Fylgjur (plural of Fylgja) are described as “supernatural guardian spirits, bound to a family line, said to accompany a person throughout life.”~ Like many concepts in Norse Paganism, the Fylgja is sometimes hard to comprehend or explain.
Sometimes in this modern era, some 2000 years after the fall of our Indo- European Pagan ways, we are finding we must, in the reclaiming process of Norse heathenry, rely on fragmented writings gathered by people who were not actually practicing this spirituality at the time of the accounts being penned. Snorri is a prime example. With that knowledge, there are numerous holes and unanswered questions to many of the Ancient Norse spiritual concepts and practices.
Add to this the fact that many neighboring countries used to consolidate the scant documentation has similar words with very different meanings, and one can see why many 21st Century Folk might be scratching their heads and arguing over some of the most fundamental concepts left for us to decipher; and in this case it is about our soul part the Fylgja.
Fylgja, translated from Old Norse, means “someone that accompanies” although in some modern Scandinavian languages like Norwegian and Swedish, it is translated as “one who follows.”
I have come to understand it as a soul part also called “the Fetch “ which is a term used by Witches in various traditions. I have found many writings of modern day “scholars” who have used etymology to try to figure out what the Norse actually viewed as roles for each soul part, end up going on tangents that though they show a great use of research and imagination; for me many accepted hypotheses are not based in solid knowing due to the researchers lack of tactile experience with these mysteries of spiritual origins. In other words, they are very book smart but untested due to lack of being actual seidr practitioners who have actually converged with Wights, Ancestors, and Beings of the nine worlds. Therefore, to me, since they are approaching it from a academic view point, and not offering any substance other than educated guessing; I do what I am trained to do and not only go to the source for answers; I compare what Other traditions uniformly agree upon as shamanic workings of mankind since we first left our caves. And no other Norse Pagan concept has more discrepancies than the Fylgja and the Disir.
To answer these questions myself, I do what all shamans do: I first looked to comparisons of similar concepts in surrounding area’s as well as worldwide practices. By knowing how all humans tend to mimic each other with shamanic concepts and workings (That’s WHY Michael Harner developed “Core” Shamanism in the first place-it’s a way of validating a technique or concept in shamanic practices since it cross references and gives ‘proof’ the idea or experience is shared universally by those who do this work.)
So we come to see, many
people who have investigated this soul part have come to describing it
as an entity of its own volition, a type of guardian spirit, a totem
animal, and something that can be passed down to descendants and live on
after the death of the owner. In this they are absolutely right; they
just are missing some key words here. Let me show you:
1) It IS an entity of its own volition, sorta. ~That is of course once the owner sends it to do their bidding.(we can’t over look what the word that is agreed upon to describe a Fylgja means: FETCH)
2) A type of guardian spirit, sometimes equated with a Disir. As a soul part of the owner (known in other traditions as ‘the astral body’) of course when we send our Fylgja forth we charge it with our own safety and well being in mind. However, a guardian spirit known as a Disir is understood to be a female Ancestral spirit, allotted to us at birth; and if we don’t honor her, she has been known to leave Her ward. With the fylgja being a part of our very souls equated with the idea of a astral body (as well as documented it only separated from the owner at death) to think a Fylgja is an entity akin to the Disir is non- sence to me. (That is not to say if our Fylgja stays on after we, the owner, dies; it wont look after a loved one, -as ghosts are known to do.)
3) I have found in spirit journey’s and shapeshifting, our fylgja can be morphed to take on the appearance of an animal ally we are very familiar with, via our activation of our Hamr.(we will learn more about the hamr later) This is the entire purpose of a Fetch; to do our will as we see fit. Sometimes in spirit walks that means we make it (our fetch)appear to others as we need it to appear. Um, I hate to point out the obvious but you can’t make a spirit ally (animal or guardian) turn into and appear as you desire it too. You are only in charge of you.
4) As stated above, the whole idea behind we belive in spiritual pursuits as valid and real is that we sence a part of us continues after our body dies. The astral double of ourselves(fylgja) can do that to an extent, as seen by the phenomena of ghosts and Shades. When our Fylgja decides it is time to wait in the hall they are destined for after death, when the time is ripe, that soul part has an opportunity to be re-born into their tribe as a ‘new person.” This would explain the Norse concept that a Fylgja can be passed down; as that is in essence what re-incarnation is. Moreover, I even read C.G. Young’s take of fylgja’ s that was presented as a paper of academia in 1932. Young had the right idea in a sence; He described the Fylgja as being part/found in the human Placentia. Young even got it that the fylgja was a part of the person; he equated it with Ego, which truly is brilliant considering Young wasn’t a Norse heathen!
Yes, a Fylgja is a part one’s self, and can live on after the death of the owner, and we can make it appear as an animal or any other ally we choose. But unlike our Disir’ s, who are female guardian entities, separate from the individual and allotted to watch over them from birth to death; the Fylgja is actually a PART of every individuals soul parts-and it is the Fylgja a Seidr sends to travel on their behalf into the otherworld’s of time and space.
A Fylgja can appear in two ways: As a representation of the human soul it belongs to as their asteral double, or, as an animal/plant ally.
The first as an
animal form, which can be described as an extension of an aspect or
characteristic of a particular individual taking the shape of a personal
or family totem. The second way a Fylgja can be seen is simply as an
astral version of the person it belongs to. Fylgja embodies the essence
of an individual’s spirit, which can guide the one they choose, or work
deeds for them. Maria Kvilhaug translated and summarized Professor Else
Mundal’s academic paper on the topic, “Fylgjemotiva i norrøn litteratur”
(Fylgjur Motifs in Norse Literature):
“The animal fylgja motif is sometimes blended with the húgr-motif. [Húgr (masculine singular) means “intent”, “desire”, “thought”, “soul”, “heart” and seems to have been a part of the human soul that could move outside of the body in animal shape]. Manna hugir [“the intents of men”] sometimes replace the term manna fylgjor [the “followers” of men] and usually then appear in the shape of wolves. Wolves, being associated with fierce passion and desire (or greed and hunger) are closely connected to the húgr. The other animals appear as manna fylgjor.”
Unfortunately, the second description from “Fylgjemotiva i norrøn litteratur” explains (mistakenly, in my opinion) how Fylgjur are female entities,(umm, does that mean men have no souls??) and THIS precisely is what sometimes can confuse a practitioner that the Fylgja is a Guardian spirit called the ‘Disir.’ I feel due to translation of the female pronoun of the Norse Völva which was used when describing her Fylgja;( remember-the historical accounts were of the Völva not her male counterparts! ~Most men back then didn’t practice seidr!) and that lead to the erroneous connection that the Fylgja being strictly a female entity(which a Disir always is)thereby equating them as one and the same. Fylgja’ s DO act as a guardian for a family if the person it belongs too wishes so after their death, and obviously attach themselves to an individual at birth,(umm no one is born soul-less) and can act as an Ancestral guardian following through the generations down a certain lineage. But that’s where the similarities to a Fylgja and a Disir stop.
Disir are likely to represent a wise, powerful, woman; from ones families ancestral matriarch. We know that in Ancient times the female principle were celebrated as well as revered. Especially the Mother aspect, with female ancestral spirits who watch over and guide their descendants being described in old Norse as “Dísir” (meaning “Ladies”). These female Guardian spirits are bound to a family of which they are matriarchal ancestors, and can be both benevolent or malevolent. The Dísir will be discussed and explored in their own article in the near future.
according to https://exemplore.com/magic/Understanding-the-Fylgjur Pollyanna Jones states:”The term Dísir covers a wider spectrum of female spirits and beings within Norse mythology, but the Fylgja is specifically a spirit that guides and protects an individual person, and is tied with their fate and luck; called “hamingja”. It is widely thought that a Fylgja may abandon their chosen mortal if their behavior is poor, wicked, and would bring the name of the family into disrepute.” Again, I feel that is a mistaken equation with the Disir once again. In ALL forms of shamanism, it’s agreed that if you lose your astral body(your soul part you send forth to do your work in the Nine Worlds), you are dead meat. Literally.
*Side note: I do, as a Shaman feel that when “soul loss” is spoken of; meaning a person loses part of their soul due to a particularly traumatic incident; it is the Fylgja soul part we have that flees to the otherworld’s to escape whatever the devastational horror was being faced by the person who houses it. But I feel this “soul-loss” or separation of our soul part called the Fylgja doesn’t happen as easily as some modern “shamans” would have us belive, and moreover, it is a temporary separation at best; with or without a Shamanic intervention.