E.S. Wynn is an editor and the author of over seventy books in print.
What is Varðlokkur?
Varðlokkur (or Vardlokkur / Varthlokkur) is a way of singing the weave of the Web of Wyrd into alignment with your mind and desires. It is a way of aligning you and the threads around you in resonant harmony with the spirits of the land, the ancestral spirits and the gods. It is Germanic in nature, Scandinavian and deeper. It is the modulation of sacred breath as part of the practice of Seid (Seith / Seiðr) and it is a way to "raise the energy", call in the spirits and blur the perceived division between the world of the living and the world of the numinous. It is the howl of the wolf, and it is the howl of the völvur (Norse Witch) and the legacy carried forth by those who practice the ecstatic / inspired side of Old European spirituality.
Plenty of people have offered their thoughts on Varðlokkur, what they sound like, how they are composed and even the meaning of the name. There's a wonderful article over here on the subject, but any book which investigates the practice of Seiðr to a significant degree will also shed light on the background of the practice. My aim with this article is to share with you my experience with the practice and how you can apply it yourself.
Varðlokkur at its core is ritual singing. It can be performed as a written or memorized chant, though I think this falls more into the category of Galdr, especially if it involves the runes, as Galdr magic is typically more ceremonial in nature. Does the wolf write down her howl before she goes out and sings it to the sky? No, she puts forth the sacred breath entirely on instinct, and on a knowledge of the language and the world which inspires her in the moment to sing the weave of wyrd into alignment with her gratitude and desires. That, to me, is Varðlokkur. It is singing born of instinct and a knowledge of the cosmology and the world we are singing into alignment with ourselves. It requires confidence, experience, and a connection to the deepest, most instinctual elements of spirit glowing like embers within us. It is the stoking of those embers to flames, opening and drawing in the gods, the ancestors and the totems who have shepherded our lines through time to where we stand now. It is a practice. It is something you cultivate, something you get better at the more you do it, no matter how long you've been doing it for.
For me personally, the most powerful Varðlokkur are never written. It is not that they shouldn't be written, but rather that the Inspired One, the Wandering Wolf, howls clearest through the inspiration of the moment and not through rigidly imposed lines that give no room for improvization. Varðlokkur can be performed with a drum, with a pot-lid (my studies indicate that this may actually have historical significance) with the beating of a staff / distaff / broom (using these tools is probably why volvas of old wore soft gloves - to minimize blisters) or with just the voice. It can be as simple as a rhythm, tonal in nature, or as complex as metered poetry. It can include grunts, howls, screams and has been described in historical sources as both beautiful and terrifying. It shares kinship with the oldest forms of ritual singing, and as such, you may be reminded of ritual songs that come from modern tribal and indigenous societies all over the world. To sing Varðlokkur is to honor your deepest ancestors and to reclaim your deepest roots, tapping into that sleeping, forgotten place within you in a moment of pure and powerful expression.
The Application Of Varðlokkur
The formula for Varðlokkur is entirely dependent on the instincts of the one who sings it. There are no set and agreed-upon historical examples of Varðlokkur, only stories of those who sang them, and the rituals they performed around them. Those brave enough to share their own examples of personally-composed Varðlokkur are sparse as of this writing, but I know that more examples will come as our heritage is steadily brought back into the light.
Most of the examples I have encountered are composed around the Varðlokkur as an all-encompassing primal ritual that begins with the Volva / Seiðmann / Shaman going into a trance, calling in the spirits (this can including channelling and/or calling in protective forces) and then going forth into the purpose of the Varðlokkur. As an example, you might first drum or tap a distaff or hum to create a trance-inducing rhythym, then proceed (when you feel like you are starting to go into a trance) to call in ancestral forces, totems or gods. Once everything feels aligned and all the preparations within the song are made, then you can transition into the purpose of the song. I've included some examples of Varðlokkur below:
Did one of the videos above really resonate with you more than the others? They're all different in their own way, and the one that resonates with you most might indicate a style that you can use as a starting point for your own Varðlokkur practice. Remember always that *it is a practice*, and that the best tools for cultivating it are studying and doing. Varðlokkur is not about timidly repeating someone else's words and hoping for an effect that you don't wholeheartedly believe in. Singing Varðlokkur is about *knowing* the world in which you wish to tread, singing to it fully knowing it exists, that its denizens are real, that you can catch their attention and work with them. It is about feeling the inspiration catch fire in your chest, driving you to cry out and shake the very strings of the Web of Wyrd with your song.
Study the world as your ancestors understood it. Learn the names of places, the stories that unfold there, the terminologies and ways of worship and then sing to them with the truest songs your heart holds within it. See the sacred breath in the movements of your song and know that your practice may never be perfect. It's always easy to find fault with oneself. Striving earnestly toward something and doing the best that you are able is all that truly matters. Whether you are a musician or not, it doesn't have to sound like a Heilung concert whenever you call the spirits. The Vardlokkur of wolves is simple, and yet as powerful and exhilirating as it is timeless. Sometimes, a howl is all you need.
A Note about Language:
I sing my Varðlokkur in English because English is my native tongue, and I find that one gets the best results when using one's most familiar language, no matter how far removed it is from what is in vogue. It can sound very pretty and mysterious to sing in Old Norse or reconstructed Proto-Indo-European, and in ritual done where performance is paramount, it can be a powerful tool to use an ancient language that those gathered around cannot understand. When it comes to practical applications, however, I find it is best to use the language that you know best. Think of languages as tool kits. If you want to honor the gods, if you want them to speak through you and do work through you, do you think they will do better work with a limited toolkit you can only vaguely parrot, but not actually understand or even fluently speak, or do you think they will do better work with a toolkit that is wide in breadth and firmly imprinted on the meat interface of your mind? I sing in English because, as a writer, I know English extremely well, and I am absolutely in love with it as a language for its flexibility and its linguistic depth. Whatever your native language is, dear reader-- wherever you come from, try singing Vardlokkur in your language and see where the words take you. The threads of the web, the weave of the web-- they have no true language. The words we sing with now are almost unintelligible beside the words that were spoken by our ancestors only five or six centuries ago. Language changes. The weave echoes with the vibrations of intent. Willpower, faith, knowing-- these are the languages that move the Web of Wyrd.