By Mark Puryear
We are told that the fylgjas, who are tutelary spirits in the Odinic faith, are women who die as virgins and are thus led to serve Urd in this capacity. Their virginity is based on the idea that the family and clan must always be kept together, and since they have no children they must serve the folk in another capacity. They are trained or ‘nurtured’ in their duties by Mimir and then sent across the worlds to the one they are chosen to protect on the day of their birth. When a woman of high and noble birth is selected as fylgja for the child, he or she will have a great life, with much fortune and happiness. But when the low-born and stern become caretakers of an individual, they can expect much misfortune and calamity.
This is not to say that any malicious intent is involved in the work of these beloved ancestresses, they are just different paths that people are led down as part of the great Web of Wyrd. Some may have life handed to them on a silver platter without a care in the world, whereas others may have to struggle and fight for everything they ever receive. Such is fate, such is life. What we do with these lots will determine how well we have lived our lives. Some of us look back on our past and see the many mountains we have climbed and wouldn’t change a thing, knowing that we are stronger for having faced such adversity. No matter what happens, good or bad, we all serve some purpose within the Spiritual Collective, even if our lives are somehow cut short.
The fylgja or ‘accompanier’ (also called hamingja, gipte, draumkona, (lesser) norn, etc.) is our guardian throughout our lives. She watches over her chosen and will stand witness for him or her at the Thing of the Gods that judges the dead, which we call the Helthing. Because the dead are mute and cannot speak for themselves, she does so with perfect expertise, since her life has been spent looking after ours. If a man is granted the lot of the blessed she will prepare a place for him in the hall of the dead, known as Gimle or Vingolf, and there they may choose to live together as friends or lovers, or she might return to her duties and travel to Midgard to watch over another human.
If a person has committed despicable acts of evil with no remorse or regret and does not seek to repair the damage they have caused, the fylgja will then leave them forever to find another more worthy of their protection. Such a man or woman is then doomed, for all fortune has left them and no one will be there to speak for them at the Helthing, which will undoubtedly earn them the lot of the damned. Thus, no matter how hard our fylgja is on us, we are expected to live our lives in accordance with the divine laws and the Norns’ decrees towards honorable living. Thus the fylgja declares: “Be not the first cause of murder! Do not excite peaceful men against yourself! Promise me this, charitable man! Aid the blind, do not scorn the lame, and never insult a Tyr robbed of his hand!” (XIX. 19).
The fylgja can appear to us in our dreams (hence her title draumkon ‘dream-woman’) or right before we die.
Some may even claim to have had visitations in their waking life, which is a phenomena we will not dismiss. She can either appear as a beautiful maiden, or in one or more animal forms, which become the totem animal(s) of the individual.
The Gods have fylgjas as well, for we see Odin surrounded by wolves and ravens, Thor by his goats, Freya her cats, Heimdall the ram, Hoenir the stork, etc. Many cultures use all manner of devices to get in touch with their guardian spirits, including fasting, shamanic rituals, meditation, hallucinogenic drugs, etc. The reason for this is that the fylgja acts as our liaison to the Gods, and aids us in delivering our prayers to them and lets them know how we are faring in our lives. Because our deities are not omnipotent, such a network is necessary in maintaining the world order and the relationship between the mortal and the divine. The fylgja symbolizes both our conscience, so we can follow the Gods’ laws, and our luck, which determines how well we have followed them. It is said that “she represents our good thoughts, good words, and good deeds,” or if we are unjust and cruel, our “evil thoughts, words, and deeds” (XIX. 20). She portends good or bad misfortune, for what we put out into the collective always comes back on us, and she sees to it that it does.
When we are good, decent, and kind we will find success and good luck in our lives, even if we have to struggle for it. If a man has to climb a mountain to reach the top, is he not fortunate when he makes it, or even more so for having earned his triumph?
But when we are hateful, spiteful, and malicious, we will no doubt reap the bounty of what we have sown. This is the nature of örlög or urlag, the ‘original law’ or ‘primal law,’ which the fylgja is thus an agent of.
As stated, the fylgja is a Spirit, or the manifestation of someone’s Spirit living in another realm, be it physical or ethereal. Remember that Odin can lie “as if dead or asleep; but then he will be in the shape of a fish, or serpent, or bird, or beast, and be off in a twinkling to distant lands...” (V. 43). This Spirit-traveling would thus take place in an energy state that quite possibly could travel across the cosmos in an instant. Perhaps the fylgja has the same ability and uses this to keep vigil over us while reporting our activities to the Gods. Of course, her role could simply be symbolic, a personification of conscience and fortune, and how the individual views them is a matter of personal faith. My daughter had a dream of a “blonde lady who looked just like grandma,” sleeping next to her in her bed, and it was so real to her she could not be convinced otherwise (not that we tried). I like to think that this was her fylgja, a female ancestress watching over her, which was a perfect description of what she saw. Her presence represents our link to the divine and to the positive aspect of the Spirit, as long as we remain on that line.
If we choose Chaos, if we choose entropy over convergence, then she who stands for the order of the Gods has no choice but to leave us, as one always repels the other.
Our ancestors knew that beyond what we know as ‘reality’ lies hidden aspects of the universe—and consequently of ourselves—that are not readily seen or understood. Even today, with our advanced modern science, there is so little that we really know about the cosmos at large. What was once considered fantasy is now being pushed into the realm of possibility as quantum physics, string theory, paranormal science and other disciplines turn preconceived notions upside down. Such things as telepathy have been witnessed in so many controlled experiments that the phenomenon is pretty much considered to be factual.
Out-of-body experiences continue to be recorded and observed as possible accounts of short visitations into the afterlife. Then there are the more commonly utilized aspects of the human mind, such as consciousness, the subconscious, the will, the ego, etc. that are continuously explored by psychoanalysts. Simply because our ancestors did not have fancy technical jargon to define these phenomena does not mean that they did not recognize, analyze, and even make sense of them. They simply represented them in the context of their religion and the poetic lore and symbols that were passed down through generations.
This means that we, as Odinists/Asatruar, not only can use the lore to explore natural, even scientific, principles, it also means that we can embrace science as a means of explaining the universe we live in, as our ancestors did. For them the lore was merely a vessel to convey those truths that apply to us as a people and as individuals. The idea is to use logical, reasonable concepts to explain our entire life experience, while building a spiritual system that is profound and uplifting for us all. If there are places where our stories are wanting we’ll use scientific observations to uphold our beliefs; if science cannot correctly explain something we, as religious people, can take a leap of faith. This allows us to strive for a well-rounded, meaningful existence, as Odin tells us that “men are everywhere by halves” (LXXX. 58).
The four elements that we have seen so eloquently portrayed in the ancient poetry are actual things that we can see and touch and interact with. The same goes with the elements that are within us, which we believe were given to us by an outside force or forces that we view as divine. Their divinity simply comes in the act of creating us, since we honor our Gods and Goddesses with filial devotion. Odin is our Father, not our master, and we love him and his family as an extension of our own. We pray to them so that we can continue the relationship between Gods and men, so that the line will never be lost.
Again, Odin tells us: “Know if you have a friend whom you fully trust, and would get good from him, you should blend your mind with his, and exchange gifts, and go to see him often” (LXXX. 49). This applies to our friendship with the Gods as much as with each other.