In the cosmic world of the Old Norse system of belief, animals were an integral part because they possessed knowledge of nature and conveyed it to humans and gods. Humans transgressing their bodily boundaries by becoming animals were therefore nothing unnatural, just slightly unusual. Fluidity, hybridity and metamorphosis were considered as simple facts of nature. In this process, body parts were integrated in animal wholes to indicate ambiguity and shape shifting, illustrating the Old Norse saying eigi einhamr, that is a person ‘not of one shape’.

However, metamorphosis and hybridity are different in ‘nature’. Metamorphosis is a process, while hybridity is not (Bynum 2001: 28 ff.). A hybrid is an entity of two or more parts and it is visible; we actually see what a hybrid is. Like the creatures in the animal styles, a hybrid is a double/triple, etc., being. Here, eagle, wild boar, snake, beast, etc. and humans constitute hybrid forms that encapsulate the power and ability of all species. The same might be seen in the hyphenated personal names with two or three names in combination: animals as well as battle/war/fight-synonyms. On the contrary, metamorphosis goes from one entity to another and is essentially narrative. The metamorphosis is a process going on from beginning to end, and is comparable to the little death of the shaman/bear/sei∂-man/women in the stage of soul journey/winter hibernation. It is a constant series of changes and replacements. Metamorphosis breaks down categories by breaching them: man becoming wolf or bear, male becoming female, youth becoming a tree, etc. In opposition to this, hybridity is about contradictions. In a hybrid form, contradictory categories are forced to co-exist, such as when man, wolf, snake, eagle and wild boar co-exist in the animal iconography. I

—  (page 98) Iron Age Myth and Materiality: An Archaeology of Scandinavia AD 400-1000 by Lotte Hedeager
Werewolves of Stockholm. Awooooo!

Óðinn’s relationship with wolves is a love-hate relationship. By his sides in Valhalla are his two wolves, Geri and Freki (“the ravenous” and “the greedy”). He feeds them the meat from his table and they join him on hunts. On the other hand there is Fenrir, the giant wolf, son of Loki, that will be Óðinn’s ultimate demise. From the very start of Fenrir’s life Óðinn is figuring out how to keep the wolf at bay, literally.

Óðinn, as a war-god, is also tied to berserkers, particularly the úlfheðnar (“wolf”-“jacket of fur or skin”). “[Óðinn’s] men went without their mailcoats and were mad as hounds or wolves, bit their shields…they slew men, but neither fire nor iron had effect upon them.” [Davidson, Hilda R.E. (1978). Shape Changing in Old Norse Sagas]

When Sigi is banished from his home for murdering Breði, he is called “varg í véum.” “Literally ‘a wolf in holy places’, an expression normally used of a man who slays another in a hallowed place or sanctuary (e.g. at an assembly), and is forthwith declared a 'wolf’, …Vargr without further qualification is also used in the general sense of 'outlaw’ and is equivalent to the term skógarmaðr (i.e. 'wood-man’), the outcast from society who roams the forests, the like of wolves, and with them to be hunted down and slain.” [R. G. Finch (1965). The Saga of the Volsungs] Which is not just being dramatic. After certain conditions are met, a skógarmaðr “could be killed or wounded with impunity.” [J.L. Byock (1993) Feud in the Icelandic Saga]

Óðinn is not just a patron deity of kingship, but in these and other stories where he is often portrayed as the ragged wanderer, he has a fondness for the vagabond, the hermit, the person living outside the bounds of normal society. The “lone wolf” so to speak.

Óðinn takes Sigi far away from “[Sigi’s] father’s home” and outfits him with men and ships. Sigi raids, plunders, conquers, and builds a kingdom. For some time the family line continues on in a place of stable(ish) power. Sigi, Rerir, and Volsung know kingship. Sigmund though ends up with no family aside from his twin sister (stuck married to King Siggeir) and he himself becomes a skógarmaðr, a woods-man. He is not an outlaw as such, but having to be believed dead in enemy territory he certainly takes on the role of a wolf that must remain outside of human society. The parallels go so forth that he builds an “underground retreat” or a den in the woods.

Sinfjötli (Fitela in Old English) comes onto the scene next. “The name probably means 'he of the ash- (literally 'cinder’) gold fetter’, and is this a kenning for 'wolf’, [Finch, 1965]

From Zoega, "fjöturr (gen. fjöturs and fjötrar, pl. fjötrar), m. (1) fetter, shackle (setja e-n í fjötur)” wherein the wolf kenning echoes Fenrir.

After Sinfjötli passes Sigmund’s test “For some summers they roved far and wide through the forest and killed people for plunder,” in true outlaw fashion, becoming bandits, the wolves that prey. This is taken further still when one day they come upon a cabin in the woods. Within they found two men with heavy gold rings upon them, sleeping with wolf-skins hanging above.

Sigmund and Sinfjötli put on the wolf skins and become wolves themselves. This ties in with the úlfheðnar class of berserker, but in a strange inversion. The úlfheðnar are described as being (mostly) in the form of men, but behaving wild and feral like wolves. Sigmund and Sinfjötli take on the form of wolves but still behave (mostly) like men. Here we see two parts, of many, of the Norse concept of a human self; the hamr and hugr, being interchanged. Hugr is the human capacity for thought (wherein Óðinn’s raven Huginn get his name) and the hamr is described as the outward form of a person, literally 'skin’ or 'shape.’

One that can practice shape-shifting is called hamrammr, which by definition is (1) able to change one’s shape; (2) seized with warlike fury (berserks-gangr). [Zoega] There’s evidently a strong link between shape-shifting and loss of one’s wits (hamstoli). Traditionally, the úlfheðnar maintain their human shape, their hamr, though in dressing in wolfskins they 'exchange’ their minds, their hugn, with those of their feral namesakes. Sigmund and Sinfjötli, for the most part, retain their hugr, their munr, but their hamr has taken the form of wolves.

Much of the lore of shape-shifting in northern traditions involve the hamr of course. Taking a step back to Sigmund and his brothers ordeal in the forest with the she-wolf, we learn that said wolf is a shape-shifting witch. It is witches, who would ride out as night-hags, who could project their hugn out with its own hamr. “This is prevalent in the Norse stories; there is never any transformation with a complete disappearance of the ordinary body- some part is always left behind.” [Catharina Raudvere (1996) The Concept of the Goddess] It could be figured not far-fetched that Siggeir’s mother; the she-wolf which devoured Sigmund’s brothers, may not have even left her bed when she was out in wolf form and instead seemed to have passed away when Sigmund killed her 'projected hamr.’ For instance 'Óðinn could transform his shape: his body would lie as if dead, or asleep; but then he would be in shape of a fish, or worm, or bird, or beast, and be off in a twinkling to distant lands upon his own or other people’s business.’ [Samuel Laing (1844) The Heimskringla, by Snorri Sturluson]

It’s curious then, as to whether Sinfjötli and Sigmund had left anything behind. Or if that their transformation was brought about not by some innate magical ability on their part but instead by an artifact (the wolf skins) they were wholly trapped in the hamr of a wolf. Either way, they are trapped in these wolfskins for ten days before they are able regain their human forms, at which point they soon throw the skins into a fire and “they should trouble no one again.”

This episode gives us the last two males of the Volsung patrilineal line running around as two wolves, which strengthens the Óðinnic themes of the Volsungs as though it could be Geri and Freki terrorizing Siggeir’s lands. This also lends some imagery as to just how powerful these Volsungs are. The pair take down seven men hunting them in one encounter. In another, Sinfjötli alone kills eleven men (though not without taking injury himself). It should be noted that there is a “lone wolf” theme here as well. Wolves, when exiled from a pack can often meet up and work together, sometimes forming their own packs, but at times just having a partner in survival. Lone wolves also tend to be much more fierce and aggressive than wolves in an established pack due to the increased challenges they face in surviving without a social and tactical structure to support them.

Wolves in medieval Germanic societies were also greatly feared and ruthlessly hunted. This is part of why some berserkers chose the wolf over the bear. The úlfheðnar’s association with Óðinn, in attempting to tap into the ferocity and cunning of the wolf, more exemplified the fury, and the trickery, of Glad Of War, compared to the ‘typical’ “bear-shirt” which more emulates the raw power and brute force of a bear and more aligned with Thor in that regard.

Fenrir and Garm, Freki and Geri, Sköll and Hati, Sigmund and Sinfjötli. All deeply mixed up Óðinn, all portrayed as dangerous and fearsome beasts, all playing a role in dramatically changing the world.

On Cats in Norse Pre-Christian Society

Subtitle: Cats are Literally Trolls Why Do You Think They’re Such Assholes

@eclecticwixyness requested me to cover cats in Norse lore and belief. Cats show up in the eddas three times: Freya’s chariot is pulled by two cats (often stated to be gray or blue though Snorri doesn’t specify their color nor their names), Thor tries to lift a cat that is actually Jormungandr in disguise, and the sound of the footfalls of a cat are used to craft the magical chain Gleipnir. Aside from these instances, cats are mentioned sparsely in the saga: once as a troll in the form of a feline beast in “The Tale of Ormr Stdrdlfsson” and a few times they’re alluded to as catskin gloves or cat-fur lined hoods that volvas wear. They show up in folklore after Christianization, usually in conjunction with trolls or the hidden folk. They’re also tied to witches in later Scandinavian folklore. However, their mentions are still relatively sparse. Furthermore, the frequency of cats found in burial sites and Scandinavian artwork is also quite low for an animal tied to one of its foremost goddesses. Despite this, there’s enough pattern repetition within the finds to make a coherent picture of the role they played in Norse belief, though likely not a complete one.

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The Vendel Era bronze helm press plate shown above (and a higher resolution woodcut shown for detail) found on the island of Öland, Sweden, depicts a scene of Odin with an Úlfheðinn.

These Úlfhéðnar (plural) were known as Odin’s special warriors and in battle they wore no chain mail, attacked ferociously and without any fear. It was said they could not be hurt by fire or iron.

They would transform themselves, to “hamask” (“change form”), and enter a state of wild fury. A person possessed of this ability was known as “hamrammr” (“shape strong”).

They accomplished feats so legendary and left such a lasting impression that there are many attestations about the Úlfhéðnar throughout the saga’s and lore.

nightmarist  asked:

I was going through some of the informational stuff youve posted and I was wondering if there's any significant difference between Galdr and Seidr magic? I read one post on tumblr that stated Seidr is closer to astral, meditation, and nonverbal stuff whereas Galdr is vocal, chants, words, and that sort of thing. While Im sure the two can cross over or blend, what the heck are Galdr and Seidr magic? Could they be "modernized" or are they already sort of universal? Sorry for the bombardment lol

Though they can blend, there are important differences between the two, yes. Putting this under a readmore because it got long.

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Where to begin.

Once upon a time not too long ago I may have felt the pangs of a guilt undeserved, bestowed upon me for living within a society from which I am absolutely estranged. Whenever objective thoughts and notions sprung to mind, such pangs would follow. Believing myself content with merely gathering knowledge I have kept myself restrained and blinded for so long, it was unwise of me and although it may be wishful thinking that may have served a purpose acting as a dam until the passing of a catalyst.

I do not know when that catalyst occurred if it ever did and yet all seems not merely different but violent, tragic, cruel, and beautiful all at once. From an inner fount my thoughts have waxed, maybe the poetic will that possesses me now aims to be severed from the moorings of the modern world, its’ poisons and it’s festering insanity. How long ago it seems, when critical objection once held much value to me - how it proves to be of little use when confronting the madness of modern plebeians. In its place lies a healthy body and mind, strength, power and joy all pilgrims seeking to preserve its soul. The madness of others makes one sane and after all there’s a saying - the ends justify the means.