The following interview is an excerpt from the book, by Hunter M. Yoder, Heiden Hexology, Essays and Interviews, 2012
I am delighted to present another great perspective in our ongoing interview series at Zaubereigarten: My well known admiration for the Galdrstaves and their relativity to the Hexerei fueled my interest in interviewing Gandvaldr following the Grimnir interview. Gandvaldr, heads his own rune school, Galdragildi and has written extensively on the Icelandic magical traditions. His "Gandreidr-the Magic Ride" in HEX Magazine issue #4 is included along with my own contribution in the same issue, "Runic Symbology in Contemporary Deitsch Hexology" He has a no nonsense approach to "Neo-shamanism" that speaks to our emerging folkish heathen ways here.
Thank you very much for this opportunity. I’ve heard and seen good things from you and
Zaubereigarten.com and it is an honour to contribute to such a dignified presentation. Though my own approach is far from being that of the core topic of the website, I hope to provide some information and opinion that is of benefit to its readers.
1. What thoughts do you have on oppositional pairings in the Elder Futhark?
I presume the pairings of which you ask are akin to: fehu/dagaz, uruz/othala, thurisaz/ingwaz, and so on. These pairings when looking at the entirety of the Elder row reveals some of the hidden layers of meaning. Given that the runes reflect the pattern of our cosmogony and consciousness, a vitki must understand and use them beyond the obvious stave shapes and general representations intrinsic to their runegaldr. Once these are understood and exercised, capably, one could begin to work with these ‘pairings’: dyads, and even triads, as they are readily presented to the learned eye, though each works quite different from the other. Probably the most notable and conveniently shared pairing is that which occurs in the very middle of the elder row (or the first dyad, depending on ones chosen course of pairing). It begins with jera and eihwaz: the central runestaves of the Elder fuþark - as the ‘milling process’.
2. Seidr and Shamanism, are they more similar then Galdr and Shamanism?
This question requires some discussion because of the sensitivity of the use words like “seið” and “shamanism”. I prefer to refrain from generalizing since the term “shaman” and “shamanism” are referring specific practices of Tenguistic culture. Certainly the former has some similarities of approach that could be seen as being shamanistic, but it would be more accurate to compare the practices and traditions to those people inhabiting Sámpi. Rune-galdr is approached quite differently. The ecstatic state that’s used for the platform during seið or seið-galdr is not achieved during the course of runic intonation and presentation. The releasing of the Will into the subconscious would be contraindicated for the functional rune-galdr since focus of the Will needs to be specifically directed into the song / runestave. It’s presented within the Hávamál as Óðinn being conscious (ON: vita) at key occurrences concerning his own discovery and use of the Runes.
3. Can you speak on attenuation, and multiplication on the rays in the galdrastafir
tradition, specifically hatchings (curlycues, cross hatching, squared off on the rays) of various types.
The complexity of the ‘rays’ and their fields of termination with the overall layout of the galdrastafir, along with galdramyndir, are most easily discussed when presented in ægishjálmar (helms of awe) [see fig. 1]. These ‘helms of awe’ are generally the most recognized forms of galdrastafir, with a central point and radiating branches using the various ends mentioned above for effect. When the galdrastafr / ægishhjálmr is created, the stave is understood to contain fields within the central self, and subjective and objective universes. The specific stave endings are meant to expand, contain, return, amplify or prevent the diffusion of energies within the areas of choice.
Other galdrastafir are composed of bind-runes that may then be stylized to further embed their already hidden meaning and purpose, and increase their aesthetics or to simply make them iconographic as in the various Þjófastafur [see figure 2]. Often the only way to dissect the ‘meaning’ of a particular galdrastafir is to be the vitki who inscribed it, since the stylization and contained intent of the design is often far too complex to accurately define. This is more deeply complicated (and established) by the vocalized or transcribed portion accompanying the process of the galdrastafir, as in the Nárbrókarstafur [see fig. 3] for further complexity and Galdratöluskip for complexity accompanied by verse [see fig. 4].
(The images are borrowed from the Museum of Icelandic Sorcery web site)
Hátt eru segl við húna
hengd með strengi snúna.
Séð hef ég ristur rúna
mig rankar við því núna.
Ofan af öllu landi
ógn og stormur standi,
særokið með sandi
sendi þeim erkifjandi.
4. Can you speak on Icelandic witchcraft and usages of Black Henbane?
The use of henbane (Hyoscyamus niger) has been a personal favourite for a few years. A trusted friend of mine [Cody] first helped me to understand the particulars of its use some years ago. His knowledge of a wide variety of entheogen is quite inspirational. Since then, I’ve come to personally work with henbane during various activities and the outcomes have been remarkable. Henbane is one of the notable plants from the nightshade family, Solanaceae, in that it has an extraordinary history of association with witchcraft: necromancy, prophecy, weather magic, in addition to being used for healing, transcendence and spiritual discourse. Use of this for healing is accounted during the black plague as a narcotic salve made from black poplar, poppy, and henbane/deadly nightshade. The concoction was used for a painkiller. This plant was also used in beer-brewing; the last known execution resulting from “brew witches” was in the late 1500s. Today’s Pilsner beer has its root in the use of henbane: Pilsnerkraut (and Bilsnerkraut), both German for henbane. It is also said to be of particular use in ending a drought by taking a stalk of henbane, dipping it in a stream and sprinkling the land with its residue. In this along with being brewed into beer is said to be a sacred mixture for the thunder god, as well as an herb of the death-god Odin. Due to its rarity, special gardens were established and dedicated as sacred to the gods Thor and Odin. Some connection, too, has been postulated between the berserkers and use of henbane since its maddening effects are akin to those told of Odin’s chosen warriors.
Henbane is, of course, a poison and should never be used, grown or effused when children are near. The entire plant is replete with alkaloids and one only needs to use the leaves mulled into a tea or alcoholic beverage for some result.
5. Black and white magic, is this a purely xtian perspective on Galdra/Hexerei?
I do think this is a kristinn judgement placed upon something that, in ones opinion, must be either “black” or “white”, “good” or “evil”. What I find most curious, is that there are some within the heathen / folkish communities who maintain the same point of view. It’s as if the final shackles of kristinndómr have yet to be thrown off, much like most persons I’ve met who practice ‘older’ religions, or modern wicca. When a person who harms another with a knife or gun, it’s not questioned whether the weapon was ‘evil’, nor whether the weapon had any intent at all. The device was merely wielded by another for their own aims. Even the most globally fearsome of modern weapons, nuclear warheads for example, cannot be seen as ‘evil’ since without direction and cause, they are at rest - for better or worse. Of course, this in no way implies that magic, Hexerai, rune or seið-galdr, gandreiðr, etc. could not be used for dastardly goals, nor that the aforementioned platforms of generation could not create something intrinsically malevolent, as in the Icelandic tales of the tilberi, carrier spindles, or sendings, such as Thorgeir’s Bull (middle 18th c.) that had contained the essence of 9 creatures (including the bull essence) so it could move freely in all areas of land and sky. This dreadful creature was constructed through the combined efforts of several wizards, but only used by Thorgeir. It was initially created to harm Gudrun Bessadóttir for refusing his hand in marriage. However after causing her much discomfort and eventual demise, the Bull turned its attention on others; playing harmful tricks. It seems that the Bull was specifically devoted to Thorgeir. If the Bull couldn’t complete a task that its master sent upon it, the Bull would return home and taunt Thorgeir himself. The wizard, though very powerful, had to exhaust all his magic so he may defend against the Bull’s attacks. Thorgeir, wanting to be rid of the Bull once and for all, meant to offer his own infant son to it that it may be appeased. His wife persuaded him to provide a heifer instead. This offering was found some distance from the house, shredded to pieces. After this, the Bull appears to have caused no great harm, however it continued to taunt Thorgeir’s kinsmen. Thorgeir himself was so afraid of this creature that he made both of his daughters carry runic charms in their aprons for protection. On Thorgier’s deathbed, a grey cat (some account a black puppy) lay down upon his chest, and it’s presumed to have been the Bull. Thorgier died in 1803, he was 86.
6. Trees, working with wood, why do the runes work so well with that?
First, I like what Valúlfr has to say regarding a similar question posed to him in his interview. Along with that, I’d like to offer the connection with Yggdrasill, and the All-Father’s suspension to win the runes. Taking into account that according to the elder Edda, the gods (Odin-Vili-Ve) first created man from trees – presumably an ash and an elm. The connection a vitki or rúnameistari maintains in reflection/connection within and without Yggdrasill along with the malleable substances with which they work, results in the runes not only being ‘risted’ into a wood surface, but into themselves as well.
On a practical level, the layered grains of wood when cutting across them hold the staves distinctly apart from the lines of grain. It also provides a natural, available substance with which to work that isn’t as unforgiving nor time-consuming as stone might be. When the wood is taken, it is alive and growing: the energies within the wood, or varieties of wood, also lend to the overall result of ones desired work. From the point the wood for the working is procured, to the moment the runes are carved and the tine is ‘doomed,’ the entire process holds a living thing.
7. Pennsylvania Deitsch Hexerei and the Icelandic Galdr share many commonalities, what is your view from your Icelandic perspective of the PA German magical traditions that have existed continuously since the arrival of the ancestors here?
[Smile] It is more of an Icelandic approach rather than a perspective. The old-world connection to the PA Deitsch magical traditions is rich and impressive. Maintaining a close, strong line over such an expanse of time and distance speaks of its importance. Icelanders, too, are proud of their heritage and culture, but cannot boast of the same transcontinental resilience.
8. In Deitsch Magic we face North in workings, Is this something we share in common and if so why that direction?
It is the same in many of our workings as well. However, from the standpoint of ones goals and intentions for the working process, there are times when facing the East or West (or even South) is in keeping. Some of my own base ritual galdr, for the Nornir, requires attention drawn to the East. Often too, attentions are shifted throughout the working depending on the reflective area of intent. Whichever direction is chosen, this is generally a physical representation of ‘from whence’ the energies are being drawn or directed.
9. At a time when eclecticism is a naughty word in Heathenism and re constructionist thinking, How eclectic was the Icelandic magic? The impression from the outside is that it is the purest form of Northern European magic.
This depends on the period from which one is drawing their references. The heathen period, before Icelandic conversion, was vibrant and more pure. Given what was transpiring during the pressure to convert to the aims of kristinndómr, there was much crossing over of ideas and techniques; more of a synthesis of both heathen and kristinn. However, due to a lack of written information during this time, there is little actual reference from which to glean. As the Catholic period gave way to the Reformation, and writing became more prevalent, we see the creation of the galdrabækur, magical books that detailed the manner and use of specific practices. Some of the most dreadful magicians throughout the kristinnization and Reformation were those claiming to be religious leaders (kristinn) who were adept with runegaldr and galdrastafir. Beyond this, looking through examples of the “black books” (personal books of folkish magical practices) shows that the folkish magic of the time used both heathen and kristinn methodology as well. It appears to be eclectic and highly adaptive given the pressures of the time and the ongoing development and understanding of transcontinental content. However, these days, there is a desire to remove the dross of the infused kristinn perspectives and re-establish something more akin to what the original Icelanders sought when departing Norway and King Harald fair-haired’s goal of a unified kingdom.
Those heathen folk whose practices and interests lie in Germanic magic, vitki, rúnameistari, or seið-kona or maðr, should start at the most ‘pure’ aspect of the tradition. Once those are truly understood and embodied, which should take years, progression into the complicated synthesis of the Reformation period is a viable and powerful step as long as the wholeness of the tradition and its foundation is upheld.
10. Is ceremonial magic a correct term in describing Icelandic magic after lets say the 1600's?
Tough question... simply saying “yes” or “no” would inaccurately commit my response into an area that is otherwise gray. In some aspects, I suppose it would be thought as such. I prefer to consider it more of a ‘ritual magic’* rather than being solely ceremonial. Given the composition of heathen and more contemporary (at any given time) understanding, especially that of kristinn influence, ceremony becomes more prevalent. The various magical books (galdrabækur) and other manuscripts of the period depict practices, while complex, do not necessarily fit into the description of ceremonial magic. Germanic magical practices for the long-term student today seem to begin with more of a ceremonial approach, but as experience and knowledge develop, the ‘ceremony’ gives way to ritual and eventually more informed spontaneity of ones application and use; where dedicate rune or seið galdr and may be permeated with folkish or even sympathetic tools when Needed.
*In my opinion, ceremony is a performance that requires one to practice to flawlessly present it, whereas ritual may permit more free-flowing alteration and variation from one to the other. No two rituals are alike, even when the same foundation is shared.