Language, Myth, and Magic

in Medieval Norse and Early Germanic Sources

Five on-line classes to get you started in the exploration of Old Norse and early Germanic cosmological and mythical sources.

Many people are familiar with aspects of Norse mythology that have been filtered through modern media productions. But where does Norse mythology come from and what does it look like in its original form? In exploring this question I found that the source material paints a much more complicated and nuanced picture than is found through modern media filters. And, through the work of Maria Kvilhaug, I was introduced to the exciting possibility that some of the Norse medieval literature points to a spiritual ethos of inner transformation and wisdom-seeking.

The amount of literature from the medieval era is extensive; it is an area that would take years of dedicated study to develop proficiency. But you don’t have to become a scholar of medieval Norse literature to develop a good working knowledge of the material and a critical eye for the extent to which modern interpretations are historically grounded. This program is designed to provide a framework for engaging this material whether the content of these classes is sufficient or you want to take your studies further.

In the first class you’ll be introduced to the original sources of Old Norse mythology. As more people become interested in Old Norse-based spiritual practices, the amount of modern commentary grows. Where does that information come from? When are modern interpretations based on historic evidence and when are they not? I’ll recommend modern commentary and translations; and we’ll talk about issues that arise when reading translations including translator bias. I will also recommend modern commentary that transforms the myths by looking at them as allegories and part of a spiritual tradition of initiation into wisdom.

The second class is an introduction to the Old Norse language and medieval reconstructed pronunciation. Knowing how to pronounce the Old Norse words you will encounter makes the material much more accessible. We will also cover some basic structural aspects of the Old Norse language that are helpful to know when looking at Old Norse text. I’ll also provide you with supplemental practice videos that include stanzas from the cosmological poem Völuspá – The Prophesy of the Seeress.

We’ll continue on into the realms of prophesy, dreams, and magic with the next three courses, weaving in content from the early Germanic and Medieval Norse time frames. Topics covered include oracular practices, runes, galðr (sung spells), early Germanic seeresses, and both historic accounts and modern practices of seiðr – a trance-mediumship practice. (More detailed class descriptions can be found below.)

All classes will be source-driven: I will endeavor to present content as it comes from the source material with a minimum of interpretation. As each of these topics could be an entire course of study, these classes aim to provide an overview of the material while highlighting themes and providing direction for further study.

Classes will be from approximately 4:00pm – 5:30pm PST including time for Q&A. The video conferencing platform Zoom will be used so please download and install Zoom well in advance of your first class. Classes can be accessed as recordings, though live participation is requested whenever possible.

Rate: $125. This rate is non-refundable or transferable after June 1, 2020.

Questions? E-mail Maris at

Norse Mythological Sources: Sources, Modern Commentary, and Issues of Translation

Many are familiar with elements of Old Norse Mythology through modern media. But where does this information come from and what does it say in its original form? I was surprised at how different the original material was relative to the expectations I had developed from modern portrayals. In particular, when the myths are taken as allegory and not rendered literally, their character and message can change dramatically. In this class I introduce the sources of the Old Norse myths with recommendations for modern analysis. Also included is a talk on issues of translation: how translator bias and the act of taking a piece of writing out of its temporal and cultural context can create perceptual distortions.

June 7

4:00pm – 5:30pm PST

Introduction to Old Norse Language: Pronunciation and Basic Features of Grammar

Learn Medieval Reconstructed Old Norse pronunciation. How do you pronounce seiðr, Óðinn, Hvergelmir, Völuspá, Yggdrasill, Veðrfolnir, Hræsvelgr, valkyriur? It becomes much easier to read even modern material on Old Norse subjects if you know how to pronounce the Old Norse names and terms. After this class, participants will be well on their way to pronouncing Old Norse words and will have resources to continue to learn on their own. Included in this class is a bonus pronunciation practice video. We will also cover basic elements of grammar that are useful to know when looking at Old Norse text.

June 14

4:00pm – 5:30pm PST

Oracles, Dreams, and the Prophetic Dead in Early Germanic and Medieval Norse Sources

Starting with the Germanic tribes in 1st century BC and then jumping in time to medieval Iceland we will look at historic and literary portrayals of prophetic practices including the relationship between prophecy and the dead, prophesy and dreaming, and the role of the seeress in old Germanic cultures. As it is tempting to speculate on cultural continuity between the groups, we will engage in some informed speculation.

June 28

4:00pm – 5:30pm PST

Galðr, Runes, and Other Forms of Old Norse Magic

Magic is a common feature of Old Norse sagas and poetry and was part of the daily lives of people before Christianization led to prohibitions on magical practices. In this class we’ll look at evidence, both literary and archaeological, that hint at what magic may have looked like to the Old Norse people. Included topics: galðr (sung spells), runes, shapeshifting, sitting-out, and weaving magic.

July 12

4:00pm – 5:30pm PST

Seiðr: Past and Present

Seiðr (learn how to pronounce in the first class!) is an oracular, magical practice attested to in the medieval Norse sagas and Eddic poetry (learn what these references are in class 2!). Archaeological grave evidence supports the existence of staff-carrying people who may have been practitioners of seiðr. More recently, spirit-workers have endeavored to create a modern, vital, version of this practice. In this class I will talk about seiðr in both its past and one of its present versions.

July 19

4:00pm – 5:30pm PST