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 the Scandinavian saga literature and folktale.
Commentators extend the term draugr to the undead in medieval literature, even if it is never explicitly referred to as that in the text, and designated them rather as a haugbúi ("barrow-dweller") or an aptrganga, literally "again-walker" (Icelandic: afturganga).
Draugar live in their graves or royal palaces, often guarding treasure buried with them in their burial mound. They are revenants, or animated corpses with a corporeal body, rather than ghosts which possess intangible spiritual bodies.
Old Norse draugr is defined as "a ghost, spirit, esp. the dead inhabitant of a cairn". Often the draugr is regarded not so much as a ghost but a revenant, i.e., the reanimated of the deceased inside the burial mound (as in the example of Kárr inn gamli in Grettis saga).
The draugr was referred to as "as barrow-wight" in the 1869 translation of Grettis saga, long before J. R. R. Tolkien employed this term in his novels, though "barrow-wight" is actually a rendering of haugbúinn (literally the ‘howe-dweller’), otherwise translated as "barrow-dweller".[a]
Cognates and etymologyEdit
Unlike Kárr inn gamli (Kar the Old) in Grettis saga, who is specifically called a draugr, Glámr the ghost in the same saga is never explicitly called a draugr in the text, though called a "troll" in it.[b] Yet Glámr is still routinely referred to as a draugr.
Beings not specifically called draugar, but actually only referred to as aptrgǫngur (‘revenants’, pl. of aptrganga) and reimleikar (‘haunting’) in these medieval sagas[c] are still commonly discussed as a draugr in various scholarly works, or the draugar and the haugbúar are lumped into one.
A further caveat is that the application of the term draugr may not necessarily follow what the term might have meant in the strict sense during medieval times, but rather follow a modern definition or notion of draugr, specifically such ghostly beings (by whatever names they are called) that occur in Icelandic folktales categorized as "Draugasögur" in Jón Árnason's collection, based on the classification groundwork laid by Konrad Maurer.
- Ghost with physical body
The draugr has also been conceived of as a type of "vampire" by folktale anthologist Andrew Lang in the late 1897, with the idea further pursued by more modern commentators. The focus here is not on blood-sucking, which is not attested for the draugr, but rather, contagiousness or transmittable nature of vampirism, that is to say, how a vampire begets another by turning his or her attack victim into one of his own kind. Sometimes the chain of contagion becomes an outbreak, e.g., the case of Þórólfr bægifótr (Thorolf Lame-foot or Twist-Foot), and even called an "epidemic" regarding Þórgunna (Thorgunna).[d]
A more speculative case of vampirism is that of Glámr, who was asked to tend sheep for a haunted farmstead and was subsequently found dead with his neck and every bone in his body broken.[e] It has been surmised by commentators that Glámr by "contamination" was turned into an undead (draugr) by whatever being was haunting the farm.
Draugar usually possessed superhuman strength, and was "generally hideous to look at", bearing a necrotic black color, and was associated with a "reek of decay" or more precisely inhabited haunts that often issued foul stench.
The draugar were said to be either hel-blár ("death-blue") or nár-fölr ("corpse-pale"), to state it in shorthand. Glámr when found dead was described as "blár sem Hel en digr sem naut (black as hell and bloated to the size of a bull)".[f] Þórólfr Lame-foot, when lying dormant, looked "uncorrupted" and also "was black as death [i.e., bruised black and blue] and swollen to the size of an ox". The close similarity of these descriptions have been noted. 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".
Þráinn (Thrain) the berserker of Valland "turned himself into a troll" in Hrómundar saga Gripssonar was a fiend (dólgr) which was "black and huge.. roaring loudly and blowing fire", and moreover, possessed long scratching claws, and the claws stuck in the neck, prompting the hero Hrómundr to refer to the dragur as a sort of cat (Old Norse: kattakyn). The long claw is a common trait of another revenant, Ásviðr (Aswitus) who came to life in the night and attacked his foster-brother Ásmundr (Asmundus) with the claws, scratching the face and tearing an ear.[g]
The mound where Kárr the Old was entombed reeked horribly. In Harðar saga Hörðr Grímkelsson’s two underlings die even before entering Sóti the Viking's mound, due to the "gust and stink (ódaun)" wafting out of it.[h]
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.
The undead Víga-Hrappr Sumarliðason (Killer-Hrapp) of Laxdaela saga, unlike the typical guardian of a treasure hoard, does not stay put in his burial place but roams around his farmstead of Hrappstaðir, menacing the living. Víga-Hrappr's ghost, it has been suggested, was capable of transforming into the seal with human-like eyes which appeared before Þorsteinn svarti/surt (Thorsteinn the Black) sailing by ship, and was responsible for the sinking of the ship to prevent the family from reaching Hrappstaðir. The ability to shape-shift has been ascribed to Icelandic ghosts generally, particularly into the shape of a seal.
A draugr in Icelandic folktales collected in the modern age can also change into 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 victim suffocated.
Other magical abilitiesEdit
Draugar have the ability to enter into the dreams of the living, and they will frequently leave a gift behind so that "the living person may be assured of the tangible nature of the visit". 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 they did not appear to be vulnerable to sunlight like some other revenants. Draugr can also kill people with bad luck.
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. 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.
Behaviour and characterEdit
Any mean, nasty, or greedy person can become a draugr. As Ármann Jakobsson notes, "most medieval Icelandic ghosts are evil or marginal people. If not dissatisfied or evil, they are unpopular".
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.
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.
Animals feeding near the grave of a draugr might be driven mad by the creature's influence. They may also die from being driven mad. Thorolf, for example, caused birds to drop dead when they flew over his bowl barrow.
Sitting posture and evil eyeEdit
The main indication that a deceased person will become a draugr is that the corpse is not in a horizontal position but is found standing upright (Víga-Hrappr), or in a sitting position (Þórólfr), indicating that the dead might return. Ármann Jakobsson suggests further that breaking the draugr's posture is a necessary or helpful step in destroying the draugr, but this is fraught with the risk of being inflicted with the evil eye, whether this is explictly told in the case of Grettir who receives the curse from Glámr, or only implied in the case of Þórólfr, whose son warns the others to beware while they unbend Þórólfr's seated posture.
Means of preventionEdit
This section needs additional citations for verification. (October 2018)
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.
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.
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.
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", 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."[better source needed]
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.
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.
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. 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. Draugr appear as an enemies in the 2021 early access game Valheim, where they take the more recent, seaweed version of the Draug.
- Icelandic "Sótti haugbúinn með kappi" is rendered "the barrow-wight setting on with hideous eagerness" in Eiríkur Magnússon & Morris (trr.) (1869).
- Ármann Jakobsson notes that in this and comparable instances, the term "troll" designates some sort of revenant, more specifically the human undead. Since the term can also mean ‘demon’, the sense is ambiguous.
- Besides Glámr, other examples are Víga-Hrappr Sumarliðason in Laxdæla saga; Þórólfr bægifótr (lame-foot) or the ghosts of Fróðá in Eyrbyggja saga.
- Both these occur in the Eyrbyggja saga.
- Note similarity to a shepherd killed by Thorolf's ghost, also found with every bone broken.
- The color is literally‘blue’, thus "blue as hell, and great as a neat" is the rendering in Eiríkur Magnússon & Morris (trr.) (1869), p. 99.
- As related by Saxo Grammaticus, hence the Latinized names.
- Also Þráinn's " barrow was filled with a horrible stench" in Hrómundar saga Gripssonar.
- Cleasby; Vigfusson edd. (1974) An Icelandic-English dictionary. s. v. draugr
- Langeslag, P. S. (2015). Seasons in the Literatures of the Medieval North. Boydell & Brewer. p. 118. ISBN 9781843844259.
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- Williams, Howard (2006). Death and Memory in Early Medieval Britain. Cambridge University Press. p. 172. ISBN 9781139457934.
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- Eiríkur Magnússon & Morris (trr.) (1869). Ch. 18. p. 48
- Boer (ed.) (1900), Cap. 18, p. 65
- PCRN project and Skaldic project (2014). "[excerpt from] Gr ch. 18b: Living in gravemounds". Pre-Christian Religions of the North: Sources. Retrieved 2020-11-17.
- Rietz, J. E. Svenskt dialektlexikon, p. 102.
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- Boer (ed.) (1900), Cap. 18, p. 65
- Scudder (tr.) (2005).
- Kárr is called a draugr by Grettir when he sings a verse to reply to the question of how he gained the treasure sword. This was rendered "In the barrow where that thing .. fell" in the 1869 translation, and "in a murky mound.. a ghost was felled then " by Scudder.
- Ármann Jakobsson (2011), p. 284.
- Ármann Jakobsson (2011), p. 285.
- Sayers, William (1994). "The arctic desert (Helluland) in Bárðar saga" (PDF). Scandinavian-Canadian Studies/Études scandinaves au Canada. 7: 11 and notes.
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- Ármann Jakobsson (2009).
- Caciola (1996), p. 28.
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- Ármann Jakobsson (2011), pp. 281–282.
- It is pointed out that the lexicographer Guðbrandur Vigfússon (who defined draugr as 'ghost' in his dictionary) wrote the preface to Jón Árnason's folklore collection.
- Ármann Jakobsson (2009), p. 284.
- "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".
- Ármann Jakobsson (2009), p. 311.
- Keyworth (2006), p. 244: "there is no mention of draugrs being swollen with the supposed blood of their victims".
- Ármann Jakobsson (2009), p. 313: "Vampirism is transmittable, to which Þórólfr bægifótr's many victims bear witness".
- Pálsson & Edwards (trr.) (1973). Eyrbyggja Saga, "Ch. 34: Thorolf's ghost". p. 115ff.; "Ch. 63: Thorolf comes back from the Dead". p. 186ff.
- Caciola (1996), p. 15: "Thorgunna's death also brought on what might be called an epidemic of aggressive revenants".
- Pálsson & Edwards (trr.) (1973). Eyrbyggja Saga, "Ch. 51: Thorgunna dies", p. 158 – "Ch. 54 More ghosts", p. 166ff
- Eiríkur Magnússon & Morris (trr.) (1869). Grettis saga. p. 102
- Pálsson & Edwards (trr.) (1973). Eyrbyggja Saga, "Ch. 34: Thorolf's ghost".
- Ármann Jakobsson (2009), pp. 310–311: "This creature [evil spirit] contaminates Glámr"; Ármann Jakobsson (2011), p. 297: " some kind of infection is also apparent in the account of Glámr".
- Lindow (1976), p. 95.
- Smith (2007), p. 15.
- Curran (2005), p. 82.
- Curran (2005), p. 82–83.
- Ármann Jakobsson (2011), pp. 291–292.
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- Boer (1898), p. 55.
- Magnusson & Pálsson (trr.) (1969), Laxdaela Saga, p. 235.
- Bennett (2014), p. 44.
- Chadwick (1921)/Kershaw (1921) The Saga of Hromund Greipsson, p. 68
- Davidson, H. R. Ellis (September 1958). "Weland the Smith Burial Practices as Sites of Cultural Memory in the Íslendingasögur". Folklore. 69 (3): 154–155. JSTOR 1258855.
- Clemoes & Dickins (1959) p. 188
- Andrews (1912–1913) p. 603–604
- Jón Hnefill Aðalsteinsson (1987) pp. 9–10
- Ármann Jakobsson (2011), p. 291, n43.
- Boer (ed.) (1900) Grettis saga Kap. XVIII, p. 125; Eiríkur Magnússon & Morris (trr.) (1869) Ch. 18, p. 47: "þeygi þefgott (and smell there was therein none of the sweetest)". Literally þeyg ‘not’+ þefr ‘smell’+ gott ‘good’.
- Ármann Jakobsson (2011), p. 291, n42, citing Harðar saga. Þórhallur Vilmundarson; Bjarni Vilhjálmsson (edd.), p. 40.
- 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.
- Ármann Jakobsson (2011), p. 290.
- Magnusson & Pálsson (trr.) (1969), Laxdaela Saga, Ch. 18, pp. 79–80; introduction, p. 12; index of names, p. 255
- Magnusson & Pálsson (trr.) (1969), p.78, n1
- Keyworth (2007), p. 71.
- Caciola (1996), p. 33, n102.
- Jón Árnason (1972). Simpson, Jacqueline (ed.). Icelandic Folktales and Legends. University of California Press. p. 166. ISBN 978-0-520-02116-7.
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- Magnusson & Pálsson (trr.) (1969), Laxdaela Saga, p. 103
- Simpson, Icelandic Folktales and Legends, p. 107.
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- Gautrek's Saga and Other Medieval Tales, pp. 99-101.
- CITEREFPálssonEdwards_(trr.)1973. Eyrbyggja Saga, p. 115.
- Curran (2005), pp. 81–93
- Ármann Jakobsson (2011), p. 296.
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