’ve always loved the look of them, the qualities they represent, etc is not entirely accurate. But if you’ve been visited by a specific wolf or you end up ‘adopting’ it (not in the literal sense of adopting a stray animal), connecting with it, learning from it, then in this instance that specific wolf becomes your spirit animal. It’s more of a specificity/personal bond with one animal rather than a long-held affinity with the species as a whole.

Not only did Native American tribes find meanings, messages, and connections with spirit animals, this trend can be found throughout many cultures–past and present–of our world.

References and further reading:

Comprehensive Guide to Symbols & Meanings on What’s Your Sign?

How to Find Your Spirit Animal By Elena Harris, Editor, SpiritAnimal.com

Definition of Totem on Oxford Online Dictionary (U.S)

Shamanism-Working With Animal Spirits  on animalspirits.com –I want to say that this site is very simple, yet very informative. I found it quite helpful.