Vanguard News Network
VNN Media
VNN Digital Library
VNN Reader Mail
VNN Broadcasts

Old November 27th, 2008 #1
Lars Redoubt
Lars Redoubt's Avatar
Join Date: Dec 2003
Location: Svithiod.
Posts: 2,142
Lars Redoubt
Default The Concept of the Soul in Nordic Tradition

The Concept of the Soul in Nordic Tradition

By Dag Strömbäck, from the book “Sejd” (2000 edition), pages 220-236.

Lecture delivered at a meeting of the Folklore Society, University College London, on the 11th of June 1975.

In one of the bloodiest chronicles in the Sturlunga Saga, the so-called Saga Thordar kakala from the latter part of the 13th century, we are told that supporters of Kolbeinn Arnorsson’s party suddenly come down the Laxardale in Western Iceland in order to take revenge on behalf of Kolbeinn and they kill men in different farms along the river Laxa. This happened in 1244 and is an episode in the bitter fight between the families of the North of Iceland and the Sturlungs to whom Thordr kakali belonged. On their murderous expedition Kolbeinn’s men arrive at a farm called Leidolfsstadir where Hallr Hallsson is living. Before their arrival Hallr, early in the morning, had had a meal at home but as soon he had finished it, his mother-in-law urged him to get away from the farm because of the presence of enemies’ fylgjur in the vicinity (kvad thar fara ovina fylgjur). To that here replied that he felt very sleepy (hann kvad sik syfja mjok). He tries to stand up but falls from his bench asleep. The account then goes on: “Somewhat later Broddi and his men arrived at the farm, broke open the door and rushed into the rooms.” Hallr defended himself bravely but had to retreat to the cowshed. From there be tried to escape down to the river Laxa but was overtaken by Broddi and his men and killed in marshy ground on his way to the river (Sturlunga Saga, ed. G. Vigfusson II, 46, ed. K. Kålund II, 57).

In another section of Sturlunga Saga (1, 284 f. resp. 1, 399) we are told that a woman warns Sturla Sighvatsson to stay at home because of the presence in the vicinity of fylgjur representing hostility (ufridarfylgjur). She must have felt these fylgjur before the arrival of the enemies, but it is not said how they made themselves known to her.

These notes from Icelandic chronicles of the 13th century give us some gleams to follow for further inquiries about the characteristics of the soul and its activities according to Old Scandinavian ideas. It is remarkable how well they reflect popular beliefs on the same matter as they are evidenced in the less historical Icelandic sagas, the Islendingasögur. If we turn to Njals Saga, chapter 12, we find there testimony clearly corresponding to the reports in Sturlunga Saga. A man called Svanr Bjarnarson in Bjarnarfjördur in the northwest of Iceland is expecting to be attacked by enemies coming from the South over the hills. He feels their approach by the fact that he becomes so sleepy. Yawning he says: “Now Osvifr’s fylgjur affect me” (Nu saekja at fylgjur Osvifrs). In another chapter of Njals Saga, chapter 62, we are told that before the assault on him at Knafaholar Gunnar at Hlidarenda, the hero of the saga, suddenly gets sleepy as he approaches the ambush arranged for him, and wants to lie down on the ground. He then dreams about the attack that his enemies are preparing against him at Knafaholar. The drowsiness is caused by the influence of his enemies’ fylgjur which, like forerunners, touch him on his way to Knafaholar.

In later sagas from the l4th century it is also several times attested that unexpected drowsiness indicates the approach of enemies or the revealing of hidden dangers. So, for instance, in Finnboga Saga hins ramma (chapters 39 and 40) and in Thordar Saga hredu, where it is explicitly said that ufridarfylgjur cause Thordr’s sleepiness. In Havardar Saga Isfirdings (chapters 19-21) the fylgjur are called manna hugir and we are in fact told about a fight which takes place between two men’s fylgjur or hugir; while the two antagonists are lying fast asleep at different places (D. Strömbäck, Sejd 1935, p. 155). This theme in the narrative is very close to what is otherwise called gandr in Old Norse, a word that has been very much discussed but still awaits final explanation. One of its senses – if not the original one – is: ‘something which is connected with the soul of a magician and can be sent out from him or her in sleep or extasy’. In this very interesting narrative in Havardar Saga we are told that just before an attack on a farm a man (called Thorgrimr) among the attackers – characterized as very skilled in magic (fjolkunnigastr) – becomes so drowsy that he immediately has to lie down on the ground and cover his head with a cloak. On the other side, one of the defenders of the farm, a man called Atli, who is obviously also skilled in various arts, gets very restless while asleep in his bed in the farm. He is dreaming and is drawing deep breaths, dashing his hands and feet against each other and making much other noise, so people in the same room cannot sleep. This is thus a fight on a spiritual level, and as far as I can see – and as I also tried to prove in my book on Sejd forty years ago – Atli’s hugr or fylgja has been out and exercised such power upon Thorgrimr’s hugr that Thorgrimr has not been able to get any clear picture of the situation at the farm. He has in fact been severely defeated, as is also proved in the following fight outside the farm.

I could give more examples from Old Norse literature of that strange physical influence which some persons’ fylgjur were considered to exert on other persons according to the old folk-belief (more are to be found in my book on Sejd), but we have also to take a look at other evidence in Iceland and Scandinavia before we leave this fundamental element in the old concept of the human soul.

In more recent Icelandic tradition the strong influence from a person’s fylgja is called adsokn. The word is the same as classical Icelandic atsokn which means ‘attack’, ‘onslaught’. In modern Icelandic, however, a special sense has been added to the word, namely ‘sleep or drowsiness caused by the fylgja of an expected or unexpected visitor before his arrival’. In other words: a person’s forerunner or fylgja could have such physical effect upon another person that his influence was compared with an attack. Examples of such adsokn in Icelandic narratives from the 19th century are many, but for the moment I refrain from going further into that matter. The basic material is, however, to be found in Jon Arnason’s Islenzkar thjodsögur og aefintyri I, 1862, and with additional remarks in Jonas Jonasson’s Islenzkir thjodhaettir 1945.

If for convenience I may use the same term for this foreboding drowsiness, we can say that the phenomenon of adsokn is also known from Norwegian traditions and tales, and that Sweden too has its share in popular conceptions about it. In the province of Värmland old people could say for instance about a visitor, just arrived: “I knew that you would come because I got so tired.” Or they could say: “I am sure somebody will come because I feel so tired.”

The name of that fylgja or hugr which causes the adsokn varies in the different Swedish dialects but mostly it is called vård or vål or val (or with derivatives of that word: vårde, vale, vålnad, vårdnad etc.). This term corresponds to Norwegian vord, Old Norse vordr and originally denotes ‘guardian’. You have the same word in Anglo-saxon weard, ‘guardian’ or modern “watch and ward”. But we also have other good and ancient words in Swedish dialects for the same fylgja or vård, names that have an obvious connection with the Old Norse terminology, namely hamn or hamm (in the provinces of Norrbotten and Dalarna, where they are genuine), and droug or dräug in the province of Jämtland, also genuine. In form and sense these words correspond to Old Norse draugr and hamr, although draugr in Old Norse has a more special sense of ‘ghost’, ‘spirit’ (of a dead person), or ‘animated corpse’.

As I have already mentioned, we have in Swedish folklore clear evidences of the same adsokn in connection with the vård’s or dräug’s appearance. So, for instance, the dräug in Jämtland causes sleepiness when it comes as the forerunner of a person (ULMA 1173: 247) [ULMA = The Dialect and Folklore Archives at Uppsala.] In the provinces of Närke and Uppland (in the centre of Sweden) it is said that if you suddenly get sleepy and start to yawn somebody will come and visit you, and that the man or woman visiting you will soon become rich (ULMA 16226: 2 resp. 16288: 5). The same piece of lore is also found in our folklore archives from Dalsland in the West of Sweden, from Gotland in the Baltic, and from Norrbotten in the North of Sweden (ULMA 16237: 16, 16294: 1, 16287: 3). I am quite convinced that these somewhat altered and augmented examples are pertinent to the subject under consideration. As we shall see, people were not always fully aware of the fact that they had a strong vård or fylgja, which influenced other people at a distance from them. When this was discovered they were considered to possess some sort of power that could give them luck and prosperity.

There are of course many other ways by which a vård could make its presence known. In Sweden as in other Scandinavian countries – and also in England and Scotland – many premonitory signs are observed that indicate the expected or unexpected arrival of a person to someone’s house. In Sweden for instance the vård could be heard on the steps outside the house or in the entrance before the owner himself arrived at the farm. Sometimes a noise could be heard outside the farm or a creak from a door indicated that somebody was entering the house. On closer examination nobody had arrived. But after a while somebody came and made the same noise as had already been heard. In such cases people could say that a person’s vård or vale was coming ahead of him. In standard Swedish this is called varsel (a word derived from vara in the sense of ‘pay attention to something’). In the dialects it is also called förbö, formally the same as English foreboding but in meaning perhaps more adequately expressed by English harbinger. In the Norwegian dialects there is also a word fyreferd for this phenomenon and perhaps that covers best what the whole thing is about, literally a ‘going before’. In Swedish dialects we have förfäl, which is the same as fyreferd but more with the import of ‘vision’.

Several physical signs – besides yawning and sleepiness – could also announce the arrival of somebody, for instance an itch or a sneeze or a hiccup. In Swedish and Norwegian folklore these presaging signs are very common. In Norway – to mention just one example – an itch in the nose is called nasehug (nesehau, nasåhau) and this expression reflects the idea that somebody’s hug (Old Norse hugr) is affecting your nose, and that means that a person will soon come. Hugbit, the bite from a hug, also belongs to this category.

One of the most expressive examples of hugr or fylgja causing an itch is to be found in Sturlunga Saga (Vigfusson’s edition II, 94) where it is told how the day before he is killed Saemundr Ormsson Svinfellingr gets a tremendous itching in his neck after a bath. He asks a woman for help in rubbing his neck with a towel and he himself also uses the towel very energetically to get rid of this itch. His brother Gudmundr apparently also has a foreboding dream the night after this incident, but nothing is said in the saga of its contents. The following day Saemundr and Gudmundr are killed – they are both beheaded. In Saemundr’s case his head is parted from his body by one stroke on the back of his neck. This happened in 1252 and is faithfully described in Sturlunga Saga.

I suppose it is like carrying owls to Athens if I remind you of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Act IV, Scene 1, where the second witch says:

By the pricking of my thumbs,
Something wicked this way comes.
Open, locks,
Whoever knocks.

Without being a specialist in Shakespearean folklore it seems to me that this “pricking of the thumbs” doubtless also belongs to the same group of presages that I have been talking of. It is Macbeth who enters the scene, “something wicked”, a man of whom it might be said as the Old Norse Volsunga Saga says of King Atli, that he had an ulfshugr, that is to say a wolf’s hugr.

In this connection it might also be tempting to mention another presage from a district geographically close to the bloody scenes where the actions in Macbeth take place, namely the Orkney Islands. Orkneyingasaga tells us, among other things, about the struggle between Earl Haraldr Maddadarson and his young rival for the earldom, Erlendr Haraldsson, in the middle of the 12th century. Chapter 93 there gives us some small hints that are of interest for our present theme. The chapter starts with the following words, which I quote in A. B. Taylor’s English translation: “It happened on the tenth day of Yule-tide that Sweyn Asleif’s son sat drinking with his servants in Gairsay. He rubbed his nose and said: ‘I have a notion that Earl Harald is now on his way to the Isles.’ His servants say that was unlikely owing to the storms they were having. He said he knew that they would think so — ‘And now’, said he, ‘I shall not tell the Earl [Erlendr] of this merely on the strength of my foreboding. But yet I fear I could not do worse’” (Orkneyinga Saga, 1938, p. 310).

Sveinn Asleifarson was the mightiest supporter in Orkney of young Erlendr Haraldsson’s claim to the earldom, and, strange as it might seem, he felt by the itching in his nose that Earl Haraldr was approaching Orkney on his way from Scotland. It was to him – as it is said in the Old Norse original – a hugbod, a foreboding. And Earl Haraldr did arrive and the young claimant was finally killed in cruel fashion. It may be noted that neither the careful translation of the saga in English nor the Icelandic edition of the text has any commentary on this rather interesting passage. The text’s Hann gneri nefit, ‘he rubbed his nose’, has here really a deeper significance than would commonly be expected.

In Scandinavian folklore, and particularly in more recent material, physical feelings or symptoms often have a very loose connection with the idea of somebody’s fylgja or hugr as a forerunner. They are sometimes simply considered as signs that something is going to happen. This is for instance the case in Iceland when a cat is considered to indicate the arrival of a guest when to lick his hind-quarters he stretches up a hind leg like a spear, he is said to lift up gestaspjot, that is to say the spear that indicates the arrival of guests.

Generally speaking presages are very common in Scandinavian folklore material and often developed in a rather sophisticated way. Itching or pricking may mean different things if it occurs, for instance, in the left or the right hand, in the cheek or ear or other parts of the body.

Before I go over to the external manifestations of the soul I would like to dwell a little more on the mysterious power which according to Old Scandinavian belief is a sort of emanation from a person either physically or intellectually. I am not a psychologist by profession but I think I may safely say that I know Swedish country people and have done from my youth, and that was in the pre-broadcasting time when I listened to their dialects and their talks about old customs and supernatural happenings. I could say almost the same about my experiences of the same sort of people in Iceland, almost fifty years ago.

In the province of Dalarna – one of Sweden’s most old-fashioned districts – there existed right up to our days a peculiar belief that someone at table in the farm or at a gathering in the school or in a congregation in the church could exercise such an influence upon others that they felt unwell. The dialects of Dalarna had an old technical term for this, namely hugsa. Hugsa means in Old Norse ‘to think’, but also ‘observe’. In Norwegian dialects it means ‘watch’, ‘observe’ and also ‘wish’, ‘have desire for’. Hugsa in the dialects of Dalarna obviously means: ‘by strong thoughts to cause somebody to feel ill’. Hugsa is derived from hugr, ‘mind’, ‘soul’. (Cf. further L. Levander & S. Björklund: Ordbok över folkmålen i Övre Dalarna, No. 13, 1974, p. 916.)

Now, this activity, hugsa, was not immediately connected with evil or ill-disposed people. A kind-hearted old woman could hugsa just by thinking in a certain direction, as for instance in this record from Mora-Sollerön in upper Dalecarlia: “Grandmother was sitting at the table and looked at the young Dalecarlian girl who was eating. Grandmother did not say anything, she just thought: Oh, what a nice dish the girl is eating! Immediately the girl got an attack of sickness and became ill for a while until grandmother remembered that she had thought in that way. Then the girl recovered!” (A. Campbell in Folkminnen och Folktankar Vol. XX, 1933, p. 142.)

Many further evidences of this traditional belief in the power of man’s thoughts could be given but it belongs to the sphere of psychology and mainly to the branch which has to do with suggestion, and I refrain from going deeper into it. What 1 would like to add is that old informants in the upper part of Dalarna (that is to say in the Lake Siljan district) some fifty years ago could answer – when asked about the origins of these ideas – “don’t you think it has to do with big thoughts” (‘stora tankar’). In other parts of Sweden old informants could speak of ”strong thoughts” or “heavy thoughts” when they were asked about such things as presages or forerunners. As far as hugsa is concerned, however, it is of importance to note that the word is genuine in the dialect and that the idea behind it seems to be very old and strongly traditional in Dalecarlian folklore. In literary sources hugsa as a typical Dalecarlian phenomenon is first described by A. A. Hülphers in his Itinerary from 1757 (Dagbok öfver en resa igenom... Dalarne 1757, Västerås 1762, p. 140). It appears from his notes about it that it was considered to be combined with a firm look from a person’s eyes at the object in question. By using “hugsning” animate objects could — according to Hülphers — lose their power and effectiveness, and inanimate objects stop in their functions.

From more recent records about “hugsning” in Dalarna we are now able to observe that there is a slight difference between the ideas of “hugsning” in the records from the northwestern parts of the Lake Siljan district and those from the southern parts of the same district. The material from the former lays more stress on the “strong thoughts”, while material from the latter puts more emphasis on the “firm look” (cf. A. Campbell, op. cit. p. 143 ff.). Strangely enough a very competent collector from the southern part of the district says that “hugsning” always takes place involuntarily on the part of the person who causes it (A. Gagnér, Gammal folktro från Gagnef 1918, p. 94).

I do not think that the problem is solved yet, but I do think that “hugsning” in the northern and western parts of the Lake Siljan district originally had very much to do with what I previously called adsokn (using the Icelandic term), that is to say a sort of attack from a person’s hugr, voluntarily or involuntarily.

There are many parallels to that sort of adsokn in Norwegian folklore, as I already hinted. Making only a small selection I could remind you of popular ideas in Norway that depression and low spirits, lack of energy and capacity are caused by the hugr of somebody that does not like you and has only bad wishes for your work and ambitions.

In the Sogn-district of Norway they could talk about a strong hugr (“sterk hug”), so strong that it could do great damage to things at work. It is told in that district that if a person very keen on beer arrived at a farm where brewing was going on, his hugr could spoil all the brewing process and cause the malt liquor to leak out from its special vat. According to this folkbelief, the same could happen with milk in a wooden milk pail if a person arrived who had a strong hugr on milk (N. Lid, Nordisk Kultur XIX, p. 5).

In another district of Norway, Setesdal, the same ideas are still more pronounced and even better recorded through the indefatigable collector of folklore Johannes Skar who lived there in Setesdal for many years and became a “setesdøling” in language and behaviour. There were people in Setesdal, who had such a strong hugr that, when they eagerly wanted to have a drink, the keg where the liquor was kept started to bubble and splash in advance. In Setesdal we also find that the hugr is sometimes conceived as so strong that it could take a more or less physical shape. In such cases it was called hugham. Persons who had that powerful hugr were considered able to “fljuga å” or “laupa å”, that is to say fly at or attack somebody. This was with a noun called “flog” or “ålaup”. As to the sense we thus have here corresponding expressions to Icelandic adsokn, attack from a person’s hugr or fylgja.

But curiously enough these attacks could sometimes occur involuntarily and without any intention to hurt. In a narrative from Setesdal it is told how a man with “hugham” on his way to visit a crofter flies at the crofter’s only cow before his arrival. Approaching the farm the visitor discovers that people are dragging a dead cow out of the cattle-shed. The crofter does not say anything to the visitor because he knows that it is regarded as a disgrace to “fljuga å”. But the visitor who knows himself steps forward and hands over money for a new cow (N. Lid, op. cit., p. 5-6).

People who had that kind of hugham, also called flogham, had to be careful about their thoughts. If they had good thoughts it was not so dangerous to stroll about a village and visit neighbours, but if they had evil thoughts or even harmless desires for something special, they had to watch their step. It was said in Setesdal that people who had suddenly left home in great haste were more disposed to “fljuga å” than people who took it easier.

Considering these fundamental ideas about the soul or, so to speak, the spiritual side of man – ideas which could be further elucidated through hundreds of examples from Nordic folklore and many parallels from other cultural areas – I feel certain that we can now interpret the full import of a runic inscription from the eighth century. I am thinking of the Danish Valby amulet, where the runes – according to Professor Magnus Olsen – could be read and interpreted as “against envy”, in Old Norse vidr ofund (cf. N. Lid, op. cit., p. 17). This sounds quite simple! But what is behind it? Obviously a tremendous fear of envy. And what is envy?

Nowadays, using the Swedish word avund, envy, we do not feel, I suppose, that the expression in our mouth is so much loaded with sentiments of genuine hatred, ill will or malice. Especially as a verb (“avundas” in Swedish), it has a rather faded sense, far removed from that in the old Scandinavian traditions. It might be of interest to say just a few words about the old, genuine avund and so give an answer to the question I have put.

In ancient times in Scandinavia avund was considered to be some thing very real, something almost physical in its power. It was in fact – according to folk-belief – the injuring hugr emanating from a malignant person, a person of ill will. It is called ovundhugen in old records from Setesdal. There is a saying in that part of Norway that ovundhugen can consume stone, and the late Professor Nils Lid of Oslo, who has gone very deep in his investigations of Nordic folk-belief, also gives us a tale by which that saying is very well illustrated (op. cit. 17). An old woman in a village was of bad repute for her ovundhug. Another woman in the neighbourhood decided to test that woman’s power, so when she was once out for a walk and was observed by the ill-reputed woman she took up a nice pebble from the wayside pretending to have found something very precious which she quickly put in her petticoat pocket. She brought it home and kept it safe and secret in a chest. But – so the tale says – the other woman’s ovundhug was so strong that after some time the pebble had been eaten away.

Considering such things we could thus suppose that behind a Norwegian charm like ek snui uppa thik heipt ok ofund (I turn upon you hatred and envy) from 1325 lies a terrible threat against the person to whom the spell is directed. That person could be visited by an ill-disposed hugr and almost put to death. An amulet for protection would certainly not be out of place!

If we stop here for a moment and see what we have learnt from the material hitherto presented – material which is only a small selection from a vast quantity of notes and records from old literary texts and oral traditions of the North – I would like to say first of all that systematization is not my strong point. I usually prefer to let the material speak for itself, provided that it is read and interpreted correctly. But looking at the ideas behind these specimens I think we could say that there is one thing that joins them together: the belief in the soul as a spiritual element, not only incorporated in the individual but also more or less invisibly emanating or – if I may say so – radiating from an individual and capable of exercising influence at a distance. And this flowing-out of the soul could be directed and controlled by the owner but it could also operate uncontrolled. In that case it was sometimes considered a special power that the individual himself was not aware of. I thus imagine that as something basic in the Old Scandinavian concept we could talk of the soul as a highly mobile and separable part of human beings.

If we now take a step further in our analysis, we could say that this immaterial substance could also at a very early stage be materialized and apprehended as having some sort of shape. We have already heard that according to folk-belief in Setesdal the hug from a person could be so strong that it came with ham, that is to say with something that was more or less materialized and reflected the owner of the hug, a kind of harbinger or companion but in shape only vaguely specified. In Norwegian dialects it could also be called gongham, vardøger, vord and fyreferd – just to name some of them (see further I. Reichborn-Kjennerud, Vår gamle trolldomsmedisin, 1928, p. 37).

In Sweden we have a definition of the vård given us by the famous Swedish folklorist Gunnar Olof Hyltén-Cavallius in the middle of the last century and well worth citing in this connection. What he says refers to his home district, southern Småland, where he was a keen observer of folk-belief and folk customs. He says: “The vård (literally: the guardian) is a being attached to the individual, a spirit who accompanies a person wherever he goes, and sometimes reveals itself either as a glimmer or in the form of the person as a second self (hamn), a phantom. The presence of the vård can even be felt, both by other people and by the individual himself when he is out of doors at night. The expressions used for this are: ‘It is with him’, ‘he has the glimmer with him’, ‘he has the vård with him’” (G. O. Hyltén-Cavallius, Wärend och Wirdarne, 1, 1864, p. 356).

With these conceptions of a more or less materialized soul which was able to free itself from its owner could also be connected the idea that one could lead the vård or hugr in a certain direction. And if your thoughts were evil you could – as we have already seen – hurt people by making them objects of your intense hatred, envy or discontent.

Generally speaking you could activate your hugr, leading it in different directions and using it for certain intentions. Here in fact lies the germ of the idea of changing shape, the ability to go out from yourself and let your hugr take hamr, that is to say take the form of your second self.

In some western and southern districts of Norway we find expressions like reham and rehug (literally: riding-hamr, riding-hugr), indicating that a persons hugr was so strong that it could take some sort of physical shape, slip through the doors of a cowhouse or stable and ride cattle and horses with the purpose of hurting or exhausting them. This was an act of ill will and considered very mean. Sometimes the names of diseases that could hit cattle or horses also reflected these ideas, as for instance riska, the name of a kind of horse disease and undoubtedly connected with rida, ride.

These examples from ancient Norwegian folklore have of course many parallels in other Nordic countries and a great deal of material could be provided for further explanation of them. I should, however, prefer to take up a single detail which is of specific interest in this connection, namely the idea of the riding hugr or hamr.

The first documented witch-trial in the Nordic countries belongs to early Icelandic history. The source of that occurrence is Eyrbyggja Saga, a work which is more like a chronicle than a family saga and full of antiquarian notes and observations. It belongs to the middle of the 13th century and describes events from the late 9th to the early 11th century. In chapters 15 and 16 of the Saga we are told that a young and apparently attractive man, Gunnlaugr Thorbjarnarson, used to visit a woman, Geirridr Thorolfsdottir, at Mavahlid, not so far from his own home Froda on the northern coast of Snaefellsnes. It is said that he was keen on learning magical know (kunnatta) from Geirridr. But there was another woman in the vicinity, Katla at Holt, who eagerly wished the young man to visit her. She pretended that she also could inform him about magic arts. Now, one day Gunnlaugr was on his way home from Geirridr in Mavahlid, and it was rather late. Geirridr had warned him to go home because – as she expressed it – margir eru marlidendr. (In parenthesis I would like to say that the usual translation since Vigfusson’s days of this passage as “many there are who slide over the sea” is not very helpful and that I am of another opinion about the interpretation of the first element in marlidendr). But anyhow, she is forcefully warning him of supernatural beings. When passing Holt on his way back Gunnlaugr is invited to stay overnight with Katla who is in bed. But he refuses to do so. Katla gets angry and throws some harsh words after him when he is leaving her house. Later during the night Thorbjorn found his son unconscious on the ground outside his home. He was bloodstained over the shoulders and the flesh was partly ripped off his legs. It was much talked about, this strange happening, and Katla’s son Oddr insinuated to people that Geirridr had ridden Gunnlaugr and thus caused his severe sufferings. Gunnlaugr’s father was inclined to think the same and finally brought the case before the district-court (the Thorsnessthing), charging Geirridr for being a kveldrida. But she was acquitted by the court. Later on it emerged that Katla was the kveldrida, that is to say “the evening rider” or the night-hag who had ridden Gunnlaugr on that occasion.

In this narrative we meet with the same ideas as in the Norwegian conceptions of rehug or reham, albeit in a more amplified form. A woman of ill will and full of jealousy is able to send out her hugr or hamr for riding in an unspecified shape on a man’s shoulders with the intention of breaking him down. In its practice it is perhaps more advanced than the riding by rehug and mara on cattle according to Norwegian and Swedish folk-belief. It is worth noting that Katla is in her bed. This may mean that she is taking specific steps for her own transformation into a kveldrida.

In a Fornaldarsaga called Illuga Saga Gridarfostra (FAS III, 650, ed. C. C. Rafn) a kveldrida acts in about the same way as Katla. A woman called Sunnlöd rides on Illugi’s shoulders late in the evening when he is returning home in almost complete darkness from his father’s pasture-shed. Sunnlöd is a notorious witch, who has margan mann illa leikit. But Illugi knows how to get rid of the burden. He crushes her by pressing his back against a big stone on his way. In her transformed shape in the saga she is called a kvikindi, a creature, and what happens to her shape also happens to the living woman. She dies from a broken back.

This belief in kveldridur, also called myrkridur, darkness-riders, is also evidenced in the Poetic Edda – in Harbardsljod 20 and in Helgakvida Hjorvarzsonar 15 – but it would take too long to comment upon the two stanzas here. Kveldridur or myrkridur were evil-disposed, detested women, who could be called the first witches in Scandinavian folklore and who were obviously able to let their hugr take on hamr and thus in materialized shape hurt their objects, mostly by riding on them. An interesting feature in their practice is that they so often try to get hold of young men. It seems as if something libidinous was connected with these witch-activities – indeed, this is also in my opinion alluded to in Harbardsljod 20 (cf. another interpretation by Magnus Olsen in Edda- og Skaldekvad 1, 1960, p. 25).

Among these riding apparitions could also be mentioned trollridur, a being riding in a troll’s shape. In the Old Norwegian law, Eidsivathings-Christenret § 35 (NGL I, 403), these beings are obviously women that are riding men, but according to Nyere Gulathings-Christenret § 3 (NGL II, 308) they could be of both female and male sex.

Of particular interest in this connection is a fourth sort of these riding beings, namely the tunridur. They are perhaps the most famous witches in the Poetic Edda – these beings that playfully whirl round in the air (leika lopti a), obviously much feared for their ill-nature. Odin knows the charms by which they can be put out of action. Through him they are led astray and cannot find the place from where they have come, the place where their hamir or hugir have started their journey. The stanza about them is to be found in Havamal 155, included in a section of the poem which seems to be very old and which is called Ljodatal. I have tried in my time to give stanza 155, which has been discussed by at least two generations of philologists before me, a reasonable interpretation and I shall not now go further into that linguistic matter (Sejd, p. 168-82). What I have been thinking of now and then during the last decades is the problem of the first element tun – in tunrida (cf. MHG zûnrite). The word tunrida must be a technical term for a hag or witch riding on some part of a fence, perhaps a field gate or a fence-pole. In that case, as far as the implement for riding is concerned, it could be compared with German Hexe, Old High German hagazussa, Old English haegtesse, words for witches, where the first element is sometimes interpreted as connected with a Germanic stem corresponding to Swedish hage in the sense of fence. [See E. Noreen in Språkvetenskapliga Sällskapets i Uppsala Förhandlingar 1922-24, p. 53 ff] The element tun in tunrida must not be explained as ‘farm’ or ‘house’ or ‘fenced plot’ but as the fence itself or a part of it. A very illustrative example in this connection is the Old Swedish Västgötalag from the beginning of the l3th century where in the Rättlösabalk § 5 it talks about abusive words to a woman. Among punishable insults there we find the assertion that someone has seen this or that woman riding on a fence-gate (qviugrindu) in the shape of a troll (i trols ham).

The tunridur in Havamal’s Ljodatal are a counterpart of the fence-gate-rider in trols ham. Trols ham indicates that the woman was thought to become what in Old Norse was called hamhleypa, that is to say a person who is able to let the hamr as a materialized hugr go out and leave the body. It is the same thing that happens according to Havamal 155, but the tunridur are apparently more advanced since they are able to let their hamir fly up in the air. In both cases we must, however, presuppose that the real, physical body was sleeping somewhere in a house or shed in the vicinity. This physical state of sleep or exhaustion or trance is fundamental to the changing of shape (at skipta homum or fara i hamforum).

Talking about these kveldridur, myrkridur, tunridur etc. we must bear in mind that these creatures went out for hostile or malevolent aims. They were dangerous to society when they used the old practice of shape-changing and at least in Scandinavian traditions they were forerunners of the witch-figures that from the 16th century and up to the 19th century were called forth and revived in Swedish folk-belief and caused the great witch-trials of the 1660s and locally also of the 1750s and 1760s.

There is no time left for a closer analysis of shape-changing according to Old Norse sources and more recent Scandinavian popular traditions. I would only like to draw your attention to the fact that, the most concise description of it, so far given, is by Snorri Sturluson in the Ynglinga Saga, chapter 7. He characterizes Odin’s art with the following words: “Odin was able to change shape. Then the body was lying as if sleeping or dead, and he was at that time a bird, an animal, a fish or a snake and travelled in a moment to remote places on his own or others’ errands.”

Shape-changing is a dominant feature in Old Norse magic, obviously originating in the fundamental ideas of the soul as an element capable of separation from the body already in life, ideas that I have touched upon in this paper. In my book on Sejd (1935) I tried to give a survey of the problem as it comes out in Old Norse literature and also in the accounts we have of Lappish shamanism in the 17th and 18th centuries. In a chapter “Sejd and shape-changing” (p. 160-190) an attempt was also made at a systematization of the names and meanings connected with the ideas of the separable human soul. Recently a new book has appeared on the same theme with a very full account of the material, namely Else Mundal’s dissertation on Fylgjemotiva i norrøn litteratur, Oslo 1974. I hope that book with its index and diagrams will help to clear up still lingering mysteries surrounding the fylgjur.

What I have now dealt with is – as I have said before – more the fundamental ideas behind the old Nordic traditions about the human soul than the further development of these ideas into more closely specified categories and systems. Shape-changing is obviously a more advanced art – a magic art by which a skilled person disengages his hugr in trance and transforms it into a certain shape. But this skill in shape-changing is built on the conception of the hugr as something separable from a person already in life.

Having this spring been engaged in work on Christian medieval visions and their influence upon thoughts and motives in early Nordic literature I have often fancied that many of the Christian legends about the soul’s journey to and return from the other world had the best qualifications for being adopted by people in the Nordic countries, because they touched an essential part of old indigenous Nordic folk-belief, namely the idea of the soul as a highly mobile and powerful element in man.
Ek trui a matt minn ok megin.
Visit Robert Frenz' FAEM:
Old August 6th, 2009 #2
Senior Member
Join Date: Dec 2003
Posts: 1,191

nice. thank you.

The jewish belief in the old testment they mention the soul only once, and just say you sleep when you are dead.

the fucking jews dont know shit, or they are keeping clam on what they do know.

Smart money is on the later.
Old February 28th, 2018 #3
Adolf Goldbergstein
Senior Member
Adolf Goldbergstein's Avatar
Join Date: Feb 2018
Posts: 514
Adolf Goldbergstein

Here is the Jewish Soul:

Ecclesiastes 3:19 NIV
Surely the fate of human beings is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; humans have no advantage over animals. Everything is meaningless.
Old February 22nd, 2019 #4
Registered User
Join Date: Feb 2019
Posts: 1

Wow very interesting topic for me. I am not a big expert in nordic traditons and langauges. I think it will be the topic of my next essay in the university. But i am nerd in writing essays so i will use help with writing it. I think we need to know more information about Nordic countries,


Display Modes

All times are GMT -5. The time now is 06:05 PM.
Page generated in 0.14791 seconds.