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?

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 provides an introduction to the source material and tips on how to engage the material further.

In the first class you’ll be introduced to the original sources of Old Norse mythology and cosmology. 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 illustrate issues that arise from reading translations. I will also recommend modern analyses that transform 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. Participants will receive a supplemental practice video of 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. Please note these classes are about how these topics are represented in the literature and not about how to do these practices. More detailed class descriptions can be found below.

All classes will be source-driven: I will 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 provide an overview of the material with suggestions for further study.

Classes are typically 4:00pm – 5:30pm PST including variable 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. Computers and tablets work better than phones as a good portion of the classes show slides via screen sharing.

Rate: $75. This rate is non-refundable or transferable after June 1, 2020.

Questions? E-mail Maris at

Norse Mythology and Cosmology: 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? The original material is rather different from modern portrayals. In particular, when the myths are interpreted allegorically and not literally their character and message can change dramatically. In this class I introduce the sources of the Old Norse mythology and cosmology with recommendations for modern analysis. I will also demonstrate how translator bias and the act of taking a piece of writing out of its temporal and cultural context can create different perceptions of the material.

June 7

4:00pm – 5:30pm PST

Introduction to the 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 – 6:00pm PST

*Note this class is longer than the others.

Divination, Dreams, and the Prophetic Dead

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. In this class we’ll look at evidence, both literary and archaeological, that hint at how magic may have been practiced by 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