I felt like posting something to explore the concept of Fylgja, as I think it can be an important part of Heathenry and Northern cultural workings in general. A lot of it gets mixed up in the neo-workings and re-creations of older practices.
“The animal-shaped fetch is usually in a form that corresponds to the character of the person to whom it is attached-a wolf, an eagle, a horse, a fox, a mouse, and so on. It can be separated from the vitki as a magical act. The vitki also may project his conscious will into the fetch in order to carry out magical workings. A geometrical shape is often seen by those with "second sight" going out in front of persons of great power. The fylgja is the repository of all of the actions of the persons to whom the entity was previously attached. It can be the source of great power but also of tremendous responsibilities and even hardships. This entity is the storehouse of orlog-it can protect and it can doom.” (Thorsson)
During the deep trance/meditative stages of Seidhr or dream-workings you may work with your animal fetch. An animal fetch is akin to spirit guides, animal totems, familiars, power animals, and so much more. None of those words do it justice, as I see it as a large combination of all of these things. Sometimes certain animal fertches may be called: fylgja** (follower), and alsoVordr (keeper/protector).. The exact definition and meaning of these words are debatable, as the concepts can be quite elaborate- so I’ll do my best to condense them down.These are the animals/creatures that are believed to accompany us throughout our entire life (it always remains the same animal).
This animal conforms and molds to the person’s personality. Like a mirror image, the animal fylgja represents the person it stands for. It is believed that our well-being depends on the well-being of our animal fylgja. It is very similar to the concept of Hugr, the norse concept of the soul- and many people view the fylgja as being a part of this hugr, or soul, that is capable of leaving the body and projecting. (Sound familiar?) Yet while it is thought to be attached to us, and a part or piece of our soul, it is thought to also be slightly independent. Gundarsson describes it as a “semi-independent being”. You may wish to read my article on Norse concepts of soul,as it is hard to understand this idea without the backing concepts.
Often throughout Norse/Icelandic literature you’ll find mentioning of a persons fylgja warning them of some event to come in their dreams. It was thought that someone’s fylgja might appear to someone else in their dreams as well. Ljosvetninga saga tells the tale of a man who sees two animal fylgja leading a herd against him, and when he wakes he knows who the owners of the fylgja are and knows of their intent to do him harm from the characteristics and behaviors of those animals.Further than that, it is thought that some people possess a special ability or second sight that allows them to see the fylgja of others, much like some people see spirits and other entities. Seeing your own fylgja (while awake) was thought to be bad luck, and an omen of illness or death.
It’s believed that the animal fylgja and the owner are strongly connected on a spiritual level. The animal, as I mentioned, tends to symbolize the person. In literature we find that sometimes certain animals symbolized ranks. Chiefs and other important men were thought to have big, exotic or even foreign animals- while men of less class or rank may have smaller, more normalized animals as their fylgja. Today, this hasn’t been as strongly believed in as it once was. As I also mentioned, “our well-being depends on the well-being of our animal fylgja”. By this I mean that it was thought that should a person die, their animal fylgja dies too. (Actually, it was thought that the fylgja dies before the person, which leads to that person dying soon afterwards- as it would represent a part of that person, and their soul, moving on to the next life). Similar to reincarnation, there is the idea that certain animal fylgja are “passed” down through lineage and that strong fylgjas may choose to pass on from one person to their kin, and thus stores a sense of the previous persons it has been a part of. (This ties in closely with Norse views of lineage,kin, heritage, etc).
“In Scandinavian folklore, each person has an animal shape which follows him like a shadow and can be seen by the second-sighted (although what is seen may be the hamingja, see below). Shamans can shape-change astrally into a variety of animals to go journeying. In the Ynglingasaga, Snorri tells us that among the seidh skills possessed by Odin was the ability to go forth in animal form while his body lay as if sleeping…Someone who changes form easily is hamrammR-- "shapestrong"; a journey taken in another shape is hamfarir; hamask means to fall into a state of animal fury; hamslauss to be out of one's shape; and hambleytha is the act of leaping out of one's skin. One is reminded of the Navajo term, "skinwalker" for a witch who takes wolf form. For simplicity's sake, I favor referring to a spirit guide who appears in animal form as the hamingja, and the shape which an experienced practitioner of seidh uses for astral travel as the hamR.” (Paxson)
In Heathenry and magickal workings, the fylgja serves a variety of purposes. For one, it is thought that Gods or deities may send us messages or otherwise interact with us through our fylgja. When “faring forth” or “setting out”- a person doing these types of working is actually doing projecting, similar to the ideas of AP. Skilled practiconers and northern shamans work on projecting, spiritwalking or otherwise doing seidhr journeywork while IN the form their animal fylgja is in. This means the person spiritually would take that animal form, and travel (project) with it to the other realms for some purpose. There are several other uses for working in the fylgja form. Berserks often channel or project an animal when doing their works, and the eigi einhamr did similar things- spiritually manipulating their hugr to take on these forms. The fylgja can be called upon to “Fare forth” for a person, and bring back information. Help in communing with other entities and spirits. It can be called for protection and defense, spiritually. And it often accompanies the northern shaman/worker on their spirit journeys.
As I mentioned in my article on Norse concepts of soul: You might look into Freya Aswynn's work if you are interested in learning more of how this is implemented into magick, and related to Western ideas. In a way, when you are projecting your hug, altering it, sending it on tasks- it is similar to the idea of Astral Projection, more or less. Because if you didn’t already know- Ham and Hide are the two terms technically referring to energy/astral body. The word LICHE is used to describe the physical body. If you don’t see the word liche when you’re reading something on this- it’s not talking about anything physical.(and again be careful with your sources! Sometimes the word liche is used inappropriately to describe a dead corpse- under the concepts I speak of it just means “body”) I’ve used the term “Faring forth” before- which is what we tend to call this. It’s shamanic, in a way, and involves the traveling of realms, planes, etc through trance-work and other means.
** Be careful with the word Fylgja. It may also refer to a woman’s spirit that attaches itself to a person. Seeing this fylgja was said to be an omen of negativity and often death. People also tend to associate the woman fylgja with luck. Should you have her favor, your luck is greatly improved. Should you fall into an ill relationship with your fylgja, your luck is ruined. The ideas of a woman fylgja are surprisingly similar to the ideas of an animal fylgja, in that it is thought they too followed individuals throughout their lives. They were typically known as “dis”. Valkyries, the Norns, and other female spirits could be this attending spirit.
“In Old Norse myth and literature, three supernatural beings, fylgjur (sg. fylgja), hamingjur (sg. hamingja), and dísir (sg. dís) held status as attendant spirits. Linguistically, dís and hamingja hold a more straightforward connotation. The word dís generally refers to a goddess or priestess, but in the terms discussed here it denotes a female guardian spirit.6 The word hamingja, interestingly, can suggest outright luck or fortune, while still holding on to the meaning of a guardian spirit. Cleasby-Vigfússon remarks that hamingja and fylgja are contextually almost synonymous, for hamingjur, like fylgjur, often take the shape either of an animal or of a human, typically female, form. The hamingjur developed from the mythological Norns, or the “hamingjur of the world” (Cleasby-Vigfússon 1957, “hamingja”).”(Bryan)**
**Also keep in mind, the animal fylgja DO NOT have to appear as animals. They have been said to appear as mirror images of the person they stand for. But more typically are seen to be perceived as animals. And you may have MORE than one animal fylgja, though more than two is uncommon.**
Article on Seidhr:
Article on Nordic Concepts of the Soul:
Article on Orlog:
Hyge-Cræft: Working with the Soul in the Northern Tradition by Diana L. Paxson
Icelandic Fyljur Tales and Possible Old Norse Contex- Bryan