Draugr, The Viking Walking Dead

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The will of the Norse appears to be very strong. Strong enough for them to draw their hugr back to their own body.

Reanimating it so they can walk amongst the living again.

These are the Walking Dead in Norse folklore.

Draug are undead figures from Norse and Icelandic mythology/folklore that appear to retain some semblance of intelligence. They exist either to guard their treasure, wreak havoc on living beings, or torment those who had wronged them in life.  Thorolf Halt-Foot was known to have reincarnated as a draugr and become a frightening marauder who left his tomb to cause devastation around Þórsnes (Stykkisholmur, Iceland). <Eyrbyggja Saga (ch 31>

A draug can be created by a curse or by the will of the deceased by simply refusing to die.

Can't keep a good man down
You just can’t keep a good man down

Hard to imagine going against a Viking Warrior that had to be re-killed.  Slain warriors ignoring the beckoning of a valkyrie and going back into their dead bodies, reanimating the corpse and picking their shield and ax back up.

Modern Scandinavian films featuring the undead / Watch: Død Snø (Dead Snow)

The Norse described the undead as being either hel-blár (“black as death” or “blue as death”) or ná-folr (“corpse-pale).

In the Eyrbyggja Saga, a shepherd who is killed by a draug and who was destined himself to become undead as well was said to be “coal-black.” The draugr that killed him was described as hel-blár when its corpse was disinterred (dug up).  Glamr, the undead shepherd of Grettirs Saga (ch 32), was reported to being dark blue in color.

You always know when you are near a draug or its grave or howe. The air will be foul with the unmistakable stench of decay.  Powerful enough to bring even those with the strongest constitutions to their knees retching.

Draug possess superhuman strength and can increase their size at will.

And with the increase with its size also to increase was its weight.

The body of the draugr was described as being extremely heavy in the Eyrbyggja saga, It was said that the draug of Thorolf had swollen to the size of an ox and his body was so heavy that it could not be raised without the use of levers. 

Draug were deadly to any living being they came around or got too close to their howe. 

draugr by satanoy
draugr by satanoy

They were known to decimated livestock by running the animals to death while either riding them or pursuing them in some hideous, half-flayed form to frighten them.

He (Thorolf Halt-Foot) was buried near Þórólfr. Of all the sheep in the valley, some were found dead, and the rest that had strayed into the mountains were never found. Whenever birds landed on Þórólfr’s grave, they fell down dead. <Eyrbyggja Saga (ch 34)>

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. <Eyrbyggja Saga (ch 34)>

Draugr are also known for having numerous magical abilities (trollskap) that resemble those of living witches and wizards. They’re able to shape-shift into various creatures. Some of the creatures that draugr are said to turn into are: a seal, a great flayed bull, a grey horse with a broken back but no ears or tail. Draug have shapeshifted into the form of a cat that would sit upon a sleeper’s chest and grow steadily heavier until the victim suffocated. 

The draugr Þráinn (Thrain) shape-shifted into a “cat-like creature” (kattakyn) and a troll.

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..<Hrómundar saga Gripssonar

Draugr are also said to have the ability to rise from the grave as wisps of smoke. They form into a mist so they can swim through the rock and exit their graves.

The presence of a draug was not without end. Even though the draug’s body was reanimated, it was still simply just a reanimated corpse and continued to rot and decay.

draug2A draug didn’t walk for long before the corpse eventually would rot away, and the undead deceased would eventually experience a second and permanent death. The corpse of a draug could no longer rise again once their body became too decayed, dismembered, or was destroyed in any manner such as burning.

This might explain why Christians were so eager to burn witches, heathens, and pagans.  They knew a pissed off Norseman was sure to rise back from the grave and kick some ass.

Once a draug’s body was destroyed, the corpse could no longer be reanimated and their hugr would be released.

The Hugr is part of the Norse concept of the self.  The Nordic and Germanic folk had a deep concept of the self that expanded as a differentiation from the body (líkami), the mind or will (munr) and their very being (hugr). The mind being apart of the very being which would be best described as a soul or spirit.  The Hugr was the very essence of an individual’s being that could be separated from the body at will and returned. It left the body upon death.

There were careful steps taken to prevent the dead from returning.

The Nørre Nærå Runestone is interpreted as having a "grave binding inscription" used to keep the deceased in its grave.
The Nørre Nærå Runestone is interpreted as having a “grave binding inscription” used to keep the deceased in its grave.

The Icelanders’ Sagas, in the Eyrbyggja Saga (ch 33), instructs that upon someone’s death, a hole was to be cut in the wall closest to where the corpse was and the body was to be removed from the house through the hole. It was believed that, if a dead person was carried through the front door, their ghost would remember how to enter and exit the house and come back to haunt the house.

The most effective means of preventing the return of the dead was believed to be the corpse door.

A special door would be built for which the corpse would be 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.

It’s also said that the coffin should be lifted and lowered in three different directions while it’s being carried from the house. This practice was meant to confuse a possible draug’s sense of direction, in case it tried to return.

The practice of placing a pair of open iron scissors or some other iron item on the chest of the recently deceased.

Iron was to be placed on the deceased body because draug, like other undead, vættir, and fea folk, hate iron.  Iron was often used as a means of keeping the undead away by placing iron somewhere at the threshold.  Most often something of iron would hung by iron nails above the doorway of a longhouse.

Often the feet of the departed would be bound to prevent them from rising and walking. Sometimes just the big toes would be tied together. An extra measure was also taken by driving needles through the soles of the feet in order to keep the dead from being able to walk.

Gravesites, mounds, and howes weren’t the only place to encounter a draug.  Even the sea and coast held the dangers of the undead.

Draug were also said to rise from their graves in the sea and described as the spirits of those drowned at sea. The North Seas were already danger. The cold unforgiving nordic sea became downright hazardous with the dead coming out of the deep gloom and crawling into your longship or knarr.

sea draug

Article by Njord Kane © 2016 Spangenhelm Publishing


Modern historic fiction and fantasy books that feature the Draug:
The Hidden Hollow by Njord Kane


DRAUG – Official Trailer of the upcoming norse folklore horror movie

DRAUG (film in pre-production)

In the 11th century a missionary goes missing somewhere in the huge forests bordering the northern parts of Sweden. Among the rescue party chosen to find him is Nanna, a young woman on her first real mission and her first return to the part of the country where she was born.
But what they will find deep inside those woods is something else entirely. Something dark. Something ancient. Something evil.

<Visit DRAUG Website>

The film is still in pre-production and is scheduled for principle photography in the summer of 2016 and then to be released sometime in 2017.


 by Njord Kane © 2017 Spangenhelm Publishing


Hot New Release in Historical Norse & Icelandic Fiction

The Hidden Hollow by Njord Kane
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Related articles:


<Huldra, Folklore’s Lady in the Forest>


<Nisse, Folklore’s Hidden Guardian of the Homestead>


<Is Bigfoot a Troll from Norse Folklore?>


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