Apr 10, 2012

Prophets and Prophecies - Part Six
The Norse Völva

Then came the völva Gróa there, wife of Aurvandil the Bold. She sang her galðr [spell-songs] over Thor until the piece of stone loosened [from his flesh]. When Thor noticed this, and understood that there was a good hope that she would be able to completely remove the byrnie-piece, he wished to reward Gróa for her healing by doing her an honor…

Snorri Sturluson, Skaldskáparmál, Prose Edda
Source: Freyia Völundarhúsins

Völva is a word reclaimed from Old Norse meaning staff or wand carrier. A Völva was a wise woman, shaman, or priestess in Norse and Germanic paganism. While most of sources identify women as practitioners of this art, many men were drawn to this pathways well. However, it was understood that by doing so they were taking on a female role, thus endangering their manhood.

The Völva were believed to possess powers so great that even Odin himself (the all-father) consulted a Völva for what the future had in store for the gods. Highly respected members of society, they cared for the spiritual and physical needs of their people by means of herbalism and prophecy.

The Völva travelled the land, usually followed by a retinue of young people, and she was summoned in times of crisis. She had immense authority and she charged well for her services. A woman who carried the wand of the witch would never be harmed. They were allied with the fate goddesses and thus wielded the greatest of powers.

When the Völva reaches a town she is greeted with a lavish meal of food prepared only for her. After the ritual meal is over she mounts a platform where she sits on a pillow of down feathers (to aid her on her spiritual flight). A young villager sings entrancing incantations called the Vardlokkur Songs.

The songs are an important part of the Seidir (the divination ritual); they draw the spirits in to hear them. The Völva asks these spirits questions concerning health, war, farming, or what ever other issue is of concern. Once she learns what she needs to from the spirits she emerges from her trance and passes the information on to the waiting villagers.

The practicing völur appear to have been buried with the wands they wielded in life, a fact hinted at in some sagas and confirmed by archaeological finds. Scandinavian archaeologists have discovered staffs, or wands, in about 40 graves of women believed to have been Völvas. The graves themselves are rich with valuable grave offerings as well as jewellery and animal sacrifices. The finds are on display in the Swedish Museum of National Antiquities in Stockholm and show that that the Völvas belonged to the highest level of society.

If you would like to learn more about the Völvas and their practices, I highly recommend The Return of the Volva, by Diana L. Paxson

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