The Old Norse believed that the Vörðr was a warden spirit that followed them everywhere from their birth to their death.
Vörðr, or in Old Norse vǫrðr (pl. varðir or verðir), means: “warden,” “watcher,” or “caretaker.” In Old Swedish, the word is varþer and in modern Swedish it is vård. The English word ‘”wraith” derived from the Norse word vǫrðr, while “ward” and “warden” are cognates.
The belief in them remained strong in Scandinavian folklore up until the last centuries.
The vörðr is also believed to be the soul (hugr) of every person.
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 combination of the hugr (spirit/soul) and munr (mind) may be what the Norse called the vörðr.
In The Poetic Edda: Grímnismál, when Odin was disguised as Grimnir, he mentioned his ravens Huginn and Munin and how he feared them not returning back to him one day.
I fear for Hugin, that he come not back,
yet more anxious am I for Munin.
(-Odin disguised as Grimnir)
Odin feared losing his mind (munin or munr) and spirit/soul (hugin or hugr), also defined as his mind and memory.
Are munin and hugin, symbolized as ravens, together his Vörðr? Was he leaving his body in his vörðr and feared not being able to return one day?
The Old Norse weren’t specific as to what a vörðr was and if it were the hugr and munr combined or something completely different.
Odin was also known for his astral projection and the fear of not being able to return to his body may have been the root of his fear.
The Vörðr can sometimes be seen.
On occasion, the warden spirit or vörðr revealed itself as a small light (orb) or as the shape (hamr) of the person. The perception of another person’s warden could cause a physical sensation such as an itching hand or nose, as a foreboding or an apparition. The warden could arrive before the actual person, which someone endowed with fine senses might perceive.
The vörðr of a dead person could also become a revenant and haunt particular spots or individuals. In this case, the revenant warden was always distinct from other undeads, such as the draugr.
<read: Draugr, The Viking Walking Dead>
Under the influence of Christianity, the belief in wardens or vörðr changed into becoming more akin to the Christian concept of a Guardian Angels and spirits.
In comparison to Judeo-Christian-Muslim faith and beliefs, the Norse vörðr would be considered as being a lessor angel.
- Reimund Kvideland and Henning Sehmsdorf. Scandinavian Folk Belief and Legend (The Nordic Series). Univ Of Minnesota Press. 1991. ISBN 978-0816619672
- Marie Ericsson, Jörgen I Eriksson, Mikael W Gejel, Mikael Hedlund. Sejd:En vägledning I nordlig shamamism. Gimle, 1985. ISBN 978-9178102754
- Snorri Sturluson, Jesse L. Byock (trans). The Prose Edda: Norse Mythology. Penguin Classics, 2006. ISBN 978-0140447552
- Paul S. MacDonald. History of the Concept of Mind: Speculations About Soul, Mind, and Spirit from Homer to Hume. Ashgate Pub Ltd, 2003. ISBN 978-0754613657
Article by Njord Kane © 2016 Spangenhelm Publishing
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