Ghosts of the World: Draugr

9th April 2022. Reading Time: 6 minutes Ghosts Of The World, General. 401 page views. 1 comments.

Many cultures from different countries have different myths/folklores or spirits to fear or worship. This short series looks at the different ghosts from around the World! Today's ghost is the Draugr

Many cultures from different countries have different myths/folklores or spirits to fear or worship. This short series looks at the different ghosts from around the World! Today's ghost is the Draugr.

Image Source: https://mythus.fandom.com/wiki/Draugr

Draugr

Also known as Draug and Draugen, the Draugr are the ghosts of Vikings.  They aren't just the ghosts of Vikings, they are actually considered to be a type of zombie.  When we think of a zombie, we think of the walking dead or night of the living dead.  Hollywood has depicted zombies as being decayed bodies without much consciousness that basically just feed on the living to survive.  The Dragur however are not mindless like the stereotypical 'zombie'.  They are said to have human like intelligence 

The folklore behind the Dragur is said to go back to the fear people have of dead bodies.

Much like the Onryō which we visited in the last instalment of ghosts of the World, the Draugr has also had its own influence in the world of pop culture.  In fact, researching this one has been quite the task of separating folklore from game lore as the Draugr is also featured in the game Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.  As I am not a gamer I am not familiar with this iteration but in the game, they are the most common enemy players will encounter in dungeons that have their own story.  The story in the world of Skyrim is that it is an old country with a lot of lore predated by centuries of lineages and armies.  Historical records were lost to time and part of the quest is to search for answers to discover answers to the mysteries behind the Dragur.  

Dragur from Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim - Image Source Screenrant

Folklore behind Dragur

The Draugr stems from Norse mythology.  The ghosts of vikings rise from their graves usually in a type of mist or smoke.  They are said to smell like rotting flesh and possess superhuman strength.  They are also said to be able to shape shift and foretell the future.  Traditionally, when we think of a ghost or a spirit, we feel that it retains the knowledge and maybe personality they once had in life.  For the Draugr however, they are vengeful with a thirst to attack humans.  It is also said that if you are attacked by a Draugr, you yourself would then also become one.  Given the similarities between this and modern zombie movies (which have similar characteristics), it is quite possible again that much like the Onryō, popular zombie beliefs stem from that of Draugr.  

As a Viking, the ultimate goal when you pass would be to ascend to Valhalla, Odin’s chamber of the fallen heroes who died in battle.  If a person did not die in battle or was considered unworthy, they would not enter Valhalla.  Some believed that when a body was buried, the body was not truly dead meaning they were able to rise again as Draugr.

The Karlevi Runestone, which dated back to the 10th century sits on the island of Öland, Sweden.  It is one of the most notable and prominent runestones and inscribed is the oldest record of a stanza of skaldic verse.  One of the inscriptions which appears on this runestone translates to "Beware Ghosts" - believed to be a reference to Draugr.  Archaeologists have found in burial sites large boulders which sit directly on top of the gravesite or in some cases directly on top of a corpse in a bid to stop them from reanimating.  

Image Source guidebook Sweden

When a Vikings died, they were either buried or burned. Higher ranking Viking chiefs received ship burials as a part of their passage into Valhalla meaning it was not possible for them to come back as Draugr.  Vikings who were buried in mounds risked turning into the Draugr. During this time, Vikings worshipped pagan gods and a Viking was buried with his belongings, often lying in a boat or a wagon to make the journey to Valhalla easier. Much like Ancient Egypt and the Book of the Dead, they believed the deceased person would need certain objects in the afterlife which were buried with them.  Unfortunately for some, the burial given was dependent on their status in society.  A ship burial was reserved for powerful warrior Vikings.  Those with a higher status in society were also often cremated with their ashes spread at sea again meaning they were not at. risk of becoming a Draugr.  

The Nørre Nærå Runestone is interpreted as having a "grave binding inscription" used to keep the deceased in its grave.  Image Source National Museum of Denmark.

In order to defeat a Draugr, they must be cremated.  The preferred method is to cut off the Draugr's head, burn the body, and dump the ashes in the sea.  This meant there was no chance that the body could reanimate once more.

Draugrs at sea

As time progressed, the belief behind Draugr changed from warrior Vikings to fishermen who had died and drifted at sea and not had a proper burial.  It wore a leather jacket or was dressed in oilskin, and had a seaweed vase in place of a head. They sailed in a half-boat with blocked sails and announced death for those who saw him or even wanted to pull them down.

Image Source: The Project Gutenberg EBook of Weird Tales from Northern Seas by Jonas Lie. Translated by R. Nisbet Bain and Illustrated by Laurence Housman.

It was Christmas Eve, and Ola went down to his boathouse to get the keg of brandy he had bought for the holidays. When he got in, he noticed a draugr sitting on the keg, staring out to sea. Ola, with great presence of mind and great bravery (it might not be amiss to state that he already had done some drinking), tiptoed up behind the draugr and struck him sharply in the small of the back, so that he went flying out through the window, with sparks hissing around him as he hit the water. Ola knew he had no time to lose, so he set off at a great rate, running through the churchyard which lay between his home and the boathouse. As he ran, he cried, "Up, all you Christian souls, and help me!" Then he heard the sound of fighting between the ghosts and the draugr, who were battling each other with coffin boards and bunches of seaweed. The next morning, when people came to church, the whole yard was strewn with coffin covers, boat boards, and seaweed. After the fight, which the ghosts won, the draugr never came back to that district.

Norwegian-American Studies and Records - Volume 12. Norwegian-American Historical Association. 1941. p. 42.

So while the Draugr is not the typical ghost who goes bump in the night, it has evolved through mythology and religion.  What I find interesting here is that both beliefs in Christian ghosts or Draugr in their own form were deeply rooted in religion.  While we don't necessarily hear of Draugr sightings, again its influence within pop culture is undeniable.  I will be covering later in this series the connection between pop culture and the paranormal where the lines are often blurred.  


References

https://www.astonishinglegends.com/astonishing-legends/2018/9/12/the-draugr

https://screenrant.com/elder-scrolls-skyrim-lore-draugr-explained/

https://www.definitions.net/definition/DRAUGR

https://www.ancientpages.com/2020/05/24/draugr-vikings-feared-living-dead-with-prophetic-visions/

Norse Ghosts (A Study in the Draugr and the Haugbúi)
N. K. Chadwick
Folklore
Vol. 57, No. 2 (Jun., 1946), pp. 50-65 (16 pages)

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Comments

  • Natalie Vujovich 4 weeks ago

    The picture from the game also reminds me of the White Walkers from Game of Thrones.

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