Hugr – The Nordic Concept of the Spirit or Soul

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The Hugr is part of the Norse concept of the self.

Most people, regardless of their religious beliefs, have a concept of the self in terms of it having three components:

  • The Body,
  • The Mind, and
  • The Soul or Spirit.

The Old Norse and Germanic folk had a similar concept of the self:

  • the Body or the Líkami,
  • the Mind or Will  or the Munr
  • and what can be best described as their very being called the Hugr. (often called memory), which is much like a Soul or Spirit,


mindbodyspirit2 copy

Hugr is an Old Norse word.  In other Germanic and Nordic languages, it is also called:
Proto-Germanic (hugiz), Gothic ‎(hugs), Old English (hyġe), Old High German (hugu), Dutch (heug), Faroese: (hugur), Icelandic: (hugur), Norwegian-Nynorsk: (hug), Old Swedish: (hugher, hogher), Swedish: (hug, håg), Old Danish: (hugh), Danish: (hu, hov).

The mind (munr), although a separate concept, is part of the very being called the hugr, 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. The mind (munr) stayed with the spirit/soul (hugr) when it left the body (líkami)  The hugr, with the munr attached, left the body upon the death of the body (líkami).

The will of the Norse appears to be very strong.

Strong enough for them to draw their hugr back to their own body and reanimate it so they can walk amongst the living again.

Read article: Draugr, the Viking Walking Dead

Even the gods and goddesses have Hugr,

Because even the gods and goddesses can die.


Their are three primary places where the dead are perceived to go:

  • Helheim (Old Norse Helheimr, “the home of the goddess Hel“),
  • Valhalla (Old Norse Valhöll, “the hall of the fallen”), and
  • Folkvangr (Old Norse Fólkvangr, “the field of the people” or “the field of warriors”).

The Halls of Valhalla and Folkvangr are not halls of the dead for all eternity. They are merely training grounds and housing for those deemed worthy by the Vanir and Aesir gods to defend them at Ragnarok.

It appears that all beings, gods and humans alike, die and eventually go to helheim. The gods and that of all men can experience death, a second death, or even a third, and sometimes final death after Ragnarok.

Valhalla and Folkvangr are side roads to Hel. All upon death, all make their journey to Hel, it is those chosen to go to Valhalla and Folkvangr that may not have to make the journey all the way to Helheim.  At Ragnork, even Hel releases her hugr to Vigrid.  After which, Helheim, Valhalla, Folkvagr, and the rest of the worlds will cease to exist then the world will be renewed.

Hel is a place where all, humans and gods, must go after their death. We know this because the god Baldur was killed and had to go to the Realm of Hel.


Hel was given control over all in death, her realm would be the final journey.

“For there is a time
when every man
shall journey hence to Hel.”
Fáfnismál 10

Baldr died and went to Helheim when Loki gave the mistletoe spear to Baldr’s brother, the blind god Höðr, who then inadvertently killed Baldr with it. Odin and the giantess Rindr then gave birth to Váli who grew to adulthood within a day and slew Höðr.
(Speculation: could Höðr have been Baldr’s Hugr?)
Thus, two gods were killed.  The gods can die and when they die, they go to Hel’s realm.

Upon his death, Baldr’s Líkami (body) was ceremonially burnt upon his ship, Hringhorni, the largest of all ships. 

Thor kicks Litr onto Baldr's burning ship, illustration by Emil Doepler (1905).
Thor kicks Litr onto Baldr’s burning ship, illustration by Emil Doepler (1905).

The dwarf Litr was then kicked by Thor into the funeral fire and burnt alive.  Yeah, Thor was a bit of a dick at times and apparently, Dvergr (dwarves) can be burnt to death as well.  No word if Litr went to Helheim or not.

“Then Thor stood by and hallowed the pyre with Mjöllnir; and before his feet ran a certain dwarf which was named Litr; Thor kicked at him with his foot and thrust him into the fire, and he burned.”

Nanna, Baldr’s wife, the goddess Nanna also threw herself on the funeral fire to await Ragnarök when she would be reunited with her husband. She must have gone to Helheim as well.
*Alternatively, Nanna died of grief and then her body was placed on her husband’s funeral pyre.
Baldr’s horse with all its trappings was also burned on the pyre.

Viking Funeral Final 3D Art by zmortis (
Viking Funeral Final,  3D Art by zmortis (

Meanwhile, Hermod rode nine nights through ever darker and deeper valleys on his quest to rescue the part of Baldur (his “Humr” (spirit/soul)) that had been sent to Hel. However, Baldur’s Humr remained with Hel in her realm Helheim until Ragnarok.

That was one incident, in which two gods (Baldr and Höðr) and a goddess (Nanna) died and went to Helheim.

When the Líkami (body) dies, the Hugr is drawn to Hel when it leaves the body.


by Njord Kane © 2016 Spangenhelm Publishing

Read more in: The Vikings by Njord Kane HotViking2

Be carried into the fantasy world of Norse myth and Viking legend.

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Copyright © 2015-2017 Spangenhelm Publishing – All rights reserved. No part may be reproduced in any written, electronic, recording, or photocopying form without written permission of the author, Njord Kane, or the publisher, Spangenhelm Publishing. <visit website
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