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Draugr - Unexplained Mysteries of one who walks after death

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Draugr


A draugr or draug (original Old Norse plural draugar, as used here, not draugrs), or draugen (Nor., Swe. and Dan., meaning "the draug"), also known as aptrgangr (lit. "after-goer," or "one who walks after death") 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.


Draugar possess superhuman strength, can increase their size at will and carry the unmistakable stench of decay. The draugr's body, however does not decay and this odor was most likely due to the draugr being a host for diseases. The draugr's ability to increase its size also increased its weight as it did so, and the body of the draugr was described as being extremely heavy. It is possibly that the draugr could also be heavy without increasing its size, as this could help explain its immense strength, but the strength of the draugr could also be independent of its size or weight. The weight of the draugr may also only increase as size does. 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. They are also noted for the ability to rise from the grave as wisps of smoke, possibly meaning they also have the ability to turn into smoke at will, although it is much more likely that this is an interperatation of their ability to "swim" through solid rock[5], which would be useful as a means of exiting their graves. Whether or not they can become intangible to other materials is not certain. In folklore the draugar slay their victims through various methods including crushing them with their enlarged forms, devouring their flesh, devouring them whole in their enlarged froms, inderectly killing them by driving them mad, and drinking their blood. Animals feeding near the grave of a draugr are often driven mad by the creature's influence.[ They may also die from being driven mad. Thorolf of the Eyrbyggja saga, for example, caused birds that flew over his howe to drop dead. Draugr are also noted as being able to drive living people insane. This may have been a method of the draugr to create more of his kind, similar to a vampire. The eyes of the draugr may be connected to this as their eyes are noted as being terrifying to look at, causing intense fear in even the bravest heroes. The power of the draugr's eyes, however, are never fully explained.

The draugr's victims were not limited to trespassers in its howe. 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 undead:

"... 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."

Draugr are noted for having numerous magical abilities, referred to as "trollskap" resembling those of living witches and wizards, such as shape-changing, controlling the weather, and seeing into the future. Among the creatures that a draugr may turn into are a seal, a great flayed bull, a grey horse with no ears or tail and a broken back, and a cat that would sit upon a sleeper's chest and grow steadily heavier until the victim suffocated 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 neck, tearing the flesh from his bones..."

This may indicate that the draugr could have partial shapeshifting abilities not limiting it to specific forms, allowing it to take on chosen attributes of the animals it can turn into. This, however has yet to be proven, as this given example may just be another finite shape shifting form of the draugr. Draugr are noted, as well, for having the ability to enter into the dreams of the living.[9] Draugr also have the ability to curse a victim, as shown in the Grettis Saga where Grettir is cursed to be inable to become any stronger to be exiled. Draugr also brought disease to a village. This was thought to be the malevolent intention of the draugr, however this was before germ theory and a dead body would have been a host for disease. Given the draugr's natural magical abilities, however, any disease caused by a draugr, may easily have been intentional. Draugr can also create temporary darkness in daylight hours, possibly through summoning heavy cloud coverage, although it may have been the ability to summon darkness itself, or call up a mist(Most likely part of its weather manipulation abilities) to hide its activities and/ or hide its approach. While the draugr certainly preferred to be active during the night, it did not appear to be vulnerable to sunlight like most revenants. A draugr's presence may be shown by a great light that glowed from the mound like "fox-fire." This fire would form a barrier between the land of the living and the land of the dead. 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"

The creation of a draugr is not exactly clear, but in the Eyrbyggja saga, a shepherd is killed by a draugr and rises the next night as one himself. Necromancy may also have played a part in a possible draugr creation process. Nevertheless, it appears as if the draugr is always a revenant, although the possibility that the draugr can be born as such should not be eliminated without further research, as the information available today on Norse mythology is severely limited. It may also be possible that the origin of a draugr is its sinful life, having gone against a law of the church leading it to be unable to rest in its grave. The draugr is also very often shown as haunting its living family.

Some draugar are immune to weapons, however 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 Hrmundar saga Gripssonar. Although iron could injure a draugr, as is the case with many supernatural creatures, it would not be sufficient to stop it.

It is possible that draugr may have the ability to come back even after having been previously 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, combined with the fact that a draugr could not be stopped by iron, despite injury, as well as the fact that, despite being a vehicle for disease and smelling of decay, it did not decay suggests that it may have had some sort of magical healing factor. The absence of decay may also point to it being "alive" in the sense that its biology may be brought back to function, including a heart beat and breathing, although this could also be purely magically sustained if the case. However, the tales in which the draugr exists were was well before human biology was fully understood and an attempt to make sense of the draugrs biology was most likely unimportant. The draugar were said to be either hel-blr ("death-black") or, conversely, nr-flr ("corpse-pale"). The blackish color was not actually Achromatic and had a dark blue or maroon hue, possibly relating to Livor mortis, but covered the entire body. The hel-blr draugr may have been much more common. The body of a hel-blr draugr may actually have been much more blue than black. Glamr, the undead shepherd of the Grettis saga, was reported to be dark blue in color] and in Laxdla saga the bones of a dead sorceress who had appeared in dreams were dug up and found to be "blue and evil looking."

In tradition, 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. The resting place of the draugr was a tomb that served much as a workable home for the creature. The motivation of the actions of a draugr was primarily jealousy and greed. The greed of a draugr would cause it to viciously attack any would be grave robbers, but the draugr also expresses an innate jealousy of the living stemming from a longing for the things of the life it once had. This idea is clearly expressed in the Frijofs saga, where 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."

This desire for the friendship experienced in life is one example of the manifestation of this aspect of the draugr. Draugr also exhibit an immense and near insatiable appetite as shown 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. When Aran died, Asmund brought his own possessions into the barrow; His banners, armor, hawk, hound, and horse. Then Asmund set himself to wait the agreed upon 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, Aran had got him by the ears and torn them off.

This is another manifestation of the draugr's greed and yearning for the things of the living. It could be argued that the violent nature of the draugr is merely a way of lashing out in its despair, rather than purely evil actions without motive. The draugr are quite often shown to haunt their living relatives as well.


A similar creature is the haugbui. The haugbui (from the Old Norse word haugr meaning "howe" or "barrow") was a mound-dweller, the dead body living on within its tomb. 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 haugbui was rarely found far from its burial place and is a type of undead commonly found in Norse saga material. 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.


The words dragon and draugr are not linguistically related. It is nonetheless interesting to note 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 form of Fafnir, in the some of the Heroic lays of the Poetic Edda.


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 Njl'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 Trndelag 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. A draugr aboard a ship, in sub-human form, wearing oilskins.

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 Svolvr. 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 B has the half boat of draugen in its coat-of-arms.

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