Historical knowledge

The magic wands of Viking seeresses?

Völva probably means staff or wand carrier. The staff or wand was also an important accessory in the carrying out of seid or magic.

There are several examples of mysterious iron staffs from Viking Age graves. They have most often been found in the graves of wealthy women. This emphasises the fact that völur belonged to the upper strata of society. An example of this type of female grave is the woman from Fyrkat, which is comparable to other richly-furnished völur women’s graves from Scandinavia.

The völva burial from Köpingsvik, on the Swedish island of Öland, contained an 82 cm long iron staff, with bronze ornamentation and a house represented on top. Accompanying this was a jug from Central Asia and a bronze cauldron from Western Europe. The woman was dressed in bear fur and was buried within a ship setting, or stone ship, which also contained sacrificed animals and humans. 

Another völva burial is the Oseberg burial from Norway. This contained the bodies of two women. One was a woman of high status, whilst the other was a slave. Several of the objects in the burial are associated with seid and seeresses, for example a wooden staff or wand, and cannabis seeds in a purse.

At Hagebyhöga in Östergötland, Sweden, another seeress was buried. Apart from her staff or wand, she was placed with horses, a carriage and Arabic bronze jugs, together with a small piece of silver jewellery shaped like a woman with a large necklace. This figure can be interpreted as Freyja – the goddess of the Viking seeresses – who is wearing the necklace “Brísinga men”.

The Goddess Freyja – seeress of the gods and seductress

The völur were also known for their skills of seduction. This was one of the reasons that they were reckoned to be dangerous. Freyja’s skills at practising seid were on the same level as Odin – the king of the gods. In myths Frejya is portrayed as a great seducer. She therefore may have functioned as a divine role model for the völur in Viking society. Perhaps völur seduced men using narcotic substances?

In the seeress’s grave from Fyrkat, henbane was found. This is a substance, which apart from causing hallucinations, is also a strong aphrodisiac.

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