There are witches, werewolves, ghouls, and the undead here.
“Samhain” (also known as “Halloween”) is an old Celtic holy day that many people are aware of. People from Ireland began bringing their traditions and rituals to the United States in the 18th and 19th centuries, and as a result, St. Patrick’s Day has grown into one of the most beautiful celebrations in the world. The Celtic and Viking ways of life have influenced some of the most popular aspects of Halloween that we know today. These legends are explained briefly in this article, which focuses on how the Vikings (and/or Norse mythology) had an impact on Halloween.
In truth, the Vikings were not the first to believe in witches and their powers. There are numerous examples of this in literature spanning multiple ages. Norse mythology has influenced the picture of witches that is prevalent at Halloween.
Witchcraft was revered by the Vikings, who had complete faith in its efficacy and strength. In their language, Old Norse, there are roughly forty different terms for magic and individuals who practice it. One of the most revered deities in Norse mythology, Freyja was a master of magic and a teacher to Odin. In Eddic poetry, Freyja is often referred to as “the witch,” and she was vilified by Christians in the centuries that followed. Cats pulled Freyja’s chariot as she traveled. Silent, perceptive, and cruel, these creatures served as messengers. A raven-like black bird in the sky can be taken as a sign from Odin, while a black cat might be taken as a message from the goddess Freya by a Viking.
In Norse mythology, diviners such as witches, wizards, and other magic users were revered as gods. As archaeologists have discovered in Viking-era cemeteries, many of the funerary items in the graves belonged to magicians. A witch’s grave is marked by an iron staff. When a witch entered a trance induced by a Völva magician, iron instruments were held between her legs with this position. The witch’s “inner souls” departed her body at that point, and no longer resided within her! (those who practice occult sciences today call this “astral projection”). The Havamal (Sayings of the Great Master) contains a section that mentions this:
The tenth spell I know how to cast.
If I see witches, I’ll call the police.
This spell is one that I am capable of casting.
So that they get lost.
As a result, they are unable to locate their skin.
So they are unable to locate their souls.
We can assume that later Christians would hold the concept that witches could fly on broomsticks if the magicians of Viking times used their iron rod to move through their own bodies.
It was in this context that the clergy of the north had a different view of witches than did the men of the north, who revered them and only sought their help when necessary. There was no disappearance of witchcraft. In Iceland, witchcraft has been around for a long time, however it has evolved over time and taken bits and pieces from different civilizations.
However, it is not only medieval Christianity that has changed our perspective of witches from the healer to the bad and cursed one. Witches of the “wicked” variety abound in Viking mythology. Odin or Freyja’s necromancy has awakened her from a long sleep in three poems from the Eddic age, in which she is forced to share her learning with the gods, despite the fact that she despises them. They were known as “troll women” because they were Jötnar, not human women. Troll ladies aren’t mentioned in any of the stories that go into great detail. However, they are frequently referred to as dead or mutilated ladies.
WOLF-GAROS: That’s a good question.
The Vikings held that superior entities, as well as humans, were capable of changing their forms. Examples include Odin, who turns into a bird in order to steal the poetry of mead; Loki, who turns into an equine mother and gives birth to the horse Sleipnir; Fafnir, who turns into a dragon in order to satisfy his lust for power; and other cases in which good men become fish, oviparous, otters, birds and seals, as well as bears. The werewolf, on the other hand, was the most well-known and dreaded of them all.
Vikings aren’t the originators of werewolf folklore, but we can’t rule them out either. Even so, he occupies a distinct position in the Nordic mythology.
The Vikings had a wide variety of werewolves. Most notably in the Volsunga tales
One of these fables is the Volsunga saga. The Vikings, according to Islandasagur’s tales, had a strong belief in the existence of werewolves.
Viking “werewolves” existed in the form of historical figures. Berserkers, ferocious bear-inspired warriors devoted to Odin, were a common sight in Viking battle scenes. Besides the lfhenar, they also had a group of aristocrats known as the lfhenar (literally, “wolf skins”). According to poetry and art from the Viking Age and older Vendel period, little is known about these Viking wolf warriors. These warriors are depicted as bold and wild in their depictions. Wolf-like features allow them to scare off their foes.
As a result, there are many different depictions of Viking werewolves, each with its own level of veracity. Traditionally, werewolves and the full moon were not linked in the Nordic culture. Being bitten by another werewolf does not make you a werewolf, as is commonly believed. However, we can discern a connection between the wolf’s nature and the darkness in the legends. “Werewolf personality” may be seen clearly in Kveldulf, who is a mysterious loner with an unpleasant temper. Sigmund and Sinfjotli’s story shows how human nature is dominated by the wolf’s wild nature and the human intellect fights to control it. In the best werewolf tales of today, all of these elements are still prevalent.
It’s time to talk about ghosts, ghouls, and the dead!
When it comes to Norse mythology, it is widely accepted that courageous warriors went to Valhalla, while the rest of the population went to Hel (the underworld). Self-disclosure was a complex process for the Vikings. These pieces were mobile, and so were the various locations they may visit. This allowed a lot of leeway in the Viking imagination for ghosts and the undead.
Many Eddic sagas and poetry feature ghost stories. They may appear to the living in their nightmares or even haunt their grave mounds, depending on the circumstances. According to the Saga of Njal, there is a ghost who sits on top of his burial mound and sings at night, appearing to be content. This reveals how the Vikings felt about their ancestors, and how they viewed them as still present.
In Eddic’s poem, Helgaknitha Hundingsbana II (the second poem of Helgi, the slayer of Hunding), the haunting is depicted in a more gloomy light. Resurrected hero Helgi arrives back at his burial mound on an unnamed night from Valhalla. Helgi’s spirit is a real thing and still bleeds from his battle wounds. His devastated widow, Sigrun, spends the night in his arms within the frigid grave. Sigrun returns to the graveyard night after night, but it is unknown if Helgi will ever return. She eventually dies of her grief. The poem ends with these lines, “All the dead are more powerful at night than during the day.”
But some ghosts are not lost loved ones who come from beyond the grave. The Vikings believed in beings called Draugr (also called Aptrganga or “after-walker”), a malevolent ghost with a physical form. This undead being was usually an evil man who died in an evil way. It was recognizable as the dead but had grotesque features, bluish skin and eyes that could render a man motionless with fear. They had an otherworldly strength. They could sometimes appear much larger than they were when alive and were usually described as inexplicably heavy.
Sometimes the Draugr was content to keep its treasure in its burial mound, but others terrorized farms or haunted a specific area. Embodying the bad luck that could befall farms in the Viking world, the Draugr would kill livestock, horses or pets. They could cause roofs to collapse or other disasters. Sometimes the Draugr would kill people directly, especially if challenged. Shepherds, servants, or cattle drivers were found dead, and when their bodies were inspected, all the bones – large and small – were found to be broken.
One of the most detailed accounts of these “Viking zombies” is found in the Grettir Saga. Grettir is an outlaw and anti-hero, but he is a fearless Viking of great physical strength. Early in his life, he confronts a Draugr in a burial mound and kills him, earning the short sword (seax) that was buried with him. Years later, however, Grettir confronts Glam, a very dangerous and malevolent Draugr. Grettir beheads Glam, but not before Glam puts a heavy curse on him. This curse will cause Grettir trouble and tragedy for the rest of his life, and always after the powerful Viking is afraid of the dark.
According to the Grettir Saga and other sources, the Viking method of killing the undead was not to drive a stake through the heart or into the fire, but rather to cut off the head of the monster and place it near his ass. Interestingly, archaeologists have found several Viking-era graves in which the skull was found between the legs of the skeleton, just below the pelvis. Other remains have been found weighed down with heavy stones to hold the dead where they lay.
Halloween is a holiday where our culture collectively acknowledges our fear and the fragile barrier between the natural and the supernatural. These traditions come most directly from Celtic lore, but similar celebrations and sensibilities can be found across many eras and peoples. This shows how much these thoughts and feelings are part of the human experience. Modern Halloween is a blend of many old and new traditions. This is a time, however, when the legacy of the Vikings is readily apparent in the stories we tell. When we study the legends of the past, we find that we may not have changed much.