Völva from Fredrik Sander's 1893 Swedishedition of the Poetic Edda
Seid, or seiðr in Old Norse, or seidhr, seidh, seidr, seithr, or seithis in its anglicized versions, is a type witchcraft associated with women belonging to the pagan culture of the Norse in pre-Christian times. Mythologically, in the Ynglinga saga, written in 1225, it is stated that Freyja – the goddess of love, beauty, fertility, and war – is the one who introduces seid to the Æsir (the first gods), when she and the Vanir (the second gods) join pantheons. An example of seid magic appears in Völuspá, the first poem of the Poetic Edda, written sometime in the 10th or early 11th century; it depicts a vision of the creation of the world, and its approaching end as narrated by a völva addressing Odin – the ruler god. Mainly known by its Icelandic term, a völva, or vǫlva in Old Norse, or vala in English, was a type of female prophet/shaman throughout Norse paganism. Alternatively, the term spákona or spækona were also used to describe a practitioner of spá (prophecy). Völvas were workers of various forms of indigenous magic and divination; most importantly, völvas were famous for being seiðkonas – practitioners of seid. By analyzing the the mythology, archeology, and sociology of the North, one can try to conceptualize what this mysterious form of witchcraft known as seid was all about.
At first glance, there is much temptation to link the term seid to sidh (or sith), term used for the legendary fairies of Ireland who once inhabited the surface of the land but now live hidden from humans; however, we now connect the Sidh fairies to the Tshuds, a supernatural race of creatures also vanished from the lands among the the Finnish, and Arctic Circle. The etymology of the word “seid” is officially unknown; however, it is clear that there are etymological equivalents known from Old High German and Old English words meaning ‘cord, string’ and ‘snare, cord, halter’; in fact, there is a line in verse 15 of the 9th century skaldic poem Ragnarsdrápa, which uses seid in that context. Subsequently, giving its connection with the word “string”, scholars argue that seid was about spinning, which could support the abundant presence of the distaff in Norse mythology; Norwegian Scholar Eldar Heide defends this argument, noting clear examples throughout Scandinavian folklore:
“With a cord, one can not only bind, but also attract things, and this is characteristic of seiðr. In perhaps half of the prose sources, the eﬀect of seiðr is that desired objects, persons or resources, like fish, are drawn to the sorcerer. The clearest example is Saxo’s version of the seiðr séance in Hrólfs saga kraka [a 13-15th C. manuscript depicting events in the late 5th and 6th C]. The prophetess’s task is to see where two boys are hiding, and Saxo says that they are ‘drawn out of their recess by the weird potency of the enchantress’s spells and pulled under her very gaze’. In Icelandic seiðr tradition, from recent times, attraction dominates and most of the sources have the ﬁxed expression seiða til sín – ‘attract by seiðr’. In some of the sources, it is as if the victim is pulled by an invisible rope. As far as this kind of seiðr is concerned, the etymology ‘cord’ makes very good sense". 
|Woman with distaﬀ and spindle. Norway, 1717.|
While the conceptual origin of seid might have come from spinning and weaving, the methodology by which this magic was performed was far more radical, presenting a different school of thought about seid. According to various historical accounts, völvas sat on platforms, reciting various galðrar (galðr is a singing incantation), until she, and sometimes the people present, transcended into a state of ecstasy where she was possessed by the spirts, and could work magic and predict the future. This is definitely supported by the archeological finding of henbane seeds in völva graves, along with seeds of cannabis. Henbane (hyoscyamus niger) is known for its psychoactive properties that include visual hallucinations and a sensation of flight. Seid could have also easily incorporated drumming sounds along with shamanic techniques taken from the Indigenous Sami people of the North. That is certainly the case presented by many scholars, who link seid magic to Finnic-Baltic origins, comparing the practice to that of the noaidi, the shamans of the Sami people.  However, there is an element of seid magic that is purely unique to the culture in which it was practiced, and that is the answer to the questions many ask when they first learn about seid – Why is it a woman’s art?
|Freja by John Bauer (1882–1918)|
Seid magic, and any other forms of witchcraft disappeared in the Norse lands with the Christianization of Scandinavia, which took a bit longer than the rest of Europe. In an example of common law by the Catholic Church, Edgar I, king of England in the 10th century, also known as Edgar the peaceful, enacted the following laws:
"If any wicca (witch), wiglaer (wizard), false swearer, morthwyrtha (worshipper of the dead) or any foul contaminated, manifest horcwenan (whore), be anywhere in the land, man shall drive them out".
"We teach that every priest shall extinguish heathendom and forbid wilweorthunga (fountain worship), licwiglunga (incantations of the dead), hwata (omens), galdra (magic), man worship and the abominations that men exercise in various sorts of witchcraft, and in frithspottum (peace-enclosures) with elms and other trees, and with stones, and with many phantoms".
Tough mostly unpracticed for centuries, today, seid magic, along with Norse paganism (and many other traditions) have been revived during the Polytheistic reconstructionism movement that started in the 60’s and 70’s, raising momentum in the 90’s, and bringing Neo-paganism and traditions such as Wicca as the fastest growing religions of the 21th century. Today Norse paganism is compiled within Germanic Neo-paganism (contemporary Heathenism), and even though it's not as big a other Neo-pagan paths such as wicca, and even though the movement has branched out in many groups (Ásatrú, Odinism, Germanic Wicca, etc), their goal is one - to reconstruct the spiritual ways of the old Scandinavia.
Among the leading contemporary authorities of Norse reconstructionism and magic is Freya Aswynn. I recommend her book “Northern Mysteries and magic: Runes, Gods, and Feminine Power” for anyone interested in runes, and Norse magic. The following recording from her CD “Songs of Yggdrasil” is perhaps the only recording available of a reconstructed galdr (chanting incantations used by völvas and other Norse shamans) invoking the gods:
 Kathleen N. Daly, Nose Mythology A to Z. (New York: Facts On File books, 2004), 27, 108.
 Elof Hellquist, Svensk etymologisk ordbok. (Lund, Norway: Gleerups förlag, 1922) 1081
 Elof Hellquist, Svensk etymologisk ordbok, 851.
 Andrei A. Znamenski, The Beauty of the Primitive: Shamanism and Western Imagination. (New York: Oxford Press, 2007), 311.
David Mac Ritchie (1893). Notes on the Word "Sidh" The journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, 3 (4), 367-379
 Eldar Heide, “Spinning seiðr” (paper presented at the international conference Old Norse religion in long-term perspectivesOrigins, changes, and interactions, Lund, Sweden, June 3–7, 2004).
 Eldar Heide, “Spinning seiðr”
 Dick Harrison, and Kristina Svensson, Vikingaliv (Värnamo: Fälth & Hässler, 2007) 72
 Dick Harrison, and Kristina Svensson, Vikingaliv, 62.
 Heilan Yvette Grimes, The Norse Myths, (Boston: Hollow Earth Publishing, 2010) 296
 Dick Harrison, and Kristina Svensson, Vikingaliv, 62.
 Alaric Timothy Peter Hall, “The Meanings of Elf and Elves in Medieval England” (PhD diss., University of Glasgow, 2004).
 “The Saga of Erik the Red”, Icelandic Saga Database, accessed November 2, 2011. http://www.mcdonalds.com/corp/about/factsheets.html.
 Dick Harrison, and Kristina Svensson, Vikingaliv, 75.
 Sharon Turner, The history of the Anglo-Saxons, (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, 1807)151
Daly, Kathleen N. Nose Mythology A to Z. New York: Facts On File books, 2004.
Grimes, Heilan Yvette. The Norse Myths. Boston: Hollow Earth Publishing, 2010.
Hall, Alaric Timothy Peter.“The Meanings of Elf and Elves in Medieval England.” PhD diss., University of Glasgow, 2004.
Harrison, Dick, and Kristina Svensson. Vikingaliv. Värnamo: Fälth & Hässler, 2007.
Heide, Eldar .“Spinning seiðr”. Paper presented at the international conference Old Norse religion in long-term perspectivesOrigins, changes, and interactions, Lund, Sweden, June 3–7, 2004.
Hellquist, Elof. Svensk etymologisk ordbok. Lund, Norway: Gleerups förlag, 1922.
Icelandic Saga Database. “The Saga of Erik the Red.” Accessed November 2, 2011. http://www.mcdonalds.com/corp/about/factsheets.html.
MacrRitchie, David."Notes of the word 'Sidh.'" The journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland 3.4 (1893): 367-79
Turner, Sharon. The history of the Anglo-Saxons. London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, 1807.
Znamenski, Andrei A. The Beauty of the Primitive: Shamanism and Western Imagination. New York: Oxford Press, 2007.