In the second volume of Forbidden Knowledge, we ask how to best approach that magical world in which our all-powerful and all-wise seeress and sorceress ancestors lived. To really see and understand them, we must examine from every possible angle those everyday practices, or “ways,” that were woven into the fabric of their lives. But first, it is worth casting our gaze upon the matter of general lifestyle: how they lived, thought, perceived their environment; and what they would have regarded as true and real. To do so through the lens of the modern scientific worldview – the perspective with which we are taught to approach our own lives – would lead us quickly astray. Specifically, without some knowledge of the ways in which the Old Norse conceived of the supernatural and spiritual, it would be difficult to comprehend what magic actually meant to them.
In the first part of Volume 2, we explain how people in the Viking Age imagined the physical, mental, corporeal, and spiritual state in which they lived and the processes that composed it, before moving to a discussion of the divine forces to which they looked for succour. We learn, for example, of the science of shape-shifting, the guardian force (hamingja), and the capacity for premonition (fylgja). We also take a look at the Old Norse realm of the dead and even encounter some beings that today would be classified as undead.
With this background material under our belts, we then move to a survey of various types of magic and its female practitioners, discussing how such disciplines worked and the mind-set that surrounded them. The volume concludes with twenty odd stories of magical practices extracted from the sagas, an ancient source material that reveals the roots from which today’s methods – be they fortune telling, exorcism, spirit summoning, spellcasting, divination, dream reading, oneiromancy, necromancy, or healing – are derived. From modern therapies involving the laying on of hands to teleportation, the removal of curses, and spiritual communication, every practice has its antecedent in the stories of Old Iceland.
The world of the sagas is a peculiar one: frequently frightening and uncompromising, at other times tragic, yet not without a dash of humour. What is certain, however, is that during the period they describe, the now-forbidden knowledge of the Old Norse still occupied its natural place in daily life. As for women, when they used their abilities in service of others, they were looked upon with honour and respect; when they used them for harm or repression, they were regarded with fear.