There have always been people, who were in contact with the world of the spirit and served as a medium between it and the world of humans.
This was done by asking the oracle, evoking spirits in a ritual or the interpretation of dreams and other signs.
But these humans could also heal or do harm with the help of the spirit, depending with which spirit they worked and on their intention. Although these humans were important in tribal societies for the surviving of the group, people always met them with a certain shyness, because they were known of being able to do more "than only cooking with water".
They could work on the spirits of the wild animals and were responsible for the good luck in the hunt, executed the correct rituals, in order to ensure the fertility of the earth, knew how to tune the spirit (ancestors) benevolently an more.
In trance they contacted the ancestors, could "be ridden" by them, borrowed their body, their voice to the spirits, in order to let them act in the world of the living ones.
They knew how to cure diseases on a spiritual, psychological and material level, and long time before modern medizin was talking about psychosomatics they had a broad knowledge about the interactions between bodie, soul and spirit.
Naturally they had also a more or less minted knowledge about plants and their medical and spiritual effect, whereby this knowledge was probably rather particularly (referred to some few plants) as general.
The designation, given to this humans, was different depending upon culture. In some cultures, people called them shamans, among the nordic people they were known as voelva, woelwa or also wala.
The first song in the Edda, the Voeluspa, is the vision of a Voelva, which was written down here in song-form.
Then Odhinn rode to the eastern gate,
Another song of the Edda, Vegtamskvida, is about Odin how he evokes the spirit of a dead wala, in order to ask her the meaning of Balders dreams:
where the hoary seeress' howe he knew;
there spells he chanted to charm up the dead,
till unwilling arose the witch and spake:
Voelvas were known to be masters of the art of "seidhr" (a procedure in which herbs were heated (burned) in a cettle. By inhalating the smoke the voleva was bale to travel to "other worlds"), a magical art taught by the wanic goddess Freyja, this is why she was considered also as the protectress of the voelvas.
In the Saga of Erik the red one a Voelva is described as followed: "She was dressed into a blue coat, and this was decorated with precious stones up to the seam . Around the neck she wore glass beads, on the head she wore a cap made from black lamb skinw hich was lined with white cat skin inside. In the hand she hold a brass-fitted staff, with a button above; on the button was a stone. Around the waist she carried a belt with scale can; on the belt hung a leather bag, in which she kept the magic charms needed for her fortune-telling. At the feet she wore shoes from calf skin with long belts, which had large tin buttons at the end. Her hands stuck in gloves made from cat skin, with white inside. "
(The cat was assigned also to the goddess Freyja, since she drove on a car, that was pulled by two cats.)
In the narration the voelva starts to ask the spirits (in trance) assited by other women, who form a circle around her and sing a charm song to draw the attention of the spirits.
Subsequently, she told many things, that also occured later, to the people around her.
© Varuna Holzapfel 2001.