I think I bought this book looking for a text on magickal practices in Viking society. Seidways by Jan Fries isn’t that, for the good reason that there isn’t much known about those practices. Sometimes I skim the blurbs of books and make quick purchases, so I come away with a wrong idea about the book. Mostly, that works in my favour, because I might not have picked the book up if I’d had the right impression and that would have been a loss.
Seidways is an exploration of ecstatic magickal practices from around the world and from myth weaved in with the author’s personal experiences of using the techniques. Seidr, or seething, is altered conscious induced by shaking. Fries takes us on a bit of tour from Siberian shamanism, to African bushmen, to fragments of Celtic myths, to Sufi trance dancing, and most points in between. Refreshingly, the book is presented not as fact but as conjecture and opinion with open acknowledgement of how limited the source material can be.
There is some discussion of belief, the placebo effect, and the role of theatre in healing. Much magic is directed towards healing the sick and is more effective when the patient and the practitioner believe it will work. Dramatic workings involving wild dancing, shaking, trembling and apparent possession by gods or spirits help to create that belief for both.
For me, it broadened my idea of what a magician might look like and the techniques described in this book will find their way into my writing. Fries’ style is simple and engaging. It was easy to read, despite the esoteric subject, and each time I put it down I was looking forward to picking it up again. I enjoyed it.