Tuesday, April 22, 2008

On Writing Vardlokur

This my fiends is going to be one of those dirty, UPG and woo-filled posts.

I'm leaving Korea in about three weeks and I'll be going back to Europe. A place where I can interact with the landvaettir and where they don't so much mind me doing crazy Seidhr type stuff. Being here in Korea has been so restrictive. The land spirits are just not used to immigration yet and aren't very accepting of other cultures and peoples. From the get-go, it became very apparent to me that practising any kind of Seidhr was a no-no. This isn't my turf, I am foreign and no matter how much I come to understand the lore of this place, what I might encounter and what I might do in order to placate the things I might encounter - that still doesn't mean that they would accept that placation.

The impending move back to Europe, to land and spirits that aren't completely alien to me must be having an effect and I'm being rather seriously nudged to take a slightly different path and to do a form of oracular Seidhr ritual.

Most people have only ever heard of the oracular Seidhr ritual in conjunction with the Hrafnar group and like the Hrafnar group, I'm looking at Eirik's Saga Rauda for my recon clues.

However I differ from Hrafnar on one rather key point. I don't believe that the Vardlokur are sung with the intention of singing the Seidkona or anyone else on a journey. I believe they are songs for enticing in the spirits. For pulling/enticing them in.

Why do I think this?

In the past I have come across songs which, when played alter reality, they facilitate that 'shift' between normalcy and that state in which the dead come through. Certain combinations of notes, certain 'feels' of music.

I know from personal experience that it is possible to 'pull' them in however I would much prefer that they come willingly.

There is also this section from Eirikssagaraudr:

But on the morrow, in the latter part of the day, she was fitted out with the apparatus she needed to perform her spells. She asked too to procure her such women as knew the lore which was necessary for performing the spell, and bore the name Varblokur, Spirit-locks. But no such women were to be found, so there was a search made right through the house to find whether anyone was versed in these matters.'I am unversed in magic,' was Gudrid's reply, 'neither am I a prophetess, yet Halldis my foster-mother taught me in Iceland the lore which she called Varblokur.' 'Then you are wiser than I dared hope,' said Thorbjorg. 'But this is a kind of lore and proceeding I feel I cannot assist in,' said Gudrid, 'for I am a Christian woman.' 'Yet it might happen,' said Thorbjorg, 'that you could prove helpful to people in this affair, and still be no worse a woman than before. Still, I leave it to Thorkel to procure me the things I need here.'Thorkel now pressed Gudrid hard, till she said she would do as he wished. The women now formed a circle all round, while Thorbjorg took her seat up on the spell-platform. Gudrid recited the chant so beautifully and well that no one present could say he had ever heard the chant recited by a lovelier voice. The seeress thanked her for the chant, saying that she had attracted many spirits there who thought it lovely to lend ear to the chant-- spirits 'who before wished to hold aloof from us, and pay us no heed. And now many things stand revealed to me which earlier were hidden from me as from others.

As you can see for yourself in the above excerpt from Chapter 4 of the aforementioned saga - Thorbjorg categorically states that the chant had attracted many spirits.

Unfortunately we don't know exactly what Gudrid chanted/sung and so logically, the would be practitioner of oracular Seidhr is left with two choices.

a. Give up and forget the idea
b. Use the information that can be deduced as to the nature of the chant in order to write a new one that can be used.

From the above excerpt, we can easily surmise that the Vardlokur had several characteristics.

* It had a rhythm to it. All chants have a rhythm.
* For a chant to be a successful and memorable chant, it had to be quite short and have repetition. This can still be seen in most chants from folklore. Another possible aspect of such a chant could be 'counting' as can be seen in chants such as the 'Magpie chant' (one for sorrow, two for joy etc etc).

From these two facts we can possibly also surmise that the Vardlokur is something that is at once hypnotic and yet builds into something a little more ecstatic.

Another thing to take into account is that some children's chants have a tune to them. From personal experience I know that certain tones and rhythms have different effects and that some indeed attract the dead.

One interesting angle that I have considered in writing new Vardlokur comes from a couple of things that the Viking Answer Lady says in her essay 'Women and Magic in the Sagas:Seidhr and Spae' (http://www.vikinganswerlady.com/seidhr.shtml)

Where a Saami or Siberian shaman would rely upon the beat of a drum to achieve the ecstatic trance, the völva requires a special type of chant, the Varðlokur. No words have been preserved of this chant, but since the Varðlokur had been used by Guðríðr's foster-mother as a lullaby, it seems likely that the chant was repetitive and soothing in character.

and also her references to the law codes in Anglo-Saxon England that suggest that Spae-craft was not necessarily a dead art during and after the conversion period:

The spae-wife is not absent in Saxon England, either, for a Christian penitential states:
Si qua mulier divinationes vel incantationes diabolicas fecerit, I annum poeniteat, vel 3 XLmas, XL dies, juxta qualitem culpae poenitentis.
"If a woman makes prophecies and incantations by diabolic means, she is punished for one year, or 40 masses, 40 days, with the punishment being proportional to the guilt" (Crawford, 107).


Could it be possible that somewhere, floating around there is an early folk song/ballad/chant that holds remnants of an Anglo-Saxon variant of the Vardlokur? In the same way that some Heathen lore was preserved for the Christian audience by Grimm's fairy tales, could it be possible that there is knocking around out there, a really old folk song that in some way preserves parts of the Vardlokur or derived from it? Although I am unsure as to where the Viking Answer Lady comes up with the 'lullaby' link (I can only think it was something expressed in the untranslated text as opposed to the translation that she herself gives on the site), if it is the kind of song that could have been used as a lullaby, it may have been quite an innocuous chant of the kind that can still be spotted in English folk chants to this day.

Chants along the lines of

'Jenny Wren fell sick upon a merry time,
In came robin redbreast and fed her cakes and wine'

seem innocuous though they contain fragments of folk belief that, although not ancient, refer to a form of Pagan belief.

So I have been searching not only for possible chants/folk songs/ballads that could have been referencing enticing the dead (even in an abstract manner) but chants/folk songs or ballads that could possibly (either from their tunes or subject matter) be used in such a way. There is a power in tradition and it would be good to use it.

So far I have come up with nothing except a great liking for a folk song called 'Three Ravens' - but being an Odinic type, what do you expect ;)

I do have a form of chant/song that needs refining and that I think could do the job but I'll have to try it out properly when I get back to England so all is not lost if my dreams of finding something older don't come through ;)

The saga continues....


4 comments:

Suzi said...

Wooo for landvaettir.

Now please explain to your ever so weird catholic heathenish kinda maybe friend what Vardlokur is? Am I right in gathering it is singing/chanting/working to attract/entice in the spirits of the dead?

Elswyth said...

Yup!!! Got it in one!

Suzi said...

Man I am a fucking genius.

Hmmmm I wonder if my drumming counts? It does the same thing except I don't sing........... it might have to do with intent.....

OMG I cannot wait - 3 weeks and we're back in the same time zone and can have headblags!!!!!( once you've settled and seen everyone and caught up and stuff and . you know what I mean. SQUUEEEEEEEEEEE)

Vedis Koerner said...

I agree.

When I sing to the spirits, I feel like they come because of the music. It gathers their attention. But then I don't do any 'journeying' when I work with the dead. They come to me.

Well said!