Welcome to “Flavour Notes”, a new fixture in which I don’t talk about mechanics, balance, or anything else that this blog purports to be about, but instead indulge in my appreciation for flavour, fluff, and background. And, ok, a little bit of pedantry. In this installment, Seidr Laboratories.
Having listened to multiple reviews of Terminal Directive cards (by people better at Netrunner than me, which is why this is a Flavour Notes…), I’ve noticed that Seidr Laboratories is being pronounced in many different ways, ranging from “cedar” (like the tree), to “cider” (like the drink). However, though both flavoursome, neither is correct.
Seidr, in fact, is named after Old Icelandic seiðr, and is pronounced “say-thur”, with “th” as in “this”, not as in “thief”, and with a short “u”. Here’s me stumbling through its pronunciation below:
If any native speakers of Icelandic are willing to provide a more accurate pronunciation, please get in touch on twitter and I’d be happy to replace it!
As to what seiðr actually means in Old Icelandic, there’s some debate about the exact meaning, but the gist of it is simply “magic”. It’s specifically used for the kind of magic practiced by women called vǫlur (seeresses) or seiðkonur (magic-women). Seiðr allows its practitioners to see the future, usually by talking to spirits or with the dead, which ties in well with the ability Seidr Laboratories gives you to put cards on the top of R&D, thereby allowing you to know what you’ll draw. Seiðr also allows you to curse people, shapeshift into an animal, and send your mind to travel the spirit realm while your body lies comatose. You’d think those would all be hard to represent in a card game about network intrusion, but pretty much all three have been done in other factions. Some flavourmeisters at Seidr are no doubt gonna get fired. Although men also practice seiðr in the sources, the practice was considered unmanly and made men who practiced it effeminate. Viking-age Scandinavian society had some pretty old-fashioned ideas about masculinity, so men who displayed ambiguous sexuality were considered to be untrustworthy and morally corrupt.1
In the myths, Odin, Freyja, and Loki were all associated with seiðr, so this card fits in well with Haas-Bioroid’s theme of ICE named after Old Norse gods (see also the Heimdalls). Bioroid models they’ve introduced from other pantheons don’t seem to have been as successful with consumers. As an aside, I’ve always been slightly annoyed that these ICE are all in HB rather than Weyland, whose name comes from Vǫlundr the smith, a poem about whom is in the Poetic Edda (where much of our knowledge of Old Norse mythology comes from). Snorri Sturluson says in the Ynglinga saga that it was Freyja who teaches seiðr to the gods, after the end of the primordial war between the Vanir (the group she belongs to) and the Aesir (the group Odin belongs to), at the conclusion of which the two groups make peace and join together. Freyja’s link to seiðr isn’t well known, so props to whoever wrote the flavour text to Fairchild 1.0.
Loki and Odin, on the other hand, are infamous for the shady supernatural shenanigans they get up to. Loki is frequently transforming himself into different people or animals to get either himself or the gods out of (or into) trouble, such as the occasion in which he turns into a mare and seduces the pack-horse of the contractor building the gods’ home, causing him to miss his deadline and allowing the gods to stiff him out of his payment. As a result of his involvement in the construction industry, Loki later gives birth to an eight-legged horse, which Odin takes as his steed. Odin is equally brazen about using his magical powers despite the stigma they carry, as Snorri tells us in Ynglinga saga:
Óðinn knew that skill which grants great power and which he himself practiced, which is called seiðr, and by means of it he could know the fate of men and predict events that had not yet come to pass; and he could through it bring death to men or misfortunes or sickness, and take the wits of men or their strength, and give them to others. But this magic carries with it such ergi, that it was thought shameful to be practiced by manly men, and so this skill was taught to priestesses.
[. . .]
Óðinn could shift his appearance. When he did so, his body would lie there as if asleep or dead; but he was then a bird or animal, a fish or a serpent, and travelled to distant countries on his or other men’s errands2
For instance, in Vǫluspá he is speaking to the spirit of a dead seeress in order to learn the future, and in another myth told in the Prose Edda he turns into an eagle to escape from the giant Suttungr, from whom he stole the mead of poetry.3 Even Loki mocks him for his dodgy ways in Lokasenna:
You once did seiðr on Samsey island,
And beat on a drum like a vǫlva.
You walked among people dressed like a wizard,
And I thought that was ergi. 4
Granted, this was after Odin accused him of transforming himself into a cowmaid, living underground, and giving birth to children: Loki’s experience in the construction industry allowed him to teach Odin a lesson about living in glass houses.5
I hope this mini-lecture on Old Norse magic gave you a better idea of the flavour of Seidr Laboratories. Clearly we’re meant to get the impression that whatever happens in there is research into extremely advanced technology which is mysterious, very powerful, and almost certainly highly illegal. Perhaps it’s meant to evoke the prognosticating powers of seiðr, and HB are developing some way to predict the future to compete with Jinteki’s Nisei-model clones like Caprice. Or maybe it’s alluding to its necromantic aspects, and they’re mapping the brains of dead people onto their servers so they can load them up into their bioroids. Possibly the least dark and spooky possibility is that they’re making animal-shaped bioroids in there, though maybe they’ll be able to shapeshift from human to animal shape, and the Android universe will actually get Transformers!
So, flavour notes for Seidr Laboratories: full-bodied, refreshing apple flavours on the palate, hint of cedar on the nose, with an aftertaste of problematic notions about masculinity in early medieval Scandinavian society.
Which, appropriately, is also the Netrunner community’s feelings about people who play corp decks with infinite card recursion.
Snorri Sturluson, Ynglinga saga, chapters 4 and 7. I made no effort to translate “ergi”, because it conveys such a mixture of concepts (creepy, sexually perverse, effeminate, shady, morally bankrupt, etc) that it’s untranslateable.
There’s your “brewing with Seidr” connection, TWA guys!
Lokasenna, stanza 24.
Odin responds to Loki’s words with “Seidr? i hardly knew ‘er!” and thus creates the worst, least funny, and most offensive type of joke in history, securing his place as the greatest scumbag among the gods.