The term ‘shaman’ is culturally specific and peoples indigenous to Northern Europe would not have recognised it; however, the practices used by northern healers, seidr workers, rune masters, vitki, and the like, would have felt familar to the shaman. When we talk about Northern Shamanism we are talking about a diverse group of peoples working in very particular ways, moving between and/or, working with, non-ordinary reality; modern practitioners have developed systems which work with the ancient runes, seidr and the northern cosmology.
Our programme at StarFire Alchemy reflects the fact that some individuals will be called to work purely within the Northern tradition, while others will want their shamanic practice to incorporate Northern tradition techniques, energies and frameworks.
Our Northern tradition and RuneCraft courses are designed with the following aims for each practitioner:
- To gain insight into the workings of personal and cosmic Wyrd (fate/luck/energy/potential) through techniques including rune casting and journeying
- To align ourselves with the flow of Wyrd, build our personal kenning hoards, and develop our shamanic practice
- To influence the flow and structure of Wyrd for the purposes of healing and personal development for ourselves and others.
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RuneCraft is a system for working with the runic systems of the Germanic Futharks (ancient alphabets used for magic and healing as well as communication). At StarFire Alchemy our Northern tradition training focuses on developing a deep connection with the runes through study (the development of ‘kennings’) and experience (the development of a personal connection with each rune through crafting techniques). Our programmes combine rune crafting techniques with shamanic practice, which is why we refer to our overall programme as ‘Northern Shamanism and RuneCraft’.
In legend, the God Odin hung upon the World Tree for nine nights until, at last, the runes appeared to him. The runes represented a means through which Odin could work with Wyrd – and, in turn, we are able to use them to interpret, flow with, and change Wyrd.
Like the oldest recorded practitioners, RuneCrafters cut and carve runes into objects to empower them, use their voices to evoke the energy of the runes, explore the runes through the ancient rune poems and texts, and combine the energies of multiple runes to manifest desired outcomes. Northern tradition practitioners today also uses techniques included trance work and journeying which we know were used at the same time of the runes (although not necessarily by the same people). Because RuneCraft emphasises the development of a personal relationship with the runes, just as much as the learning of ‘kennings’, we make the most of complementary practices such as drumming, seeking guidance from spirit, body movement and the construction of sacred space within our work – all of these practices are likely to have been used in conjunction with the runes.
Our Northern tradition and RuneCraft programme is a progressive tradition and our practitioners also use and explore the wide variety of practices developed over the last century to assist with their work. These include working with colour energies, incenses and oils, crystals, hvels (equivalent to chakras) and a variety of ritual techniques which have developed out of a synergy of traditional northern practices and runecraft, and modern magickal and spiritual practices.
‘Kenning’ means knowledge or wisdom, and a rune practitioner will have a kenning ‘horde’ (a collection of wisdom) that he or she has accmulated about each rune. The oldest kennings come from the ancient rune poems, these form the basis for all subsequent work – over time kennings have come to include plant and animal correspondences, colours, elements, crystals, times of day, types of healing work and much more.
The correspondences and concepts ascribed to a rune can be used to work with that rune and bring out its energies in healing and energy work. For example, you can work with a rune at a particular time of year and at a particular hour in order to experience its energies at their most powerful, or you can use a crystal or power animal connected to the rune in order to explore it more deeply.
The RuneCrafter recognises the importance of the Germanic religions of past and present to the development of the runes. Although it is not necessary for a Northern Shaman to practice one of the Germanic religions (such as Asatru or Heathenry), it is necessary to have respect for the deities/archetypes of the Germanic religions bound up within the evolution of the runes and to explore their myths and traditions.
Loosely translated as ‘Fate’. Wyrd is very bound up with the concept of time and the flow of the past into the present. After the Gods set the heavens in motion they enjoyed a ‘Golden Age’ which was then disrupted by the arrival of three women (normally interpreted as being the Fates):
On Itha Plain met | the mighty gods:
shrines and temples | they timbered high,
they founded forges | to fashion gold,
tongs they did shape | and tools they made.
Played at draughts in the garth [home]: right glad they were,
nor aught lacked they | of lustrous gold-
till maidens three | from the thurses came,
awful in might, | from etin-home. (The Poetic Edda)
These stanzas describe the first stirrings of ‘doom’, once the maidens arrive the Gods will know ‘lack’, for they are also subject to Fate – Wyrd has been set in motion. Immediately after the end of the Golden Age the gods find an ‘unfated’ ash tree and an elm tree which have drifted to the shore, they breathe life into them and they become the first man and first woman. The divine breath of the Gods gives life and also fate, Wyrd flows with the gift of life.
Imagine a short story as follows : ‘They lived happily ever after’. This is what a world without Wyrd might look like – no substance, no narrative, no sense of who ‘they’ are, of adventure or excitement, of love or loss. The beginning of the Poetic Edda is like an unfolding, each new phase of creation demanding the realisation of the next phase; a pattern has been set into motion and that pattern is Wyrd.
Wyrd is sometimes described as being like water (as in the Well of Wyrd), new souls are believed to be born from the Well and naming ceremonies in many cultures include a blessing with water. Wyrd is also the name of one of the Fates in Anglo-Saxon mythology (corresponding with the Norse Urd), she is the Norn of the ‘past’ from which the present and future flow forth. The Fates spin, weave and cut the threads of Fate, and Wyrd is often characterised as a web or woven cloth. Wyrd flows around us, but we each also have our own Wyrd to play out (you might imagine your Wyrd as a series of threads which run through the greater tapestry, combining and flowing with the Wyrd of all other beings).
The important thing to remember is that Wyrd is a dynamic force, it is always in motion, continuously present as it flows from the past and into the future.
Seidr (pronounced ‘seeth’ or ‘sayth’) is a term which was used in the Viking era to describe a group of practices which, loosely speaking, were considered supernatural in nature. No one sat down and wrote ‘this is the definition of Seidr‘, rather, they described particular events and people; from these accounts we get a picture of practice which are very similar to modern shamanic practice, and witchcraft – but they are still context specific and grounded in the Northern tradition. You may be familiar with the term ‘High Seat Rite’, this is a particular form of Seidr, which has survived within accounts and has therefore been adopted and adapted by a number of modern groups. When we think of a Seidr worker we may visualise someone who uses specific tools such as power songs and drum to achieve a state of trance where they can move between ordinary and non-ordinary reality.
At StarFire Alchemy our focus is on the journey of the individual towards well-being and transformation, rather than on the reconstruction of particular practices. While our Northern tradition programme contains elements of traditional Seidr practice, the majority of our individual courses will blend in other shamanic practices which our experience has shown us work well in the Northern context.
A key part of being a Northern Shaman, and particularly being a RuneCraft practitioner, is the ability to draw on your own personal kenning hoard (your hoard of knowledge). Northern Shamans are story-tellers, weavers of the fabric of reality; their knowledge of the runes and the cosmology of the Northern tradition is their most powerful tool as it is this knowledge that allows them to see the threads of that fabric and so work with them. We have developed a number of resources to help you develop your kenning hoard and so begin, or deepen, your journey as a Northen Shaman:
- Visit Magin’s blog for regular postings on aspects of RuneCraft and Northern Shamanism, pages dedicated to each of the runes as well as many aspects of rune practice, and her own shop with runes and casting cloths available
- If you want to deepen your relationship with any of the runes in the Elder Futhark in a more experiential way than is possible through books, then download one of our Journeys with the Elder Futhark and visit the realm of that rune for yourself
- Learn one of the most simple and effective methods for protecting your space by downloading our Hammer of Thor self-study module
- Visit our Multi-media and downloads pages for videos, downloads and more