Essence of Ash : Sineating and Seidr, a continuation of our Instagram live

Posted on March 12, 2022 by Dannika Soukoroff

                        Essence of Ash

Ash & Dannika spoke about Sineating & Seidr in their Instagram live on March 12th. These topics go more in depth than what time allowed, so please enjoy Ash going deeper with these topics.

Dannika: You mentioned in our interview that you were wanting to learn more about ‘Sineating’ can you go into more detail of what ‘Sineating’ is and it’s origins?

Ash: I first read the book The Sineaters Last Confession: Lost Traditions of Celtic Shamanism 4 years ago, and I became fascinated with the lore surrounding these rituals. The book is based on a true story and it records Ross Heaven's fascinating journey as the sin eater's apprentice, who is introduced to the lost art of sin eating and other Celtic shamanic traditions. This spiritual memoir records the author's wondrous and moving experiences with the powerful energies of the natural world. He witnesses Adam removing negative energies from a patient, meets fairy folk, reads omens in nature, discovers his soul purpose through dreaming, goes on a vision quest in a sacred cave, and participates in a sin eating ritual. I was particularly interested in the sin eater's workbook included in the book, providing some of the same shamanic exercises and techniques practiced by Adam.

A sin-eater is a person who consumes a ritual meal in order to spiritually take on the sins of a deceased person. The food was believed to absorb the sins of a recently dead person, thus absolving the soul of the person. Sin-eaters, as a consequence, carried the sins of all people whose sins they had eaten. Cultural anthropologists and folklorists classify sin-eating as a form of ritual. It is most commonly associated with Wales, English counties bordering Wales and Welsh culture.

Today, anthropologists view the practice of sin eating as an aspect of magic that protected other people from harm. One might expect that they were respected for safeguarding people’s loved ones from damnation. Far from being appreciated for the valuable service that they gave to the community, however, sin eaters were believed to be defiled with the sins that they consumed. They didn’t merely absolve the deceased of their sins but actually absorbed them, effectively becoming sin on behalf of the community. On top of being outcasts in the next life, they were outcasts in this one, as well. It was not a pleasant job.

I am not interested in performing these rituals but I am fascinated with the techniques that Sin-eaters employed as healers in their communities or often on the outskirts of the communities. They lived alone and had extensive knowledge of herbs and their magical qualities. In the book I mentioned, the sin-eater was sharing his knowledge with an apprentice. Sin eaters were the ultimate scapegoat, they took on the burden of sin and held the responsibility of transmuting it. They were essential, masters at their craft and yet never had the connection of community. 

Dannika: You mention that you want to teach ‘Seidr Trance’ in 2022, can you explain what Seidr trance is and what Seidr means.

Ash: The definition of seidr relates to thread, circumference, a bond, or something that approaches. This leads to the idea of seidr as something that spins, a spirit thread, a circular movement that induces trance. It is commonly interpreted as the shamanism of Scandinavia, insofar as shamanism concerns itself with a trance state that invites in the possibility of undertaking journeys or “soul-flights”.

Practitioners of Seidr were known as seid-madr, seid-kona and Seidberendr. The most famous act of divinatory weird is found in Voluspa, the poetic rendering of the end Aesir and the coming of a golden age. Here the practioner is referred to as “volva”. Volva or Volve derives from Volver, carrying a staff, giving purpose to how she was holding Yggdrasil in her hands; planting the staff in the ground would be similar to erecting holy ground, allowing the world tree to stretch its roots to the ground and enter into contact with Nidhog and the Norns. Usually she was an old woman, old is defined by loss of menstruation, where she left her position as woman and mother and became something else. She became a prophetic channel, going between men and gods. Volva often carried a volr, literally, a stang (or staff), literally symbolic both of Yggdrasil and the dual acts she is capable of by being able to both bring fertility to a land or household or to take it away. So great was her position and status that even Odin himself goes to her to learn of the fate of the world and the gods. These divinations were usually a lengthy process that included songs and enchantment, galdr and silence. She could transform her shape (hamr) and her body would lie as if dead, or asleep, even though she would be a bird or beast, fish or snake and be off in a twinkling to a distant land upon her own or other peoples business. She could also do other things, still the ocean, turn the wind to any direction, she could know other fate and foresee what has not yet happened, she could bring men to death, misfortune or ill health. This was an art and power with great responsibility that is why it was upon a volva who could take up this power and straddle multiple realms at the same time. 

Dannika: In my reading I found out that the practitioners were often women sometimes referred to the völva and or Norns. These women were professional or semiprofessional practitioners of Seidr. They were both revered and reviled for being women with so much power and wisdom. Do you feel you relate to this archetype? Do you feel that we have made strides in creating respect, understanding and even admiration to these powerful, connected spiritual archetypes of women?

Ash: Volva links to my patron goddess Freya and to the crone archetype that I have cultivated my practice around. I also work with the Slavic mythical character Baba Yaga and I have found some similarities between her and the archetype of volva. 

Seidr was an art that belonged to women. It was Freya, the Vanir, who brought this wisdom to Odin, who became the master of it. Seidberendr is translated literally to “the art of the cunt”. Actually, it was considered quite complicated for a male to indulge in these arts as the accusation of ergi could arise. Ergi was meant to mean to take the more submissive part in a sexual relationship. By being subject to this particular accusation, one could lose respect, work, wife and income. 

Interestingly, the apprentice in the art of seidr was sometimes referred to as “the apprentice of the moon” as the keys to the art were thought to be hidden in the art of poetry and the abundance of soul. “Those who ride at night” were connected to Seidr. 

I am interested in teaching methods of Seidr Trance but do not identify as a Volva, I am a student of the practice and have found the trance techniques to be helpful for my rune casting. Galdr (chanting and singing) is used to enter into a trance like state, breathwork extending the length of in and out breath is used in unison to enter a state of relaxation. There is an element of ecstasy involved with Seidr trance, an elation that comes from “sitting out” in a sacred place and calling on the runes to assist in a prophetic journey or for the act of rune casting. Trance is likened to “going out” or sending the spirit out of the body aided by galdr and at times by drums. I am aiming to teach the very basics of this technique and am by no means an expert. My “Intro to Norse Magick” course will illuminate the foundation of this practice and how to begin to explore trance techniques. 

As for the question about whether we have made strides in creating respect, understanding and even admiration to these powerful, connected spiritual archetypes of women… I would say, this is just beginning to shift in our present world. The archetype of the crone is one of inner worlds over the outer expressions. The importance of intuition and developing strength in aloneness. In silence. The volva is connected with the natural world, with the elements and has the wisdom of womanhood. We are just beginning to value this type of wisdom and seek to find the places where we can learn these old traditions. In many ways, it is an unlearning process. She is wild, untamed, feral in many ways. These are not traits that we have been encouraged to explore or hold in reverence but we are edging towards a change. 

Find ash at @essence.of.ash on Instagram

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