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Vardlokkur - The Song of the Völva

Updated on March 29, 2016
The Norns, from Siegfried and the Twilight of the Gods. Arthur Rackham
The Norns, from Siegfried and the Twilight of the Gods. Arthur Rackham | Source

The Norse Seeresses

Norse mythology gives many examples of users of magic, and weavers of fate. Some of the most notable of these are the völvur. Women who travel across the land, usually with an assistant, they would offer their skills to a household. It appears that their coming was a great event, and effort was made to ensure they were welcome. For if these women really did commune with the spirits and have the power to manipulate a person's fate and luck, it would be unwise to displease them.

A völva can best be described as a kind of seeress. With some similarities in practice with the noadi of northern Scandinavia, there is some debate as to whether these women had some influence from the shamanic ways of the people to the north of Norway and Sweden.

These women would be able to make prophecies, read omens, speak with the dead, and petition the powers behind wyrd or fortune to improve a person's chances of increasing their wealth and reputation. They would work with the Norns, and be able to read and even influence the threads woven. Like the fairy godmothers of the popular fairy tale Sleeping Beauty, a völva would bless a newborn with gifts of character. They also had the power to wield and battle unseen forces for ill or good.

A völva rousing the spirits
A völva rousing the spirits | Source

"At that time there was a great dearth in Greenland; those who had been out on fishing expeditions had caught little, and some had not returned.

There was in the settlement the woman whose name was Thorbjorg. She was a prophetess (spae-queen), and was called Litilvolva (little sybil). She had had nine sisters, and they were all spae-queens, and she was the only one now living...

... And when the (next) day was far spent, the preparations were made for her which she required for the exercise of her enchantments. She begged them to bring to her those women who were acquainted with the lore needed for the exercise of the enchantments, and which is known by the name of Weird-songs, but no such women came forward. Then was search made throughout the homestead if any woman were so learned.

Then answered Gudrid, "I am not skilled in deep learning, nor am I a wise-woman, although Halldis, my foster-mother, taught me, in Iceland, the lore which she called Weird-songs."

"Then art thou wise in good season," answered Thorbjorg; but Gudrid replied, "That lore and the ceremony are of such a kind, that I purpose to be of no assistance therein, because I am a Christian woman."

Then answered Thorbjorg, "Thou mightest perchance afford thy help to the men in this company, and yet be none the worse woman than thou wast before; but to Thorkell give I charge to provide here the things that are needful."

Thorkell thereupon urged Gudrid to consent, and she yielded to his wishes. The women formed a ring round about, and Thorbjorg ascended the scaffold and the seat prepared for her enchantments. Then sang Gudrid the weird-song in so beautiful and excellent a manner, that to no one there did it seem that he had ever before heard the song in voice so beautiful as now.

The spae-queen thanked her for the song. "Many spirits," said she, "have been present under its charm, and were pleased to listen to the song, who before would turn away from us, and grant us no such homage. And now are many things clear to me which before were hidden both from me and others. And I am able this to say, that the dearth will last no longer, the season improving as spring advances. The epidemic of fever which has long oppressed us will disappear quicker than we could have hoped. And thee, Gudrid, will I recompense straightway, for that aid of thine which has stood us in good stead; because thy destiny is now clear to me, and foreseen. Thou shalt make a match here in Greenland, a most honourable one, though it will not be a long-lived one for thee, because thy way lies out to Iceland; and there, shall arise from thee a line of descendants both numerous and goodly, and over the branches of thy family shall shine a bright ray. And so fare thee now well and happily, my daughter." [1]

Source

A Völva's Seance

In the wider magical category of Seiðr, which describes Norse magic, there is a practice that is known as spá which covers prophecy and mediumship.

Spá is most commonly carried out by a völva, who enters an altered state of consciousness and speaks with the spirits. She may throw her cloak over herself to help her focus. She might metaphorically don Freya's cloak to travel on a spiritual journey, which could include far away lands, or even to other realms of the Norse universe.

A völva's seance would include the woman taking a position on a platform or High Seat, whilst banging her staff on the ground in a rhythmic manner. A drum might be used. The völva or her assistant would sing a vardlokkur, which is a ritual song used to aid the seance. In the Saga of Erik the Red, the song is described as sounding lovely and beguiling. Yet in Hrolf's Saga [2], it is described as being a terrible sound.

Messages would be delivered during or after the ritual, to the people of the household that had requested the services of the völva. These could generally be in answer to a particular problem, or messages from the deceased, or even supernatural powers or gods.

Volva
Volva | Source

The Significance of the Song

The vardlokkur is used to raise energies to help the völva enter her trance, channel energy during the seance, and to attract and keep spirits bound to the ritual area until their message has been given.

It also is used to protect the völva from bad spirits or damaging energies, although many who practice this craft within Norse reconstructed spirituality paths may also carry out additional protective precautions before going under, such as speaking with their Dísir, asking for an Ancestral guide or named entity to aid them, or creating a protective circle.

The word vardlokkur can be broken down to understand its meaning.

Vard comes from vǫrðr (Old Norse), meaning guardian or watcher. It is also the word from which "ward" comes from. We use wards to protect ourselves against evil, bad spirits, and negative energies. The modern word warden is a person who guards or watches over someone or something, and this duty was that of the völva's assistant whilst the völva was in her trance.

Lokkur in this context means a lure, or something that is used to attract, from the verb "að lokka". It does not translate as "spirit song" as some theories state.

So "vardlokkur" is a means to attract and lure spirits, which also serves a protective purpose.

What Would it Sound Like?

We can't say for certain what the vardlokkur sounded like. Those that use this in their own spiritual work in modern times, have taken influences from Saami yoik, Norse throat-singing, and other ritualistic folk traditions from northern Europe. Some have sought inspiration from further afield.

We do know that there was something called the banging of the vett. This could be a staff struck percussively on the ground, or a drum struck with a beater. Rattles might also be used.

Depending on the type of energies being whipped up, we might speculate the styles of singing used. For more aggressive purposes, then the "terrible sound" of Hrolf's saga would be expected. For gentle rituals, such as healing or the welcoming of spirits to see the arrival a new baby, then a song more akin to a lullaby could be used.

Sadly, whilst we have records of the Norse myths, we have no definite examples of vardlokkur recorded. We can only guess by looking at traditional music and styles of folk songs from the regions where the völur would walk.

Examples of Music Styles that can be used for a Vardlokkur

Below are some videos of artists that use traditional and spiritual styles in their music. Many of these are inspiring to those on a Norse spiritual path. A vardlokkur may have used some of these singing techniques, and other cues such as the use of a staff or drum, and an assistant's vocals.

Sadly I can't find an album for Solveig Andersson, but have given the details of the other artists.

Trøllabundin is the title track from Trøllabundin, by Eivør

Ansur is featured on Yggdrasil, by Wardruna

Räven is featured on Trä, by Hedningarna

Gulan Du is featured on Unfolding (Leahkastin), by Mari Boine

Sources

[1] The Saga of Erik the Red, J Sephton Translation (1890)

[2] The Saga of King Hrolf Kraki, J Byock Translation - ISBN 978-0140435931

© 2014 Pollyanna Jones

Comments

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    • Meaghan Zarb profile image

      Meaghan Zarb 

      3 years ago

      This was a great read! I've been keen to learn more on Norse mythology. The videos were lovely too. Thanks :)

    • Pollyanna Jones profile imageAUTHOR

      Pollyanna Jones 

      4 years ago from United Kingdom

      Thank you, I am glad you enjoyed it. The music really is lovely, but it was hard to choose which tracks to feature!

    • profile image

      Anna 

      4 years ago

      Thank you for another interesting article and a portion of great music. Keep up the good work :)

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