Seiðstaffs of the Völur

Max Dashu

These iron staffs were all found in Norse female burials, mostly from Sweden, Norway, and Denmark, 800-1000 CE. Archaeologists originally interpreted them as "cooking spits" or measuring tools, and even now continue to be described as "handles," "baskets," or with elaborate descriptions of their structure. However, they bear a close resemblance to distaffs, on which spinners wrapped flax or wool to then draw off fiber to be spun. The resemblance of these staffs to 19th century distaffs is quite striking; compare with examples in the second row, all modern except the Norse staff from Søreim, third from left. In the third row, other seiðstaffs which although more fragmentary would have originally had much the same form.

spiraling distaff volr from Fulby

myklebostad distaff shaped volr






birka grave 834










distaff shaped volr from Gavle



volr from Klinta, Sweden









reconstruction of the Klinta volr








Fulby, Denmark

Myklebostad, Norway

Birka, Sweden, Grave 834

Gävle, Sweden
Klinta, Öland, Sweden
Reconstructed staff from Klinta, Sweden
distaff with spiral spokesCompare the spiraling spokes of this modern distaff with the Fulby staff above it





french distaff
distaff shaped volr staff from SoreimTop of iron staff from Norse women's burial at Søreim, Norway,
circa 900
Antique French distaff

distaff of unknown origin19th century distaff, origin unknown



"Birdcage" distaff"Birdcage" distaff, modern



jagarbacken broken staff Romsdal, Norway

Staff from Gnesta





Kilmainham, near Dublin







staff from russia
Animal headed staff from Birka

Seiðstafr from Jägerbacken,
Närke, Sweden,
with broken spokes

Romsdal, Norway.
The upper part has traces of the spokes, with knobs similar to the other staffs.
Top of staff from Gnesta, Sweden, missing spokes but retaining the central disc (compare with example above it)
Top of staff from
Norse woman's burial at Kilmainham, near Dublin, Ireland
Iron staff from Norse burial at Gnezdovo, Russia, with knobs but no spokes
Animal headed staff from woman's grave at Birka, Sweden

The distaff symbolism is not present in all staffs buried with Norse women (see for example the animal-headed staff at lower right). It may or may not be part of the form of the Viking staff from Russia. A number of wooden staffs have also been found that do not take this form. Though it may be that the hollow in the top of the wood staff at Oseberg once included inserts for hanging flax or wool; it was packed in a box that contained various spinning tools, among other things like lamps.

But what needs to be considered now is a connection of the völva with the arts of the Norns, with the creative power of the spinners of fate. The distaff symbolism of the seiðstafr also seems to have been a fundamental to the strong female gendering of seiðr attested to by various Norse sagas.


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