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Walking-Dead-art - 9/4/96


"The Walking Dead: Draugr and Aptrgangr in Old Norse literature" by Mistress Gunnora Hallakarva.


NOTE: See also the files: Norse-msg, burials-msg, p-births-msg, punishments-msg, religion-msg, bog-bodies-lnks, Berserkergang-art, Norse-lit-bib.





This file is a collection of various messages having a common theme that I have collected from my reading of the various computer networks. Some messages date back to 1989, some may be as recent as yesterday.


This file is part of a collection of files called Stefan's Florilegium. These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org


I have done a limited amount of editing. Messages having to do with separate topics were sometimes split into different files and sometimes extraneous information was removed. For instance, the message IDs were removed to save space and remove clutter.


The comments made in these messages are not necessarily my viewpoints. I make no claims as to the accuracy of the information given by the individual authors.


Please respect the time and efforts of those who have written these messages. The copyright status of these messages is unclear at this time. If information is published from these messages, please give credit to the originator(s).


Thank you,

   Mark S. Harris                  AKA:  THLord Stefan li Rous

                                         Stefan at florilegium.org



From: gunnora at bga.com (Gunnora Hallakarva)

CC: ansteorra at eden.com

Date: Fri, 30 Aug 1996 16:54:05 -0500

Subject: The Walking Dead


The Walking Dead:  Draugr and Aptrgangr in Old Norse Literature


Part I: Introduction and Description of the Walking Dead


       For the Vikings, the concept of the afterlife was often much more

immediate than glorious skaldic tales of Valholl or the Christian's Heaven:

once the dead body was placed within the grave, it was believed to become

"animated with a strange life and power" (Hilda Ellis-Davidson. The Road to

Hel. Westport CT, Greenwood P., 1943. p. 96).  The dead person continued a

sort of pseudo-life within the grave, not as a spirit or ghost, but as an

actual undead corpse similar in many respects to the "nosferatu" or central

European vampire (Ellis-Davidspn, Road to Hel, p. 92).


       The undead were known by various names.  The "haugbui" (from "haugr"

meaning "howe" or "barrow") was a mound-dweller, the dead body living on

within its tomb.  The haugbui was rarely found far from its burial place,

and is the type of undead usually found in Norwegian saga material.  The

"draugr" was "the animated corpse that comes forth from its grave mound, or

shows restlessness on the road to burial" (Ellis-Davidson, Road to Hel, p.

80). Also known as "aptrgangr" (lit. "after-goer,"  or "one who walks after

death") the draugr is the roaming undead most frequently encountered in the

Icelandic sagas.  Whichever name is used, the undead of Scandinavia was a

physical body, the actual corpse of the deceased, and though the term

"ghost" may be used to describe it, modern connotations of a phantom or

incorpoeal spirit do not apply to these supernatural creatures.


       The physical descriptions of the undead further reinforce the idea

of a walking corpse.  The undead is said to be "hel-blar" ("black as death"

or "blue as death") or "na-folr" ("corpse-pale).  In Eyrbyggja Saga, a

shepherd who is killed by a draugr and who is destined himself to become

undead is said to be "coal-black," and the draugr that killed him is

"hel-blar" when disinterred (Hermann Palsson and Paul Edwards, trans.

Eyrbyggja Saga.  Buffalo, U of Toronto P, 1973. pp 115 & 187).  Glamr, the

undead shepherd of Grettirs Saga, was reported to be dark blue in color

(Denton Fox and Hermann Palsson, trans. Grettirs Saga.  Toronto, U of

Toronto P, 1974.  p. 72), and in Laxdaela Saga the bones of a dead sorceress

who had appeared in dreams were dug up and found to be "blue and evil

looking" (Magnus Magnusson and Hermann Palsson, trans., Laxdaela Saga.  NY,

Penguin, 1969. p. 235).


       The undead corpse was rendered yet more terrifying by its propensity

to swell to enormous size.  This property of the undead was apparently not

due to gasses released by decay, for the body of the draugr was also found

to be enormously heavy, and was often described as being uncorrupted, even

many years after death.  Thorolf of Eyrbyggja Saga was "uncorrupted, and

with an ugly look about him... swollen to the size of an ox," and his body

could not be raised without levers, it was so heavy (Palsson & Edwards,

Eyrbyggja Saga, p. 187.  See also Grettirs Saga, p. 115).


       The size attributed to the draugr was a way of expressing the vast

strength of the creature.  The sagas describe the struggles of kinsmen to

straighten the body for burial (Hermann Palsson and Paul Edwards, trans.,

Egils Saga. NY, Penguin, 1976, p. 150.  See also Eyrbyggja Saga, p. 114).

The aptrgangr often demonstrated its power by literraly crushing its victim

to death.  Glamr's attack leaves a shepherd "with his neck broken and every

bone in his body crushed" (Fox and Palsson, Grettirs Saga, p. 74.  See also

Eyrbyggja Saga, p. 115).  Frequently, in describing battles between a saga

hero and a draugr where the hero is a man acknowledged to have enormous

strength himself, the fight was often an unsure thing, with the combatants

struggling back and forth, evenly matched in the deadly contest (Nora

Kershaw, trans., "Hromundar saga Greipssonar," in Stories and Ballads of the

Far Past.  Cambridge, University P., 1921, p. 68.  See also Grettirs Saga,

p. 37).


       The draugr also at times exhibited powers of a magical nature,

possessing knowledge of the future (Peter G. Foote and David M. Wilson, The

Viking Achievement.  London, Sidgwick & Jackson, 1970. p. 405), controlling

the weather (Ellis-Davidson, Road to Hel, p. 163), and shape-shifting.  The

dead could appear in many forms, such as a seal (Palsson and Edwards,

Eybyggja Saga, p. 165.  See also Laxdaela Saga, p. 80), a great flayed bull,

a grey horse with no ears or tail and a broken back, or a cat that would sit

upon a sleeper's chest and grow steadily heavier until the victim suffocated

(Jacqueline Simpson, Icelandic Folktales and Legends.  Berkeley, U of

California P, 1972.  p. 166. Also personal experience... my Norwegian Forest

Cat does the same thing, even though I'm pretty sure he's not a draugr!).

The draugr Thrain shape-shifted into a "cat-like creature" (kattakyn) in

Hromundar saga Greipssonar:


  Then Thrain turned himself into a troll, and the barrow was filled

  with a horrible stench; and he stuck his claws into the back of

  Hromund's nack, tearing the flesh from his bones... (Kershaw, P. 68)


The draugr could also move magically through the earth, swimming through

solid stone as does Killer-Hrapp:


  Then Olaf tried to rush Hrapp, but Hrapp sank into the ground

  where he had been standing and that was the end of their

  encounter (Magnussen and Palsson, Laxdaela Saga, p. 103).


This certainly would have been a useful talent, alowing the undead to enter

or leave its burial place at will.



Part II: The Dwelling Place of the Draugr


       The dwellingt-place of the draugr was the burial mound.  Although

Scandinavian burial practices varied, with ship-burials, various cremation

practices, cairn burials and Christian gravesites all testified to by

literature and archaeology, the sagas depict burial in a howe or barrow as

the most prevalent means of disposal of the dead (Ellis-Davidson, Road to

Hel, pp. 10 and 34).  The barrow was a stone-built burial chamber roofed

with wood and covered with a great mound of earth (Nora K. Chadwick, "Norse

Ghosts: A Study in the Draugr and the Haugbui," in Folklore 57(1948), p.

50). The burial mound of Kar the Old in Grettirs saga was a large chamber

roofed with rafters and covered by a dirt mound  (Fox and Palsson, Grettirs

Saga, p. 36).  Haralds saga Harfagra tells of a mound "constructed of

stones, mortar and timber" (Snorri Sturluson, "Haralds saga Harfagra," in

Heimskringla: History of the Kings of Norway, trans. Lee M. Hollander.

Austin, U of Texas P, 1964, p. 64). In Olafs saga Tryggvasonar, Jarl Hakon

of Hlathir is interred in a mound-like construction to hide from Olaf:


  Then the thrall dug a deep pit, carrying the dirt away and then covering

  the excavation with timbers.  Thora told the earl the news that Olaf

  Tryggvason had entered the fjord and slain his son Erlend.Thereupon

  the earl and Kark went down into the pit, and Thora covered it with

  timbers and swept dirt and dung over it and drove the swine over it.  

  That pigsty was beneath a big boulder" (Ibid., "Olafs saga Tryggvasonar,"

  p. 191).


While this is not a grave-mound, per se, it is indicated to the reader to be

a place of the dead by the presence of the boulder, or grey stone, above it:

the undead and dwarves alike are said to live beneath such stones.


       Often a barrow's presence was made clear by a great light that

seemed to glow from the mound like fox-fire.  This fire "surrounds the howes

and forms a barrier between the worlds of the living and the dead"

(Ellis-Davidson, Road to Hel, p. 161).  Grettir views such a flame burning

upon the barrow of Kar the Old:


  ... it happened late one evening, when he was getting ready to go home,

  that he saw a huge fire burst forth on the headland below Audun's farm....

  "If such a thing were seen in my country," said Grettir, "it would be said

  that the flame came from a buried treasure."  The farmer said, "The owner

  of this fire, I think, is one whom it is better not to enquire about"

  (Fox and Palsson, Grettirs Saga, p. 36).


       Burial mounds were often found near a family's dwelling, and

Anglo-Saxon boundary charters list many instances of barrows as landmarks on

the edge of an estate ( Hilda Ellis-Davidson, "The Hill of the Dragon:

Anglo-Saxon Burial Mounds in Literature and Archaeology," in Folklore

64(1950), pp. 173-174).  Traditionally, a person inheriting land had to be

able to name his ancestors who held the land before him, and point out the

barrow in which the ancestor was laid, in order to be eligible to inherit.

This may also have been the reason for the careful recording of the location

of the howes of the dead settlers of Iceland in Landnamabok (Ellis-Davidson,

Road to Hel, p. 36).  Scandinavian draugar are further associated with

certain types of landscapes, notably the "hvammr," "a short valley or dell,

surrounded by mountains, but open on one side in one direction" (reidar T,

Christiansen, "The Dead and the Living," in Studia Norvegica 2  (Oslo,

1946), pp. 88-89).  Certain traditions record a tradition of the dead "dying

into a mountain," equating this sort of mountain with a burial mound

(Palsson and Edwards, Eyrbyggja Saga, pp. 41 and 51).  The hvammr

represented a boundary area between valley and mountain, between farm and

burial mound, between the living and the dead.  The hvammr, surrounded by

tall mountains, would receive little direct sunlight, and none at all for

several weeks in midwinter.  Forsaeludale (literally, "Shadow Valley"), the

site of Glamr's hauntings in Grettirs saga, was such a place (Fox and

Palsson, Grettirs Saga, p. 69).  It is interesting to note that "the dead

were expected to return at Christmas or the New Year, the old season of Yule

which marked midwinter" (Ellis-Davidson, "The Restless Dead," p. 162; see

also Magnus Magnusson and Hermann Palsson, trans., The Vinland Sagas. NY,

Penguin, 1965, p. 88; Eyrbyggja Saga, p. 115; and Grettirs Saga, pp. 73-75),

and the attacks of the undead began late in autumn and intensified as the

winter deepened, precisely the time of year in which the hours of darkness

are longest.  The draugr might also have the ability to create a temporary

darkness in daylight hours to mask its approach, or to call up a mist to

hide its activities (Chadwick, "Norse Ghosts," p. 54).  At night the draugr

moved in a shifting landscape of moonlight and darkness such as Grettir

experienced during his fight with Glamr:


  Outside the light was bright but intermittent, for there were

  dark clouds which passed before the moon and then went

  away (Fox and Palsson, Grettirs Saga, 78.  Nearly identical

  descriptions are to be found in Magnbus Magnusson and

  Herman Palsson, trans., Njals Saga.  NY, penguin, 1969,

  p. 173; and in Incelandic Folktales and Legends, pp. 133-136).


These half-lit conditions often reveal a flash of light upon bare bone or

the glow of the moon shimmering upon the draugr's eyes, intensifying the

horror of the episode.


       The sagas depicted a "conception of the dead man dwelling in his

howe as in an earthly house watching jealously over his possessions"

(Ellis-Davidson, Road to Hel, p. 90).  The mound was the hall of the dead,

as in Thorsteins thattr uxafots where Thorstein is invited to the

"homestead" of a haugbui which is furnished with mead-benches and warbands

(Jacqueline Simpson, "Thorsteins thattr uxafots, " in The Northmen Talk.

Madison, U of Wisconsin P, 1965, pp. 218-220), or Helga Fell the "Holy

Mountain," into which the relatives of Thorolf Mosturbeard died, which had

"great fires burning inside it, and the noise of feasting and clamor over

the ale-horns" (Palson and Edwards, Eyrbyggja Saga, pp. 41 and 51).  In Old

English poetry, the essence of a hal lwas the treasure and gifts which were

distributed within it (Kathryn Hume, "The Concept of the Hall in Old English

Poetry," in Anglo-Saxon England 3, ed. Peter Clemoes. Cambridge, University

Press, 1974, p. 64), and certainly the barrow was known as a place of costly

treasures: "A great treasure of gold and silver was gathered there, and

under the man's feet was a chest full of silver" (Fox and Palsson, Grettirs

Saga, p. 37.  Great treasures are also described in Thorsteins thattr

bajarmagns, trans. by Hermann Palsson and Paul Edwards in Gautrek's Saga and

Other Medieval Tales.  NY, Penguin, 1970, p. 139;  also in Thorsteins thattr

uxafots, p. 219).  Thus in some ways the undead was related to the

Scandinavian dwarves, who possessed such treasures as Freyja's necklace

Brisingamen and who lived inside rocks, under stones, or within boulders

(There are too many references to dwarves in the literature to list all  See

"Sorla thattr" trans. by G.N. Garmonsway and Jacqueline Simpson in Beowulf

and Its Analogues. NY, E.P. Dutton, 1968, p. 298;  or "Alvissmal" trans. by

Lee M. Hollander in The Poetic Edda, Austin, U of Texas P, 1962, p. 111, or

in "Thorsteins thattr bajarmagns," p. 126).  The names of the "deep-dwelling

dwarfs" of Dvergatal, "The Catalog of Dwarves," "seem to refer to the nether

world of death, cold, dissolution" (Lee M. Hollander, trans., "Dvergatal,"

in The Poetic Edda, pp. 322-323)


       The presence of great wealth within the burial mound attracted the

attention of grave-robbers, both historically and in the literary record,

hence tales such as Grettirs saga were lent authenticity by details of

actual grave breakings:


   Grettir began to break open the mound, and worked hard without

   stopping until he reached the rafters, late in the afternoon.  Then he tore

   them up.  Audun did his best to discourage him from entering the mound.

   Grettir told him to watch the rope, "for I am going to find out what

   inhabits the barrow."  Then Grettir went inside the mound. Inside it was

   dark, and the air not very sweet (Fox and Palsson, Grettirs Saga,

   pp. 36-37).


However, the would-be grave-robber had to be wary, for the haugbui was a

jealous guardian of its treasures, and would viciously attack those who

disturbed him in his house:


  Grettir took all the treasure and carried it towards the rope, but as he

  was making his way through the barrow he was seized fast by someone.

  He let go of the treasure and turned to attack, and they set on each other

  mercilessly, so that everything in their way was thrown out of place.  The

  mound-dweller attacked vigorously, and for a while Grettir had to give

  way, but finally he realized that this was not a good time to spare

  himself.  Then they both fought desperately, and moved towards the

  horse bones, where they had a fierce struggle for a long time.  Now the

  one and now the other was forced to his knees, but in the end the

  mound-dweller fell backwards, and there was a great crash. Then Audun

  ran away from the rope, thinking that Grettir must be dead (Ibid., p. 37).


In addition to teeth, claws and main strength, the haugbui might also use

"trollskap," evil magic, to defend its home as does Agnarr in Gull-thoris

saga (Chadwick, "Norse Ghosts," p. 55), or the evil haugbui Mithothyn, whose

corpse "emitted such foul plagues that he almost seemed to leave more

loathsome reminders of himslef dead than when alive" (Saxo Grammaticus, The

History of the Danes, trans. Peter Fisher. Totowa, Rowman and Littlefield,

1979, Vol. I, p. 26).  Further, the haugbui was not always the only fearful

inhabitant of the barrow.  Some sagas refer also to the mother of the dead

man, "who has long claws and is in consequence described as a "ketta"

(she-cat), amd is even more formidable than her monstrous son" (Nora K.

Chadwick, "The Monsters and Beowulf," in The Anglo-Saxons: Studies in Some

Aspects of their History and Culture Presented to Bruce Dickens, ed. Peter

Clemoes. London, Bowes and Bowes, 1959, p. 178).



Part III:  Precautions Against the Walking Dead


       While the haugbui was often content to remain within its grave,

harming only those who trespassed upon its domain, the draugr was known to

venture outside the mound, causing great harm to the living.  Fear of the

malevolent actions of the dead was very real in Scandinavia.  Precautions

taken to prevent the dead from rising again were practiced from the Viking

Age to the present century:


  "...in old-fashioned homes [certain antique practices] were

  very carefully followed;  a paid of open scissors laid on the

  dead person's chest, small pieces of straw laid crosswise

  under the shroud.  The great toes were tied together so that

  the legs could not be seperated.  Needles were run into the

  soles of the feet, and when the coffin was carried out, the

  bearers, just within the threshold of the door, raised and

  lowered it three times in different directions so as to form a

  cross.  When the coffin had left the house, all chairs and

  stools on which it had rested were upset, all jars and sauce-

  pans turned upside down, and when the parson in the church-

  yard prays for the rest of the dead, he is supposed to bind the

  dead to the grave with magic words, to keep him fast"

  (H.F. Feilberg, "The Corpse-Door: A Danish Survival," in

  Folklore 18 (1907), p. 366).


Further, special "corpse-doors" were to be found in homes, bricked-up

openings that could be torn open for the removal of the coffin, feet-first,

and then closed firmly again to deny the dead access to the home, since it

was believed that the unquiet dead could only return the way they had come,

and by carrying the body out feet-foremost, the living further protected

themselves from the dead by denying them a clear view of the path taken to

burial (Ibid, pp. 364-369).  The very same precautions are recorded in

Eyrbyggja Saga:


  Arnkel went into the living room and across the hall to get

  behind Thorolf.  He warned everyone to be careful not to go

  in front of the corpse until the eyes had been closed.  Then

  he took Thorolf by the shoulders and had to use all his strength

  before he could force him down.  After that he wrapped some

  clothes around Thorolf's head and got him ready for burial

  according to the custom of the time.  He had a hole broken

  through the wall behind Thorolf and the corpse was dragged

  outside (Palsson and Edwards, Eyrbyggja Saga, p. 114).



Part IV: Draugr Attacks and Slaying the Undead


       The dead budy was a vehicle of plague and illness, such as that

ofthe sorceror Mithothyn of Saxo Grammaticus, but in a day and age in which

germ theory was unknown, the causative agent was perceived to be the evil

intent of the draugr.  Thus it followed that the dead might also make

physical attacks against the living.  The draugr was believed to feel a

longing for the things of life, and even envy of those yet alive.  This

notion is poignantly described in Fridthjofs saga, when a dying king declared:


  My howe shall stand beside the firth.  And there shall be but a short

  distance between mine and Thorsteinn's, for it is well that we should

  call to one another (Ellis-Davidson, Road to Hel, p. 91).


The idea of dead friends calling greetings from grave to grave is a peaceful

one, exhibiting a wistful desire for the friendship experienced while yet

living. However, this desire for the things of life often took on more

dangerous overtones as in the story of Killer-Hrapp, a brutal man who

declared to his wife on his deathbed,


  I want my grave to be dug under the living-room door, and I am to be

  placed upright in it under the threshold, so that I can keep an even

  better watch over my house.


The saga goes on to say that


  Hrapp soon died and all his instructions were carried out, for Vigdis

  [his wife] did not dare do otherwise.  And difficult as he had been to

  deal with during his life, he was now very much worse after death, for

  his corpse would not rest in its grave... (Magnusson and Palsson,

  Laxdaela Saga, pp. 77-78).


The draugar who most dramatically demonstrate the desire for their past life

are those that appear in Eyrbyggja saga.  The ghosts of drwoned Thorodd and

his crew, dripping wet, and the mud-covered band of draugar led by Thorir

Wood-Leg invade the living-room of the hall at Frodriver:


  The people bolted out of the room, as you'd expect, and that evening

  they had to do without light, heating-stones, and everything else the

  fire could give (Palsson and Edwards, Eyrbyggja Saga, pp. 166-167).


These undead not only deprive the inhabitants of Frodriver of the benefits

of thei hall at night, while they are present the wage mud-fights, no doubt

damaging the hall and rendering it uninhabitable by day as well.


       In the sagas, "those who die have not gone to a better place, they

are on the contrary driven away from the comfort of their homes and the

company of their kin.  They feel cold and hungry" (Christiansen, "The Dead

and the Living," p. 10).  It is no wonder then that the draugr should come

to resent the living, and at times walk again to reclaim a place they feel

is rightfully theirs.  This envy of the living is related to the motive

driving the most powerful and dangerous of draugar: their insatiable hunger.

This hunger is seen in the encounter of Aran and Asmund, sword brothers, who

made an oath that if one should die, the other would sit vigil with him for

three days inside the burial mound.  This when Aran died, Asmund equipped

his brother's barrow with his possessions, his banners and armor, hawk,

hound, and horse.  Then Asmund set himself to wait the three days:


  During the first night, Aran got up from his chair and killed the hawk and

  hound and ate them.  On the second night he got up again from his chair,

  and killed the horse and tore it into pieces; then he took great bites at the

  horse-flesh with his teeth, the blood streaming down from his mouth all

  the while he was eating....  The third night Asmund became very drowsy,

  and the first thing he knew, Aram had got him by the ears and torn them

  off (Palsson and Edwards, "Egils saga einhenda ok Asmundar saga

  berserkjabana," in Gautrek's Saga and Other Medieval Tales, pp. 99-101).


Saxo Grammaticus, who recounts the same basic story, adds, "... but horse

nor dog sated its hunger; swiftly it turned its lightning talons to slash my

cheek and take off my ear" (Saxo Grammaticus, Vol I, p. 151;  Other hungry

ghosts include Glamr of Grettirs saga and Thrain of Hromundar saga

Greipssonar, p. 67).  The implication is clear that the draugr, having

devoured the animals interred with him in the mound, had determined to make

Asmund his next grisly meal.  The unnatural hunger of the draugr was perhaps

a physical manifestation of its desire for life.  It is for this reason that

modern commentators often link the draugr and the vampire.  "In these tales

the corpse within the grave is always represented with vampre-like

propensities, superhuman strength, and a fierce desire to destroy any living

creature which ventures to enter the mound" (Ellis-Davidson, Road to Hel, p.



       The draugr's victims were not restricted to trespassers in its

mound. The roaming ghosts decimated livestock by running the animals to

death while either riding them or pursuing them in some hideous, half-flayed

form. Shepherd, whose duties to their flocks left them out of doors at

night time, were also particular targets for the hunger and hatred of the



  ... the oxen which had been used to haul Thorolf's body were ridden to

  death by demons, and every single beast that came near his grave went

  raving mad and howled itself to death.  The shepherd at Hvamm often

  came racing home with Thorolf after him.  One day that autumn neither

  sheep nor shepherd came back to the farm" (Palsson and Edwards,

  Eyrbyggja Saga, p. 115).


Stabled animals and unwary travellers were crushed and broken by the draugr,

and those unwary enough to open hall doors after nightfall for a knocking

visitor might never be seen again:


  And when they were at meat there came a loud sharp blow at the door.

  Then one of them said, "Good tidings must be near now."  He ran out,

  and they thought that he was long coming back.  The Iostan and his men

  went out, and saw him that had gone out stark mad, and in the morning

  he died (Gudbrandr Vigfusson and F. York Powell, "Floamanna saga," in

  Origines Islandicae.  Oxford, Clarendon, 1905, Vol II, p. 646).


The Icelandic custom was to tap three times at the windows after dark, and

"a knock, especially if it were only a single stroke, was a sure sign of a

ghost or other evil creature seeking entry" ( Simpson, Icelandic Folktales

and Legends, pp. 135-136).


       Although staying indoors at night was safer than venturing outside

when a draugr was about, the creature might attack the hall itself:


  At night the people at Hvamm used to hear loud noises from outside,

  and it often sounded to them as if there was somebody sitting astride

  the roof (Palsson and Edwards, Eyrbyggja Saga, p. 115).


This type of onslaught was known as house-riding, and the draugr used its

enormous strength to batter the roof, while the drumming of its heels

terrified the inhabitants within:


  Someone seemed to be climbing the house and then straddling the

  roof-top above the hall, and beating his heels against the roof so that

  every beam in the house was cracking (Fox and Palsson, Grettirs Saga,

  p. 57)


The draugr's attack could also be intended to gain entry into the hall by

destroying the doors:


  The entire frame of the outer door had been broken away, and a crude

  hurdle tied carelessly in its place.  The wooden partition which before

  had seperated the hall from the entrance passage had also broken away,

  both below and above the crossbeam (Ibid.).


       Overcoming the dead would seem to have been quite difficult, but the

Scandinavians believed that even the dead could die again:


  I can tell with truth, I say,

  For I have seen all the worlds 'neath the welkin.

  Niflhel beneath nine worlds I saw,

  There men die out of Hel.

  (Hollander, "Vafthruthnismal," The Poetic Edda, p. 50)


Although iron weapons could harm the draugr, as with many supernatural

creatures, cold iron was not sufficient to stop the dead from walking.

First, the draugr must be overcome by grappling hand-to-hand with the

creature, and wrestling withit until it was subdued (Simpson, Icelandic

Folktales and Legends, p. 107).  The hero next must decapitate the ghost,

often with a sword found in the draugr's own barrow (Chadwick, "Norse

Ghosts," p. 55).  This was at times a difficult task, for in some traditions

the hero was required to leap between the head and the body before the

corpse hit the ground, or walk widdershins three times between the head and

body afterwards, or drive a wooden stake into the headless body in the same

manner other cultures used to dispose of vampires (Saxo Grammaticus, Vol. I,

p. 150 and Vol. II, p. 89).  The final step in dispatching the draugr was to

burn the remains to cold ashes and then bury the ashes in a remote spot or

throw them out to sea:  only then was the undead truly dead and destined to

rise no more (Ellis-Davidson, Road to Hel, pp. 37-38).



Part V: Parallels between the Scandinavian Draugr and Beowulf's Grendel


(All Old English is from Frederick Klaeber's edition of Beowulf and the

Fight at Finnsburg.  3rd ed.  Lexington MA; D.C. Heath & Co., 1950.  All

translations to modern English and any mistakes therin are my own.)


       Parellels can be drawn between Beowulf and Grettirs Saga based on

the similarities between Beowulf's encounter with Grendel in heorot and

Grettir's struggle with Glamr at Thorhallsstadir.  These two tales have more

in common than just their plots, however, for there are many similarities

between their monstrous adversaries:  "The important thing is that Grendel

is related to the corpse demon (aptrgangr) Glamr..." (Nicholas K. Kiessling,

"Grendel: A New Aspect," Modern Philology, 65 (1968), p. 201).  In many

respects, Grendel himself seems to exhibit the characteristics of the

walking dead.


       Chadwick, in her analysis of words used in Beowulf to describe

Grendel, points out that Anglo-Saxon glossaries relate these descriptions to

Latin words "associated with the underworld, with necromancy and the harmful

influence of the spirits of the dead" (Chadwick, "The Monsters and Beowulf,"

p. 175).  Like the draugr, "swollen to the size of an ox," Grendel is "mara

thonne aenig man odther" (l. 1353, "greater in size than any other man") and

possesses strength proportional to his size which enables him to carry

fifteen men away to his lair:


   Thonne he Hrodthgares            heordth-geneatas

   sloh on sweofote                     slaepende fraet

   folces Denigea                        fyftyne men,

   and odther swylc                     ut offerede

   ladthlicu lac.                           (ll. 1580-1584a)


   (Then Hrothgar's                      hearth companions

   he slew in their beds,              ate them sleeping,

   of the Danish people                fifteen men,

   another fifteen likewise             he carried off-

   a hateful gift.)


It would also seem that Grendel shared with the undead the ability to

shape-shift. As O'Keefe points out, Grendel is clearly described as a man

by the words "guma" (ll. 973, 1682), "haeledtha" (l. 2072), "rinc" (l.

720), and "wer"  (l. 105), and yet he also partakes of a monstrous nature

(Katherine O'Brien O'Keefe, "Beowulf, Lines 702b-836: Transformations and

Limits of the Human," in Texas Studies in Literature and Language, 23

(1981), p. 486).  After his disasterous encounter with Beowulf, the arm left

behind by Grendel is seen to be a sort of taloned paw:


   ...                                 foran aeghwylc waes,

   stidthra naegla gehwylc              style gelicost

   haethenes handsporu                 hilderinces

   eglu unheoru...                          (ll. 984b - 987a)


   (...                                  at the end of each

   every one of the hard nails was        most like steel

   the handspurs                           of the heathen warrior

   were awful, monstrous things...)


This description recalls the cat-like form assumed by the draugr Thrain of

Hromundar saga Greipssonar while battling Hromund.


       Grendel exhibits the vampire-like propensities of the draugr as

well. Kiessling links the word "maere" (ll. 103, 762) used to describe

Grendel with the Latin "lamia," "a blood-drinking witch," based on the

evidence of Old English glossaries (Kiessling, "Grendel: A New Aspect," pp.

195-196). Grendel himself certainly drinks the blood of doomed Hondscioh:


Ne thaet se aglaeca                     yldan thohte,

  ac he gefeng hradthe                    forman sidthe

slaepende rinc,                            slat unwearnum

  bat banlocan,                               blod edrum drank...


  (Nor did the combatant                  think to delay

but he quickly caught                    the first time

a sleeping man,                            greedily tore him,

  bit the joint,                                  drank the blood streams...)


       Grendel's abode may also be related to the barrow of the draugr.

The dwellings of the dead were often said to be located beneath a stone or

boulder, and the mere of Grendel is likewise to be found beneath a "harne

stan" (l. 1415, "grey stone").  There are three other occurences of the

phrase "under harne stan" in Beowulf, each describing the lair of a dragon

(ll. 887, 2553, 2744).  Old English literature firmly links dragons to

barrows: "To the Anglo-Saxon poets there is little doubt that a burial

mound containing treasure was the 'hill of the dragon.'" (Ellis-Davidson,

"The Hill of the Dragon," p. 178).  The dragon's lair in Beowulf is

explicitly described many times as a barrow ("beorh"), and after Beowulf has

directed Wiglaf to seek out the dragon's treasure "under harne stan" (l.

2744), the young warrior obeys and retrieves the gold from "under beorges

hrof" (l. 2755, "under a barrow's roof").  Thus the description "under harne

stan" acts as a kenning for a barrow, a form of verbal shorthand conveying

the idea of the supernatural and the home of the dead.


       The mere itself has connections to the dwelling of the dead: "thaer

maeg nihta gehwaem nidthwundor seon, fyr on flode"  (ll. 1365-1366a, "There

each night may be seen a fearful wonder, fire on the flood.")  The waters of

the mere burn with a dread fire, like the flame that is seen above the

barrows of the dead.  The water of the mere and the "fyrgenstream" (ll.

1359, 2128) also recall descriptions of the dragon's barrow:  "hlaew under

hrusan holmwylme neh, ydthgewinne" (ll. 2411-2412a, "the howe under the

earth near the sea-surge, the wave-strife") and "standan stanbogan, stream

ut ponan brecan of beorge (ll. 2545-2546a, "a standing stone arch, from it a

stream that burst forth from the barrow").  Like Beowulf's barrow (ll.

2156-3158), the howes of many Scandinavian draugar are built upon headlands

near the sea (see for example Egils Saga, p. 150).  Thus the mere, too, is

recognized as a place of the dead.


       The land around the mere is reminiscent of the hvammr in which so

many aptrgangar are found.  The mere is located beneath enclosing mountains

within a narrow valley, in a place where the hills restrict the light of the



  ...                                             Hie dygel lond

  warigeadth wulfhleothu                windige naessas,

  frecne fengelad,                         dthaer fyrgen stream

  under naessa genithu                 nither gewitedth...

  (ll. 1357b - 1360)


  (...                                            They hold to a secret land

  ward the wolf-slopes,                  the windy headlands

  the dangerous fen-paths;             there the mountain stream

  under dark hills                           goes downwards...)




  Ofereode tha                             aethlinga bearn

  steap stanhlidtho,                      stige nearwe,

  enge anpadthas,                        uncudth gelad

  neowle naessas...                      (ll. 1408 - 1411a)


  (The aethling's son                     rode over

  the steep rocky slopes,              the narrow paths,

  single-file tracks,                       strange ways,

  steep hills...)


This landscape, like the hvammr, is also a place of boundaries, for Grendel

is known as the "mearcstapa" (l 103a, "rover of the borders").


       beneath the waters of the mere, Beowulf enters the "nidthsele" (l.

1513a, "hostile hall"), the home of the Grendel-kin.  Like a barrow, it is

described as a hall --- or rather, as the inverse of a hall:  "Anti-halls of

this sort gain poetic resonance from their affinities with the grave" (Hume,

"The Concept of the Hall in Old English Poetry," p. 68).  The "nidthsele" is

provided with "fyrleoht" (l. 1557a, "firelight") and furnished with

"searwum" and a "sigeeadig bil" (l. 1557, "armor" and "a victory-blessed

sword"): rich treasure indeed for a fighting man.  Plundering this hoard is

not a simple task, for it is guarded by Grendel's mother, as cat-like as her

son or the "ketta" found in Scandinavian barrows, with her "grimmum grapum"

(l. 1542a, "grim claws").


       Grendel's attacks upon the living are motivated by the same force

that drives the draugr:  envy of the living.  Grendel was excluded from

Heorot, that "circle of light and peace enclosed by darkness, discomfort and

danger" (Ibid., p.11):


Dtha se ellengaest                     earfodthlice

  thrage getholode,                        se the in thystrum bad,

  thaet he dogora gehwam              dream gehyrde

  hludne in healle;                          thaer waes hearpan swaeg,

   swutal sang scopes.                    (ll. 86 - 90a)


  (Then the estranges spirit              hardship

  suffered for a time,                        he that in darkness dwelt

  for every day                                 he heard rejoicing

loud in the hall;                             there was the sound of the harp

  the clear song of the scop.)


This passage has been deliberately placed before the description of

Grendel's first attack to suggest to the audience Grendfel's motivation

(David Williams, "The Exile as Uncreator," in Mosaic, 8 (1975), p. 11).

Grendel, however, is not only deprived of the joy and comfort of Hrothgar's

hall, he is also denied participation in the social bonding of lord and

theign via the distribution of treasure:  "no he thone gifstol gretan moste"

(l. 168, "nor was he allowed to approach the gift-throne").


       Grendel hungers for the things of life, and this hunger is expressed

by his savage feasting upon Hrothgar's retainers.  Grendel is separated from

the joys of the hall, therefore he will separate the theigns from their

"sibbegedriht" (;. 387, "band of kinsmen") as well as from their life

(Robert W. Hanning, "Sharing, Dividing, Depriving --- The Verbal Ironies of

Grendel's Last Visit to Heorot,"  in Texas Studies in Literature and

Language, 15 (1973), pp. 204-205).  He does this in the same way as the

draugr of "Egils saga einhenda ok Asmundar saga berserkjabana":


  bat banlocan                            blod edrum dranc,

  synsnaedum swealh;                sona haefde

  unlyfigendes                            eal gefeormod,

  fet ond folma.                          (ll. 742 - 745a)


  (he bit the joint,                      drank the blood streams,

  swallowed huge morsels;         he immediately ate

  the dead man                          all up,

  feet and hands.)


The very etymology of Grendel's name indicates "the grinder" or "the

destroyer" (Kiessling, "Grendel:A New Aspect," p. 194), a name quite

appropriate for a draugr, who were known to kill by crushing their victims

to death.  Grendel wreaks his revenge upon the living, destroying what he

cannot have.


       Like the draugr, Grendel is a creature of the night.  He is "deogol

daedhata deorcum nihtum" (l. 2775, "the hidden doer of hateful deeds in the

dark night"), the "scridthan sceadugenga" (l. 703, "the gliding

shadow-goer"), who moves through the landscape of shifting shadows and

intermittent moonlight so characteristic of the undead:  "Sceaduhelma

gesceapu scridthan cwoman wan under wolcnum" (ll. 650-651a, "the

shadow-cloaked shape comes gliding, black under the clouds.")  Grendel

conceals his actions beneath a mist, "Dtha com of more under mistleothum

Grendel gongan" (ll. 710-711a, "Then he came from the moor, under hills of

mist Grendel went"), and the intermittent moonlight suggested by the clouds

and mist may be responsible for the gleam of light from Grendel's eyes:

"him of eagum stod ligge gelicost leoht un faeger"  (ll. 726b-727, "from his

eyes came an ugly light, most like a flame").


       Upon his arrival at Heorot for the final battle, Grendel announces

his presence with the single blow at the door that was ytaken by the

Icelandic sagas to be the sign of a ghost seeking entry:


  ...                                             Duru sona onarn

  fyrbendum faest,                        sythdthan he hire folmum aethran;

  onbraed tha bealohydig               dtha he gebolgen waes,

  recedes muthan.                         (ll. 721b-724a)


  (...                                The door immediately sprang open

  tho fastened with forged bands     when he touched it with his hands

  driven by evil desire                     swollen with anger,

  he tore open the hall's mouth.)


The destruction of the door and the damage to the hall engendered when

Grendel struggles with Beowulf recall the attacks made by the undead against

Scandinavian homes:


  ...                                             Reced hlynsode.

  Tha waes wundor micel,             Thaet se winsele

  widthhaefde heathodeorum,         thaet he on hrusan ne feol,

  faeger foldbold...                         (ll. 770-b-773a)


  (...                                    The hall resounded.

  There was much wonder              that the wine-hall

  withstood the battle-brave,           that the fair earth-dwelling

  did not fall to the ground...)


Finally, the methods used to overcome Grendel are those used to lay draugar.

Beowulf is intuitively aware that iron swords will be of no avail until he

has properly wrestled with the ghost (ll. 677-683, 798-805a, 987b-990).

When the two meet in combat, they are nearly evenly matched --- Beowulf can

harm his foe, but cannot prevent Grendel from fleeing before the creature is

killed (ll. 967-970a).  At the end, it is not Beowulf's mighty handgrip that

ensures that the menace of the Grendel-kin is ended, but the beheading of

the creatures:


   ...                               Hra wide sprong

  sythdthan he aefter deadthe       drepe throwade

  heorosweng heardne,                 and hine tha heafde becearf.

  (ll. 1588b-1590)


  (...                                            The body bounded wide

  when after death                        it suffered the blow,

  the hard sword-swing                 and thus he cut off his head.)


So ended Grendel, and his mother likewise:


  aldres orwena,                          yrring sloh,

  thaet hire width halse                 heard grapode,

  banhringas braec;                      bil eal dthurhwod

  faegne flaeschoman.                  (ll. 1565-1568a)


  (despairing of life,                      he angrily struck

  so that on her neck                    it bit hard,

  broke the bone-rings;                 the blade went all the way through

  the doomed body.)


The physical description of Grendel as a giant shape-shifting creature, a

dweller in a supernatural environment, who acts at nighty in a mist-shrouded

landscape out of motives of envy and desire for the things of life, strongly

suggests the Norse motif of the walking dead.  However, as Kiessling notes,

Grendel is "a product of that point in time when the southern, classical and

the Scandinavian traditions merged" (Ibid., p. 201).  Grendel is possessed

of a complex nature, one that incorporates elements from the old Germanic

culture of the Anglo-Saxons and the newer influences of Christianity.  Each

facet of Grendel's nature is different, and examination of any of the many

motifs that are integrated to form the complex whole throws new light on the

subject, enhancing understanding of the entire poem.


The End!




Gunnora Hallakarva


<the end>

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