Welcome to the Wolf-Moon issue of the Runa-Eormensyl blog. We have for you the second part of Ingrid Fischer’s Introduction to Germanic Soul-Lore.
(As you can see from the notes, this is the second part of the first week of the Arcanorium course.)
Germanic Soul-Lore, Part 2
Following Stephen E. Flowers’ (Towards an Archaic Germanic Psychology, Rune-Gild, 1985) proposed three-fold pattern of soul conceptions (the breath concept, the emotive faculty and the cognitive faculty), we find that the earliest mentions of soul aspects are connected with breath and related bodily functions.
In these pre-magical soul concepts ON fjör (= life; compare OHG ferah, ferh = soul, life) and önd (= breath, life, soul) feature prominently, but without developing any personal qualities or attributes they remain undifferentiated and basic.
Fjör, life, is the body soul which is tied to the heart, the respiratory organs and the diaphragm (in connection with the kidneys that were thought to be the centre of all psychic powers). We can see that there a dualism between body and soul has yet to develop. In Old Norse literature fjör is never used in kennings; it shows man without any individuality and without any consciousness of its existence. Fjör, if seen as the highest personal possession, which is fully committed and defended in battle however, forms the transition to the individual soul.
Önd, breath, is an element of nature as it stands for ‘life’. This is not an individual life, it does not differentiate between worthy and inferior but encompasses that which is common to all humans and beasts. It is a power which drives and moves the body but has no consciousness and is undifferentiated.
A step closer to the Viking era is what might be called the period of magical soul concepts with clear mention of what Flowers calls the ’emotive faculty’. The three ON words to mark the development in these soul concepts are hamr m. (skin, shape, form), oeði f. (rage, fury, madness, frenzy) and oeði n. (nature, disposition, mind).
Hamr is not strictly speaking the human shape but rather the animal one, and not the whole body but only that which builds its outer form, i.e. skin, fur etc. Man puts on the animal hamr and changes form to gain physical power. This so-called hamskiftning or hamramr enabled man to control even giant powers with animal strength. Through shape-changing, man (and the gods) was (were) able to free himself (themselves) from the fetters of his (their) body. Hamstoli (= deprived of one’s wits, frantic, furious) points to an internalised idea of hamr as a soul-form that can easily be changed but also lost. Hamhleypa (= a human being who travels in the shape of an animal; a witch who goes in ham-farir) casts off all bonds to do with space and time and reminds us of the hamingja. Hamingja developed from *ham-gengja and originally meant ‘the soul going around in a form’. The more psychic power a man possesses the larger his hamingja would be and, after his death the hamingja would attach itself to another human being, mostly within the same family. The hamingja was fed by honourable deeds or by gaining numinous knowledge; and is also an embodiment of a personal moral ‘law’ and a cumulative quality. The hamingja is the first model or ideal of the soul concept based on magic and stands for life force and soul power. Later on it takes on the more abstract meaning of ‘luck’ or more accurately, ‘indwelling’ luck.
Closely connected with the concept of hamingja is the fylgja (‘guidance’ or ‘following spirit’, a noun related to the verb fylgja which means ‘to accompany’, ‘to help’) in its forms of mannsfylgja, aettarfylgja (‘family-
fylgja’) and dyrfylgja (‘animal-fylgja’). The concept of fylgja puts a lot more emphasis on the personality of man than any of the previous models; the fylgja or fetch is unique to an individual and is yet completely independent from him.
One step further in this development is óðr (= mind, feeling; song, poetry), which is the spontaneous stirring of the soul born out of its own inner ability without the need for an environment to trigger it.
This was a brief overview of how Germanic soul lore developed; further information on the various components of the soul will be offered in Week 2.
Practical Work: Stand up straight, inhale and chant the following rune sequence three times; each rune also three times before going on to the next.
Ansuz for the Æsir
Jera for the Vanir
Hagalaz for the Etins
Eihwaz for the Elves
Mannaz for Man
Contemplate what you have learnt and how it relates to the different kind of beings; what are the differences; similarities and so on. Let us all know your insights and results.