There is healthy debate in modern times about what exactly seidh is, or how best to construct some kind of modern seidh practice from the paltry historical evidence available.
What seems beyond debate, however, is that seidh is about altered consciousness.
If we consider the various powers it is attributed to provide (shapeshifting, prophecy, cursing), the trance-like descriptions of its uses in the sagas and even the ergi references in the lore to be somehow related to individuals behaving in socially unacceptable or at least uncharacteristic ways, then it seems inescapable to me that seidh magic in what ever form is about attaining altered consciousness, about trancing.
What is a trance? From the point of view of modern hypnosis, a trance is any state of consciousness which has a degree of focus. Right now as I type away I am entranced by the task I am engaged in. Particularly common trances folks find themselves in are while driving, while reading, while exercising, while having sex or in meditation. Berzerkergang, insofar as it is a very dramatic altered consciousness state, is also a trance. Depression, shock and elation are all trances.
If we are in trances all of the time, what is so special about hypnosis, meditation, and so forth? I would suggest that trances which bring positive change are preferable to those induced by, say, television. Hypnosis and the like are basically techniques for using trance to seed positive ideas, feelings, beliefs and so forth. In fact, I would go further and suggest that hypnosis can be a tool for shutting up the endlessly nattering conscious mind so that the unconscious, which is always going to be a lot bigger and more powerful than the conscious, can get on with doing its good, creative work.
Just as you are what you eat, you are what you experience in trance. I haven’t owned a television for years for this very reason. Television exerts a compelling trance fascination, particularly if you aren’t often exposed to it and therefore aren’t used to its effects. The scary thing is that the people who decide what is on the TV have all kinds of agendas. These agendas are unlikely to have your individual needs and well-being at heart – and that is a grand understatement.
Anything I can do to develop my ability to trance-form I consider to be good grist for the seidh mill. Here are several propositions to consider if you agree about the place of trance in daily life and/or seidh magic:
1) Your conscious mind is less important than it wants you to think.
All the really good stuff gets done by your unconscious anyway, often via the doorway of a trance state. This holds for the basics of life such as having a regular heartbeat. This holds for having the co-ordination to confidently move your body. This holds for the eccentric fusion of reason and intuition that produces both
scientific breakthroughs and brilliant art. When I am dancing or composing or improvising my conscious ego self – shrunk by trance into a tiny speck – can sit back and marvel at the endless possibilities for creative expression that the rest of my being produces so easily but which daunt my ego completely.
2) Belief is cheap.
Folks argue endlessly over which ideology or belief or theory is correct, particularly in the worlds of psychology and religion. Truth matters in questions of physics or politics, but I would suggest that it becomes much more complex when we examine our own psychophysical nature. An important question to ask other than “am I right?” is “does this belief help me or others?”. If I believe I am worthless and doomed to failure then this belief is likely to shape my decisions and actions and become self-fulfilling. Fortunately the reverse is also true. To shift from a negative loop to a positive loop we have any number of options. I intend to explore some of these options in this journal.
3) Perfection is overrated.
Many people involved in spiritual pursuits, personal growth, psychotherapy, etc, are interested in becoming better or different to the way they perceive themselves being prior to getting interested in these things. This can have unfortunately consequences. I have met many people who shackle themselves with a perfect image of how they would like to be and flog themselves mercilessly when they inevitably fail to meet this ideal. The fact that they may have actually improved themselves a great deal despite their failures goes unnoticed.
A much better attitude is simply to accept that each of us has positive and negative potential. If I am less concerned with perfection and more concerned with learning how to change the consciousness state I am in at a given moment then it doesn’t matter if I am perfect or not. I can get quicker and quicker at recognising when I am in a bad way and more and more competent at interrupting the pattern I am in so that I move into a more beneficial state.
My point is not that trying to improve oneself is a waste of time. My point is that we are likely to be more successful if we abandon the dream of a perfected ego self and instead work with the far more powerful tides of trance and deep mind – forces which can take us to far richer and more beautiful (and often more humourously humbling) places than we could consciously imagine anyway.
4) Change wins.
Whether we imagine the vast complexities of a quantum universe or the endlessly cycling patterns of wyrd, change wins. The effort it takes to keep ourselves unchanged is monumental. This is even true if one is stuck in a pattern that seems immovable. If you are feeling depressed or anxious you might like to experiment with consciously trying to be depressed or anxious. Many people find it hard to voluntarily keep doing something that they started doing involuntarily or unconsciously. There is no point trying to defend eternal borders, because they never existed. Things can be unique, specific and localised. But they cannot be utterly isolated, unchanging, from everything else. The trick to surviving and prospering, therefore, is not to attempt to rigidly fight the inevitable eddies and flows of change,but rather to ride them.
From these four premises I propose to explore seidh magic as a vehicle, inspired by my Germanic ancestors, for getting better and better at altering and exploring my – and other beings’ – consciousness. Seidh can present an opportunity to take responsibility for my life as a being perpetually entranced – and indeed, I believe that Odin makes an excellent, if flawed, model and guide for this taking responsibility.
One of the main areas of interest I have in trance at the moment is rhythm. Although drumming is far from my speciality as a musician, I have been exploring the worlds of percussion in strange ways. For example, it is very difficult to play in two time signatures or two tempos or indeed to purposefully play out of time with oneself when one normally plays in time without effort. As soon as one hand is drumming in a 4:4 rhythm and the other in a 7:8 the conscious mind becomes quiescent. The task requires more than you can manage with surface will.
As I say, I am not a skilled drummer, although as a bassist I do have very good rhythm. So while exploring seidh consciousness and firing off rune sigils I have been drumming myself into very odd states. The drumming that I have been doing would not sound particularly interesting to an audience (unless they were interested in strange experimental improvisation!) – but it gets me wide open to some very positive trance spaces. I find it very hard to play out of time with myself, my conscious mind strenuously resists this – but when I get there I go far and deep and quickly, too.
As I develop better drumming skills in these specific areas I will perhaps post some recordings.
Of course the use of drums by historical Germanic magicians is also debated. I know there is no real evidence either way – although I’ve read that some really old European drums (I think circa 3000 BCE) have been found by archaeologists, so it seems on that basis quite plausible that the old Germanic tribes knew about these things. Also the Saami shamans use drums and since it seems likely that their practices were an influence of the development of historical seidh I think this adds further circumstantial support to the use of drums in seidh. Of course the ways in which I am exploring drumming has no precedent except that of my own musical imagination, which in turn flows from divine forces (IMHO). It does make for more intense trance experiences however.
Another aspect of rhythm I have been exploring has been in drawing. When I design my bind runes I work with my materials as rhythmically as possible, keeping the pastel movements regular and cyclical in motion as the rune images sink deep into my mind. In this way even the preparation of the bind rune for magical purposes serves as a kind of magical rite, and helps to bring together the practices of galdor (rune magic) and seidh. Indeed, all of this leads me to believe that galdor and seidh are much more closely related than some folks opine. Since the lore is pretty much silent on their relationship (and even exactly what these magical practices were), I think my opinion is just as good as the next person’s, with the added bonus that it helps me do better magic (see proposition number 2 above).
So what about this unconscious I’ve been talking about? Stay tuned for more…