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Wardruna

Wardruna

by Niklas Göransson

With their conceptual trilogy coming to an end, Wardruna now face Ragnarok – a reminder that for there to be rebirth, something will first have to perish. Einar Selvik speaks of seeking solace in darkness, pondering riddles of the written past.

This article can also be found in Bardo Archivology Vol. 2, a printed anthology with selected features from the online archive. Additional content includes NÅSTROND, VOMITOR, NOCTURNUS, XIBALBA ITZAES , Ryan Förster, ANGELCORPSE, THE RUINS OF BEVERAST, ASCENSION, MALOKARPATAN, Manhunter: The Story of the Swedish Occultist and Serial Killer Thurneman, FORGOTTEN WOODS, LIFVSLEDA, SEIGNEUR VOLAND, and WOLCENSMEN – all presented in ambitious aesthetics with plenty of custom artwork. More information here.

– Starting the “Runaljod” album trilogy was a lot about sowing seeds and promoting growth. I wouldn’t necessarily call it a revival, but it’s about remembering things that are still relevant. The debut, “Runaljod – Gap Var Ginnunga”, focused on creation and starting anew. “Runaljod – Yggdrasil”, the second album, was about strengthening roots and cementing the foundations of what I’d started four years earlier. The new record celebrates change, transformation of the seed: the death and rebirth. The album is very much about Ragnarok.

The aptly named “Runaljod – Ragnarok” was released in October 2016. Einar notes that to most people, the title is likely to have connotations reminiscent of the Christian Armageddon: scenes of war, final battles, and murder.

– I thought that would be an uninteresting approach, and not a particularly nuanced one. Rather than endings in fire, I wanted to depict new beginnings; a gentle reminder that in order for there to be resurrection, something must first die. It’s about that which has given up space, and what fills the void it left behind. I feel that we live in an age of change. Humans of all epochs have always sought meaning to their existence, but now we’ve reached extremes. With contemporary society so completely devoid of substance, I believe people in the West are searching to a greater extent than ever before – they long for nature.

Einar adds that this doesn’t necessarily have to be a spiritual pursuit – it could just as well be something historical or cultural.

– I believe this to be one of the reasons why people react so strongly to our music in the live setting. WARDRUNA is an exploration of the human consciousness and its relationship with nature. My music is a reminder of that connectedness – songs about matters larger than life. Folks who don’t attend any places of worship or have other means of accessing temple sanctity are unlikely to ever have experienced this holy sensation of belonging that’s so important for the mortal psyche. This is of prime importance in our work and the manner in which we perform: creating a neutral space where there’s room for everyone. I’d like to think that people can sense this, which is a big part of the appeal.

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Photo: Espen Winther

 

The world according to Einar Selvik is processed through what he describes as a shamanic perspective.

– It’s an animistic outlook where everything has a… call it personality, spirit, frequency, or even value. You can, of course, apply cosmology to this, but there are no eternal truths etched in stone.

One practical avenue where he implements this philosophy is the very vessels of his nature praise. Parts of WARDRUNA’s instrumentation was built by his own hands, employing both flora and fauna. The skin on his drums, for instance, once adorned a white-tail deer.

– I feel her presence when we go on stage. Whether or not it’s perceived consciously, she’s there – I’m one hundred percent sure of it. I would’ve felt the difference, it adds a lot to the entirety. Same with horns; they become living instruments. There is definitely life to them.

How much of this process were you personally involved in?

– A hunter shot the animal, but I handled everything else – I skinned the carcass and tanned the hide. Building a drum from scratch in the old way is a meticulous and tedious process. It’s smelly and you must exert great patience but, at some point, you realise that what you’re doing in a sense is bringing the animal back to life, and that is a beautiful thing.

Shamans generally don’t bother explaining what lurks in the unknown, nor how one should relate to it. Rather, they provide the means of seeing for oneself and then making do with whatever is found as one sees fit. This sort of faith-through-empiricism appeals to Einar.

– I dislike preaching and don’t care much for chiselled truths. Your path is your own and will never be the same as mine. Your gateway is yours alone, and how you code the world is basically… if we had a shared vision, where we both saw the same thing, your impression would be filtered through an entirely different lens than mine. Processing reality through a framework of decrees and dogma makes people stupid. It gives them an excuse to not assume responsibility for their lives, their own actions, or their growth as human beings. That’s the most important thing in life; you need to ask questions, be inquisitive, and constantly expand your knowledge. That’s why I find the study of runes really interesting – they’re somewhat veiled and highly thought-provoking, like riddles. You’re basically left with more questions than what you started out with.

So, you think it’s important to constantly challenge yourself?

– Yes, absolutely. I’m not the same as I was ten minutes ago, I’m a different person than I was yesterday. Adopt a present and conscious approach to life and the person you become will be moulded by whatever you experience. I try to always learn and strive for betterment, each and every day.

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Wardruna – Live in Stockholm, November 2016. Photo: Ester Segarra

Einar is originally a percussionist. As such, I’m curious if he’s ever worked with ritualistic drumming – simple repetitive beats with the intention of inducing a trance state.

– Yes, drums are definitely one of the most common ways to reach a higher state of being, one I’ve practised extensively.

Shamanism also has an element of communing with nature through sacred vegetation.

– It is indeed interesting; not a necessity, but definitely one of the tried and true techniques of attaining heightened senses. There have been periods of my life devoted to exploring such matters and, after a while, one realises that these plants are relics. They are here for a reason. This is especially apparent when performing entheogen work in a group setting. My introduction to this field came through people who were into a form of core shamanism, this Michael Harner thing – a rather generic form that basically takes bits and pieces from all corners of the globe and makes a bland fusion out of it. This is something I find a bit contradictory: mixing shamanistic traditions removes everything unique and genuine about them. Even though the application can be similar, the most important aspect of any nature-oriented practice is the environment in which it’s performed. Taking techniques from South America, for instance, this lore has developed in synergy with a certain terrain. Their plants, lakes, trees, and mountains are different to ours. Once you remove parts of what makes it unique, significant power is lost. I wanted to do what my ancestors did.

For a Scandinavian vision-quest that’s still available to us today, Einar suggests the practice of útiseta. It entails finding a spot in nature one resonates with, and then remaining there whilst trying to blend in with the surroundings.

– When you’ve stood in a river for a whole day, you know that river. When you’ve sat underneath a waterfall the entire night – when the sound becomes like blades slicing through your every cell – then you know that waterfall. One source we have on how they did this is old law books, in the paragraphs concerning forbidden pagan practices such as blot, conjuring spirits, and similar stuff.

Let’s say I’d like to try this – how would I go about it?

– I’d suggest heading out before the sun sets. If there’s a burial mound in your area, go visit that. Otherwise, just walk into the forest with the intention of finding a location that feels right. Once you find it, state your intention out loud and simply be there. All that’s required at this point is to sit down without moving anything besides the eyes, attempting to simply remain in the moment. At some point you will notice patterns in your perception, because what you’re doing is finding your own intuitive language; how you code the world. Don’t expect profound magical experiences on your first attempt, that will come after perhaps a year’s practice. Merely getting past the fear of the dark is a good start, learning to be alone with one’s thoughts – sitting there until the sun rises again. The whole darkness thing could even be the intention in itself. Eventually, one goes from seeing the blackness as some hidden and unknown scary thing to embracing it as a comforting veil, or a shelter. Light and dark speak a symbolic language with great energy: the power of aesthetics, which relates to what you saw last night.

This conversation took place in November 2016, during a weekend when Einar performed in Stockholm three evenings in a row. He explains that once these trance states have been attained – regardless if induced by dwelling in or consuming nature – it becomes easier to find one’s way back there without the aid of exterior agents.

– Today, I find using my voice to be a most efficient way. Once you’ve found that switch… you basically only need yourself.

One spiritually efficient voice application is throat chanting, a style of singing in which the practitioner creates a melody by manipulating the exhaled flow of air with the vocal chords.

– My use of it is a bit intuitive, going back to the principle of what works and what doesn’t. That is what resonates with me. Going back to intention and relating my throat chanting technique to the practice of galdr, where you howl with your whole being, and I mean your entire essence – I can actually do that in a controlled form. When singing, I channel the full power of my voice.

The galdr are Old Norse spells, or incantations. Not much is known about them but, going by older sources, it appears that practitioners were required to scream the words at the top of their lungs.

– My style sort of constrains the air, so I don’t get weary. I can actually sing with full intention and power for extreme amounts of time. I can’t explain it in a different way, but it just works and feels right.

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Photo: Espen Winther

 

While on the subject of northern magic, I’m curious if Einar has studied the Galdrabók – The Icelandic Book of Magic. Dating back to the 1600s, it’s a grimoire believed to have been compiled by three Icelanders and a Dane. Besides a number of spells in both runic and Latin writing, it contains various sigils, invocations to entities of both Abrahamic and Norse origin, and instructions on how to use herbs and other magical accessories.

– This symbiosis between verbal and graphic sorcery along with the whole give-and-take relationship is fascinating. A common misconception about galdrastafir – magical staves with runic inscriptions – is that people tend to think that symbols like aegishjalmur or vegvísir have magical qualities by their mere presence. Simply displaying these sigils won’t make them anything else than a few lines and dots; they require activation. This is why many of the designs appear in multiple contexts with entirely different meanings; each of them is crafted uniquely and charged by the individual making it. Every line must be drawn after directions based on intent. The same applies to runes, people have a tendency to think that a single rune has power on its own. It’s not automatically like that, or at least it wasn’t so traditionally. Runes have an activating nature. When you come across runic sorcery, it tends to be about repeated words. This is mirrored in the oral tradition of galdr, the only poetic metre that includes repetition.

Norse poetry is preposterously complex. There’s a whole craftsmanship behind the various structures, how many syllables to use, where to internal rhyme or end-rhyme, and when to alliterate – meaning, using words beginning with the same intonation.

– That’s one of the reasons we have kennings, which are basically synonyms – a skaldic application of figurative language used to navigate these rules. Kennings are especially useful in the most complicated metre; the dróttkvætt, which is so elaborate that poets could recite sophisticated insults to the king and have a day’s head-start before anyone realised it.

Dróttkvætt is a Norse form of poetry which follows a particularly intricate ruleset pertaining to rhyming and other forms of assonance. It’s a far more complex poetic system than anything else found in the Germanic language family; it actually has more in common with the Celts.

– That’s one of the reasons why this poetry remains debated to this day; people are still trying to make sense of it. Some of these kennings are so complicated that we have yet to figure out what they mean. I have the deepest respect for this craft and the master skalds who spawned it.

As prime example he mentions the Lokasenna, one of the poems of the Poetic Edda which essentially consists of the Norse god Loki berating his peers. When laying into Odin, Loki mocks him for unmanliness – implying that he has been dabbling with seidr, the magical arts, which was something reserved for the fairer sex. The women who practised seidr were called the völva.

– Loki is accusing Odin of having draptu á vétt sem völur, or ‘played on a lid like the völva’. This is the key to a long-standing debate over whether or not drums were used when performing seidr. The logical word to use instead of ‘lid’ would have been ’drums’, but that would have deviated from the ruleset: an alliteration was required. This is why the Norse skalds had over one-hundred names just for Odin – it was a necessity of creative linguistics. In Völuspá, the part of the Poetic Edda poem detailing the Norse creation myth, they used a lot of sounds that accentuate the meaning. Early in the tale, they chose words with a lot of umm, brr, and deep rumbling sounds. And, later, harsher sounds and harder words when there’s war and battle. That’s something one should always remember when studying Norse poetry: words are taken out of context, not to mention how much is lost when the language is modernised or even translated. This poetry was never intended for reading, ours was an oral tradition meant to be recited in a setting catering to the story. Perhaps there were even theatrical aspects to it? It’s important to keep the missing aspects in mind when examining these poems, you have to imagine the rest.

He explains that it’s when delving into the poems in their original language one notices the mind-blowing details – not only how they sound, but also what tempos they were written for.

– There’s much we don’t know about how our ancestors’ music sounded, but the interesting thing is that we can tell the rhythm. It’s quite similar to the oldest forms of Scandinavian folk music: a lot of uneven beats, very suggestive. I try to be inspired by this when I play. And given the complexity, it stands to reason that their music would’ve been equally intricate. This is another factor that’s been hugely influential to WARDRUNA. It’s very multidimensional – there’s so much detail put into these compositions, so many layers the conscious mind will never notice. There really is no art form with the potential for carrying meaning in such a profound way as music or song.

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Wardruna. Photo: Ester Segarra

 

Einar believes an understanding of music to be a good basis for comprehending how magic is actually something factual.

– Magic is actually quite explainable, yet people tend to have this Harry Potter view. I can walk into a room and instantly change the emotion, energy, and general frequency in there – simply by performing my craft. Whether it’s making people feel scared, sad, or happy, that’s a magical gift. The basic principle to abide by when blending sound with being is that one’s voice becomes an extension of the self. You are as big as your voice can reach, that’s sort of the idea. It also needs to be welded together with various emotions; forged in the fires of intention. Then you can add spirit, if that’s your thing, but it’s in this amalgamation that metaphysical change occurs. Magic has always been about two things: inducing some manner of alteration, or an acquisition of knowledge. Sound and music are powerful tools when used consciously, with purpose. For example, t’s been scientifically proven that you’re physically stronger when finding notes that resonate with you.

I dare say anyone who’s listened to music whilst lifting weights could attest to that.

– Precisely. So, if you address a crowd at a voice pitch that’s not beneficial for you – people won’t listen, and instead grow tired and distracted.

Pre-Christian religion is often viewed very differently by modern practitioners, contra classical scholars. On the one hand, it does sound logical that empirical studies could grant insight inaccessible from books alone.

– Absolutely. That goes both ways though, it also applies to performance studies. I have a lot of scholar friends who enjoy my perspective because of my familiarity with both worlds. I was recently invited to Oxford University to speak before some of the world’s foremost experts on Norse poetry.

The reason being that Einar has one foot in each discipline. Not only has he studied the skaldic arts, he regularly performs them before large crowds – a boast few academics are likely to make.

– I play the same instruments, often in settings similar to what the living tradition would dictate. I sing in long-houses over crackling fires. The rules of performance are timeless; what works and what doesn’t work in communicating with a room full of people is relevant to any performer, in any time, from any culture. Despite being governed by the same set of premises, they’re not something that can be chiselled in stone – because their application is different for every audience. Sometimes the scholar can help the practitioner and vice versa. It’s been stale from an academic perspective up until now, they’ve been conformed to their own narrative and people have been scared. This is mostly due to all the unserious charlatans: those who climb in rootless trees, so to speak. But I feel like academia is gradually opening that door and seeing both sides now. It’s important to take part of a practical perspective, because written sources will indeed only take you so far.

This article can also be found in Bardo Archivology Vol. 2, a printed anthology with selected features from the online archive. Additional content includes NÅSTROND, VOMITOR, NOCTURNUS, XIBALBA ITZAES , Ryan Förster, ANGELCORPSE, THE RUINS OF BEVERAST, ASCENSION, MALOKARPATAN, Manhunter: The Story of the Swedish Occultist and Serial Killer Thurneman, FORGOTTEN WOODS, LIFVSLEDA, SEIGNEUR VOLAND, and WOLCENSMEN – all presented in ambitious aesthetics with plenty of custom artwork. More information here.