Seven Souls: Old Northern Soul Perceptions
Updated: May 30
The polytheistic mindset of Northern Europe had perceptions of self which was closer to the idea of "psyche," which is a nuanced, complex and poly-sensory notion of the self.
Folklorist studying the notion of self-hood in the sagas and folktales have rediscovered these many different aspects to the self, this material is ambiguous and can sometimes overlap with each other, it is written to be in the service to the imagination and not to be seen as a systemic pattern, but rather an overview of these concepts we see in the folkloric material which makes for some fascinating insights:
The first "self-entity" we read about is called Hug: it can be translated as something that drives our thoughts, desires and emotions. The hug is part of the personality of the person. Everyone carries a hug (note also that "hugin" is one of the raven's who sits on Odin's shoulder, where he is personalised as "thought.")
Our hug helps us through the many challenges we confront in our lives. But our hug can also be stolen or weakened: if our desire is weak, or the mood is low, then you may have been "hug-stolen" - this was usually blamed by a supernatural entity who has come and fed on your thoughts and desires - they were known as hug-biters. When your will-power is low, it can be an indication that your hug has been compromised or attacked. Depression, in this context, can be seen as being a major "hug-thief." With the help of folk magic and other cunning ways, you can try and empower the hug of a person. The conscious desire to change or transform the hug can be seen as the basis for Northern magic.
It was believed, and it still is believed in many parts of Scandinavia, that the hug can change both animate and inanimate objects. Most of the descriptions about the changes of a hug are collected in the folktales. (see "Nordic Folklore, Recent Studies, edited by Reimund Kvideland and Henning K. Sehmsdorf).
The hug is able to wander outside of the body. When it is outside of the body then it activates another part of ourselves called the "ham." The ham, in occult studies and practices, would be associated with the astral body. When both hug and ham are linked, we have a "hug-ham." According to folklorist Bente G. Alver, there can be three shapes to the hug-ham:
- The shape of the person
- The shape of an animal
- An abstract shape, mist or light
The hug-ham can go on many adventures, both within our imaginations and outside in the "real" world. For those of you who have experienced trance and journeying or strong mind-alterations, those would be experiences of taking on the shape of the hug-ham. Similar to many shamanic traditions around the world, a hug-ham can perform a magic-flight to accomplish something, or to find something that is lost, to access knowledge, open portals, communicate with the spirits - this hug-ham transformation can be unconsciously created or it can also be vital and conscious.
When it is conscious and directed it becomes witchcraft. The witch being the master at exercising her hug-ham travels in the shape of animals, or any other animate shapes. The witches differ from most in that they have the capacity to use their hug-ham at will. Most of us who have experienced the sensations at leaving our bodies and travelling into other realms do so often without the capacity to navigate with the hug-ham; we end up being tossed between the waves in the astral ocean. Many experience this when in highly altered states.
The ability to navigate your hug and to use it at will requires practice and is a gift from the Gods such travelling is not meant to be for all, it was done by few of who were called for that work.
The fylgja is another part of the self which can be viewed as the equivalent of the "totem animal" that exist all across the world. The word fylgja means "to accompany," it is the same word as the "fetch" in Irish folklore.
In the sagas the fylgjas takes on the shape and character of their owners, a loud and burly man would be associated with a bear, or a doe-eyed girl with a fawn, a crafty person with a fox. Fylgjas accompany you at birth and death. They are not controllable as the hug-self is, the fylgjas have an independent will.
In the larger mythic imagination animal powers bring forth the original instruction about the purpose of your life, they know the answer to the question: why are you here? They are sometimes depicted across cultures as sitting on the branches of the World-Tree, calling out the reasons for your birth into the material world and giving instructions. Trouble is, the amniotic birth goes through the "great waters of forgetting," we forget the original instructions and then spend most our lives trying to find them again.
One remarkable insight about the fylgja is its role in dreams. In folkloric studies this has been called the "dream self" at times. When your body is rested and asleep your fylgja leaves and goes out into the nine worlds, flying, running on four legs, or swimming in the sea. The experiences that the fylgja is having whilst it is travelling translates directly as your own dreaming self.
The dreams you have at night is the experience the fylgja is having as it leaves your body when you are asleep. When you wake the fylgja comes back into your body and your dreams have been the fylgja's experience of the world. The fylgja is also described as the dreaming soul.
Another important part of the self is the word "ward." Ward comes from the word Vård in Swedish. The ward is regarded as a memory entity which stays behind in the places where people have died. In the Eddas, Odin is often out there bargaining with the ward of a witch, trying to get information. Accessing the information of the ward can be seen as the original form of necromancy. When we access the ward of a person we access their memory and gain important information about the person's life. Anyone who has gone to the graves of ancestors or loved ones, often feels the compulsion to speak out loud as the presence of their ward can be strong. In the large grave mounds this can be especially powerful and overwhelming. From experience and speaking with other people, the ward is particularly raised and present when we speak of stories associated with place. If the memory is strong enough, the ward can be beheld and its appearance mistaken for a ghost.
Another part of the multi-self is the Ond. Closely associated with the "force" of Odin or the Odic force. This part of the self was studied in detail by Baron Carl von Reichenbach in 1845. Von Reichenbach wanted to develop scientific proof for a universal life force; similar to the Asian "Chi" or "Prana" - he experimented on people where they would be in total darkness to try and "see" their Ond, through his practice he claimed that 1/3 of the population could see this phenomenon.
Since then, these practices still remain in the occult community, particularly in the yoga and martial art practices where you can sense the Ond in yourself or in other people. Creating heat through the hands is one such example and other such phenomena can be regarded as Ond energy.
Those people can carry a high amount of Ond energy and can be suited to heal through touch.
As the "ham" represents the astral shape, the "lik" represents the physical shape of the body. Arms, legs, feet, hands, and head. The body is the middle earth and all the elements that gives its life.
Symbolism associated with the body:
With these symbols you can readily see where there are issues to work with. It is easy to miss underlying causes, symbols reveal them. For example, headaches or migraines relate to the head, which in turn is the "thinking" part of the body. What does doubt represent, or envy? It is mentioned in folktales that envy can have a detrimental effect on someone, it can damage the person's hug; for example, next time you have a headache, try and follow it to the source if you can. If your life has been out of balance, how is that affecting your neck? If you have spent a long time inside working, or feeling stuck, what does that do to the nose? These are perceptions that relate to our stresses and joys - by having different emotions they affect part of the body, this just common folk-sense, belonging to the folk-medicine, but it is often overlooked.
The sensations in your body or where your weaknesses and strengths lie, hold information that can reveal insights when you see yourself being made with many different parts.
Minni means memory - the memories you carry in your life can have a great effect on your present. Before the Sun God comes out to evaporate the past, Urd collects this memory-water and pours it into her well: the Well of Memory.
The dew water is named Aurr. Although the Sun God always shines in the present, Urd finds our memories too precious and keeps them safe. If the past is discarded, memories forgotten, the Well will not feed the roots and if Yggdrasil is not watered by our memories: the Tree of Life withers and loses its vitality.
In the centre of Urd's well there are two sacred swans, which form a heart shape with their long necks when facing each other, creating the fertility symbol of the God Frey (the God of love and fertility). Love arises from this holy well. In esoteric practice we can also map these seven self-perceptions into runic associations or personal sigils, to learn more about them and to discover what we need to develop in ourselves.
More self-aspects of the self found in the lore:
Od - is having the capacity to experience forms of consciousness that are radically unlike our normal forms of consciousness - the english word of something being "odd" comes from this old Norse word.
Hamingja - the totality of all the aspects of the souls - see the link between the Hamr and the Fylgja in this word. Usually the Kings and Queen of the land would carry strong Hamingja. Those who have a strong hamingja can bless the community and the land.
Having a strong hamingja is the elder hood. It denotes someone who has walked through all the worlds and has had many lived experiences. The Fylgja (totem animal) would be the shield mark of such a person. The most common totemic representations in the Norse world are Ravens, Eagles Wolves, Boar and Bear.
Indeed the Raven and the Wolf are seen as the ancient symbols of the Valkyries. The Valkyries function was to bring the warriors back to the ancestors after battle. The raven and wolf later on transformed into shield maidens who ride horses, the "choosers of the slain." In the Viking age they were depicted as being swans originally. Their swan-feathered cloaks are mentioned across much folklore material of Northern Europe. Men sometimes would come upon them when they shape-shifted to women and they would steal their swan feathers, which would trap the Valkyrie for a time. The story of Volsund the blacksmith (Wayland, the Smith) is a good one to read about this as he fell deeply in love with a Valkyrie.
To be in harmony with all seven parts is to be in health spiritually and psychologically. Often we find some parts easier to strengthen than others. Finding out which one we need to be working on requires insight and self-reflection and the rune-cast can sometimes guide us in this discovery.