Pre-modern Seminar No 46: Kendra Willson
On Tuesday February 7th PhD Kendra Willson from the University of Turku will give a talk called:
“Inner and outer worlds in Old Norse seiðr magic”
The seminar will take place in Jakobi 2-114 at 18.15.
Kendra has sent us a short presentation of her lecture:
“Conceptual mappings between the domestic realm and the outer world and between the spatial and temporal axes of Old Norse cosmology underpin the type of magic known as seiðr in Old Icelandic sources. This "women's magic" provided a means for women to influence events in the public sphere.
The domestic sphere inside the farmhouse fence (innangarðs) was viewed as women's domain, while the world beyond the fence (utangarðs) was the dominion of men. This opposition is mirrored in the contrast between Miðgarðr and Útgarðr, the social and the wild, in Norse cosmology (Hastrup 1985:151). Meletinskij (1973) divides Norse cosmology into vertical and horizontal axes. The horizontal axis is spatial and cosmogonic, while the vertical axis is temporal and eschatological. They intersect at the root of the world tree (Yggdrasill), the central pillar of the vertical axis. On the horizontal axis, the base of the tree was superimposed on the hearth, the center of the domestic realm. Schjødt (1990) and Nordvig (2012) view the cosmology as a set of binary oppositions that are active at different times; the axes are linked to each other by metaphorical "transformations" (Meletinskij 1973:50). "While in the horizontal model gods and men were metonymically related, as co-inhabitants of Miðgarðr, in the vertical model they weremetaphorically related, as inhabitants of the upper and middle world, respectively" (Hastrup 1985:152).
Traditional magic operates by means of a conceptual mapping between a controllable item and something harder to control. It creates a blended space in which action performed on the source domain is thought to influence the target (Sørensen 2006). The shamanic seiðr magic was conceived as climbing the world tree, i.e., ascending the vertical axis to access the future. At the same time, the metonymy between the more controllable domestic sphere and the larger outer world meant that manipulations conducted within the household were reflected in the world outside.
Though Old Norse literature features tropes of women warriors and maiden kings, women's involvement in blood feud and other "public" matters was most often indirect, e.g. through goading men to vengeance (Miller 1984). Access to the future through seiðrwas another way in which women could influence the public sphere. Although the god Óðinn practiced seiðr, sources repeatedly warn that the practice entails catastrophic unmanliness (ergi) for a male practitioner (Meulengracht Sørensen 1983). This magic with a source domain rooted in the women's sphere, the inner (domestic) world, enabled women to influence the outer (public) sphere of the horizontal access via conceptual mappings between the vertical and horizontal axes and between the worlds inside and outside the farmstead fence.”
Everybody is welcome!