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The Heathen ‘Soul’

This piece on the heathen ‘soul’ was written by a Norwegian Heathen by the name of Sunniva, and published here with her permission.


A disklaimer: These are my personal ramblings. They are built upon my knowledge of the literary sources, but I doubt I will be able to trace everything I say back to a specific text. So you are both welcome and encouraged to take what I am to say with an ample pinch of salt.

I don’t believe I have a soul. That is, I don’t believe in the monotheistic division of body and soul. I do not consist of two parts. As a Heathen, I believe I consist of nine parts. These are as follows:

Lík – The body. The Norse word for “body” also means “corpse”.

Ånde/Ande – A word meaning both “breath” and “spirit”. The Old Ones believed life was closely connected with the breath, and the word is also related to the name of Odin. The gift of Ånde was Odin’s contribution in the creation of the first two humans, Ask & Embla.

Vilje – the will. This is the part that keeps all the other parts together. A weak vilje will leave you fragmented and weak. Vilje is the name of Odin’s brother, and one of the three gifts that gave life to Ask & Embla.

Húg – the mind, desire, yearning or disposition. I find this a tad difficult to define, but it has to do with who you are as a person; What you want, how you behave etc. A mean hug can cause harm to others, and seidfolk can steal your hug and make you ill, often terminally. Hugstjeling – hug-theft, is another word for being in love.

Ham – the “cover” or “shape. Your incorporal appearance, sort of a personification of your personal qualities, often in the shape of an animal. Seidfolk can change hams, and they can hamkaste, that is, throw another ham on you. Different types of people will typically have particular types of animals as their hams. A bear will be a chieftain, a wolf a fierce warrior, a fox a cunning thief, etc.

Megin – the “power”, or “might”. Megin exists in everything; not just humans. It can perhaps be compared to life-force, but as it also exist in rocks, soil, water etc, the glove doesn’t quite fit… Strong and charismatic people have a lot of megin, sick people have lost some of theirs.

Fylgjer – the “followers”. These aren’t directly part of your being, but separate entities that for some reason follow you as non-corporal guides or helpers. They are typically in human or human-like form, and will stay with you for long periods of time, if not your whole life. Fylgjer may be inherited, so to speak, at the death of a dear relative or friend.

Varder – the “protectors”. Similar to fylgjer, but usually not in human form. Less loyal and more mischievous than the fylgjer, they may leave you if you don’t treat them right.

Hamingja – “(bad) luck” or “fate”. Seen as a female figure, she is the family or group spirit, a personification of the sum of all personal traits found in a clan. Traditionally connected with the family only, it is my personal experience that any tight group or organization will have a hamingja of their own. A strong, well-functioning family or group have an equally strong hamingja.

There is a possible tenth element namely, regin – divine power or might. This is the elusive component but may be the gift given to Ask & Embla by the third brother, Vé, whose name means sanctity.

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