The draugr or draug (Old Norse: draugr, plural draugar; modern Icelandic: draugur, Faroese: dreygur and Danish, Swedish, and Norwegian: draug) is an undead creature from Norse mythology, also called aptrganga or aptrgangr, literally "again-walker" (Icelandic: afturganga).

The word draugr can be traced to a Proto-Indo European stem *dʰrowgʰos "phantom", from *dʰrewgʰ- "deceive" (see also Avestan "druj").[1] The Old Norse meaning of the word is a revenant. In Swedish, draug is a modern loanword from West Norse, as the native Swedish form drög has acquired the meaning of "a pale, ineffectual, and slow-minded person that drags himself along".[2]

The will appears to be strong, strong enough to draw the hugr [animate will] back to one's body. These reanimated individuals were known as draugar. However, though the dead might live again, they could also die again. Draugar die a "second death" as Chester Gould calls it, when their bodies decay, are burned, dismembered or otherwise destroyed.[3]

Draugar live in their graves, often guarding treasure buried with them in their burial mound. They are animated corpses with a corporeal body, unlike ghosts, with similar physical abilities as in life. Older literature makes clear distinctions between sea-draugar and land-draugar.


Draugar possess superhuman strength, can increase their size at will, and carry the unmistakable stench of decay. According to Gregg Smith, "The appearance of a draugr was that of a dead body: swollen, blackened and generally hideous to look at."[3] They are undead figures from Norse and Icelandic mythology which appear to retain some semblance of intelligence. They exist to guard their treasure, wreak havoc on living beings, or torment those who wronged them in life. The draugr's ability to increase its size also increased its weight, and the body of the draugr was described as being extremely heavy. Thorolf of Eyrbyggja saga was "uncorrupted, and with an ugly look about him… swollen to the size of an ox," and his body was so heavy that it could not be raised without levers.[4][5] They are also noted for the ability to rise from the grave as wisps of smoke and "swim" through solid rock.[6]

In folklore, draugar slay their victims through various methods including crushing them with their enlarged forms, devouring their flesh, devouring them whole in their enlarged forms, indirectly killing them by driving them mad, and by drinking their blood. Animals feeding near the grave of a draugr might be driven mad by the creature's influence.[7] They may also die from being driven mad. Thorolf, for example, caused birds to drop dead when they flew over his bowl barrow.

The draugr's victims were not limited to trespassers in its home. The roaming undead devastated livestock by running the animals to death either by riding them or pursuing them in some hideous, half-flayed form. Shepherds' duties kept them outdoors at night, and they were particular targets for the hunger and hatred of the undead:

The oxen which had been used to haul Thorolf's body were ridden to death by demons, and every single beast that came near his grave went raving mad and howled itself to death. The shepherd at Hvamm often came racing home with Thorolf after him. One day that Fall neither sheep nor shepherd came back to the farm.[8]

Draugar are noted for having numerous magical abilities (referred to as trollskap) resembling those of living witches and wizards, such as shape-shifting, controlling the weather, and seeing into the future.[9] A draugr can change into a seal,[10][11] a great flayed bull, a grey horse with a broken back but no ears or tail, and a cat that would sit upon a sleeper's chest and grow steadily heavier until the victim suffocated.[12] The draugr Þráinn (Thrain) shape-shifted into a cat-like creature (kattakyn) in Hrómundar saga Gripssonar:

Then Thrain turned himself into a troll, and the barrow was filled with a horrible stench; and he stuck his claws into the back of Hromund's neck, tearing the flesh from his bones.[13]

Draugar have the ability to enter into the dreams of the living,[9] and they will frequently leave a gift behind so that "the living person may be assured of the tangible nature of the visit".[14] Draugar also have the ability to curse a victim, as shown in the Grettis saga, where Grettir is cursed to be unable to become any stronger. Draugar also brought disease to a village and could create temporary darkness in daylight hours. They preferred to be active during the night, although it did not appear to be vulnerable to sunlight like some other revenants. Draugr can also kill people with bad luck.

A draugr's presence might be shown by a great light that glowed from the mound like foxfire.[15] This fire would form a barrier between the land of the living and the land of the dead.[16] The draugr could also move magically through the earth, swimming through solid stone as does Killer-Hrapp:

Then Olaf tried to rush Hrapp, but Hrapp sank into the ground where he had been standing and that was the end of their encounter.[6]

Some draugar are immune to weapons, and only a hero has the strength and courage needed to stand up to so formidable an opponent. In legends, the hero would often have to wrestle the draugr back to his grave, thereby defeating him, since weapons would do no good. A good example of this is found in Hrómundar saga Gripssonar. Iron could injure a draugr, as is the case with many supernatural creatures, although it would not be sufficient to stop it.[17] Sometimes the hero is required to dispose of the body in unconventional ways. The preferred method is to cut off the draugr's head, burn the body, and dump the ashes in the sea—the emphasis being on making absolutely sure that the draugr was dead and gone.[18]

The draugar were said to be either hel-blár ("death-blue") or nár-fölr ("corpse-pale").[7] The death-blue color was not actually grey but was a dark blue or maroon hue which covered the entire body. Glámr, the undead shepherd of Grettis saga, was reported to be dark blue,[19] and Laxdæla saga describes how bones were dug up belonging to a dead sorceress who had appeared in dreams, and they were "blue and evil looking."[20]

The resting place of the draugr was a tomb which they were able to leave during the night to visit the living. Such visits are supposed to be horrible events that often end in death for one or more of the living, which would then warrant the exhumation of the draugr by a hero.

The draugr's motivation was primarily jealousy and greed. Greed causes it to viciously attack any would-be grave robbers, but the draugr also expresses an innate jealousy of the living stemming from a longing for the things of life which it once had. They also exhibit an immense and nearly insatiable appetite, as shown in the encounter of Aran and Asmund, sword brothers who made an oath that, if one should die, the other would sit vigil with him for three days inside the burial mound. When Aran died, Asmund brought his own possessions into the barrow—banners, armor, hawk, hound, and horse—then set himself to wait the three days:

During the first night, Aran got up from his chair and killed the hawk and hound and ate them. On the second night he got up again from his chair, and killed the horse and tore it into pieces; then he took great bites at the horse-flesh with his teeth, the blood streaming down from his mouth all the while he was eating…. The third night Asmund became very drowsy, and the first thing he knew, Aran had got him by the ears and torn them off.[21]

Creation of draugarEdit

The main indication that a deceased person will become a draugr is that the corpse is not in a horizontal position but is found in an upright or sitting position, indicating that the dead might return.[22] Any mean, nasty, or greedy person can become a draugr. As Ármann notes, "most medieval Icelandic ghosts are evil or marginal people. If not dissatisfied or evil, they are unpopular".[23]

Means of preventionEdit

The Nørre Nærå Runestone is interpreted as having a "grave binding inscription" used to keep the deceased in its grave.[24]

Traditionally,[where?] a pair of open iron scissors was placed on the chest of the recently deceased, and straws or twigs might be hidden among their clothes. The big toes were tied together or needles were driven through the soles of the feet in order to keep the dead from being able to walk. Tradition also held that the coffin should be lifted and lowered in three different directions as it was carried from the house to confuse a possible draugr's sense of direction.

The most effective means of preventing the return of the dead was believed[by whom?] to be a corpse door, a special door through which the corpse was carried feet-first with people surrounding it so that the corpse couldn't see where it was going. The door was then bricked up to prevent a return. It is speculated[by whom?] that this belief began in Denmark and spread throughout the Norse culture, founded on the idea that the dead could only leave through the way they entered.

In Eyrbyggja saga, draugar are driven off by holding a "door-doom". One by one, they are summoned to the door-doom and given judgment and forced out of the home by this legal method. The home was then purified with holy water to ensure that they never came back.

Similar creaturesEdit

A variation of the draugr is the haugbui (from Old Norse haugr' "howe, barrow, tumulus") which was a mound-dweller, the dead body living on within its tomb. The notable difference between the two was that the haugbui is unable to leave its grave site and only attacks those who trespass upon their territory.[7]

The haugbui was rarely found far from its burial place and is a type of undead commonly found in Norse sagas. The creature is said to either swim alongside boats or sail around them in a partially submerged vessel, always on their own. In some accounts, witnesses portray them as shapeshifters who take on the appearance of seaweed or moss-covered stones on the shoreline.[25]


Icelandic SagasEdit

One of the best-known draugar is Glámr, who is defeated by the hero in Grettis saga. After Glámr dies on Christmas Eve, "people became aware that Glámr was not resting in peace. He wrought such havoc that some people fainted at the sight of him, while others went out of their minds". After a battle, Grettir eventually gets Glámr on his back. Just before Grettir kills him, Glámr curses Grettir because "Glámr was endowed with more evil force than most other ghosts",[26] and thus he was able to speak and leave Grettir with his curse after his death.

A somewhat ambivalent, alternative view of the draugr is presented by the example of Gunnar Hámundarson in Njáls saga: "It seemed as though the howe was agape, and that Gunnar had turned within the howe to look upwards at the moon. They thought that they saw four lights within the howe, but not a shadow to be seen. Then they saw that Gunnar was merry, with a joyful face."[27][better source needed]

In the Eyrbyggja saga, a shepherd is assaulted by a blue-black draugr. The shepherd's neck is broken during the ensuing scuffle. The shepherd rises the next night as a draugr.[7]


A "draug" from modern Scandinavian folklore[28] aboard a ship, in sub-human form, wearing oilskins

In more recent Scandinavian folklore, the draug (the modern spelling used in Denmark, Norway, and Sweden) is often identified with the spirits of mariners drowned at sea. The creature is said to possess a distinctly human form, with the exception that its head is composed entirely of seaweed. In other tellings, the draug is described as being a headless fisherman, dressed in oilskin and sailing in half a boat (the Norwegian municipality of Bø, Nordland has the half-boat in its coat-of-arms). This trait is common in the northernmost part of Norway, where life and culture was based on fishing more than anywhere else. The reason for this may be that the fishermen often drowned in great numbers, and the stories of restless dead coming in from sea were more common in the north than any other region of the country.

A recorded legend from Trøndelag tells how a cadaver lying on a beach became the object of a quarrel between the two types of draug (headless and seaweed-headed). A similar source even tells of a third type, the gleip, known to hitch themselves to sailors walking ashore and make them slip on the wet rocks.[citation needed]

But, though the draug usually presages death, there is an amusing account in Northern Norway of a northerner who managed to outwit him:

It was Christmas Eve, and Ola went down to his boathouse to get the keg of brandy he had bought for the holidays. When he got in, he noticed a draugr sitting on the keg, staring out to sea. Ola, with great presence of mind and great bravery (it might not be amiss to state that he already had done some drinking), tiptoed up behind the draugr and struck him sharply in the small of the back, so that he went flying out through the window, with sparks hissing around him as he hit the water. Ola knew he had no time to lose, so he set off at a great rate, running through the churchyard which lay between his home and the boathouse. As he ran, he cried, "Up, all you Christian souls, and help me!" Then he heard the sound of fighting between the ghosts and the draugr, who were battling each other with coffin boards and bunches of seaweed. The next morning, when people came to church, the whole yard was strewn with coffin covers, boat boards, and seaweed. After the fight, which the ghosts won, the draugr never came back to that district.[citation needed]

Use in popular cultureEdit

The modern and popular connection between the draug and the sea can be traced back to authors like Jonas Lie and Regine Nordmann, whose works include several books of fairy tales, as well as the drawings of Theodor Kittelsen, who spent some years living in Svolvær. Up north, the tradition of sea-draugs is especially vivid.

Arne Garborg describes land-draugs coming fresh from the graveyards, and the term draug is even used of vampires.[citation needed] The notion of draugs who live in the mountains is present in the poetic works of Henrik Ibsen (Peer Gynt), and Aasmund Olavsson Vinje. The Nynorsk translation of The Lord of the Rings used the term for both Nazgûl and the dead men of Dunharrow. Tolkien's Barrow-Wights bear obvious similarity to, and were inspired by the haugbui. In the video game The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, draugr are the undead skeletal remains of fallen warriors that inhabit the ancient burial sites of a Nordic-inspired race of man. Draugr are a common enemy, the first encountered by the player, in the 2018 video game God of War, with a variety of different powers and abilities.

The exoplanet PSR B1257+12 A has been named "Draugr".

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Polomé, Edgar C.; Adams, Douglas Q. (1997). "Spirit". In Mallory, J. P.; Adams, Douglas Q. (eds.). Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture. Taylor & Francis. p. 538.
  2. ^ Rietz, J. E. Svenskt dialektlexikon, p. 102.
  3. ^ a b Remley, Gregg A. Smith ; with a foreword by Paul G. (2007). The function of the living dead in medieval Norse and Celtic literature : death and desire. Lewiston, New York: Edwin Mellen Press. ISBN 9780773453531.
  4. ^ Palsson and Edwards, Eyrbyggja Saga, p. 187.
  5. ^ Grettirs Saga, p. 115.
  6. ^ a b Magnussen and Palsson, Laxdaela Saga, p. 103
  7. ^ a b c d Curran, Bob (2005). Vampires: A Field Guide to the Creatures that Stalk the Night. Career Press. pp. 81–93. ISBN 978-1-56414-807-0.
  8. ^ Palsson and Edwards, Eyrbyggja Saga, p. 115.
  9. ^ a b Davidson, Hilda Roderick Ellis (1943). The Road to Hel: A Study of the Conception of the Dead in Old Norse Literature. University of Michigan Press. p. 163.
  10. ^ Palsson and Edwards, Eyrbyggja Saga, p. 165.
  11. ^ Laxdaela Saga, p. 80.
  12. ^ Simpson, Jacqueline (1972). Icelandic Folktales and Legends. University of California Press. p. 166. ISBN 978-0-520-02116-7.
  13. ^ Kershaw, p. 68
  14. ^ Chadwick (1946), p. 53.
  15. ^ Fox and Palsson, Grettirs Saga, p. 36.
  16. ^ Davidson, The Road to Hel, p. 161.
  17. ^ Simpson, Icelandic Folktales and Legends, p. 107.
  18. ^ "Viking Answer Lady Webpage - The Walking Dead: Draugr and Aptrgangr in Old Norse Literature". 2005-12-14. Retrieved 2010-07-01.
  19. ^ Fox and Palsson, Grettirs Saga, p. 72.
  20. ^ Magnusson and Palsson, Laxdaela Saga, p. 235.
  21. ^ Gautrek's Saga and Other Medieval Tales, pp. 99-101.
  22. ^ Jakobsson (2011), p. 296.
  23. ^ Jakobsson (2011), p. 295.
  24. ^ Mitchell, Stephen A. (2011). Witchcraft and Magic in the Nordic Middle Ages. University of Pennsylvania Press. pp. 22–23. ISBN 978-0-8122-4290-4.
  25. ^ The Walking Dead: Draugr and Aptrgangr in Old Norse Literature
  26. ^ Scudder (2005).
  27. ^ Njal's saga. Cook, Robert, 1932-2011. London: Penguin. 2001. ISBN 0140447695. OCLC 47938075.CS1 maint: others (link)
  28. ^ Housman, Laurence (illustrations); R. Nisbet Bain (1893 translation); Jonas Lie (original Danish) (1893). Weird Tales from the Northern Seas. Retrieved 2014-03-17.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)


  • Chadwick, N. K. (1946). "Norse ghosts: A study in the Draugr and the Haugbúi". Folklore. 57 (2): 50–65. doi:10.1080/0015587x.1946.9717812.
  • Chadwick, N. K. (1946). "Norse ghosts II". Folklore. 57 (3): 106–127. doi:10.1080/0015587X.1946.9717823.
  • Jakobsson, Ármann (2011). "Vampires and watchmen: Categorizing the mediaeval Icelandic undead". Journal of English and Germanic Philology. 110 (3): 281–300. doi:10.5406/jenglgermphil.110.3.0281.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Jakobsson, Ármann (2009). "The fearless vampire killers: A note about the Icelandic draugr and demonic contamination in Grettis Saga". Folklore. 120 (3): 307–316. doi:10.1080/00155870903219771.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Scudder, Bernard (trans.) (1997). Egils Saga. Penguin Group.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Scudder, Bernard (trans.) (2005). The Saga of Grettir the Strong. Penguin Group.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)

External linksEdit