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Draugr

A draugr or draug (original Old Norse plural draugar, as used here, not draugrs), or draugen (nor., swe. and dan., meaning "the draug") is an undead creature from Norse mythology. The original norse meaning of the word is ghost, and in older literature one will find clear distinctions between sea-draug and land-draug. Draugar were believed to live in the graves of dead Vikings, being the body of the dead.

Views differ on whether the personality and soul of the dead person lingers in the draugr. As the graves of important men often contained a good amount of wealth, the draugr jealously guards his treasures, even after death.

Traits

Draugar possess superhuman strength, can increase their size at will and carry the unmistakable stench of decay. They are also noted for the ability to rise from the grave as wisps of smoke. In folklore the draugar slay their victims through various methods including crushing them with their enlarged forms, devouring their flesh, and drinking their blood. Animals feeding near the grave of a draugr are often driven mad by the creature's influence.

Some draugar are immune to weapons. Only a hero has the strength and courage needed to stand up to so formidable an opponent. In legends the hero would often have to wrestle the draugr back to his grave, thereby defeating him, since weapons would do no good. A good example of this kind of fight is found in Hrómundar saga Gripssonar.

It is said that the draugr will come back even when defeated, requiring the hero to dispose of the body in unconventional ways. The preferred method is to cut off the draugr's head, burn the body, and dump the ashes in the sea, the emphasis being on making absolutely sure the draugr was dead and gone. This may be related to the traditional practice of killing vampires seen in other cultures.

The draugar were said to be either hel-blár ("death-black") or, conversely, nár-fölr ("corpse-pale").

In tradition, some draugar are able to leave their dwelling place, the burial mound, and visit the living during the night. Such visits are supposed to be universally horrible events that often end in death for one or more of the living, and warrant the exhumation of the draugr's tomb by a hero.

A similar creature is the haugbui. The notable difference between the two was that the haugbui is unable to leave its grave site and only attacks those that trespass upon their territory.

The creature is said to either swim alongside boats or sail around them in a partially submerged vessel, always on their own. In some accounts, witnesses portray them as shape-shifters who take on the appearance of seaweed or moss-covered stones on the shoreline.

Means of prevention

Traditionally, a pair of open iron scissors were placed on the chest of the recently deceased while straws or twigs might be hidden among their clothes. The big toes were tied together or needles were driven through the soles of the feet in order to keep the dead from being able to walk. Tradition also held that the coffin be lifted and lowered in three different directions as it was carried from the house to confuse a possible draugr's sense of direction.

The most effective means of preventing the return of the dead was the corpse door. A special door was built on, through which the corpse was carried feet-first with people surrounding it so the corpse couldn't see where it was going. The door was then bricked up to prevent a return visit. It is speculated that this belief began in Denmark and spread throughout the Norse culture. The belief was founded on the idea that the dead only enter through the way they left.

Speculation

Dr. John Tanke has theorized that the words dragon and draugr might be related. He notes that both the serpent and the spirit serve as jealous guardians of the graves of kings or ancient civilizations. Dragons that act as draugar appear in Beowulf as well as in the stories of Siegfried.

Folklore

Arguably, the best known draugr in the modern world is Glamr, who was defeated by the hero of the Grettis Saga, as the saga includes a short account of him as a living man, and a full account of his haunting, up to the intervention of Grettir who wrestled him back to death.

A somewhat ambivalent, alternative view of the draugr is presented by the example of Gunnar in Njál's saga:

  • "It seemed as though the howe was agape, and that Gunnar had turned within the howe to look upwards at the moon. They thought that they saw four lights within the howe, but not a shadow to be seen. Then they saw that Gunnar was merry, with a joyful face".

In the Eyrbyggja Saga a shepherd is assaulted by a blue-black draugr. The shepherd's neck is broken during the ensuing scuffle. The shepherd rises the next night as a draugr.

In more recent folklore, the draug is often identified with the spirits of mariners drowned at sea. In Scandinavian folklore, the creature is said to possess a distinctly human form, with the exception that its head is composed entirely of seaweed. In other tellings, the draug is described as being a headless fisherman, dressed in oilskin, sailing in half a boat. This trait is common in the northernmost part of Norway, where life and culture was based on the fish, more than anywhere else.

A recorded legend from Trøndelag tells how a corpse lying on a beach became the object of a quarrel between the two types of draug. A similar source even tells of a third type, the gleip, known to hitch themselves to sailors walking ashore and making them slip on the wet rocks. Norwegian folklore thus records a number of different draug-types.

But, though the draugr usually presages death, there is an amusing account in Nord-Norge of a Nordlending who managed to outwit him:

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 draug 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.

The connection between the draugr and the sea can be traced back to the author Jonas Lie and the story-teller Regine Nordmann, as well as the drawings of Theodor Kittelsen, who spent some years living in Svolvær. Up north, the tradition of sea-draugar is especially vivid.

Arne Garborg, on the other hand, describes land-draugar coming fresh from the graveyards, and the term draug is even used of Vampires, in Norway translated as "Bloodsucker-draugar". In this sense, the draug is undead.

Draugr sightings in modern times are not so common, but are still reported by individuals from time to time. Due to this trend, the term "draug" has come to be used in a more general sense in recent years to describe any type of revenant in Nordic folklore.

The Norwegian municipality of has the half boat of draugen in its coat-of-arms.

Popular culture

In the novel Sons of the Dark, one of the main characters (Obie) describes Draugr, but describes them as benevolent beings that help family members.

J.R.R. Tolkien used the draugr as the basis of his barrow-wights in The Lord of the Rings .

In the Elder Scrolls III: Bloodmoon PC and Xbox game expansion, Draugar are skeletal beasts who inhabit the tombs of dead Nords.

Draugar are a type of skeleton monster in the MMORPG Final Fantasy XI.

In the MMORPG RuneScape, during a certain (heavily Norse-themed) quest, the player must prove their worth as a hunter by tracking the "Draugen" down with a magical talisman, and defeat the mysterious spirit creature. It holds several key similarities to the draugr of Norse lore, and as the quest itself consists of the player undergoing several trials to become a member of a clan who are clearly based upon the Vikings of old, this offers credence to the theory that the "Draugen" is based upon the draugr.

In White Wolf's pen-and-paper RPG, Vampire: The Requiem, draugrs are vampires with a Humanity score of zero. Since losing any remnant of their human side draugrs lack rational thought and are completely animalistic, only feeding their hunger and protecting their existence. Should a vampire become a draugr, other vampires are quick to kill it, since draugrs' actions threaten the Masquerade.

Draug is a cognate of "drow", the dark elves of Dungeons and Dragons. Gary Gygax, author of the famous module, Vault of the Drow, lifted the Nordic word to describe his evil, subterranean villains. The connection between the underworld-dwelling "draug" and the underworld-dwelling "drow" is quite clear. Wizards of the Coast, the company that now owns the game Dungeons and Dragons, claims "drow" as their trademark. The claim is shaky, as "draug" is simply a different spelling of the same mythological creatures.

Draugar are special undead troops in the online game Norron, usable only by players who worship Freya.

The walking dead who destroy the town of Stromness in the 2004 version of The Bard's Tale are referred to as draugr.

Draugar is the name of a U.S. black metal band from San Francisco, as well as an Italian black metal band.

Asatrú adherents sometimes refer to Christians as "Draugrtrú", but the term is not in polite usage.

One of the main characters of the webcomic Viking Zombie Boyfriend is a draugr.

Sources

The Draug. Encyclopedia Mythica from Encyclopedia Mythica Online. . Norwegian Folk Narrative in America. Norwegian-American Studies. . Weird Tales from Northern Seas. The Literaure Network. .

References

External links

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