THE SOUL OF MAN
the midst of the world of souls stands man, and he
stands there in virtue of a soul, a life. This soul can
bear precisely the same antitheses as the other souls or
natures in Middle-garth. One may quite well begin in the
Anglo-Saxon riddle-fashion by saying: “I know a
strange thing: it is invisible, yet stands forth before
the eyes of all men in the hall; it is no more than six
feet tall, and yet none can see more than one end of it;
it can be felt with hands and without hands, and yet
none can grasp and hold it fast; it goes over heath and
breaking wave as swiftly as cloud before the storm, and
a dog can overtake it; it flies in the air, and yet lies
sleeping in the hall” It is bound to matter, and free
to move about in spite of time and space and gravity. It
is formless as the heat that passes in a grip of the
hand from one arm up into the other, and invisible when
it spreads as a force from a warrior to all his host and
inspires them all as one man. And it is obliged sooner
or later to take shape.
we want to know what human life is, we must first of all
discard our preconceived notions about soul and body and
their antagonism and simply look out for the
distinguishing signs of human nature, or in other words,
for its modes of manifestation.
may call it by the name of megin; in this word
there lies an idea of power, and in this word all living
things meet. The soul of the earth, its megin, is often
spoken of as a costly essence. A drink with which earth-megin
has been mixed is stronger than any other liquor, while
earth-megin on the other hand seems to contain a
spiritual strengthening to counteract the too powerful
effect of ale. “The weather too has its megin,” the
megin of the weather is the clouds, it is said. In the
earliest days, before the world was fully set in order,
moon and sun existed, but they knew not their soul,
their megin, they did not know what was their power,
their purpose, their career.
suggestions will help us to understand man's megin.
Man's megin is his power — and first of all his bodily
strength. But there is something beyond muscle in man's
megin; there is power, action, victory. And finally,
megin reaches up into the strength of the soul, so that
he who loses his megin will fall unconscious, as we
should call it.
which distinguishes the god or ase --- from all other
beings is naturally the fact that he has ásmegin, the
soul of an ase, or god, with its mighty qualities. “If
you grow, Vimur, then my asemegin grows as high as the
heavens,” cries Thor when he stands midway out in the
Utgard river and it swells up till it foams about his
shoulders. Thor had, in the course of his perilous
wanderings, plenty of occasion to put on his full
asemegin, when the giant powers gathered thickly about
him, and we understand that his godhead swelled out not
only in marvellous strength and wrath, but also in
divine greatness of stature.
the soul is called by the name of fjör, a word
which practically became extinct with the passing of the
old world. Fjör is life, that which enables a man to
walk and speak and have his place in the light. Fjör is
also the soul, that soul which sets out upon its own
ways after death. Fjör is the self, that which makes
man a man, it is the man himself, and can therefore be
applied to the body, even after death has touched it.
And it is luck hearing its man, giving wings to his wit,
giving him thoughts, sustaining him, and equipping his
plans with progress. When Hakon Athelstansfostri came
back to his own country as a claimant for the crown, it
seemed for a while as if the elements would overpower
him; his fleet was scattered, and the rumour spread
abroad that Hakon was lost with it. King Eric took the
message as a welcome certainty, but Gunhild, his queen,
shook her head; she was a sagacious woman and knew that
Hakon had fjör,— and as it proved, he did arrive in
Norway with his ship safe and sound.
soul is called hugr, Anglo-Saxon hygi, thereby
indicating it as desire and inclination, as courage and
thought. It inspires a man's behaviour, his actions and
his speech are characterised according to whether they
proceed out of whole hugr, bold hugr, or
downcast hugr. It resides in him and urges him
on; thus ends Loki when he has said his say among the
gods: “Now I have spoken that which my hugr urged me
to say,” thus also Sigurd when he has slain the
serpent: “My hugr urged me to it.” It sits within,
giving counsel or warning; “my hugr tells me,” is a
weighty argument, for when the hugr has told a thing,
the matter is pretty well settled. “He seems to me
unreliable, you will see he will soon turn the evil side
outward; it is against my will that he is with you, for
my hugr tells me evil about him,” thus Ingolf exhorts
his brother to turn away a vagabond who comes to the
place. A winter passed, and Ingolf could say that all
had fallen out as his hugr had warned him. And Atli
Hasteinson, of noble race, confidently gives directions
to his household after the fight with Hrafn: “You, my
son, will avenge your father, if you take after your
kin, and my hugr tells me you will become a famous man,
and your children after you.” And when the hugr is
uneasy, as when one can say with Gudrun: “Long I
hesitated, long were my hugrs divided in me,” then
life is not healthy. But when a man has followed the
good counsel from within, and attained his end, then
there rises from his soul a shout of triumph, it is his
hugr laughing in his breast.— Now and again, the soul
has its knowledge directly, as we should say; at times
it has acquired it by spying out the land, and then it
may chance that the enemy has seen his opponent's hugr
coming towards him, whether in human form or in the
shape of a beast. He dreams of wolves, and is told that
it is the hugrs of men he has seen.
we encounter the soul as mód, as the
Anglo-Saxons have it. A man's mod is his mind, the will
and strength of him, the long-remembering, that which
keeps both injury and friendship alive in the foreground
of his consciousness, and the boldness, which will not
suffer will and memory to consume each other in
indecision. Mód is quite properly the soul in its fully
awakened state. When Thor is altogether himself, he
appears in his godly mód (ásmóðr); the giants
put on fiendish mód when they assume their full nature.
When the gods hired a builder to raise a wall round
Asgard, and promised him the sun and moon with Freyja
into the bargain for the work if it were completed
before the first day of summer, they knew not with whom
they were dealing. The work went on with terrific haste,
the builder's stallion drew whole fragments of rock
together in the night, the master himself piling them
solidly up during the day. When he had compassed so
nearly round that they could begin to take measurements
for the gateway, the gods held a council, and it
occurred to them then that Loki had been the
intermediary when the agreement was made. And Loki was
forced to promise he would find a way out of the
difficulty. Thus it came about that the stranger's horse
went rutting, and dashed away in chase of a whinnying in
the woods. Its master ran all night, but failed to catch
it, and next day he stood looking at the gap; there were
but two days now till summer and no hope of finishing
the work — then he burst into giant's mód. But
when the gods were aware that it was a mountain giant
who had come, they waived all questions of a compact and
called for Thor to settle the account with a blow of his
hammer. To assume giant's mód or bring it into play is
understood to imply all such peculiarities — violence
and ferocity as well as features — that show
him a being of demon land.
are led farther and farther toward the holiest centre of
the soul. Life is recognised by honour. We have learned
how intimately connected are luck and honour, or rather,
we have seen that the two are only sides of the same
thing. The ancients were quite certain that the moment
they allowed their good repute among men to decline, the
moment they neglected the reputation of their
forefathers, when they failed to maintain their own fair
fame, when they committed any dishonourable act — then
their luck would sicken. Their certainty was based upon
experience. They had realised the importance of a due
regard for honour in its effect upon the health and
initiative of the coming generation, its stature,
muscles and courage; they knew, indeed, that dishonour
could kill a child in its mother's womb and render women
barren. Honour was nothing less than life itself, and if
a man kept his soul in a half-stifled state, then his
descendants would be hampered in their growth, coming
into the world as weaklings, crippled, and without
boldness. If, on the other hand, a man had nourished his
soul and enriched his life by gaining dominion over
others' honour, then heroes would be born in his house,
men keen of eyes and mighty of strength, children who
reached out after weapons before they were well out of
the cradle. Night-old the hero appears in mail, one
would be justified in saying of an Ylfing; more in
everyday style, perhaps, we may read that the boy
sternly pulled his chastiser by the beard, and achieved
his first killing at an age when other children hold by
their mothers' apron-strings. Or perhaps there would be
such strength in the children that they themselves
craved life. We read of a boy named Thorstein, son of
Asgrim, a prominent man of the Telemark, that he was to
have been exposed to perish at birth; but in the
meantime, while the thrall was preparing to carry out
the child and bury it, all present heard the babe sing:
“Let me go in to my mother; it is cold here on the
floor; what other place is fitting for a boy than his
father's hearth? Leave that whetting of steel, leave the
turf in peace — I have a future among men.”
even though children may be a sure indicator of the
state of the soul, this does not mean that one has to
wait for the coming generation to see how dishonour
gnaws at the vital root. To the Icelander, the two
combinations: “preserve one's honour” and
“preserve one's luck” are synonymous; when he says:
“I do not think I can maintain my honour if I sit idle
in this matter,” then his words have a weight which
proves, that this sentence, for the heart if not for the
brain, is equal to avoiding death, maintaining one's
has the reality of life, or soul, and therefore the
bitterness of death is removed by a hope of resurrection
in fame. The hero rejoiced to think not only that so and
so many would utter his name hereafter; his confident
faith in the future lay in the certainty that in this
naming and this praise his innermost self spread out,
ruling and enjoying, living life. When the Northmen say:
“Kine die, kin die, man too must die; this I know that
never dies, dead man's renown,” or when Beowulf
comforts the king in his distress with his: “Sorrow
not, wise man; better it is to avenge a kinsman than to
sorrow much for him; each one of us must see the end of
his life in this world; let him who can, win fame before
death, this is the greatest joy for a warrior when life
is ended,” the words, at the time when they were
pronounced, perhaps mean nothing more than we
approximately read into them when we repeat the lines;
but they have their power for that age from a reality
extending far beyond what we can imagine in posthumous
fame, a reality which we can only appreciate adequately
'by substituting such a word as re-birth, or
live in fame hereafter, and preferably for as long as
the world should last, was the greatest ambition of the
Northman. The word comes to his lips of itself in the
most solemn moments of life: when Hoskuld welcomes his
son with a blessing at the son's new homestead, his
wishes for welfare shape themselves finally thus:
“This I surely believe, that his name will long
endure.” And throughout the whole of the Germanic
region runs this thirst for fame. The cry for posthumous
honours, for something which shall last beyond the
hero's day, rings out as insistently through the
Christian verses of the Heliand as ever it did from the
lips of any heroic poet. “It is man's pleasure to
stand firm with his lord, willingly to die with him.
This will we all, follow him on his going, counting our
life of little worth, and die with the king in a strange
land. Then at least there will be left us honour and
good fame among those who come after us,”— thus
Thomas encourages the other disciples. The Anglo-Saxon
Seafarer, who cannot quite get his Christ to command the
waves, whether those within or those without, clings to
the same faith in the judgement passed on the dead. For
him the whole world lies mournful and hopeless, as a
chaos of toil, hardship, want, broken hopes and parting
where one looked for meeting. He can find nothing
lasting. Sickness and age and battle vie with one
another in plundering mankind. There is, then, nothing
else to build upon but the praise of posterity. His
advice is: make use of time before the end comes, to
manly faring against enemies and devils, that the
children of men may praise thee, and thy fame live among
the angels. Late-born as he is, he regards the manly age
of the world as at an end; the time when men lived and
had faith in life, gave jewels and throve in luck
because they were strong, that time is for ever past and
gone — so runs his plaint. And with the inconsistency
of bitterness he brings his accusation against existence
itself, and holds up its unalleviated wretchedness
before the eyes of all. But though the cynics of all
times are alike, their resignation yet bears the stamp
of their age and place. One says: Well, let us eat and
die, another: Let us think and die, the Seafarer says:
Let us die and be remembered.
we take the word fame as meaning something lying solely
in the mouth of others, something dependent upon the
goodwill of strange people and their power to appreciate
what was great, then it would after all have been too
uncertain a value to reconcile the Teuton with death, or
even make of death a gain. The joy in a great renown had
its indomitable strength and its ideal value from the
fact that it was based on a reality. The life of fame
after death was a real life.
It is easy enough for us to grasp the enthusiasm in the ancients' pride of death. We are quick to see what is flaming and bright in the words, but we are hardly able now to feel their power of spreading warmth. The modern reader probably thinks he is showing the poet all possible honour in taking the words in as spiritual a sense as can be, but actually, he is merely killing their true life by his ideal admiration. Another expression of the value of the name is found in the ancient exhortation to warriors, as we find it in the Norse hirðskrá --- the law of the king's body-guard —: “Have in mind, that be who once dies as a niding, he shall never another time (i.e. again) become a brave man, but as he dies with that name, so with that fame shall his memory live.” Here, the old sense of reality still speaks dearly. If we can bring ourselves, with our mind filled with those praises of fame after death, to take this exhortation literally as it stands, then we shall ourselves feel both the solemnity and the vital seriousness of the ancient longing for great renown.
The name, then, goes out from him who bears it as a conqueror, and lays the world at its feet, goes forward undeterred by life or death, because it has in itself, nay, is in itself, the soul. If the man dies in body, then all life contracts in his honour, his fame after death, his name, and lives its life therein undisturbed; it can at any moment fill out a new body and inspire it to a life in honour and luck. When the name is given to a kinsman, the soul emerges into the light again, as if nothing had happened. He is come again, men said.
Another word designating the human soul is Icelandic aldr, Anglo-Saxon ealdor, which from the point of view of our languages. must in some places be rendered by “age, life-time” and in other places simply by “life”. The texts speak of losing age, staking age, taking age from another man. A man can hazard his aldr and lose it, he can take another man's aldr from him in battle. Aldr is the fjör residing in the breast, which the sword can force its way in to bite. But this soul, or life, does not exist merely in a pale generality, as a white board on which the world casts its shadow. It has some contents, it is a fate. According to the Lay of Helgi, the norns came to the homestead of the hero on the night of his birth and created, or formed, his age; they bade him become the most famous king, greatest in renown among princes.
A man's age is determined from his birth, say the Norsemen, meaning thereby, that one's history, as we should say, or one's fate, as they themselves would put it, is a given thing; through such and such happenings he is to be led to his end. One can recognise a hero of the past in one's contemporary, by his courage, and by the contents and strength of his honour, but also his career provides its evidence, and this perhaps of the clearest, as to the connection between past and present. When we know what sort; of a soul there is in a man, we can say with immediate certainty what awaits him, and what his end will be. A man's fate is predetermined, and therewith both friends and enemies, alliance and conflict, tradition and aim; and with the characteristics of a race there follows, in rhythmic repetition, the same history. Atil Hasteinson refused, after the fight with Hrafn, a friendly invitation from Onund:
he would rather go home, for in all likelihood it would follow from his name that he should die of his wounds, as did his father's father, Earl Atli, whose name and life he bore.
The truest commentary is furnished by this paragraph in the Snorra Edda: “Good norns of noble birth create a good aldr, but if men fall into unluck, ill norns were at work.” The norns were at heart nothing but the manifestation of the kin's luck and history.
Our word fate is scarcely applicable to the thoughts of the ancients as to life and its course in so much as we chiefly apprehend fate as a mysterious and incalculable force; the fate of our forefathers was a being with impulses, passions, peculiarities: a tendency always to choose one particular side of a thing, to choose combat and the decision of arms rather than discussion, or always to look about for possibilities of negotiation; the tendency rather to kill one man too many than one too few, or an inclination always to do that which serves one least. We have always to deal with an individual fate, that which belongs to a single man, and distinguishes him from all others, and this fate may fairly claim to be called nothing less than soul. It can proceed out from him and communicate itself to others, and it can find an individual re-birth. According to the prose passages of the Helgi Lays in the Edda, Helgi Sigmundson and his love, Sigrun, are supposed to be reincarnations of Helgi Hjorvardson and Svava, and then to be reborn themselves in the persons of Helgi Hadingjaskati and Kara Halfdan's daughter. We have here three parallel legends, of a hero whose mighty and hasty pace of life is due to a semi-supernatural woman. Helgi Hjorvardson is awakened to action by the valkyrie Svava, and consecrated to death by his brother's reckless vow to cheat him of his love's right. Helgi Hundingsbane, in the course of his warlike expeditions, wins the love and protection of Sigrun, daughter of Hogni, but for her sake he is driven to slay Hogni and thus prepares his own downfall. The third legend is known only from a dim reminiscence in a mythical saga where Helgi, striking too high, wounds his love and protectress, and thus forfeits luck and life for himself. How the separate parts of this trilogy stand one to another as regards origin and contact we do not know; only this we can see, that the reason of their being so threaded together lies in the similarity of the fate which unites the pair. Helgi and Svava do not enter into life again, but life has reborn the group, hero and valkyrie maiden, and their love with its tragic result.
Whoever interpolated these prose passages into the poems would hardly himself have arrived by speculation at this hypothesis of re-birth; but whether there were some germ of combination in the legends themselves or not, these lines of prose have their authority in the ancient thought. Life is known by its doings. The soul has a course of life inherent in it, as one of its qualities. Fate, or as we also might say, history, is not, any more than luck, a thing lying outside a man; nor does it merely hang about him as a necessary result of his character. It is luck itself, it is his nature. It is born out of him in the same way as fruitfulness and victory. It is on this identity between fate and will that the bold fatalism of the Northmen depends.
And so it is not from resignation that an Atli speaks as he does. The Northmen did not let themselves be dragged off by fate, they went willingly, chose themselves that which they knew was their destiny, chose the inevitable of their own free will, paradoxical as it may sound. Fate was to them a necessity man could not avoid, but they felt it nevertheless as a matter of will. They took up the counsels and plans of their kinsmen as warmly as their own, and in the same way they lived through the fate of their forefathers with eager appetite. They grasped firmly at their destiny with a will that is the will of fate itself — here lies the secret of their sturdy sense of life, the imperturbable contentment with the solidity of existence that keeps them from ever going into the depths to search for treasure, while on the other hand they never think of dreaming and consoling themselves away from what is and must be.
Name and fate interpenetrate. The name was a mighty charm, because it carried the history not only of the bearer, but of his ancestors and of the whole clan. Deeds lie concealed in its sound and they may blossom out into an addition, so that the name becomes an epic in brief. Such names as An Bow-wielder, Sigurd Fafnirsbane or Hroerek Flinger of the Bracelet are the nuclei of family legends.
But there is still a whole side of the soul untouched. Nature needs a body. When the mother had given birth to her child, it was carried to the father, that he might see which of the old kinsmen it was that now appeared in the light again. Possibly his keen eyes could discern the character of the departed in the movements of the child. Some children came into the world with clenched fists, others uttered the cry of a hero at the very commencement of their career. The child looks promising, men say, he will be a hard fellow, but true to his Mends. But first and foremost, the father scanned the new-born child for likeness in features, eyes, and build. The soul did not alter. Powerful limbs, sharp eyes, waving fair hair were not accidental attributes of the hero-soul any more than the hardness and cold of a stone are accidental qualities of the body which a stone-soul takes for its garment. It is a standing expression in the sagas, that the young chieftain to be is distinguished by his eyes. He has keen eyes, he whets his eyes after the manner of true princes of war,— so we read of Helgi Hundingsbane. So also of the birth of Sigurd Fafnirsbane: The king was glad when he saw the sharp eyes in his head, and said that none would be his equal. These eyes are in poetry the chieftain's patent of nobility: a glance that could tame or cow both men and beasts. Sigurd's murderer had to go out of the chamber twice without achieving his aim, for the eyes of the Volsung were so keen that not many dared gaze into them. The horses dashed aside and would not tread on Svanhild, as long as her eyes were open. Saxo's description of Olo Vigetus is a study in the glance heroic: his eyes were so sharp that they smote the enemy harder than other men's weapons; the boldest cringed under his glance. He comes, unknown, to the king's court. The king's daughter was accustomed, in passing round the hall, to observe the guests; from the features of their faces she could read their quality and standing. But at sight of Olo's countenance, she falls three times swooning to the ground. “Here is a kingly-born hero”, she says, and all cry to him to throw aside his hood. When he obeys, all the men present sit staring in admiration at his beauty and his yellow locks, but he kept his eyelids lowered deep “lest they should see and be afraid.”
Saxo, modern as he is, wonders at the girl's perspicuity; at any rate, he thinks it as well, with such a remarkable piece of divination, to put it, as it were, in inverted commas with a “men believed” that she could read the standing of the guest from his features. But as a matter of fact it needed no great art to point out a king. It is hopeless for him to disguise himself. Let him put on the kirtle of a slave, and a kerchief about his head, and set himself to turn a mill; it will yet be seen that the wench has sharp eyes, this young blood is never come of cottar's stock; he cannot help turning so that the stones fly asunder and the casing is sent flying. Such an appearance, and such strength, belong once and for all to his luck, his nature. Tall, stately, handsome — handsome, that is to say, without the labourer's features of the peasant type — he must be to be a chieftain, and could not be otherwise if chieftain he were. When the soul is reborn, it shapes a human form about itself with such limbs, such eyes, such hair, for it cannot do otherwise. Or let us perhaps rather say, that the soul itself is yellow-haired, blue-eyed and strong of sinew — this after all is the true meaning.
All these individual determinations of the being of a soul fuse in one single word: luck. The soul is luck in the all-embracing sense that opens before us when we follow patiently its activity throughout the full circle. When luck is at an end, then, we know, life itself is ended, not because it was dependent upon certain external conditions, but because it was existence itself that ceased when luck broke off. To be in luck, to show oneself in luck means the same as to step forth in light and life.
This vitalising power of man which thus manifests itself under different aspects is, according to our terminology, appropriately named soul, but we may call it life or existence without changing the point of view. Here the radical difference between the primitive and modern experience makes itself felt. When we set our reflection to explore the premises which lie at the bottom of our talk of the power that moves in us and moves us, it arises with the idea of a clear, transparent stream taking up in its course feelings and moods; life is something we have in common with all other creatures, and it becomes man's life by taking on or evolving purely human elements. It is otherwise with the life which bore forward the actions of our fore-fathers; life to them was purely human, and not only a merely human but a personal thing, as personal as a nickname. Force and effect are to our experience so far apart that we can interpolate the question: let us see what effect comes of this force; to primitive experience, power and its result are one, and grow together.
As soon as we replace our “soul” by the word hamingja, the thought is translated from our pale view of life to the full-blooded and muscular view of the past. Hamingja is a nature that can only act in its essentially determined manner, and only to the end that lies in itself. Hamingja is a character which can only manifest itself as these or those particular persons, but must on the other hand produce its predetermined effect: this particular honour, will, and fate, and must create these or those personalities, in their peculiar relations within and without. Therefore it comes now as a man, now as something human, now as a personality, now as a force — and always it is itself, never more and never less. Whether it march at the head of an army, in bodily manifestation of one sort or another, or it emanate from man into the soil and make the germs sprout through the mould, makes no difference to its nature. Luck constitutes, we know, a close whole, alike throughout and indivisible. Therefore, every single quality of man possesses the whole force of the hamingja; fame after death bears in itself a living soul or a living human being. In this homogeneity of life is implied the necessary condition for such expressions as the Old English: “The heathen fell frithless on the field of battle,” and “The time came for him to suffer a parting from frith.” These passages are not understood when taken one-sidedly as evidence that life on earth was, to the forefathers of the Anglo-Saxons, first and foremost a common life, a frith; nor can they be taken as instances of poetic use of frith in the sense of soul. The explanation lies deeper; frith was really a form of life, and that, in the Germanic thought, means the soul itself, and thus to lose frith and luck was literally to die.
Here, the contrasts which are of primary importance to us lose their authority. Body — soul, neutral — personal, whole —fraction, these definitions have a place in ancient thought, but they are not fundamental. When we read of a man's hugr that it meets his enemy in the shape of a ravening wolf, then we know that it is a personal soul; if we are told that a man has a bold hugr, then we know, or think we know, that it is a quality of character that is spoken of. But in other cases we are tortured, perhaps, by an unpleasant sense of doubt; if a man feels himself impelled by his hugr, or warned by his hugr, is it then the spirit — his mind, as we should say — or a spirit — his genius, in other words — that speaks within him? As long as we take it for granted that the two exclude each other, we can only hesitatingly weigh pro et contra on reading a verse such as that which Gro sings over her son: “If enemies bar your way, with evil in mind, then let their hugr change over, to your service, and their mind be turned to peace.” Now all either— or disappears; hugr is everywhere as personal as it is impersonal.
The ancient thought does not oscillate over the contrast between soul and body. There is a contrast between the material and the spiritual existence, and the divergence between the two forms of human manifestation is great enough to set thoughts in motion, but not wide enough to range them into two hostile arrays. The tension between existence of the spiritual and sensing of the tangible is not yet grown so strong that the two poles will separately draw experiences to them and hold them fast in two groups, so as to make a breach or a problem. For modern men who are under the sway of Hellenistic philosophy and religion, it seems as if primitive men leap backwards and forwards over a hole from contradiction to contradiction, but there was no gulf and no contradiction in them. The connection has such solidity that it can stand whatever pressure facts may bring to bear upon it. As long as we look at the body, we can dwell as continually and as one-sidedly as we choose upon the corporeal limitations of man; and if we look at man from the spiritual point of view, we need not hedge round our description of the capricious soul with qualifications through fear lest our former words should rise up and witness against us. Indeed, it is only when we have given each its due, fully and uncurtailed what it deserves, that we can maintain the equilibrium between them.
No one will dispute the power of the soul to separate itself from the body in order to live a free, untrammelled existence while the body apparently, and perhaps also in reality, lies idle as a house without a tenant. The soul can go whither it will, set out on its own errands, spying out, preparing and also acting on behalf of the whole person. There is a story to the point about the Frankish king Gunnthram. Once, it is told, while out hunting, he was overtaken by great weariness, and lay down to sleep beside a stream; when he woke, he could still remember how he had crossed a river by an iron bridge into a mountain where lay great treasures of gold. The soul bad seen correctly, for when men went to dig in the place the king had pointed out, they found enormous treasure. But he who sat with the king's head in his lap had seen that out of the king's mouth came, while he slept, a little snake which hurried backwards and forwards along the water, until he laid a sword across the brook, when it at once disappeared across the bridge and into a little hole in the mountain side, returning shortly after the same way.
We know that the soul — at any rate now and then —can go whither it will; but we know also that it carries the body in it. If that royal snake had met anyone strong enough to do it harm, then the king would have seen the marks on his body when he woke. At any moment, this soul can burst out into a body, as it were turning inside out, and showing outwardly the matter which in its airy state it bears within. And then it appears not only as a vision, a picture of the person, but as a hard and fast, powerful body, a corpus certainly not to be passed through without perceiving it. A man's fylgia —as the soul is called in this state by the Icelanders — can both strike with its weapons and crush with its arms so as to take away a man's breath. It is told of two Icelandic peasants that they met one night in animal shape between their homesteads and fought out the quarrels of the day; and when they awoke in the morning, each lay with battered limbs pondering over the events of the night.
The Northern fylgia stories indicate plainly enough that the soul has an advantage over the person as a whole; it can choose what form it will take. When the body is at rest, the soul sees its chance to take on another shape than its customary clothing, one better suited to the needs of the moment. We hear of men taking the form of birds, either to travel through the air, or to gain entrance through openings not to be reached from any highway but “the bees' road”. When the slaughter of Gunnar and Hogni was imminent, Kostbera, Hogni's wife, had warning dreams of Atli's soul coming into the hall. “Methought I saw an eagle fly in and down to the end of the hall; bitter is that which waits us now; he was dripping with blood; I saw from his threatening looks that it was Atli's shape,” says the verse in the Atlamál, and the words, poetic as they are, reflect an everyday reality.
Gunhild, the queen of the Norwegian king Eric Bloody-axe, was a wise and indomitable woman, whose strong hugr so moved the imagination of her contemporaries that she has passed into history as a half supernatural being. It happened that Egil, who was no friend of the king's, was shipwrecked on the coast and forced to throw himself on the hospitality of the king. Egil had no other way to buy the goodwill of Eric than by composing a laudatory poem, but during the night, when he sat working at his Hofudlausn — the poem to save his head — he was pestered by a bird which kept twittering at the window, and late saga writers hold it beyond doubt that the bird was none other than the hugr of the implacable queen.
Where strength was needed, the soul would come running up in the shape of a bear, and with a bear's force. “This Hjoryard and his men see, that a great bear goes before King Hrolf and his men and always nearest the king; he kills more men with his paw than five of the king's champions. Sword and arrow turn aside from him, but whether it be horse or man that comes in his way, he strikes them down and crushes them with his teeth.” The bear was Bodvar Bjarki, whose body sat at home in the hall, asleep.
Without doubt this power of taking on another shape is something peculiar to the soul as distinct from the body. The trance, or temporary dying, of the body, is a condition required to give the soul full freedom to exploit that other nature and utilise all the qualities that lie in the shape adopted: its massive manifestation, its peculiar powers, its swiftness and wildness. As soon as Bodvar awoke and drew his heroic body about him, the bear vanished. But we unconsciously introduce our preconceptions in translating these reminiscences of the ancient experience into our modes of thought. The hugr could not take on the body of a bear, unless its luck had something of bear nature in it. The elements of which the soul builds itself a body
— hamr, as it is called — are not taken from without; they lie within it and are likewise present in the everyday body; he who really appeared as wolf, as bear, as ox, as eagle, had the character-marks of wolf, bear, ox or eagle in him always. His luck was of such a sort as to imply an essential relationship between him and his beast; he used its strength, its courage, its wildness, its craft, its power of divination and its power of tracking, also in daylight and in his own body. And when the human shape lies bound in sleep, the other peculiarities that are contained in its nature can realise themselves in exterior form; perhaps we had better say, when the other powers evolve their shape-giving qualities, human form is bound to be in abeyance. And looking more closely at such genuine representatives of soul-force as Bodvar, we can still, despite the fact that the story has been reft from its living soil, discover the birth-marks. The name of Bjarki is nothing else but bear, and the story of his origin still holds, perhaps, some shadowy trace of his having belonged to a bear clan, which had established a state of frith with the bear, as had the Ylfings with the wolf, and cultivated this frith as their mutual luck, by constantly assimilating something of the animal's nature in themselves. His father's name was Bjorn (bear), his mother was called Bera, which means a she-bear, and his father went about in the shape of a bear at the time the son was begotten. The story of his father's unlucky fate when he was bewitched by a step-mother on account of his virtue, is spiced with romance and imagination, but there is a bear in the story from early times. If the form in which it is handed down to us is nothing more than a mediæval tale, the story is moulded over a type of family legend familiar to our ancestors. It is not at all unlikely that Bodvar may have had his mark somewhere about his body, as the Merovingians had their boar-bristles down the back.
In late times, when the ancient reality was weakened into something half imagination, and literature fell under the influence of mediæval poetry, the hamr was sometimes described as a pelt into which the shape-shifter slips and which he leaves behind when be returns into his own body. But this conceit sits loosely on the original idea that comes to light everywhere in the living language. Originally the hamr was, as the poet of the Atlamál is still half aware, the very soul itself, the hugr or hamingja. The man who has suffered scathe in his luck, and thus no longer has his full megin, is hamstoli, i.e. robbed of his hamr; he cannot remember, understand or dream. When a man took on his hamr he assumed all his strength and put all his powers into requisition. Not all had this power to “ham” (hamask) in the same degree; the strong man, he who had much and powerful luck and could therefore send his will as well as his hugr abroad in mighty shapes, was called hamramr, i. e. strong of soul. The common people have, on this point, preserved the ancient faith that strong characters are able to show themselves in several places at the same time, and according to the unmistakable evidence of viking times, to be hamramr meant having the power to take on another shape and appear as an animal — this is the highest degree of the power in question, — but surely too it was a quality which made itself apparent while the man was in his normal bodily form, as violence in battle, as invulnerability, insensibility to pain, and increased bodily strength. “Then they took their swords and bit the edges of the shields, went round the ship, along one bulwark and back along the other, and slew all the men; afterwards, they went howling up on land,” — this is the Bodvar nature, acting in the full light of day. Such grim warriors were called berserkir arid ulfhednir, because they wore bearskins and wolfskins as an outer garb, and this accoutrement no doubt has to do with their strength and ferocity. Of a man called Odd it is told that he crossed Iceland in a single night from the extreme northern point to the southland, when his sister needed his aid sorely; whether he trotted along as a bear, whether he flew, or used his legs, we do not know; one thing is enough; it was the fact that he was hamramr that gave him the speed.
In Christian times the word hamramr was degraded to serve as a branding adjective, and in its decline it shared the same fate as fjölkunnigr, later used of those individuals who kept to the ancient practices and thus became sorcerers. Properly, fjölkunnigr, or “much knowing”, meant nothing more than: able to use one's luck in manifold wise, as a man would naturally be when possessed of knowledge of things past, and of such insight and sympathy as enabled him to draw strength from the souls about him.
At the time when Olaf Tryggvason scoured the country to carry the light of Christ into all Norwegian homes and hearts, there was a man in the extreme North called Raud, who stoutly defended himself against royal conversion by setting storms to guard the coast. For a whole week the king's fleet battled against the wind in the mouth of the fiord without making headway, but at last the pagan gusts were overcome by a liberal application of candles and crosses and holy water, and the king succeeded in capturing Raud and despatching him to hell when he proved too obstinate to change his faith on the spot. The sturdy heathen was derided by the king's followers — or by his pious biographer — as fjölkunnigr; but Olaf, who defied the storm till it obeyed him, who sent forth his luck to aid his friends and take the wisdom out of his enemies' thoughts, or even at times appeared bodily to turn a deadly weapon aside from his servant's head in danger, must have been as hamramr and fjölkunnigr as any, as is but natural in a man who comes of good kingly stock. And the by-name fjölkunnigr is returned with proper justice by the adversaries of the most Christian king, when they were mysteriously overpowered by his “luck and hamingja”. Both parties were right. In the case of strangers whose powers and ways are of another kind, fjölkyngi must really be witchcraft, and it is thus no twisting of words when Christians and heathens accused one another of underhand practices. When Christian hamingja and the Christian god remained in possession of the field, the men of the new faith naturally turned the word wholly against their enemies and made it a by-word of reproach for people of the ancient faith.
It is thus clear that there is no contradiction between the neutral life, the spiritual power which a man radiates out to his surroundings, and the personal soul which sets forth on its own legs and grasps at things with its hands. The two are only opposite poles of the same luck. We have seen how a man's hamingja can go out and lay itself like a fog upon another's mind, shadow his far-sightedness, stifle his initiative and suck the strength from his plans; and we have no need at all to imagine the active agent as a man, stifling with hands, sucking with lips or treading with feet. The king's hamingja passes like a warmth from his hand into the warrior whose hand he grasps; his hamingja enters as a force into men and fills their bodies, penetrating to the outermost joints, and from these over into their weapons. Foresight itself is hamingja, that rises up from the depth of the soul and spreads out in him who prophesies; “I know of my foresight and from our ættarfylgja (that is, the hamingja of the clan) that great sorrow will grow for us from this marriage” — thus warns Signy, in the Volsungasaga, when the marriage with Siggeir is proposed. But at any moment the hamingja can spring up in its full personality; — but a slight turn in the mode of observation, and it changes from a something into a someone. In the same way, the Northman's hugr often passes from the idea of mind, will, desire, thought, to what we understand by soul, in all its shades of meaning, so that such a manifestation of the man outside himself as that described in the legend of Gunnthram, can well be set down in the words: “It is, a hugr we have met.” “Those are hugrs of men,” says a man who has seen his enemies in a dream, and this, in sober words, means that the souls of those enemies steal about him, watching, lying in wait, preparing.
Neither is there any contrast between the hamr and the mód and megin. The giant is instantly recognised when he puts on his full giant's mód, the wild, raging soul of the ogres, just as Thor is able to out-tower the mighty swelling of the river when he puts on his god's megin. The metaphorical expression, that the spirit bears the body bound up in it — if metaphorical it be — is in danger of thrusting upon truth an appearance of profundity; but when we have done everything to remove the temptation of taking the words as a piece of modern wit, they contain just what must be said. And we have undoubtedly the right to use just such a form of speech as this, that the neutral luck bears in it personality as a quality among all its qualities, or better perhaps, that it is impregnated with a personality, just as it is impregnated with victory and fruitfulness and wisdom.
Life is a homogeneous whole, but it is distributable into parts. The soul can be strewn about in small particles. If one has a great soul, such as made a man a king, then he can share out his soul among his warriors, so that one part goes east to quell a revolt, another westward on an expedition at sea, a third upon some peaceful errand elsewhere. Undoubtedly people would have regarded it as a sorry sign of lacking spiritual force in their prince if one of these souls sent out — whether he had at the time three or seven armies in the field — lacked sight or hearing, wisdom or the power of action. Every one of his “redes” — or powerful thoughts and counsels — indeed, must be equipped with eyes and ears. The entire soul-mass is impregnated with humanity in the same way that a stone is with hardness, the tree with treeness, so that the man is mortally vulnerable in every little part of his honour. It is possible to kill a man bodily by slaying one of his “redes”. If a chieftain be divided temporarily into four parts, then no doubt his body will be present as a whole with one of these tetrarchs; but this does not imply that the other three must remain incognito or invisible, or that they are in the least degree inferior to the whole man in fulness of qualities. Each one of them can very well assume the waving hair, keen eyes, fresh complexion and stately limbs of the chieftain's luck. We can, if we will, credit the man with four souls. But each of these four nevertheless contains at every moment its fellow-souls, and is responsible for them in every point. Indeed, in the deepest foundation of the matter they are not separated at all. Separation in space counts for nothing, or almost nothing.
The words megin, mód, fjör and the others do service by illustrating the ways and conditions of the hamingja, but it would be wholly arbitrary to limit the description of the soul to enumerating a string of “animistic” terms. The same comprehensive meaning of “life” as “soul” resides in all words describing processes of mind. Icelandic heipt means enmity or hate, and it is hate felt, as well as inimical thoughts and wishes sent out to enter into the foe's mind as an oppressive force, or despatched to lie in ambush for the hated man; it manifests itself as battle and mighty blows. Munr (Anglo-Saxon myne) means love and pleasure, but it is love as a manifestation of the soul; when the hero in his barrow mourns — as Helgi in the Eddic poem — that he has lost joy and land (munar ok landa), munr is not to be understood as the joy of life, but as life that is in itself joyful. And in other places we cannot catch the weight of the word without rendering it as soul or life. Ydun who kept the apples of youth is called by a poet: the maiden who increased the mun of the gods — who by administering the immortal food preserved the gods from old age and weakness. In reality, not a single word denoting mental processes can be adequately rendered in phrases of modern psychology without being either unduly widened or unduly narrowed.