We chanted and danced, our bodies whirling with our spindles, the cords lengthening as the twist travelled up the fibers locking them in place. We chanted in praise of a goddess of spinning and witches, but then the song changed and we chanted differently. This time we *pulled*, the spinning of our spindles aiding us as we pulled what we wanted to pull. A shift fell over the room and it was as though the fan no longer worked within the confines of our weoh bonds, but yet we danced and spun and passed the drum between us, taking turns with both spindle and drum. The dance went on, around the shrine with idol and well, around the candles without tumbling; in trance, these things happen.
When we stopped, we were no longer fully *here* but somewhere between, panting with exertion and sweating from the heat that the fans would no longer touch.
And that’s when the real work began.
In my last blog, I presented the idea that the magic of spindle and distaff is a magic of fate, a magic of pulling, of binding, and sometimes, even a magic of creation. Dealing with what you spin up (f you spin it up) often requires other skills of course, but for now though, I’m going to concentrate on the spinning up.
The first thing to understand about this kind of magic – or indeed any magic within the Germanic cultural context – is that some types of magic are temporary, and some are far longer lasting. Most of the examples you read of in the primary sources are temporary in nature; the mind ensnared until the will of the witch is carried out, or the weather temporarily made bad until the ship is sunk. Don’t get me wrong, temporary can cause a lot of damage. When it comes to long-lasting magics though, it’s all about setting down the layers, about repeated actions and intent. It’s about the tablet weaving tablet with a curse written on it, so that every turn of the tablet builds on the curse to imbue the victim with the ill luck of the caster. It’s about the spindle whorls scratched with prayers and blessings. It’s about the charms and staves left in hidden places to work continuously. It’s also probably why the SATOR square eventually became so popular in Northern Europe. If you remember that what we do in the now is what is set down as past layers for the future, then repeated actions over a period of time in the now and the not-so-far from now, set down that which a person has to work with in the future.
The second thing to understand here, is that this kind of spun magic, tends to be of a more chthonic nature. In my last blog post, I mentioned the connection between spinning and death, and spun threads made into various tools used to drag people down to the underworld. This idea was continued in various European folklore traditions that held that the dead had to cross over into the underworld over a bridge of thread, flax, or human hair (which actually kind of resembles flax).
When I first started to look at spun witchcraft – or Seiðr, it was most definitely from the point of view of the non-
spinner, or newbie spinner. Spinning is a craft that takes time, practice, and patience to become good at. Before you even begin to try your hand at spun Seiðr, you have to build up the muscle memory that makes it possible to spin without really thinking about it enough to go into trance.
The process of synthesis is often one of trial and error and this blog post is about my process of synthesis when it comes to spun Seiðr.
For me, it often starts with a flash of a vision of how you need to be doing something. But it’s one thing to see something happening and quite another to figure out the mechanics of how to do that thing or the framework within which you need to make it happen. That flash of a vision then becomes research, often years of research, experimentation, and most importantly evaluation before you have something workable. I think we often forget this because people are so reticent in the modern community to discuss their fuck ups, but let’s face it, everyone fucks up.
When I first began my experiments in spinning Seiðr I was doing so on the premise that the spindle was a tool for trance induction rather than for the magic itself. But as time went on and I experimented, I found that while you can get into a light trance state while spinning, it’s not necessarily good for deep trance, nor does it really go much beyond that (although it’s possible to have flashes of vision in this state). The breakthrough came when I decided to try changing my premise and taking the meaning of the word ‘Seiðr’ at face value – a ‘snare’. From that point on, I started to consider my spindle a tool that created a kind of snare ‘thought form’ that could be ‘sent forth’ or ‘ridden upon’ and used to ensnare and pull what I wanted or needed. My first experiments working in this way were a revelation, finally I felt like I’d hit on the mechanics of what I was meant to be doing.
Over time, I found that when I pulled and bound things, the spinning would become hard for no reason, that I would have to twist harder and that lumps would form in the spinning as the things I pulled were entrapped. I began to use my spindle when called in to help clear houses to attract and bind any leftover remnants of nastiness. Eventually, as I became more confident in this usage, I began using my spindle to pull and bind the kind of things that go bump in the night.
The more I spun and witched, the more I learned that spinning witchcraft is a magic that moves, it’s a magic that makes you want to sway and stamp your feet; to spin as you spin and work the energy out. It’s a magic that reverberates through your entire body, leaving you shaking and your yarn crackling with energy. Wool carries magic exceptionally well, and depending on what kind of magic you’re working, it can feel sharp and biting or warm and protective. It can be your favorite sweater or scarf that you wear when you know your day will be challenging, or it can be that one item that just feels unlucky. It can also carry stories – histories – and be used for divination for those skilled in psychometry.
Eventually I found others who were interested in working on this, on working to try to breathe life into and enliven that old spun Seiðr – people who were prepared to look beyond the high seat and get away from tidy and formal. We spun weoh bonds that we’d imbued with spells and prayers, and set up sacred space. We recreated our cosmos, or at least the lower half of it, with a ‘well’ to represent both the well of wyrd and the water the Dead must often cross between this world and the underworld. We also developed songs of various kinds; songs for pulling, songs for binding, songs for clearing, and songs of praise. Songs that would fill you with joy and songs that can make you feel as though something is walking over your grave. We found a place for those who couldn’t spin, because the drumming fuels our movements, our ecstasy, and we work to go deeper each time.
There is so much more that we haven’t explored yet and so many more possibilities to be integrated into our rites; such as extra magical steps in the preparation of the wool for Seiðr spinning, or the water with which you wash or wet your fingers with when spinning flax from a distaff. There are also ladders to be spun and woven, and an above world to look to as well.
Nowadays in witchcraft (and in other types of Seiðr group), it’s far more common to present a complete tradition, preferably one that’s been handed down in whatever way it has. I think because of this, we forget that most of us are *all* doing something relatively new, but again this is something we hide along with our fuck ups. As far as I know, myself and the people with whom I do spinning Seiðr are a minority out there. We have no lineages, no how-to books, and we’ll probably have our share of fuck ups too. I think it’s important to be honest about this, I think we do a huge disservice to those that come after us when we are not, and moreover, I think sometimes there is the trap of kidding oneself that what we have is the be all and end all of what there is. How can we get better at what we do if we cannot admit and learn from our mistakes? What has anyone ever really learned from a (fake) image of perfection?
For all the *newness* and experimental nature of this practice though, I *know* we’re on the right path. It’s not an objective knowing of course (when is it ever with this kind of thing?), but I *know* as surely as the air rushes back in when the weoh bonds come down.
So what the fresh hell is this “Cult of the Spinning Goddess”?
The ‘Cult of the Spinning Goddess’ is not an established cult or set of practices, but rather an attempt to create such a cult for the modern day. I was originally going to embark on this endeavor alone, but figured that there might be other interested parties and so decided to open it up. This cult construction is going to have the following requirements:
1. The creation of a space where cultic matters might be discussed, research shared, liturgy, ritual year, and cultic practices fleshed out.
2. A commitment to researching the figure of the ‘spinning goddess’, spinning lore, and what remnants might remain to this day through a combination of reconstruction, retrospective methods, and comparison of related mythologies.
3. Given that the ‘spinning goddess’ was a figure from further back in history than Heathens typically look, it’s obvious that it will not be possible to be completely historical. We’re aiming for a percentage, a percentage of history supplemented by practices created now that fit within the Heathen worldview. All new creations will be labelled as such and the rationale behind them given.
Okay, but who was this ‘spinning goddess’ you’re wanting to set up a cult to?
I’ll admit, she’s an illusive creature, her traces found (I believe) mainly in a series of bracteates (a type of amulet that depicted various things such as gods, goddesses, zoomorphic designs etc.), grave goods that combine ritual items with spinning items (and bracteates), later accounts of Gullveig and Heið, tales of magic that was spun, völva staffs that resemble ornate distaffs of the same period, and the continued existence of a group of numina in Germany heavily connected to spinning and magic. It’s my belief, based on the research I have carried out, that all of these things pertain to that original spinning goddess of the bracteates. I would like to attempt to create a working cult in her honour.
No, it is my opinion that what we see referred to as Seiðr in the sagas is actually the final remnants of practices that had their roots in some of the cultic practices of this goddess and I believe that there is some support for this in John McKinnell’s work, namely his paper titled ‘On Heið’. In ‘On Heið’, McKinnell makes the argument that the name ‘Gullveig’ is actually referring to an idol of wood that is covered in gold.
The war I remember, the first in the world,
When the gods with spears had smitten Gollveig, And in the hall of Hor had burned her, Three times burned, and three times born, Oft and again, yet ever she lives.
Heiðr they named her who sought their home The wide-seeing witch, in magic wise; Minds she bewitched that were moved by her magic, To evil women a joy she was.”
If McKinnell is right about Gullveig, then the above passage in Völuspá is potentially telling the tale of the stamping out of a cult by the followers of Hor (Oðinn), and the survival in the form of ‘Heið’, a title for Seiðr women.
It is my hope to focus on the ‘Gullveig’ rather than the ‘Heið’.
if Oðinn was a doo doo head to Gullveig, does that mean I can’t also worship him if I join this cult?
No, not at all. No migration period vandalism is going to be the boss of us!
It’s also not my intention that this cult becomes something separate or separating when it comes to other cultic activities or groups our cult members are involved in. I’m looking for the ‘as well as’, as opposed to ‘instead of’. I’m guessing it was a mentality of ‘instead of’ that led to any desecration (IF that’s what happened!).
Is that all the evidence you have for this whole spinning goddess thing though? I mean, this is pretty light on details.
You’re right, this is. But this is some initial FAQ that I hammered out in response to the many questions I received when I first mentioned the intention to create this cult. There’s a lot of research and a lot of sources, but that’s going to require an actual paper. It’s not something that would be particularly useful in some quick FAQ format.
So, are you all going to be doing witchy shit?
Some of the cultic practices are going to be magical in nature, but not all, and not all members have to participate in that. As a cultus, our primary function will be to create a reciprocal relationship with the spinning goddess, and some form of coherent cultic practice. So, we’re talking more worship, with some witchy shit for those that are interested.
Do you all want sausages with your clams?
All genders/sexualities are welcome here!
Are there any requirements for members?
So far, it would seem that there are three categories of interested parties:
* Those that spin, are interested in the intersection between spinning and magic, and who are interested in getting involved in the cultus.
* Those that don’t spin, but are curious about the cultus (but not the spinning).
* Those that are curious about both spinning and cultus and would like to learn.
Considering that we’re going to be a cult dedicated to a SPINNING GODDESS I’m going to stipulate that members must be able to spin or in the process of learning.
However, curious parties can be considered ‘friends of the cult’, and engage their curiosity by having access to a certain level of documents pertaining to the cult. As time goes on, if we are successful, I expect us to develop closer bonds and eventually practices that will be kept ‘in-cult’ only.
What’s your role going to be in this?
Well, I was considering becoming a Jim Jones, or David Koresh type dude…or maybe like that guy in Japan that collects pubic hair and puts people in giant microwaves! Just kidding. We may be starting a cult, but we’re not losing our fucking minds. You can all rest assured that I won’t be collecting anyone’s pubic hair, trying to score illicit sex with brainwashed minions, or creating some weird Heathen Waco. The only money I’d be taking from anyone would be if anyone wants to buy my book (when it’s finally out), but that’s called commerce, and as a capitalist society, that’s quite ok.
My role in this is going to be that of founder and leader. I encourage discussion and participation. Disagreement is cool, as long as you don’t be a dick about it. As things coalesce, if they coalesce, I’ll look into starting a council to work on different areas and so we have some kind of system and forum to discuss anything that crops up, but I’ll always retain my position.