Norse Concepts of Soul

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A brief explanation of "soul" in Norse tradition: the hug, fetch, etc.

When looking at the Norse concepts of soul you have to understand a bit about each part that makes up the whole. Working with the soul and studying it is referred to sometimes by Hyge-Crft. Ill warn you ahead of time that this can be a tough area to research, due to the lack of information and credible sources out there- far too often youre going to find someone mixing up the terminology and confusing things. If you arent careful with your sources, youll find many like to use this terminology for role-playing without understand traditionally what it means and where it comes from. I will also warn you that sometimes things can be a bit complex and overlapping, youll see what I mean, but Ill do my best to explain differences and similarities between these areas. That being said- I hope you learn something.

Huginn&Muninn: Two-Sided.

A lot of time when looking at the soul and mind under these Norse concepts, youll see that it is generally thought that the mind is bipolar, in a way. The reason for this tends to revolve around the symbolism of Odins two ravens: Huginn and Munnin. This idea can be found in several sources, such as the Ynglinga Saga, when discussing Odin: "He could change his appearance. There his body lay as sleeping or dead. But he became a bird or a beast, a fish or a serpent, and at a moment's notice could go into distant lands on his own business or on that of others."

Identifying and integrating all the various parts of the human psyche is the work of contemporary psychotherapy. But since we are approaching the problem from the perspective of Norse tradition, let us explore the traditional bi-polar division represented by Huginn and Muninn:

Muninn, usually translated as Memory, is presumably derived from the Old Norse munR, meaning "mind," like the German minni, which carries with it connotations of feeling or preference as well as of mentation. . If we continue to consider the mind as a bipolar entity, the second component would be represented by Huginn, usually translated as "thought," but derived, in Old Norse, from hugR, which also means "mind". Like munR, this word has connotations of feeling, and as we have seen above, in later Scandinavian folklore it became the catch-all term for everything relating to the soul. (Paxson)


Hug is an Old Norse word meaning: mind-spirit, thought. In generic use, hug is the psyche. It is the mental-life of the individual. Hug is a representation of the words we now call thought, wishes/desires, personality and now is commonly used to refer to the entire soul in general. It was believed that every person had a hug, and what the hug did and could do was complex. The hug could be detached from the body, be at a different place at the same time, could come in the shape of an animal or another person (often its thought the hug was similar to doppelganger, in that it would look like the person to whom it belonged). For the heathen, as evidenced in literature and burial practice as well as philology, the soul was the animating force of the body and could not therefore be separated from the bodySouls roaming without their bodies as a common concept was not unknown.To see your hug was thought to be an omen of impending death or doom. Hug-stolen was a term sometimes used to refer to someone with mental abnormalities or physic disorder. And to hug somebody meant to manipulate them using your own hug.

Often people practicing Nordic traditions will say the manipulation of the hug is the basis of magick. (Kvideland and Sehmsdorf) It could be used in a variety of ways. For instance, there was such a thing as hug-turning in which a person could do a rite to either turn hugs towards them or away from them- making them friends or enemies. Related to the shape aspect of the hug- it was thought that a persons hug could be strong enough to eventually take a shape. Most commonly the shape would be that of the person it represents, but it could also be in the shape of an animal(which I will describe below) or something even more abstract but meaningful to the person (an element, for example). Because of the physical-thought that came to be associated with Hug, it was believed if the Hug suffered damage outside of the body- the person would suffer physical damage as well. This is because it was believed that while the hug could be separated- its ultimate home was with the body.

There are some other words associated with hug that you will need to know to be able to understand it better:

  • Elsk: Similar to envy, but is a longing from the outside that has similar effects.
  • Envy: Generally means the manifestation of a hug through some means- such as, if a strong emotion is experienced, the hug could be used through magick to have an effect on another persons hug, spirit, and things that are around them.
  • Fylgja: This refers to the Fetch most of the time- or the animal spirit that accompanies and has a strong relationship with the person. (Animal totems, guides, this sort of thing). This word as a verb literally means to follow or accompany. In a way, the fylgja or fetch is very similar to the hug in what its purpose is and how you can work with it. Dont get confused though- they are two separate things.
  • Ham/Hamr: the animal form taken by a practitioner of seidh for astral journeying, pathwalking, etc. It is the shape of the hug.
  • Hugsa: Taken from Hug, Hugsa is a verb meaning "to wish, have desire for". It was very strong emotions that tied in to the idea of Hug (because it was thought that the hug had feelings as well).


Ive yet to determine how I feel about this next bit, but Ill share it with you all anyways. Here are the four descriptions of Hug as suggested by Reimund Kvideland and Henning K. Sehmsdorf:

1. Invisible/Unconscious


2. Visible/Unconscious


3. Invisible/Conscious


4. Visible/Conscious


Invisible/Unconscious Hug

This is usually referred to by "hugsing". The verb means to "think of" "desire" "notice", aka Hugsa as mentioned earlier. If you "hugse" a person, it was thought that you somehow brought harm or ill to a person, via your hug, through an unconscious desire. This is where the term Envy comes in to play. "One can, according to tradition, hugse oneself; this seems surprising, but there is a simple explanation. You can have such an uncontrollable desire for something that at the moment the wish is fulfilled, you feel physically exhausted and overwhelmed by nausea or something similar.(Kvid,Sehm). The envy is in this case making the person feel the way they are.

Visible/Unconscious Hug

This was the belief that when the hug was separate from the body, it could occasionally be seen (usually by those who have some sort of sight most people do not). It was thought that the hug of a person may be seen if that persent is absent from their home. Some people tend to think of this as a type of aural experience. "Sometimes the hug is barely perceptible: an unpleasant premonition, a sigh through the house, a cry sounding like the absent person's voice. Tradition explains that, in a difficult situation or at the moment of death, a person's hug goes home- or tries to send a message (hugbod)."(Kvid, Sehm).

Invisible/Conscious Hug

Woven into our extensive traditions about magick are many notions about the hug: it's instability and power. Although it was believed that everyone had a hug, interest was greatest in the strong hug. In magick traditions, there are the invisible and visible hug, but the most important quality is the hug that is conscious and has a goal"(Kvid,Sehm) There was thought to be strong power in feelings, emotions and desires- and the hug played a big role in this. A person could manipulate their hug or have their hug accomplish some task. This was something I spoke of earlier.

Visible/Conscious Hug

This is similar to the idea of a familiar. Unfortunately, Ive yet to go very far into looking at this aspect.



Eigi Einhamr

The hug could be similar to a fetch(akin to animal guides and spirits) in that it could be used to do something for the person, as it could separate from the body. "According to tradition, a person whose hug is in a ham(shape) is sometimes said to be "ham mad". "Hamlober"(shape-runner) was thought to be in reference to a person who allows the hug to go about in a ham(shape) in order to accomplish something. Thus the practitioner can be described as a hamlober(shape-runner) when they send out their hug on an assignment."(Linzie) Again, very similar to the idea of the fetch.

The term "eigi einhamr" is something you will most likely come across if you choose to look further into this topic, so let me briefly explain this as to clear up confusion. Often this gets chalked up to "role-playing" but that is only if you do not find the correct sources. Often, people who have no idea what the older texts say like to use this term to further their beliefs in physical transformation, werewolves, and all that jazz. So let me enlighten you so that you do not make the same mistake. The term "eigi einhamr" literally means "not of one skin" and is used when talking of transformation. The key here is that the transformation is not a physical one ! The person doing this would use magickal incantation, sometimes wearing the skin of a desired animal, and more or less put themselves in a trance-like state to allow the spirit to take an animal form. It was said those that had the gift of seeing spirits or this side of people would be able to see the animal spirit.

This is just the manipulation of Hug, much like how the fetch are used in astral traveling, realm journeying, etc. This is manipulating the hug, or spirit part of it, through hamr(shape). But be careful, again, of your sources. Some will try to state that it IS a physical change, but you'll find that it traditionally states it is nothing more than the manipulation of ones spirit through some means. It is purely a mental/spiritual aspect. In a way, it is very similar to Berserking. To be eigi einhamr really just means to be able to connect to ones fetch (spiritual animals) and to take similar form when doing path-walking, shaman types of working, etc.

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 didnt 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 dont see the word liche when youre reading something on this- its 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) Ive used the term Faring forth before- which is what we tend to call this. Its shamanic, in a way, and involves the traveling of realms, planes, etc through trance-work and other means.

For the second component I choose to use the term ham, the "shape," or "hide".. The ham occupies a place somewhere between the physical and "spiritual". The existence of an astral body is a tenet of a number of systems of occultism, especially those influenced by Hinduism. This "body" appears to be composed of some kind of energy interpenetrating the physical body (or, according to the spiritualists, ectoplasm). Its radiance may be what is sensed by those who see auras. It is usually perceived as a radiant double or envelope, encasing the human form.. In ancient tradition, the term which seems to correspond to this "body" is ham, which can be interpreted as "shape," or "hide". In the literature, the ham is the animal form taken by a practitioner of seidh for astral journeying. Old Norse literature is rich in stories of shapeshifting and vocabulary derived from the ham root. Some of the shapes cited in the literature include bear, wolf, swan, seal, mare and hare, but it can take almost any animal form. Perhaps the best-known story of such astral travel is that of Bovar Bjarki, who fought in the form of a bear while his lich lay in trance (HrolfKrakisaga)(Paxson)




Eigi Einhamr by Bldl, Klaus

Hyge-Crft: Working with the Soul in the Northern Tradition by Diana L. Paxson

Concepts of the Soul in Norwegian Tradition by Bente G. Alver

Scandinavian Folk Belief and Magic by Kvideland and Sehmsdorf

Investigating the Afterlife Concepts of the Norse Heathen by Bill Linzie

Magic, body, and the self in eighteenth-century SwedenBy Jacqueline Van Gent

Added to on Apr 06, 2012
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