In Norse mythology, a fylgja (Old Norse: [ˈfylɡjɑ], plural fylgjur [ˈfylɡjuz̠]) is a supernatural being or spirit which accompanies a person in connection to their fate or fortune.[1] They can appear to a person in one sleep as dream-women, or appear while awake, often as a disembodied spiritual form of an enemy.

Etymology edit

The word fylgja means "to accompany".[2] The term fylgja is typically translated into English as "fetch", a similar being from Irish folklore.[3]

The term fylgja also has the meaning of "afterbirth, caul", and it has been argued by Gabriel Turville-Petre[4] (cf. § Placenta origins) that the concept of the supernatural fylgja cannot be completely dissociated from this secondary meaning; in fact, there may well be a connection to the hamr, referring to the skin used by shapeshifters (hamramr, cf. fjaðrhamr).[2][3]

Description edit

The fylgia is a ghost who associates with (or, for a lack of better word, stalks or shadows) a particular individual,[5] and may be characterized as a "guardian spirit".[6][1] However, contrary to its name meaning 'follower', it generally moves ahead, making some sort of "contact" with the individual before they arrive at some key spot.[5] And yet the fylgja will follow after the individual when that person is near death.[7]

A fylgia is sometimes associated with a particular family or clan, and is then called an ættarfylgja (pl. ættarfylgjur 'family followers'). And a closely related type of fylgia is the "dream woman", as appears in Gísla saga (Cf. § Sleep and dreams below).[8] It is contended that the Icelandic mar or mara (the folkloric "[night]mare") is a dream fylgja which has strayed from its assigned host and visiting the dreams of others, which tend to be more sinister than when visiting its usual host or ward.[9]

The fylgja is said to take on either an animal form or a female human form, and this is due to a conflation of two distinct types of spirits, according to Else Mundal; the term fylgja, she argues, was first associated with the animal spirit, then later applied to the woman-spirit type.[1]

Placenta origins edit

The Icelandic word fylgja can also mean "placenta" or "afterbirth of a child"[4] and the folkloric supernatural connection made between child and afterbirth may be the origins of the fylgja as a concept.[10] According to some, the fylgja takes on the form of whatever animal that first showed itself and consumed the newborn baby's afterbirths, hence, such creatures take on the forms of such carnivores, as mice, sheep, dogs, foxes, cats, and raptors, birds of prey, or carrion eaters.[4]

Animal forms edit

Thus, while the fylgja usually was a lady ghost, in the shape of women, it sometimes took on the shape of animals (also female animals according to Mundal[1][a]). The animal fylgja typically came in the form of a dog, but also as various other land or even sea creatures,[11]

The particular animal type that the fylgja takes on may reflect the character of the person they represent, akin to a totem animal. Hence fox-like fylgja shadowed a deceitful person, a swan-like from shadowed a beautiful woman.[12] Men who were viewed as a leader would often have fylgja to show their true character. This means that if they had a "tame nature", their fylgja would typically be an ox, goat, or boar. If they had an "untame nature" they would have fylgjur such as a fox, wolf, deer, bear, eagle, falcon, leopard, lion, or a serpent.[13]

The animal fylgja is also said to appear in front of its owner, often in dreams, and offer portents of events to come. As such it is a representation of the future itself, not the character of a person. Like a person's fate the fylgja is not changeable, nor can it improve or act on its own.[14]

Fylgjur may also "mark transformations between human and animal"[13] or shape shifting. In Egil's Saga, there are references to both Egil and Skallagrim transforming into wolves or bears, and there are examples of shape shifting in the Saga of King Hrolf Kraki, where Bodvar Bjarki turns into a bear during a battle as a last stand. These transformations are possibly implied in the saga descriptions of berserkers who transform into animals or display bestial abilities.[15]

Else Mundal has argued that the animal fylga and the woman-ghost type fylgja are of different origins, and the solitary animal fylga is actually that individual's alter ego present since birth, which perishes together when that person dies. [17]

Occurrences edit

Fylgjur usually appear in the form of an animal or a human and commonly appear during sleep, but the sagas relate that they could appear while a person is awake as well, and that seeing one's fylgja is an omen of one's impending death. When fylgjur appear in the form of women, they are then supposedly guardian spirits for people or clans (ættir). And according to Else Mundal, the female fylgja could also be considered a dís, a ghost or goddess that is attached to fate.[1]

Sleep and dreams edit

Fylgjur commonly appear during sleep.

In Gísla saga, the title hero Gísla Surrson is visited upon by two beautiful fylgjur, one bearing good omen, and the other one ill-boding and trying to edge him towards violence. These two are dream-women (draumkona), as already described, and mentioned as an example of Norse fetches by several authorities.[8][18] These two women could represent the women ancestors of Gisli's family ties, such as the ties between his wife Aud and his sister Thordis, relating to the idea of the Hamingja and Dís.[citation needed] The good 'dream-woman' and the bad here are also difficult to distinguish from the dísir according to Carolyne Larrington.[19][b]

It is hardly surprising in medieval context that a dream message should have prognosticating context, giving warning about the person's fate. Both Andy Orchard and Rudolf Simek note parallels between the concept of the female guardian hamingja—a personification of a family's or individual's fortune—and the fylgja.[21][22]

In another saga example, Atli of Otradalr dreams of a vixen leading a pack of 18 wolves. The ensuing attack was led by the "most wicked wizard in the whole of the region" (Hávarðar saga Ísfirðings, i.e. "Saga of Hávarður of Ísafjörður[23]). This is a fylgja or fetch example discussed by G. Turville-Petre, etc.[4][24]

A rare or even uniquely surviving case of the horse-fylgja occurs in Vatnsdæla saga.[25] Here, the dreamer (Ingólfr Þorsteinsson) sees himself riding on a red horse, which he optimistically regards as a good portent. But his wife disagrees, and explains the horse to be a marr (mentioned above, ≈nightmare, mare), and is a man's fetch, furthermore, the red color betrays bloody-mindedness. She unsuccessfully tries to dissuade him from attending the meeting to select the chieftain (goði), and though Ingólfr is elected, he is immediately killed by an assassinator.[26]

Waking appearances edit

The sagas also relate that they could appear while a person is awake as well, and that seeing one's fylgja is an omen of one's impending death.

Thus in Hallfreðar saga, its protagonist Hallfreðr vandræðaskáld ("the troublesome-poet") had a vision of a woman clad in armour whom he recognized to be his own fylgjukona and he perceived that her appearance signified his imminent death aboard the ship.[27]

Folktales edit

Skotta and móri edit

In Jón Árnason's classification, he placed the "fylgja" branch of stories under the broader class of "draugr" ('ghost' or "goblin stories" [28]); and under this "fylgja" branch (fylgjur or "followers"[6]) he collected many stories of ghosts which were of the female skotta and male móri types.[29] However, modern commentators have distinguished the móri and the skotta as wicked ghosts, which are separate from the fylgja.[31]

The name skotta is explained from their odd habit of wearing the faldur, the woman's headdress Icelandic national costume: instead of wearing it curved forward as she is supposed to, she wears a brown-red[c] faldur curled backward like a tail (skott, "tail"). She also wears red stockings and sucks her fingers, but, otherwise, she is dressed properly and conducts herself normally.[32][33][34]

Just as the skotta favored wearing a brown[ish] faldur, the male móri were also characterized by their wearing brown (mór) clothing, hence this particular appellation. Though the móri was also known by other names such as lalli, or goggur or by other kennings.[32][35]

See also edit

Notes edit

  1. ^ Cf. the example of the vixen representing a wizard in the Hávarðar saga Ísfirðings example below.
  2. ^ Jón Árnason's introduction to the "Fylgjur" section notes that the fylgja is also called dís, citing Fornmanna sögur II: 195.[20]
  3. ^ Icelandic: mórauð

References edit

  1. ^ a b c d e Mundal (1974), Summarized and translated @ Kvilhaug, Maria (handle:Lady of the Labyrinth). "Fylgjur – guardian spirits and ancestral mothers". Bladehoner. Retrieved 4 March 2024.
  2. ^ a b Grundy, Stephan (1998). "Shapeshifting and Berserkergang". In Poster, Carol; Utz, Richard J. (eds.). Translation, Transformation and Transubstantiation in the Late Middle Ages. Northwestern University Press. pp. 110–112. ISBN 9780810116467.
  3. ^ a b Ogden, Daniel (2021). The Werewolf in the Ancient World. Oxford University Press. p. 117. ISBN 9780192596284.
  4. ^ a b c d Turville-Petre, G. (June 1958). "Dreams in Icelandic Tradition". Folklore. 69 (2): 99. JSTOR 1258718.
  5. ^ a b c Swatos, William H., Jr.; Gissurarson, Loftur Reimar (1997). Icelandic Spiritualism: Mediumship and Modernity in Iceland. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers. p. 48–49. ISBN 9781412825771.
  6. ^ a b Jón Árnason, Powell (tr.) & Magnússon (tr.) (1866), p. lxxix.
  7. ^ Jón Árnason, Powell (tr.) & Magnússon (tr.) (1866), p. lxxxii.
  8. ^ a b Jón Árnason, Powell (tr.) & Magnússon (tr.) (1866), pp. lxxix–lxxx.
  9. ^ Jón Árnason, Powell (tr.) & Magnússon (tr.) (1866), p. lxxx.
  10. ^ Jón Árnason, Powell (tr.) & Magnússon (tr.) (1866), pp. lxxx–lxxxi.
  11. ^ Jón Árnason, Powell (tr.) & Magnússon (tr.) (1866), pp. lxxxi–lxxxii.
  12. ^ Jón Árnason, Powell (tr.) & Magnússon (tr.) (1866), p. lxxxi.
  13. ^ a b Andrén, Anders; Jennbert, Kristina; Raudvere, Catharina (2006). Old Norse religion in long-term perspectives; The heroized dead. Nordic Academic Press. pp. 137–138.
  14. ^ Brink, Stefan (2008). The Viking World. London: Routledge. pp. 239. ISBN 978-0-415-33315-3.[dead link]
  15. ^ "Bodvar Bjarke". Nordisk familjebok. Retrieved June 1, 2019.
  16. ^ (Review author) Brønner, Hedin (Summer 1976). "Fylgjemotiva i norrøn litteratur, Else Mundal". Scandinavian Studies. 48 (3): 335–337. JSTOR 40918612.
  17. ^ Mundal (1974), reviewed in English by Brønner.[16]
  18. ^ Turville-Petre (1958), p. 100.
  19. ^ Larrington, Carolyne (1997). "Hose". The Woman's Companion to Mythology. Pandora. p. 132. ISBN 9780044409922.
  20. ^ Jón Árnason (1862), p. 354.
  21. ^ Orchard, Andy (1997) Dictionary of Norse Myth and Legend (Cassell) ISBN 0-304-34520-2
  22. ^ Simek, Rudolf (2007) . Translated by Angela Hall. Dictionary of Northern Mythology. (D.S. Brewer) ISBN 0-85991-513-1
  23. ^ "The Story of Howard the Halt - Icelandic Saga Database". Icelandic Saga Database. Retrieved 2015-11-21.
  24. ^ Kelchner (1935), p. 20.
  25. ^ Kelchner (1935), p. 21.
  26. ^ Kelchner (1935), pp. 20–21.
  27. ^ Davidson, Hilda Roderick Ellis (2013) [1943]. The Road to Hel: A Study of the Conception of the Dead in Old Norse Literature. Cambridge University Press. p. 130. ISBN 9781107632349.
  28. ^ Jón Árnason, Powell (tr.) & Magnússon (tr.) (1866), p. lxviii.
  29. ^ Jón Árnason (1862), "2. Flokkur Draguasögur". "3. Grein. Fylgjur", pp. 354–404
  30. ^ Dempsey, Corinne G. (2017). Bridges Between Worlds: Spirits and Spirit Work in Northern Iceland. Oxford University Press. p. 28 and n18. ISBN 9780190625030.
  31. ^ Dempsey (2017), p. 28[30] quoting Swatos & Gissurarson (1997), p. 48[5]
  32. ^ a b Jón Árnason (1862), p. 359.
  33. ^ Jón Árnason, Powell (tr.) & Magnússon (tr.) (1866), p. lxxxiii.
  34. ^ Bjarnason, Brigitte (2022). Auf den Spuren von Hexern und Geistern in Island: Sagen, Mythen und Legenden. Mit Reisetipps. Hamburg: Acabus Verlag. ISBN 9783862828265.
  35. ^ Jón Árnason, Powell (tr.) & Magnússon (tr.) (1866), p. lxxxiii–lxxxiv.

Bibliography edit

Further reading edit