Updated: Sep 28, 2022
What we do and don't know about The Norse: By Charles McBride
Any discussion of Norse Mysticism and methodology eventually leads to a back and forth debate on “the right way” to do things and “how things were done back then.” This isn't a bad thing, in fact the need for something old shows a respect for what was. In that need though we often misunderstand just how much we do and don't know about our people and how they practices the mystical ways.
We know that magick was a thing the Norse did, or at least their legends did. The Poetic Edda is filled with accounts of magick, as is the Prose Edda and various other texts from those and earlier periods. Paintings, sculptures, and other media that remains from the time also account this. We even have testaments from Tacticus that our people believe in luck as a flowing force that could be manipulated and managed.
The advent of the Christian people coming into our lands also came with it the total annihilation of most things Norse though. What has remained are a few texts, and most of those coming after the Norse were already Christianized. We can see rune staves used in some of the seals from these texts, and we can theorize that the symbols come from a previous time. Likewise we can presume the methods in these texts, written by Christians, were detailed with an intent toward demonizing our peoples ways.
So what do we have?
We know rhyme was a powerful part of the magick done by our people. From this we can then presume that poetry spells, mantras, and the like are things that may be implemented. We have a few references to things like prayers, but those also came often during or after the Christian take over. This gives us a small insight into the verbal aspects of Norse magick. From this we know in our own practices if we want to be authentic a bit of poetry wouldn't be out of place in our workings.
Our people held objects in high regards as powerful things. Each God and Goddess who is of major note is listed alongside a magickal armament. From this we can say tool use in our working is still valid, though perhaps structured magicks not as much as we'd like to think. Structured magick is a very modern, very Christian, invention. Instead something with a looser structure is to be sought by the Norse practicing the arts of the mystic.
Animals were also in high regard with our people. Many Gods had animal companions, and Odin is a prime example of this. With two ravens and two wolves by his side Odin can be said to be stronger for the aid of his companions. Thor when bereft of his goat is in a weakened position and takes on help to carry his belongings and chariot through the heavens. From this we might seek spiritual companions in the form of animal spirits similar to many Shamanic traditions.
For symbols we have the runes and runes poems. Much more is written on the use of runes in the past than is actually known. We know what the poems tell us of the runes, and then we invent much more around that. Still the runes were probably used as symbols of power themselves given what we can find between older drawings that incorporated them, and inscriptions on weapons and armor. This becomes confusing for most given that until recent times the word “rune” meant hidden thing. It is of recent that we have titled the Futhark as runes. This change in understanding makes a lot of texts very different, especially Odin's Spells from The Havamal. When he speaks on “I know a rune” he means “hidden thing, a secrete.” Though this word being misused means that any look at older texts needs a degree of awareness on these changes.
For rituals we know of little save bloats which we have reconstructed. Much is done to work with ancestors in these, and much more is shown of ancestor work in general. For the modern Norse this may seem unpalatable, but recall that our ancestors are more than just people in our blood lines. Just as martial artists have a lineage we too have a lineage of practice and can call upon that when other options aren't viable.
We have a massive amount of mythology we can still draw upon, and a strong cosmology. We have an understanding of 9 realms to journey, each with powers unique to them. We have countless Gods, and even more mystical beings said to roam this cosmos. More over we have a very open view on these things, as our people incorporated other ideas from cultures without hesitation. This means one of the most Norse things we can do is have an open mind.
So while we have much less than we would like, and certainly not enough that we can claim a “right and wrong way” to do things we do have some clues as to the old ways.
Working with spirit guides, working with ancestral and dead spirits, working with the Gods, working with forces encompassed in the runes as ideas, poetry magick, and empowering tools through either ritual dedications or other methods all make up what we know our people believed in. For the rest we have a lot of modern invention by authors ranging from those who are honest and say “this is my take on this” to those who are dishonest and claim everything from hidden knowledges to Odin himself telling them how to do things. The first group of authors will provide you good structures and ideas to be borrowed from and made into your own practice. The second group of authors though will force you into the same cult mentality that wiped away our traditions in the first place. It is wise to look over this with a degree of discernment then.