Yoiking and Zauberstab

First off, Merry Christmas to any of you who are celebrating it this week. I hope your Yule was as groovy as mine was. While I could not celebrate with my broader kindred (for (positive) reasons that require a separate post), I did have a great birthday party (thanks to The Husband) jam-packed with Absinthe, dirty lyrics by Prince played over the world’s coolest amplifier, and a couple-dozen folks that have a very special place in my heart.

I also went to a lovely Christmas party where the host thought enough to “mazal tov” and “drink hail” to his non-Christian guests: this led to “It’s kinda cold for dancing nekid—especially in an elevated chair,” jokes.

I’ve wanted to write about yoiking for some time but waited for the Y post in the Pagan Blog Project to do it. Then, of course, I missed it. I also wanted to talk about this groovy term “Zauberstab traegerin” so I saved that and missed it as well. Here’s my attempt to make up my shortcoming. This post isn’t really much of an argument; it’s just informative.

I recently had a birthday. My daughter knew that I had wanted to read Steig Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy for some time but never got around to it. I wouldn’t let anyone watch the movies until I did. For this reason, among others, she bought me The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo on audiodisk.[1] It’s a very political story with a murder mystery and family intrigue. I only mention this because Larson is fairly critical of Swedish politics, especially economic policy and racism. Racism in Sweden you ask? Yes, Larsson constructs a character that exposes the the neo-Nazi roots of the Sweden Democrats party. (Look here for more info on “The Dark Side of Sweden.”) Larsson’s character, Richard Vanger, has a particular penchant for eugenics and genocide—particularly of the Sami (also Sámi or Saami), the indigenous people of Arctic Europe.

Because my own Heathen roots are of an Anglo-Saxon and Dutch flavor, somewhat different from the Nordic and Scandinavian variety, I never really encountered discussion of the Sami until this year.

While talking with a Scandinavian peer (she too calls herself Völva in her own—very different—tradition) about vocalizations and the American yawp, she mentioned a practice of yoiking (or joiking). I knew what this was, sort of, but thought it was closer to yodeling than it actually is.

According to the University of Texas Music Department, the yoik is:

A form of song which utilizes a scale and vocalizations which are unfamiliar to virtually everyone in the Western (American and European) world, the history of the yoik is representative of all the encroachment and abuse that the Sami people have suffered at the hands of outsiders.

Here’s a this.

And here’s a this.

And this looks so entirely familiar, even though I know it’s not.

Bob Tarte explains (“You Must Be Joiking.” The Beat Magazine: 22, 4. 2003. Web.):

Joiking originated in the chanted vision songs of Sámi shamans perhaps predating the Sámi migration into northern Scandinavia from the southeast 2,000 years ago. . . .[T]his improvised style of singing . . . is less about actual words than melody and vocal textures . . . . A person could joik about a hunt, a frozen stream or the birth of a baby. But what makes these fluid songs with no fixed rules unique is that they aren’t considered to be about a subject. The joik, and by extension the joiker, are said to actually become the subject. . . . And you don’t have to believe in spirits or channeling to experience the rush [of joiking]. Call [it] the summoning of the unconscious or a wordless connection with the deepest archetype of song itself, and its surge is equally impressive.

I hate to compare distant and distinct cultures to one another for fear of colonizing, but I can’t help see the similarities between the Sami yoik and Native American vocalizations.[2] (While it is not my intention to make this my argument, in these moments of similarity, I have to wonder if those theories about Solutrean migration to The New World are accurate at all.) Both are intended to induce a “shamanic” trance, are used to call animals and spirits, and to shapeshift—what Tarte means by “become the subject.”[3]

I had asked the peer in question about the relationship between the Sami and her Norwegian ancestors and didn’t receive a suitable answer for my tastes. We are still hammering it out. It had become my impression, after being pointed to a woman named Yngona Desmond (make up your own mind about this one), that the Sami and other northern European cultures were unrelated. Desmond, who claims to be “Vinland’s Volva, an honorary title of respect and recognition, gifted . . . by Sámi Noaide,”[4] is a “Heathen leader” in Georgia who regularly leads a boar hunt.[5] It seems like yoiking and seiðr—especially in the form of galdr—are connected; I just want to be very careful about lumping cultural practices together based on geography.

(a.k.a. Dancing nekid in an elevated chair.)

Like I said, I don’t have a point to make here. I just felt like saying, “Hmm, would you look a’that?”

Likewise, I want to point you to a term: Zauberstab traegerin, German for “wand bearer.” But a Zauberstab is not just any kind of stick, stylus, or rod. It translates as “wand” but connotes specifically as “magic wand.”

I love that about Deutsche. I’ve told you about how I feel about words like Schadenfreude. The German language can cram a whole concept into one word.

(I also think of words like Zigeunerleben (“Gypsy life”), which makes me wonder how much racism is intended by—or even accidental to—the song by Robert Schumann (which I remember from high school chorus). The song is a romanticized[6] depiction of “wandering gypsies, so wild, so free of care, with eyes flashing brightly, with dark flowing hair” and “raven-haired maiden[s]” who “dance . . . [while] bright as a torch, burns her passionate glance.” And now that I know what I know about Sweden and the Sami, I’m starting to wonder even more about Germany and the Romany. I mean, I know that “gypsies” were rounded up in the 40s, so why do we sing this song seemingly about a racial fetish in high school? That’s totally beside the point—but it makes me think: Why am I back on the subject of Nazis?)

I’m not sure where I stumbled upon the term Zauberstab traegerin—it’s one of those moments that I wish I’d taken better notes. I mean Zauberstab is easy enough to find all over Harry Potter cites in German, but I know I found “Zauberstab traegerin” as a complete term. In terms of Völvastav, Völvakona, and Stavkona (“the wand carrying magic woman”) this is a significant term that I am now beginning to think I may have dreamed.

Happy holidays.


[1] Why they didn’t keep the original title, Män Som Hatar Kvinnor (Men Who Hate Women) is not beyond me, but it’s a better epithet for the novel than a nod at one of Salander’s many tattoos.

[3] If you have caught on to my Deleuzian proclivities, you have to know that I love that he used the term “become.”

[4] I was subsequently pointed to this quote on a New Age Fraud discussion thread by someone who was very concerned about the new preponderance of “fake tribes” here in the Southeast of the United States. I had no idea that this was such a common problem. Seems it is. It also seems that it’s one  New Age Fraud takes seriously enough to investigate and subdue. I’ve been asked a lot of questions over the past month and have had to educate myself right-quick on accounto’ I had no idea this was a widespread thing for fakers to do. Though I don’t really approve of the hate-filled rhetoric, I found this page (also handed off to me by the “concerned” person/people) very helpful in understanding what’s legit in a “tribe” and what’s not. It made me think twice about Desmond and others.

[5] I don’t know anything other than what I can deduce from the questions I was asked about Desmond, what I read briefly on the discussion thread in the footnote #3, and what little I read on her blog. I was (coincidentally?) just lent a copy of Völuspa: Seiðr as Wyrd Consciousness (cross-country), but haven’t read it yet. As ever, I’ll let you know.

[6] Here I mean “fanciful”—not to be confused with “Romanticism” which is specific to a literary movement.


This post is part of a year-long project. Rowan Pendragon’s The Pagan Blog Project; “a way to spend a full year dedicating time each week very specifically to studying, reflecting, and sharing . . . .    The project consists of a single blog post each week posted on prompt that will focus on a letter of the alphabet” (http://paganblogproject/).

Vitiki Vocalizations

I’ve been having a ton of fun this week putting together various bits of galdr. A bit of a poet at heart with a real penchant for Old English kennings and alliteration, this kind of work is fun.

But then–the vocalizations. It seems I’d become a bit inhibited in my old age.

There are elements of vocalization which play with vowels, nasals, and frictives (think of the familiar Apache “squaw-dance songs”), keening (think of the Banshee or Bean-shìð or even a little like ululation), and yoiking (traditional to the Sami people, but we see it in American rural culture too).

I could LBRP with the best of them karaoke with the worst of them. But when it came to undefined vocalizing, over the last few weeks, I’ve frozen.

I started wondering WTF? It wasn’t range, a natural sopralto, I’ve got this. It wasn’t know how. Because, damn, I got this. It wasn’t audience—I couldn’t even get it up in the car.

Then I realized, this is where my real power is.

The Husband has made a habit of howling, “Ahooo,” a la Warren Zevon these days.

Right now, I’m a little wary of tossing my resources about. Not that I toss wily-nily. But I’m storing it up. I didn’t even realize I was doing it until—well, until I realized I was doing it. Like tucking a dollar away every day for a bigger purchase. Like damming a river for a bigger deluge.

I’m doing a workshop and demonstrating a ritual for a neighboring Pagan grove on Sunday. It will focus on stav meditation and vitiki vocalizations–the practice of chanting the runes to internalize their vim and verve. It’s a good way for me to practice making a little noise without blowing my magical load, as it were.

As ever, I’ll let you know how it goes.


This post is part of a year-long project. Rowan Pendragon’s The Pagan Blog Project; “a way to spend a full year dedicating time each week very specifically to studying, reflecting, and sharing . . . .    The project consists of a single blog post each week posted on prompt that will focus on a letter of the alphabet” (http://paganblogproject/).