So the other day I wrote a post about shamanism practiced in the Norse culture and how Seiðr was the area of expertise for women and if men practiced such magics, that would be seen Ergi (unmanly) in the Norse society. I have also talked about other ways of spiritual magic that would be much more acceptable in society when dealing with male magic practices, and this is what I will be writing today and go deep into that subject.
There are different types of shamanic practices, and for men among the Norse society, there were ways to practice magic that would be more socially acceptable.
The Norse/Germanic society was very much warlike, and as such, there were always those elite group of warriors who practice shamanic magics that would help them in battle, this was such a way for men to practice magic in a way taht wouldn’t be considered unmanly and people would accept it without judgment.
In earlier periods of history, the elite warriors were militia groups or warbands, but with time and during the Viking ages, these groups became more restricted, more closed and ritual practices would be done away from society. We know of such groups like the berserkers as I have written on another post, there weren’t ordinary warriors, their initiation rituals, fighting techniques, and the spiritual practices were as complex as anyother shamanic magic practiced by any shaman, these warriors could be considered as Shaman-Warriors.
Such warriors would work their rage in trance before they went to battle, we know of these berserkers as being warriors who would run into battle, sometimes without any armour or any other type of clothing, shouting and howling, putting their shield away, most of the time they would even abandon their weapons. This was a sign of who they were, people knew a berserker in the battlefield, this was their mark and their presence alone would strike fear in the hearts of their enemies. The animal symbols of these warriors were often the wolf and the bear, and while in battle-trance, these warriors would call upon the strength of such animals, working with their spirit totems to invoke such powers. Now this is when we enter another subject related to these practices, the totemistic warriors.
Totemism in groups was very often related to the military in ancient Norse/Germanic society. Many of these military societies had an animal as a totem, a wolf or a bear as I have written previously. Shamanicaly, these warriors would work with the spirits of these animals in order to possess the ferocity and strength of them when they entered into battle.
Initiation rites for new members of these totemic groups would start by living for a while in the wilds, in which the means of obtaining food would be by hunting or stealing from the near by villages. A link with the wild had to be made, the warrior would have to live such as wolves or bears, even learning to kill to survive. This link with the natural world was important because these warriors had to adopt the way of life of their totemic animal. There was a clear distinction of realities, the mortal world or the world of the society where rules were applied with the aim of maintain order, and the other reality which was the wild world, dark and magical, where chaos reigned and the only law was the law of the strongest. There is a clear distinction here as it is in Norse cosmology, which tells us that the forces of order are always in battle against the forces of chaos.
With the progress of these rituals, the individual would identify himself with the animal and was spiritually united with it. the Initiation ended in group when the individual was accepted by the “pack”, wearing the skin of his totemic animal, the wolf or the bear, which would be a marking that claimed the position of this individual as someone who went beyond the limits of humanity and became something more, something more beastlike, more ferocious. People knew this, and there wasn’t anything more frightening to encounter in battle than these kind of warriors.
These rituals were something more than just symbolic, this included having the behavior of the animal due to the individual being possessed by his totemic animal.
During the Viking Age society two totemic groups’ names are often heard (and it seems they have been the most powerful and the ones that left more marks of terror in their enemies’ hearts) the Berserkers / Berserkir which means “bear-shirts” and the úlfheðnar “Wolf-Hides” and it isn’t that hard to know which animal was the totem of which group.
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