What exactly is it that we teach at Mirkrida? Our tradition is called ‘Sittan’. But before I explain what that is, let me provide some important background information.
Seidr is a term that has gained popularity and prominence in recent years. Especially through series such as Vikings.
Tattooing a Vegvisir or Valknut is done by many people, just like wearing a Mjolnir around the neck. These symbols are often expressions of admiration for ‘the culture of the Vikings’, who were in fact seafarers and farmers from parts of, mainly, Scandinavia. Each with its own culture and differences in ancestry, language, and cultural customs.
And while some of them will certainly have practiced Seidr, today, we don’t know what exactly they did. Because most sources about Seidr are written in a Scandinavian language, and because series such as Vikings are so well known, it is often thought that it is exclusively Scandinavian and that there is only one true form of Seidr.
I myself have been taught in Scandinavian forms of Seidr, and I have read many (originally) Scandinavian sources, and continue to do so.
Yet the Seidr I practice and teach is not Scandinavian or Nordic.
There are many different traditions and forms of Seidr in existence.
Each of these has been shaped by migration, cultural exchange, local situations and customs, war, language, food, and personal experiences.
What is very important to understand is that culture and identity are never set in stone. These are illusions that we often maintain ourselves by excluding people from certain cultural customs and traditions, and by clinging to historical sources. Culture and identity are by definition dynamic and always in motion.
When someone new is interested in “our” tradition, some people feel threatened. However, this kind of thinking forms the basis for discrimination, distrust, and other forms of exclusion. Culture and traditions are by definition subject to change. This applies even more to rituals because they fall under the umbrella of intangible heritage. Intangible heritage has a strong oral tradition, is based on (shared) experience, and is passed on by doing it.
And this is immediately a point where friction arises. Currently, some people think that Seidr is only a Nordic tradition, overlooking the connection to central and western Europe. If they come across someone from this region practicing a form of Seidr, some see it as a threat to “their tradition.” Conversely, many people from western and central Europe think that they do not ‘have’ their own ritual traditions.
Nothing is less true.
From both perspectives, the practitioner from western or central Europe is then bombarded with questions about historical sources. Where does that what you do come from? Who are you? Who do you think you are, that you dare to take part in our tradition? This is an incredibly sad phenomenon that reflects the current climate of distrust.
That which really matters: contact with the spirits, with the land, with the ancestors; to heal, develop and grow is completely disregarded. No one can prove that what he or she is doing is “real”. And that’s not what it’s about at all. It’s about connection. And spirit does not rule people out when there is a connection.
What is important to mention here, is that sadly, Cultural Appropriation and Cultural Commodification are real problems. However, this does not mean that you have to go on a mission to attack everyone who you think is doing things wrong. You are not the judge of that unless it is very obvious that people, land, or plants are exploited to gain money.
When it comes to protecting ritual traditions against Cultural Appropriation I can only speak for myself about how I deal with this: generally, it means that I write and share information online that I feel is for the benefit and well-being of all who read it, no matter their background or intentions. In my basic courses about Sittan, I share much more, but still not everything there is to know. I share more with my Dutch students than with my online international students, simply because of language barriers, the impossibility to share certain things online, and because some rituals are only meant to pass on in a physical in-person setting.
This also means that I cannot possibly teach a tradition that I am not acquainted with. For example, I cannot teach Icelandic Seidr, since this tradition has developed itself differently than my own Sittan tradition, and I have not been educated in it. This is why you will never come across Icelandic staves in my work, but you might come across Stiepeltekens, a Dutch system of protective symbols.
In conclusion: there are no ‘pure’ sources about Seidr before Christianity, and there is no manual for how the Vikings did it. And we don’t need all this to practice Seidr in the here and now anyway.
What we do know for sure is that Seidr is very old, and has its roots in continental Europe. We don’t know exactly how old Seidr is. And actually, that’s not the most important thing. The idea that a certain “ancientness” gives more value to an existing tradition is outdated, in the end, it will not get you that far. You will never find the origin in a written source because most people could not write until well into the Middle Ages.
So you will really have to make do with your own experience and contact with the spirits and dare to trust that.
Seidr has continued to develop in the Scandinavian countries, and in different ways in each of these countries. However, Seidr has also continued to develop in western and central Europe. Even now, after many years of witch-hunting, domination by other religions, and interrupted lines of initiation, we still know what Seidr is, can talk about it, and feel it in our bones. Seidr is alive!
If we try to practice Seidr only from our head: so only on the basis of written sources, then we will probably not reach our highest potential. Magic, rituals, shamanism, and healing, are all things that we are taught in by the spirits, preferably in addition to taking lessons from a physical teacher who has already gained experience. However, written sources are important because they show you where to look and what to research further. In addition, they are sources of knowledge and inspiration.
All this means that the practice of a ritual tradition is always in motion, we are not a church or an institution, and that is precisely what is so beautiful. This is not to say that there are no rules, or that we don’t know what we are doing. On the contrary, we work daily in this tradition to continue to grow personally, to be in touch with our life path, to educate others, to be of service and to continuously work on the relationships we have built with the spirits. We put everything we learn into a workable form.
And this form is called ‘Sittan’.
Sittan is the name for the stream of Seidr that I, Naomi, practice and pass on. Sittan is a continental European Seidr tradition. Sittan (Sitting), Zingen (Singing), Uitzitten (Sitting Out) and Zien (Seen) are of great importance in this. Sittan is the name passed on by the great spirits associated with this tradition. These great spirits are the Moeders van Seidr (Matronen Saitchamiae) and Vrouw Holle. The local Dutch/German goddess Tanfana is also one of the great spirits of Sittan, as is the seeress Veleda, who was described by Tacitus.
Sittan is closely connected to local nature, landspirits such as the Witte Wieven, to the mountains of Germany, and the burial mounds and hunebedden of the Netherlands. Sittan comes from what the spirits teach and taught me, from the line of my ancestors from Germany, Sittan comes from the staves my Uropa made.
Healing is an important part of Sittan, as is the color white. Sittan has many similarities with other Seidr traditions, as well as with various traditions in Shamanism.
In Sittan, for example, we work with spirit houses, a staff, herbs, and trance journeys. But Zitten (Sitting) is one of the most important parts of the tradition.
If you want to learn more about Sittan, keep your eyes open for our new basic course starting in the autumn of 2023.
And remember this excerpt from the Havamal (stanza 6) in the meantime:
Of his knowledge a man should never boast,
Rather be sparing of speech
When to his house a wiser comes:
Seldom do those who are silent
Make mistakes; mother wit
Is ever a faithful friend.
Indiculus, Luit van der Tuuk
Northsea Water in my Veins, Imelda Almqvist
Die Externsteine: Sagen, Überlieferungen, Erkenntnisse, Arpad Baron von Nahodyl Nemenyi
Havamal, Snorri Sturluson