Wednesday, 23 August 2017

The Hug, the Vardøger, and the Fylgje

The hug (pronounced “hoog”) is an interesting relic of the pre-Christian Norse world view. One of Odin's ravens was called Huginn, which is the same word in Old Norse (the other, Muninn represents will, remembrance). Note: “Hugin and Munin don’t have distinct personalities. They’re a duplicate form of the same underlying idea.” (The source goes on to discuss the shamanistic dimension of the anthropomorphism of mind and thought in totemic animals.)

Hug is still a current word in Norwegian, meaning mind or thought (“å komme i hug” (to come in mind/ thought) is how Norwegians express “to remember”).


A vardøger (pronounced “VAR-dög-er,” “VAR-doeg-er” where the “ö” or “oe” sound is the first vowel in “Goethe”, or the sound of the “-uh” in “puh!”) is a working of the hug, described as a kind of premonitionary déjà-vu. A recurring experience, common even today, is when someone in the house hears a key in the front door, a footfall on the stair, the sound of someone taking off and storing their outer clothing, only for there to be no one behind the noises. A while later, the same sounds will be heard again, but this time, the person will enter the building.


A fylgje (a companion, a follower) appears to be a further concretisation of the vardøger. Here, a spirit will manifest itself to act on behalf of its host. I have read somewhere that if you meet your fylgje, you will die, which means that the nautical draugen is a fylgje (although he is anything but benevolent).

It is all but impossible to separate the vardøger from the fylgje, and as you will see below, any distinction appears relatively unimportant to those who have had experiences with them. Here, then, is a selection of legends collected in northern Norway in 1870, by Ole Tobias Olsen. (All published in Olsen, O. T. Norske folkeeventyr og sagn, 1912.)

The Fylgje Warns of the Smith’s Boy’s Death

Around 1840 there lived in Hammerfest a smith and his wife, who were among the most respectable folk of the town. The man had an apprentice who worked in the workshop and had his bedchamber on the first floor of the workshop, to which there was a steep staircase.

One day, the smith took an order for some work for a man on one of the neighbouring islands. The boy was sent over there to carry out the work, and was expected to return when he, in a couple of days, was finished.

The same day he should come home, his mistress the smith’s wife stood in the kitchen, cooking porridge. Then the boy steps in, dressed in his neatest blue suit for travelling, and stands by the door. The wife looks at him and wonders. She knew his work could not be finished so early, that he should not have been able to finish so early, and thus be home, and she soon realised that it was the boy’s fylgje she saw before her. She wondered what this visit could mean, and what the boy’s fylgje had to warn of. She thus bravely addressed the fylgje with these words: “If you are one of the good messengers, then stand; but if you are of the evil, then go!” As soon as she uttered these words, the figure appeared to glide out through the doorway and disappear. The wife ran immediately after, to see which direction the fylgje went, but it was as blown away, and the wife went back to her work, reflecting on the vision.

Late in the evening the boy came home, ate, and then went to bed. In the night he got up to go outdoors. He had stumbled over a stack of iron bars on the workshop floor, and died there and then.

Then they understood that the fylgje had wanted to warn that the boy was finished, not just with his work on the island, but also with his life’s work.


Fru Ingjær’s Fylgja

The parson Ingjær, Rødø, should once travel to visit a school inwards up Melfjord. Before he travelled, he asked his wife, who was in blessed circumstances, if he dare be away from her. She replied that he could safely dare, as she was not expecting to deliver her offspring for a time yet. With this message, the parson travelled, to stay away for at most eight days.

He hurried as best he could, and had already come as far as to Rønviken on the way back, and was about a league from home. Here the bad weather forced him to seek shelter, despite his determined resolution to reach home that same evening; but the boatsmen refused to shove off in such weather.

The parson, therefore, asked the boatsmen to keep their eye on the weather, and wake him straightway it turned such that they could shove off. He retired with his clothes on, so that he might be ready at any time to board the boat; but he lay quite awake, smoking his pipe until just after midnight. Then he saw the door suddenly open, and his wife came in, and began to talk to him.

She was ready for her great voyage, she said, and would he meet her, then he would have to hurry to come straightway. With that she closed the door after herself, and disappeared.

The parson, aghast, rose and went out. He woke the boatsmen, and bade them for God’s sake to hurry, so they might shove off. But the weather was still just as inclement. The sea-spray stood in a cloud, and it was impossible to leave shore, let alone cross the Rødøfjord. The parson had therefore to return to his chamber. He still lay in his clothes, thinking.

Then the door opened again, and again he saw his wife come in.

“If you want to meet me, then you must come straightway,” she said, and disappeared.

Again the parson rushed up and got hold of the boatsmen. “Now we shall go,” he said, “whatever the weather. Now we have to shove off.”

The folk thought that the parson had a screw loose; but they let themselves be pursuaded to go out to the boat and shove off from land.

It was two-o’clock in the morning when they shoved off, and four-o’clock in the morning when they finally—with great effort, and in danger of their lives—arrived ashore on Rødø.

The parson sprang out of the boat and ran to the parsonage aw quickly as he could.

Out in the courtyard, he met madam Jentoft. He asked her how things stood, and she replied that, under the circumstances, things stood not well. She bade him go upstairs, to get out of his clothes and warm himself, before going in to see his wife.

He did so, and sat a while in a chair in the upstairs salon, with his his wife lying in the chamber below. Then the door opens, and his wife’s fylgje comes in to him a third time.

“If you want to bid me farewell, then come straightway,” she said, and disappeared.

The parson sprang up, aghast, and rushed to the door, to go down the stairs; but here he fainted, and remained lying until folk came and helped him up.

As soon as he had regained his senses, he hurried in to his wife, who lay, already struggling for breath.

She recognised him and reached out her hand. He had hardly managed to grasp it and bend himself over her before she gave up the ghost.


The Fylgje as Vardøger

When Jacob Nilsen Tjern one evening sat at table with his folks, a vardøger came and began to rankle some carpentry tools that lay on a shelf above his head. Both he and all his folk noticed the noise from the tools, and it repeated itself several times.

“Let the tools lie,” said Jacob. “When we have occasion to use them, then we will use them.”

Straightway it fell quiet and the tools were left alone. But before Jacob got up the next morning, he received a message from Peder Olsen Toftlien, that his son was dead, and that he had to make a coffin for the deceased.

Peder soon began to make the coffin, and in that connection he had use for the carpentry tools.

He understood well that it was the fylgje of the deceased, who had been out to warn him.


Karen Nilsdatter’s Vardøger

Another time, Jacob Nilsen sat together with all his folk in the cabin, when he again received a warning by means of a fylgje. He and his folk namely heard a plank up in the loft lifted into the air and dropped again. Jacob soon understood what this should mean.

“Let the board lie; when the time comes, we shall surely use it,” he said.

Hardly had he said these words before everything fell quiet. A hour afterwards a messenger from Kvanlien arrived there.

The wife on the farm, Karen Nilsdatter, whose mother, old Karen, had had dealings with the subterraneans, was dead, and Jacob was bidden to make a coffin for the dead.

As he was in need of materials, he had to take the board that the vardøger had played with, and use it for Karen’s coffin.

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