[ Today we welcome once again guest writer Tamilia Reed. Reed is a devotional polytheist, spirit-worker, mystic, rune reader, Witch, and traveler of the Otherworlds. Her spiritual work centers on building strong relationships with the denizens of this and other worlds, while seeking an intimate understanding of the magical ties that join all beings. You can find Reed’s writing on her personal blog at Wandering Woman Wondering, at Wayfaring Woman via Agora, or at Daughters of Eve: Pagan Women of Color Speak.]
The Völuspá (the Wise-Woman’s Prophecy) is the first poem in the Poetic Edda. The Poetic Edda along with the Prose Edda and multiple sagas form the main body of Norse mythology. “Would you know yet more?” is often spoken by the wise woman seeress who is called up from her grave by Odin to speak of what has been and what will be.The phrase as used in this article comes from Henry Bellows’ 1936 translation. In the poem the seeress remembers how the cosmos was made and then tells of the glorious new future that will emerge after a period of predicted cosmic destruction and loss.
I was introduced to the magic and mystery of the Völuspá when I joined a small but committed group of women who began studying and practicing seidhr together about nine years ago in central Illinois. Seidhr is a form of Norse shamanism designed to serve the community through magical and spiritual practices that include but are not limited to prophetic or oracular trance. The Völuspá offers valuable insights into the dynamic and generative relationship between memory and prophecy. The relationship suggests how we can remember our history and prophesy the socially just future that we wish to see.
Very early in my seidhr studies, I was reticent to delve headlong into Norse mythology, reverently and regularly referred to as “the lore.” At that time, I naively felt that I would learn much more from religious and spiritual experience than from the lore. After years of reading a fair bit of what ended up being the wrong things, I was burnt out on intellectual pursuits within my spirituality that did not necessarily culminate in practice.
At that time in my spiritual life, Norse lore study felt like theory but it was actually much more practical and grounded than that. Ultimately I came to understand that the lore is the stuff of memory, and it is vitally important to the vast majority of Norse-influenced religious and spiritual practices. This is deeply obvious to me now, but was not clear to me when I first set out on this particular facet of my spiritual path.
Memory centers the past and what has gone before. We humans really have a powerful desire to remember. In Norse mythology, memory is a recognized part of our individual and collective being, and a key agent in the formation of identity. Individuals, families, communities, societies, and entire cultures rely on memory. For an individual within a community, memory is what is left of us long after our bones turn to dust. Collectively, it is how we come to know and understand what it possible for us to strive toward. It’s the story of us, of who we are.
Memory, as represented in the Völuspá, is what helped me to fully understand Odin’s words in the Grímnismál: “For Hugin [Thought] I fear lest he come not home, but for Munin [Memory] my care is more.”
Memory is the rhyme and reason of our lives; without it we are lost. With each new day, each new experience, each new gain and new loss, we remember. With each new conflict, each new movement, and each new era, we remember.
Both what we remember and what we fail to remember shape us and our world. Given that human life is rich and filled with a host of happenings – some grand and most commonplace, memory is the unique and magical alchemy that draws out the most significant aspects of our individual and collective existence. Memory helps us to locate and situate ourselves – in time and in identity, society and culture. There is great power in memory.
As I moved forward in my study of seidhr, I became increasingly interested in prophecy as well. Prophecy focuses on the future and what is coming into being but has not solidified and become the past. Anyone who has ever pulled a tarot card or had a psychic reading knows that many people have a fascination with any mysterious person who can impossibly reveal details about the future. (I was no exception.)
While there is power in a stunningly accurate, random prediction about a meaningful personal future event, there is something more complex and dynamic about prophecy as it is articulate in the Völuspá. The wise woman in that poem remembered the past before she even attempted to peer into the future. Her prophecy was rooted and contextual. It wasn’t a parlor trick. It was the gift of knowledge of the past and wisdom for the future bestowed upon a community and a culture.
At several points leading up to her prophecy, the seeress asks Odin if he wants to know more. With each invitation to know yet more the wise woman goes deeper, recalling more and more of the creation of the worlds, presumably in chronological order. To meet the request Odin made of her, she specifically centered the creation of the worlds, highlighted the role of key players in ordering the cosmos, and drew the most salient events to the forefront.
The wise woman did not detail random history or burden her remembrances with minutia. Instead, she remembered a specific and meaningful part of the past. After she remembers that, the wise woman foresees destruction. She also sees the world that will emerge after that period of destruction, one filled with light and rebirth. Her prophecy comes full circle.
The wise woman’s overall process as detailed in the Völuspá provides valuable and meaningful guidance for the blending of memory, prophecy, and sorcery.
In Norse mythology, wyrd (sometimes glossed as fate) is largely cause and effect. The weave of the future depends on the threads laid upon one another in the past. What is becoming emerges from what has already become. This suggests that memory and prophecy are in motion, active, and co-created by a host of forces.
The Völuspá points to the sorcerous potential in memory and prophecy. The wise and knowledgeable witch may choose the threads remembered and shape the future through prophesying. The sorcerous seeress may order and pattern the past to influence the future by bringing specific threads of the past together, but a seer – sorcerous or otherwise – without memory and the wisdom to use it well would be hard pressed to speak a prophecy of significant worth.
Would you know yet more?
Would you deepen the well of memory? Would you tell untold stories? Would you remember suppressed histories? Would you narrate the forgotten past to prophesy a more just future?
These are the questions that ring out loudly for me as a queer witch and always-learning seidhr practitioner of color who is also a citizen of the world and painfully aware of power, privilege, oppression, and social injustice within it. History is another word for collective memory and there is a reason it belongs to the so-called victors. It is the compulsory memory of a nation.
The parts that do not fit the victor’s desired narrative are sanitized, freeze-dried, redacted, or flat out denied. There is a mounting social, cultural, and political obligation to learn all of the histories that we have been made ignorant of.
By actively and intentionally remembering our individual and collective values and ideals, by remembering our identity, by valuing, honoring, and elevating all of our communities, by remembering “their” stories as our stories, by calling out injustice and by modeling better justice, we have the power to individually and collectively shape and claim the future that we wish to see.
We can prophesy the future that we conjure from lost memory, if we are willing to find and lay the right threads from the past into a pattern of liberation, one that contains strong threads that can hold up the mighty future we envision.