Why are Heathen Women so Scared of Magic?

Heathen women, reclaim your rightful place of power as witches, please. It’s not a Wiccan thing. It’s our heritage.

“Groa’s Incantation” by Collingwood.

Magical practice– witchcraft– is the great heritage of central and northern European women, as vital as the male warrior traditions to our ancestors’ communities. From noblewomen to the humblest farm wife, women were expected to work magic on behalf of their family, the sick and the wounded– and to uphold their kingdoms! Bands of professional priestesses, the volur were esteemed and traveled safety over both land and rivers, surviving into the time of the Greenland colony.

These two facts can be quoted by plenty of modern Heathens, but how many actually put stock in it by their actions, attitudes and beliefs regarding witchcraft– and the women who practice it?

Tacitus, Julius Caesar, other Roman historians and later European clerics have all testified to the importance of holy women, omens, magical song, healing charms and divination to the Germans and Celts. Magic and poetry pervaded both Northern Europeans’ lives and worldview. The Romans did not clearly differentiate between these two groups of people as we moderns seem to; Caesar and Augustus drove the residents of what is now modern France who survived brutal and systematic extermination across the Rhine into what is now Germany… making later continental Germanic beliefs “Celtic” by way of Gaulish inheritance.

That’s right, Celtic.

The same cultural well most neo-pagans are drawing off of, knowingly or not. The Celts/Germans were a deeply mystical, intellectually sophisticated people who approached the Gods directly within community rites, ceremonies and visions, not by way of studying texts, originally seeing the Gods as dynamic forces pervading the very universe, and so not easily depicted, rather than strictly human-like residents of a divine city fortress. (Which is not to say that they aren’t human-like if you approach them in vision! Just that this is not their “true” form, and seeing them purely as supernatural humans limits the scope of understanding their power. Perhaps a stag perceives Frey as a great stag, for instance.)

This is in in our very veins: the honored art and power of our ancestors. Magic is the power of women, equal to or exceeding that of any saga warrior, but differently applied. Even our great mortal male heroes in the most ancient tales, from Siegfried to Helgi, Svipdag to Freyja’s lover Ottar, all honorably practiced magic, went on mystical journeys and engaged with magical women and Goddesses. Yes, these are fictions. The point is: magic was esteemed. So why is our magical heritage still being hidden and shunned, aside from a few modern books on the subject? Why is magic whispered and rumored about in Heathen kindreds, the subject quickly changed to say, handicrafts and bread baking (which was once considered a magical act!), instead of being actively taught? Why aren’t our older women actively mentoring the younger ones in this? Why is Havamal studied and quoted more than the Voluspa, which begins the Poetic Edda?

It’s time we changed that.

Or, are we as a community going to stay locked in the sexist mindset of Protestant Christianity ̶ which eschews magical energies, true feminine power, direct gnosis and ritual for the reliance on translated sacred texts− for another century, instead of embracing the ways of our ancestors, whose very poems, artistic legacy and prose literature are almost entirely mystical and experiential? Are we going to culturally continue to rely on second, third and hundredth-hand accounts, or the opinions and doggedly re-iterated mistranslations of Christian, atheist and politically-motivated academics rather than acquiring our own personal knowledge of the very beings we claim to worship?

No one can argue that our pagan female ancestors had far more rights and social honor than those under Christianity. That’s well known historical fact, proudly repeated by modern Heathens. The lusty shield maidens of Hollywood and saga fame are hailed with gusto. Except they often leave out the part where our pagan female ancestors were almost all witches, to some degree.

If we’re so scared of magic, why are we heartily hailing, worshiping and placing Odhin and Frigg/Frija/Freyja, at the center of the modern pantheon – a God and Goddess of magic, ecstasy and the Underworld, again? Not to mention that Frau Holle/Frigg (Odin’s wife in Germany), is the very broom-riding, pointy-hatted old woman accompanied by cats we get our classic European depiction of witches from?

Which other revered God (of magic!) do we know who has a floppy brimmed hat, again?

Heathen women, I both welcome and challenge you: reclaim your rightful place of power as witches, please. It’s not a Wiccan thing. It’s not a neo-pagan thing. It’s our heritage.

If your kindred actively teaches magic to its members, I’d love to hear about it. Traveling across the US, I’ve found that to be rare.

  • Image by Collingswood: Groa’s Incantation. Illustration for Svipdagsmal (the hero calls up his dead, witch mother for advice and protection.)
  • For historical reference on ancient Heathenry, please read Tacitus’ Germania with a mild grain of salt, as he was chiding the Romans for their perceived decadence and embellished the rustic, “noble savage” aspects of our ancestors a bit– as did other Romans. Julius Caesar, likewise, downplayed our achievements in things like road building, communications networks and sublime vehicle construction quite a bit. (We were exquisite charioteers before ship builders!) It served his agenda of conquest.
  • Also see Herodotus’ accounts regarding the Hyperboreans and Keltoi.