Old Norse Galdr means “magic”, and alludes to the crowing of a raven. In the Saga of Erik the Red the seidkona (loosely speaking, “seeress”) has a singer perform songs called Vardlokkur as part of helping her enter trance and have clairvoyant visions. And in the poem “Runatal Thattr Odinns” (part of “Havamal” in the Poetic Edda) we are told that Odin fell “screaming” or “roaring” from the tree once he won the runes.
We also know that our ancestors thought rhythmic speech – that is, poetry – was powerful and magical. The ability to speak well was highly regarded. Modern Heathens like to say that “we are our deeds”, but the truth is that our ancestors demanded more than deeds and believed that words and speech had great power.
There are few specific singing or chanting techniques recorded, although following the hints in the Saga of Erik the Red we can guess that anything which helps to induce an altered state of consciousness, a trance of some sort, is fair game.
I’m also told that in battle warriors would get themselves into the right head-space with repetitive chants of phrases like Antanantan – which sounds like a runic formula to me. In any case, this seems like a good bit of evidence for seeing the kind of trippy, repetitive chanting that I so enjoy as being continuous with the magical traditions of old Heathen Europe.
The main factor to remember if you want to explore something that approximates galdr or vardlokkur is that you need rhythmic repetition to get yourself tranced. Also, chants that make it hard to catch your breath are helpful because oxygen deprivation will trip you out nice and proper. Perhaps this is part of why Odin hangs himself to perform the rune-winning rite.
You can chant just about anything. The names of runes is one option (but be careful if you aren’t too familiar with the runes’ meanings); but I also like calling on the power of mythological beings or even phrases from archaeological finds. Chanting names like Yggrdrassil, Runa, Wodanaz and so on can be quite an education.
Your chanting could be rhythmic speaking, singing, droning, vibrating sound through your chest and throat, screeching, shouting, whispering, or even silent. If you can get some good momentum you might find yourself emitting noises you didn’t know you could make. Just keep going and going and ride the wave to wherever it wants to go.
We experimented at Yule this year with a chant of Wihailagaz, which comes more or less from an archaeological find (the Pietroassa Ring) and means something like otherworldy/sacrosanct/forbidden/set apart (Wih-) and whole, hail, healthy, holy (-hailagaz).
I think that it sort of brings you into a relationship with both the sacred uniqueness of who you are, and simultaneously into awareness of the grand interconnectedness of the web of Wyrd. In other words, a kind of neither-neither/all-all state where anything is possible. This is also a great one to chant because it offers some good rhythmic possibilities to wrap your mouth around.
Oh, and you needn’t just be sitting there when you chant. I involuntarily move my body; sometimes swaying, head-banging, through to bodily hurtling about the place. Sometimes when I am dancing I involuntarily sing or chant runes or names of gods or spirits.
I sometimes beat myself rhythmically (body percussion) and get some good bruises. When hitting myself I tend to move the ‘one’ of the bar around relative to the singing and this can create different kinds of momentum and intensity – if you are a rhythmically confident person you should try this.
Chanting can turn into the recitation of poetry, too. It might be something stored in your memory, or if you reach a suitably inspired state of consciousness then you might find yourself spouting words free-form.
I found myself doing this just the other day while celebrating Ostara with Donovan – we watched the sun rise over the ocean (see photo) and after spending a little time just listening to the environment around us and watching the sun I discovered that the words came easily and just wanted to be said.
Not only that but they came out in perfect form, with all manner of rhyme, rhythmic structures and patterns, etc. I doubt you would have known I was improvising if you’d been listening – I stood there, seething lightly, senses overloaded with sunlight and sea, and out came the poetry.
In some senses all speech is magical. The reason is simply that speech is a tool we use to make sense of, and communicate about, the world around us. As such it helps us to take things by the scruff of the neck, to establish a relationship between ourselves and the object of our focus.
So the objective with some forms of chanting might be to open a conduit between our wyrd and the wyrd of the thing we are focused on. On this approach, the words we use become the conduit – and the repetition of the phrases is analogous to a wheel turning on its axis. The words repeat, the wheel turns seemingly without getting anywhere – yet the car itself can travel great distances as a result.
While a lot more needs to be written on this subject, if you are interested in the magic of chanting and speech you might like to do some research on the great psychiatrist and hypnotist Milton Erickson – whose ability to use speech was almost unbelievable. He had a flair that can only be described as Odinnic.
One other thought on all this – regular chanting is good for you. It strengthens your lungs, strengthens your voice, improves your singing skills and it is great for relaxation and stress reduction! It can also get your body really pumping, energetically speaking, and that can’t be a bad thing.
Well I hope you try to experiment with some chanting! I am sure that with only a little effort you can invent ways of chanting much more magical and fun than what I have described here.