Over the years, there have been multiple attempts by various writers in the Heathen and Pagan communities to explain the matter of ‘soul’ to other Heathens and Pagans. Explanations have ranged from the complex and suspiciously Kabbalistic-feeling ‘9 part soul complex’, to a form of non-dualism in which there is no detachable soul.
It is often said that as humans, the one thing we all truly have in common with each other is that our time upon this earth is finite. We will all see our final days and take our final breaths. Unsurprisingly, the question of what comes after that end is an important one for many. However, despite this introduction, it is not eschatology that is the focus for this essay, but rather the soul itself. We all have a stake in knowing what happens to us after death, and the question of soul is key to that concern. If anything, I believe that it is impossible to formulate a cogent eschatology without first having a clear idea of how the non-physical aspects of a human being are constructed.
In this essay, I will examine Heathen period sources on the soul/soul parts. While my focus is predominantly on the Anglo-Saxon sources, I also include Old Norse sources in order to flesh out what I believe would have once been quite a commonly held picture. In the first section, I provide an overview of the world soul itself. Then, I move on to an examination of the human creation myth presented in Völuspá before beginning my argument proper that the Heathen soul was tripartite. Within the following sections, I will elucidate the three soul parts as I see them. Finally, I will then apply my model to accounts of shape-shifting.
On the Word “Soul”
The word soul itself is a bit of a mystery. We can trace it back to Old English and Old Norse as sāwol/ sāwl and sál respectively. From here though, things become less than certain. You can find cognates in Gothic and Old Saxon, and we have a theoretical Proto-Germanic root *saiwalō, but the trail seems to go dead after that point (Kroonen, 2013, p. 423). This has led some scholars to suggest non-Indo-European origins for soul, and others to suggest an etymological connection with various words for sea. This would make a certain kind of sense, and proponents of this theory cite various Germanic beliefs in the soul originating and returning to bodies of water in support of their argument (Liberman, 2009). It’s also worth pointing out here that there are indications the ON term sál was borrowed from the OE. So aside from what has already been written here, there is not a whole lot more that can be said about the origins of soul, save that it’s a useful shorthand for an intangible faculty possessed by humans that often defies explanation.
In Illo Tempore…
“The supreme function of myth is to “fix” the paradigmatic models for all rites and all significant human activities – eating, sexuality, work, education, and so on.” (Eliade, 1959, p. 98)
If we are to move towards a working model of ‘soul’ for the modern Heathen, then we must start at the very beginning: the point when the soul first entered what would become a human body. This is not an exploration that can take place in historical time though. The soul is intangible, ever of the domain of myth and sacred time, and so it is therefore to myth and sacred time where we must look for the first piece of this puzzle.
In the Old Norse corpus, it is in the Völuspá poem that anthropogenesis is first described. It begins with three gods Hœnir, Lóðurr, and Oðinn, who come across the two trees who would come to be known as Askr and Embla. As their names suggest, Askr was an ash and Embla an elm, and they were enlivened by the three gods. The first gave önd, or ‘breath’ ; the second gave óð, or ‘sense’ ; and the third gave lá, or ‘blood’(?), ‘warmth ; and litr, or ‘hue’ (Zoega, 1910) (Cleasby & Vigfusson, 1957).
It is not hard to understand the inclusion of lá and litr within this tripartite model. After all, we all understand that hue comes from blood or warmth. This is the physical body, the vehicle of blood, flesh, and bones. The önd, or ‘breath’ though is not so easily explained. Because while it is clear that we all breathe and require breath in order to remain among the living, there is also a body of evidence that suggests that this too was a form of soul.
Önd was the ‘wind/breath soul’. It was that which entered and existed the body through the respiratory passages via yawns either consensually when faring forth, or without consent as a form of attack (Heide, 2006).
Óðr and Hugr: Sense, Mind, and Spirit
Óðr though, is where things become more complicated. The usual translations of ‘sense’, or ‘mind’, or ‘spirit’ are unsatisfyingly vague. However, if we begin from the perspective that perhaps words like ‘sense’, ‘mind’ and ‘spirit’ carried different meanings in Old Norse culture (Cleasby & Vigfusson, 1957), then our avenues of investigation open up somewhat. Óðr is not the only word in the ON corpus that is translated with this specific set of meanings, hugr and its OE cognate hyge hold the same set of meanings (Cleasby & Vigfusson, 1957) (Bosworth & Toller, p. 579). Moreover, hugr/hyge are words that can be found as compounds in other words that are clearly related to magic, which makes them especially relevant here. A wider survey of ON words pertaining to magic also yields the ON word hamr, or ‘skin’, ‘slough’, and by extension, we can also add the OE words mōdsefa, sefa, hama, and scīn for consideration here. The words mōdsefa and sefa hold almost the same meaning as hugr/hyge, and can be found in many of the same compounds. This begs the question of whether or not hyge and mōdsefa/sefa were synonymous with each other, and if not, how they differed in meaning.
Brother Hyge and Sister Mōdsefa
Despite the similarities in translation and compound words, a comprehensive survey of the various uses of hyge and sefa/mōdsefa found that these different words for ‘mind’ were considered to have their own distinct meanings. The survey, which was conducted by Richard North in Pagan Words and Christian Meanings, found that hyge and its compounds often denoted an attitude of mind, whereas sefa and its compounds denoted a state of mind. Sefa was a hidden principle, but the hyge was able to manifest in such a way that could be seen by others. The sefa seems to have been a type of mind that was passive (and therefore by the standards of the time considered ‘feminine in nature’), a kind of faculty in which information was stored and then made use of by the more active (and ‘masculine’) hyge (North, p. 97). This bifurcation of the mind does not seem to have been limited to the early English either. North notes that while a similar bifurcation originally existed in ON (the mytheme of Huginn and Muninn being reflections of this), most other terms for ‘mind’ or memory were replaced by hugr by the late Middle Ages in Scandinavia (North, pp. 92-93).
Mōdsefa and the Stomach
However, while mōdsefa is believed to have been passive when compared with hyge, mōdsefa potentially played an important role beyond that of simple memory and information storage. There is some indication that miht – that ‘mana-like faculty of gods and people – and mōdsefa were connected. Compound words such as mōdseōcness (‘disease of the stomach’), and its synonym mōdunmiht (unmiht being the opposite of miht) suggest that perhaps the mōdsefa was believed to reside in the torso (Bosworth & Toller, p. 695). In support of this are magico-medical charms which attest that pains in the torso as the best attested symptom of ‘elfshot’ (Hall, 2009, pp. 96-119). Interestingly, more modern Scandinavian folklore has retained a similar connection between magical attack (by someone’s hugr ) and digestive distress (Heide, 2006).
To See with Mind
The ON compound words in which we find the word hugr give us our first clues as to the magical uses of the hugr at the most basic level: words like hugsi, and hugrenning meant ‘meditative’; and hugsjón possibly referred to a kind of ‘mind sight’, or quite simply, ‘vision’. More significantly, we also find the word hugspæi, or ‘mind-spaeing’, in other words ‘prophecy’ (Cleasby & Vigfusson, 1957). Spae or spá of course, is the name we are given for Þorbjörg’s craft in The Saga of Erik the Red, and here we connect once more with the far more familiar ground of the völva.
Faring Forth I: Hamr and Scīn
But although hugr denoted an “active mental power, a (hostile) thought in operation”, it is clear that that active mental power or thought couldn’t just simply go out alone. After all, what form does the mind itself take if it doesn’t adopt one (North, p. 110)?
This is where we encounter the hamr and a whole other collection of words denoting not only magical practices and abilities, but also the kind of frenzy or rage that might be attributed to a berserker or warrior in battle. The witches who were able to change shape (hamramr) and travel in animal form (hamfar) could be referred to as hamfraer, or as hamhleypa while in the shape of an animal. The warrior or person in a state of fury or frenzy – a state in of itself also holding animalistic shapeshifting connotations – was said to be hamföng, and the verb að hamask meant “to rage, to be taken by a fit of fury in a fight” and was “synonymous to ganga berserks-gang” (Cleasby & Vigfusson, 1957).
It is also possible that the concept of an active ‘mind’ principle which travels outside the body in another form is attested in lines 58-64 of the OE poem, The Seafarer:
And now my spirit (hyge) twists
out of my breast,
Over the whale’s path
It soars widely
through all the corners of the world–
it comes back to me
eager and unsated;
the lone-flier screams,
urges onto the whale-road
the unresisting heart
across the waves of the sea.
(The Seafarer, n.d.)
However, while it is easy to find the cognate for hugr in OE, finding at least an equivalent word for hamr in OE is not so simple. Because while it may seem reasonable to conclude that the hyge spoken about in The Seafarer adopts a kind of bird-like hamr, the direct OE cognate hama is used very differently in its compounds. There is little to suggest in either the meanings or compound uses of hama that the word referred to anything that might be related to an active mind principle. If anything, the word is notable in that all of its uses are very much connected with the physical and visceral, as though it wasn’t enough for the word to refer solely to mundane items, but it had to also be grounded in blood. Generally referring to a form of ‘covering’, hama is found in the following compounds: heort– (‘covering of heart’); byrn– (‘lorica’); cild– (‘womb’); flæsc– (‘body’, ‘carcass’, ‘corpse’); gold– (‘gilded coat of mail’); graeg– (‘coat of mail’); feðer– (‘plumage’, ‘feather covering’); līc– (‘the body’, in the corporeal sense); and wuldor– (‘glorious garb’) (Bosworth & Toller, p. 506). As you can see, unlike its ON cognate, every single example of hama is grounded in the physical and corporeal.
There is however, a word in Old English that carries the same connotations as the Old Norse hamr though it is not a cognate, and that is the word scīn. Translated as meaning “An extraordinary appearance, a deceptive appearance, a spectre, evil spirit, phantom”, and even that of “an evil spirit” , scīn is typically found in compounds like scīncræft (‘ the art by which deceptive appearances are produced, magic’) , scīnhīw (‘a form produced by magic, phantom’) , and scīnlāc (‘magic, necromancy, sorcery’) (Bosworth & Toller, pp. 832-833).
Unlike the OE hama, the word scīn never pertains to the physical, visceral, or corporeal – this is a bloodless form. Like the ON hamr though, it is a word very much connected with witchcraft, or more specifically the kind of witchcraft that is the art by which deceptive appearances are produced. We also find two further scīn- compounds to refer to the practitioners of this art: scīncræftiga and scīnlæca/scīnlæce (Bosworth & Toller, p. 834). Could it be that scīn and hamr were used to refer to that same intangible ‘covering’ for the hugr/hyge?
Faring Forth II: Scīnlāc
This argument is further strengthened by comparing the meaning of the word scīnlāc with the ON words hamramr and hamfar. Per Cleasby & Vigfusson, hamramr was the act of changing shape, and hamfar the act of faring forth in animal form. If we can match a similar meaning to scīnlāc, then we have an argument for scīn as being synonymous with hamr that is potentially useful.
In my opinion, the key to unravelling the mystery of scīnlāc beyond the basic Bosworth and Toller dictionary definition of ‘magic, necromancy, sorcery’ is the -lāc compound. As the following definition will demonstrate, this is by no means an easy word to decipher:
“Thus lácan and Icel. Leika are used to describe the motion of a vessel riding on the waves, flickering, wavering motion of flame and the like; while Gothic laikan renders σκιρτάν in Luke I. 41, 44; vi. 23. From this idea of activity we pass to that of games, playing, dancing &c.;…” (Bosworth & Toller, p. 603)
As you can see from this entry, with the exception of the idea of ‘motion’ or ‘flickering, wavering motion of flame and the like’, none of the other translations work when collocated with a word that seems to refer to a kind of non-physical form. At least not initially. Depending on context, lāc also carries meanings of ‘sacrifice’ or ‘offering’, ‘gift’, ‘medicine’, ‘sport’, ‘struggle’, or ‘battle’ (Bosworth & Toller, p. 603).
Magical Specialties and ‘–lāc’
To tease these threads apart somewhat, Scīnlāc is not the only OE word related to magic that contains a lāc compound. We also find lyb-lāc, or ‘Sorcery, witchcraft, the art of using drugs or portions for the purpose of poisoning, or for magical purposes’, and drýlāc, the drý component of which is believed to possibly derive from the Gaelic draoi, or ‘druid’ (Bosworth & Toller, pp. 649, 215).
The lybb of lyblāc is thankfully straightforward, and the meaning can easily be rendered as:
‘Medicine, drug, simple, in a bad sense, poison; the word often implies the use of witchcraft, see the compounds…’. (Bosworth & Toller, p. 649)
Taken alone, lybb is quite a benign word, referring only to medicine or even potentially an entheogen of sorts (Pollington, 2000, p. 483). However, as a compound with lác, the connection between this more benign word and witchcraft becomes much clearer. Lybb on its own is good and simply refers to the use of herbs as medicine (as opposed to unlybba which refers to the use of herbs as poison) (Bosworth & Toller, p. 1120). Even with the addition of the –lác compound, the word does not automatically signal an intrinsically evil practice, but rather ambivalence, especially when compared with the entirely negative term unlybwyrhta, or ‘a poison maker, one who prepares poisons for purposes of witchcraft, a sorcerer’ (Bosworth & Toller, p. 1120). The compound word -læce/a is theoretically linked to the term ‘leech’, or ‘healer’, and is in turn believed to derive from the Proto-Germanic word *lékjaz, meaning ‘enchanter’, or ‘one who speaks magic words’ (or in other words, ‘one who heals with magic words’) (Wodening, 1998, p. 27). With this in mind, the further meaning of lāc as ‘medicine’ (attested to in three primary sources) makes sense (Bosworth & Toller, p. 603).
Drýlāc is the most difficult of the –lāc words to understand, as the patterns seen with the terms scīnlāc and lyblāc cannot be found here. There are no words for practitioners of drýcræft that contain the –læce/a compound, instead these possible druids were known as drýmen. This suggests to me that either the sense of ambivalence surrounding scínlac and lyblác wasn’t there in this case, or that the medicine/healing component that was implied in –lāc when used in the context of those magical practices was not considered to be a part of drýcræft .
This all may seem quite disparate, but there must have been a common thread for the same suffix to have existed in three words dealing with different types of magical practice. There has to be something inherent to the meaning of that word that made sense to the early English to apply it to three different magical contexts. Especially when one considers that comparatively speaking, the percentage of words in a language that pertain to magic and magical practices is really very small. So what was that common thread of meaning that made lāc a logical choice in these contexts, and what more can it tell us about scīnlāc?
A More Appropriate Definition of –lāc?
So how do we bind all this together? The original definition as given above tells us that lāc was “used to describe the motion of a vessel riding on the waves, flickering, wavering motion of flame and the like.” This calls to mind the possible alternative translation given for scīn of ‘brightness’ or ‘shine’, and scīnan which means ‘to shine’. The word scīnhiw, or “a form produced by magic, phantom, spectre” is also helpful to add to consideration here (Bosworth & Toller, 1954, p. 833). For if anything, it adds to the idea that phantoms are associated with having a shining quality. The compound hiw is variously translated as ‘form’, ‘shape’, ‘appearance’, ‘color’, ‘hue’, and ‘species’ (Bosworth & Toller, 1954, p. 538). It is not unconceivable that such a shining quality could call to mind the “flickering, wavering motion of flame and the like.”
Yet the presence of lāc in lyblāc, and in any words pertaining to magical practice really, suggests that whatever this word meant it was somewhat more ‘active’ in meaning. After all, herbs only become medicine through preparation. Magic itself is also an active thing, it is something that is done, and so I would argue that even though it may be possible to conjecture more passive meanings for lāc with ideas of how the scīn may have been perceived, there is possibly a better solution.
Among the more ‘active’ meanings for lāc we find words like ‘game’, ‘play’, ‘battle’, ‘offering’, and ‘sacrifice’. These seem highly disparate, however this is not necessarily the case. As Grimm noted, there is an association between offerings and gifts, and dancing and playing, in that often the later was part of the former (Bosworth & Toller, p. 603). In each case though, there is a deliberate act. Sacrifice is a deliberate act that is done with intention. Playing within a ritual context is a deliberate act that is done with intention – so too with dancing – and we cannot forget the aspect of hierophany implied within those contexts either. If Grimm was correct that the meanings of ‘play’ and ‘dance’ were related to those of ‘offering’ and ‘gift’ in that play and dance had ritual associations, then it is hard to separate this sense of Other from these acts of dancing and playing.
Further examination of -lāc compounds (in addition to those mentioned above that pertain to the magical arts) reinforces this sense of ‘other’ or connection to the sacred with the word. Ælmeslāc refers to alms, and brīwlāc is translated as ‘dressing food’, but is used within the context of divination (wīglunga) (Bosworth & Toller, pp. 603, 15). Æfenlāc is ‘evening sacrifice’, sælāc refers to a ‘gift from the sea’ (Bosworth & Toller, pp. 9, 1222), and wordlāc refers to speech, itself an activity associated with magic when made gealdor (Bosworth & Toller, p. 1266). Also in this same semantic field, we find bernelāc (burnt offering), cwiclāc (live sacrifice), freōlāc (free offering, oblation), and mæsselāc (mass offering, host) (Bosworth & Toller, pp. 89, 179, 334, 662).
I would also include brēowlāc, or ‘brewing’ (alcohol) in this category, and aglāc or ‘monstrous’ (Bosworth & Toller, p. 29) (Wright & Wright, 1908, p. 297). I include ‘brewing’ here as it is clear from the sources that not only was alcohol used within ritual, but people considered there to be something other about the brewing process itself and would even look to divine intervention in order to ensure success (Jochens, 1998, pp. 127-128).
The remaining –lāc words may be divided into a further three categories, all of them also arguably connected with the sacred or other. In the category that I have classified as ‘Legal’, we find wrōhtlāc (calumny, slander, and accusation), siblāc (peace offering), rēaflāc (robbery, booty), and wītelāc (punishment). In the ‘Martial’ category, I have placed feohtlāc (fighting), heaðulāc (battle), beadulāc (battle play), and these may all also be joined by siblāc and rēaflāc depending on context. Lastly, nestled between the two fields is a grouping of words that fall into the ‘Sex and Marriage’ category: hæmedlāc (sexual intercourse), wīflāc (sex with a woman), brýdlāc (marriage gift), and wedlāc (wedlock) may all be found here (Wright & Wright, pp. 297, 1277) (Bosworth & Toller, pp. 29, 869, 500, 1219).
As previously mentioned, these three categories of ‘Legal’, ‘Martial’, and ‘Sex and Marriage’, are all arguably connected with the sacred. For the Germanic tribes, ‘law’ was coterminous with ‘religion’. In other words, the word for ‘law’ often meant the same as ‘custom’ and ‘religion’. There simply was no concept of, or vocabulary reflective of a religion that was separate from either law or custom before the arrival of Christianity (Wodening, pp. 54-56). This conjunction between law, custom, and religion is likely why the Germans and Scandinavians sacrificed criminals by preference. It’s even possible that the methods of execution of later societies initially derived from those Heathen judicial sacrifices. Another common source of sacrificial victims, depending on time period were prisoners of war, which brings us rather neatly to the ‘Martial’ category (Davidson, 2006, pp. 61 – 64). Even outside of the connection between battle and sacrifice, war was inextricably connected with the other; it was the domain of various deities and liminal beings, it carried its own rites, and even had its own magic (Davidson, pp. 69-101). Bridging the fields of ‘Legal’ and ‘Martial’ is the category of ‘Sex and Marriage’. Unlike modern marriage, marriage in the Heathen period was a matter of business that was subject to formal legal contract between the suitor and bride’s family. It was something that was negotiated like any other suit of law, and it was also used as a means of restoring or maintaining the peace between two rival groups (Byock, 1983, p. 75).
Hopefully, this examination of the –lāc words has made it very clear that not only can all of these compounds be tied in some way to the sacred, numinous, and other, but that the largest grouping of these words is explicitly connected with the holy and magical.
Given this high incidence of association between sacred and other, and –lāc in these compound words, it only stands to reason that any definition for –lāc within the context of scīnlāc would also convey this same sense of otherness. Yet the most fitting of the accepted –lāc translations – those of ‘movement’ or ‘play’ still do not quite work. Because as mentioned above, while you can ‘play around’ with something, the passivity and lack of intention that that conveys isn’t appropriate here. Likewise the translation of ‘movement’ – especially within the context of the movement of a boat upon the sea.
I believe a better word here would be ‘manipulation’, and to consider –lāc as a kind of marker that denotes that numinous or magical association. This would then lead us to a translation of scīnlāc as being the ‘manipulation of that intangible faculty that appears ghost-like and that may take on both extraordinary and deceptive appearances’.
If we are to accept this translation, then there are two potential implications that present themselves:
- We know that there were practitioners of scīnlāc and that they were referred to individually as being a scīnlæce. The inescapable conclusion here is that these practitioners were involved in, and perhaps even specialists of manipulating the scīn
- There is nothing to imply that the scīn being manipulated is limited to that of the scīnlæce For not only do we find scīnlāc glossed with necromantia and also carrying the translation of ‘necromancy’ accordingly, but there is some indication that the scīnlæce could also manipulate the scīn of something like a rock too:
‘Hí ongunnon secgan ðæt hit drýcraeftum gedón wære scíngelácum ðæt se stan mælde’
(They said that it was done by the sorcerer’s arts, by magical practices that the stone spoke)
Despite the differences in terminology, it is my opinion that the practices of scīnlāc and practices involving hamr manipulation like hamramr or hamfar were essentially the same, and that an understanding of both within their cultural contexts is necessary for us to understand the full complexity of the practice. For example, while we can only make a theoretical argument using the Old Norse sources that a ‘ghost’ is really the projected hamr of a dead person’s hugr, the overt association of scīnlāc with necromancy not only strengthens this argument, but also potentially deepens our understanding of the possible types of necromancy.
To Shift the Hamr or Borrow Another
Typically translated as being ‘shape-shifting’, hamfarir is one of the most misunderstood concepts among modern magic workers (Jolly, 2002, p. 102). The idea of physical transformation is too outlandish for most, and if it is not necessarily the lic/lich (OE and ON words for ‘physical body’) that is being changed, then just what is?
There are of course, stories of physical metamorphosis, however, this was not the only kind of metamorphosis that we see in the sources. Nor indeed is it always clear just what kind of metamorphosis is being presented in a story.
One of the clearest examples of physical transformation is that of Sigmund and Sinfjötli of The Volsunga Saga who physically change forms after donning wolf skins (LeCouteux, 2003, pp. 120-121). This is paralleled in the 17th century testimony of Thiess the Livonian wolfman. An elderly man of more than eighty years old, Thiess claimed that he’d been a werewolf and that he’d been to hell with his companions in order to retrieve seeds stolen by the magician Skeistan. While the account of Thiess postdates the Heathen period by hundreds of years, the theme of physical transformation is still present:
“The werewolves went there on foot…They had a wolf skin that they would wear…They would go into the bushes, strip off their clothes, and be transformed straight away into wolves.” (LeCouteux, pp. 120-121)
If the wolf-skin makes the wolf, then it only makes sense that the clothes make the human. In the 12th century Breton story penned by Marie de France, a man is kept in wolf form by an adulterous wife who on learning that should he ever lose his clothes, he would remain a bisclavret (the Breton word for ‘werewolf’) forever. Thankfully, the knight is treated sympathetically although a wolf, and after having his clothes returned to him, was once more able to return to his human form (LeCouteux, pp. 113-114).
Take for example, the following account from Chapter 18 of Cormac’s saga:
“The two brothers had but left the roadstead, when close beside their ship, up rose a walrus. Kormák hurled at it a pole-staff, which struck the beast, so that it sank again: but the men aboard thought that they knew its eyes for the eyes of Þórveig the witch. That walrus came up no more, but of Þórveig it was heard that she lay sick to death; and indeed folk say that this was the end of her.” (Collingwood & Stefansson, 1901, pp. 105-106)
The phrase ‘the men aboard thought that they knew its eyes for the eyes of Þórveig the witch.’, certainly seems to suggest that the walrus was actually Þórveig’s physical self, however that the walrus came up no more (presumably disappearing into the depths), but Þórveig lay somewhere where others could find her, suggests that she did not sink with the walrus. There is no mention of Þórveig-as-walrus, turning into a bird and flying off in the direction of where her human body was found, and so we must assume that it wasn’t her body that was shifted, and that the term hamr, or shape, isn’t so much referring to an ability to change her physical shape, but the ability to manipulate her hamr, in the same way that we can consider Scinlac the ability to manipulate a non-physical scinn. In all the accounts of hamfarir, the hamr is sent forth into the physical world where it often has physical witnesses.
From that wild, windswept beach where once three gods cradled and enlivened two trees, we have cut a long and winding path through oft-underexplored forests of words. Our quest for the shape of the soul has both elucidated a basic shape for that intangible faculty of man, and a set of magical and eschatological implications.
The soul presented here is one of three parts with one of those parts subdivided into two. Yet when looked at with a wide-enough lens, we are ultimately and unsurprisingly returned to our mythological ‘fix’ point, albeit with some qualifications. There are also some key areas of overlap here which also carry their own eschatological and magical implications.
It is my view that lá and litr represent the physical body, which is itself a part of the soul. To have physical health was to be hæl for the early English; it was to be possessed of the quality of hælu. However, hælu merely concerned with physical health. Indeed, the fact that it also carried meanings indicative of more spiritual qualities such as ‘wholeness’, ‘holiness’, ‘luck’, and ‘victory’ suggests that there was little difference seen between the physical and intangible in this case (Pollington, p. 453). The revenant/draugr, the resurrected animals from stories such as the Fascination of Gylfi indicate some value to the bones; a kind of incorruptibility within which a part of a person may reside until destroyed which is to be found in multiple cultures (LeCouteux, 2003, pp. 52-55).
Önd is clearly the breath-soul, briefly discussed above. Originating in the torso with the lungs but also seemingly capable of independent existence, it is my view that both breath and wind can be vehicles for the hyge/hugr. This has clear implications for those who engage in breath work, as well as how the movement of the hyge occurs (in whichever form it takes).
Finally, we return to the complex of hyge and mōdsefa, our two types of mind that are ever connected – interconnected even – but differ in form and function. While mōdsefa always remains until rotted away, hyge may fly either with or without a covering (in whichever forms those coverings take).
This is the tripartite model I present here within this essay. Yet there is a further bifurcation that still needs to be considered.
When each of the components are divided between ‘that which rests with the body’ and ‘that which may leave the body’, a picture forms that places both physical and spiritual components on an equal and interdependent footing. Mōdsefa remains ever in her bodily seat, and hyge perhaps flies on breath and wind wearing coverings of many shapes. What is known to mōdsefa is known to hyge, and vice versa. When mōdsefa and her seat are threatened, it is often hyge which responds either consciously (when the relevant skills are present), or subconsciously. Moreover, if the evidence presented above is correct, it is within the torso that the miht resides.
In short, it is a more hæl (in the sense of ‘wholeness’) view of our souls and their places in the world.
Bosworth, J., & Toller, T. N. (1954). An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary, Based on the Manuscript Collections of the Late Joseph Bosworth. London: Lowe and Brydone.
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