Hello my dear friends, how are you? My name is Arith Härger and today I’m going to talk about Totemism and Animal Totems in the Norse culture This video is part of the Viking Religious Symbols video, but I thought it would be better to make a video solely focused on totemism in the Norse culture because this subject has more tribal, primitive and shamanic understandings than the religious symbolisms I’ve presented on the previous video I will divide this video into 2 parts First I will give you a more historical and archaeological approach to animal symbolism in the ancient Nordic cultures and then I will speak about totemism in the Norse culture So my dear friends, let’s get start at first glance the most predominant animals represented in the Norse culture are the bear, raven and wolf These 3 animals are the most mentioned in the literary sources and all of them connected to the god Odin As this perfectly good example of a 9th century figure found in Denmak, in Lejre Odin in his throne, Hlidskjalf, with his two ravens, Hugin and Munin, and his wolves in the back, Geri and Freki The wolf and the dog are usually the companions in soul journeys to the other world in votive rituals rituals dedicated to specific deities, most often Odin, to call upon the deity and offer as sacrifice such animals because they accompanied the victims of human sacrifice into their journey to the afterlife Dogs and wolves are connected with the warrior ideology, especially for the berserkir groups a group of young, unmarried men who specialize in the art of warfare Several generations of warriors combined the name of battle terms with elements related to dogs and wolves also referring to the initiation of young people into the martial world Although the berserkir were warriors much more connected to bear cults but the very first warrior cults were connected to dogs and wolves, ancient Indo-European wolf rites I have a video precisely about that In northern Europe these wolf rites and wolf-warriors continued to exist although at a certain point in Scandinavian history there was a clear division between warrior bear cults and warrior wolf cults The bear cults started to be the official elite warriors of the Norse society while the wolf cults started to be exclusive of outcasts I do believe that the Ulfhednar, wolf warriors, progressively stopped being elite trained warriors and became unofficial troops, mercenaries There is this possibility that outlaws, murderers, criminals of all sorts who were casted out from the society, started to form their own groups of warriors precisely doing the same thing the original wolf warrior cults did young warriors who abandoned society an adopted the characteristics of dogs and wolves and became wild in nature The Ulfhednar might have been wild groups of warriors, and later became elite warriors accepted by the society only to be put aside once again and offer their services as mercenaries when they became outlaws More or less like what happened to the medieval religious-military orders They were accepted and had great power when it suited the nobility and were outlawed and forbidden to exercise their duties when they became an inconvenience to the nobility Birds – birds of prey such as hawks and falcons are traditionally symbols of aristocracy – while the eagle is an emblem of power And ravens of course, not just related to wisdom but as birds related to death, carrying the dead into the afterlife For instance, we have this example of a pendant demonstrating two ravens metamorphosing into the horn-tips of a bearded figure which demonstrates the continuity of ancient pre-viking cults in the Nordic area You see, in prehistoric times birds of prey were often related to death and the journey into the afterlife but this sort of believes are much more evident in pre-celtic cultures of western Europe, along the Atlantic We have many representations of warriors dressed as birds and with bird heads representing the fusion between warrior cults and death rituals and the entire afterlife perspectives of warriors being carried into the afterlife by birds It was common to leave dead warriors on high places to be taken by birds of prey their bodies destroyed and carried by birds into the heavens This sort of Western European traditions were later adopted by Scandinavians which is why I do believe the so called Blood Eagle isn’t what we think it is I’ve also done a video about that one year ago It’s quite possible that the description of the Blood Eagle being a gruesome way of punishment and execution was in fact an exaggeration made by Christians to amplify the fear people had of those terrible heathen Norsemen coming down the frozen wastes to devour poor innocent Christians It’s possible that the Blood Eagle was actually a ceremony invoking the ancient early Bronze Age traditions of Western Europe giving deceased warriors to birds Or, it could have been a form of punishment, to be eaten by eagles, much like in the Greek myth of Prometheus being tied to a rock and every day an eagle would eat his liver That might be what the Blood Eagle actually meant Either a ceremonial punishment reserved for special warriors, or a death ritual for deceased warriors The use of an eagle is curious because to the Greeks it was the personification of Zeus so maybe at a certain point to the Scandinavians it was linked to Odin, as a warrior and death deity and warriors of great renown weren’t carried by crows or ravens or other carrion birds, but by the noble eagle of Odin Let’s not forget that Yggdrasil itself, with all its animals, there is a great eagle on the very top of the Cosmic Tree A very widespread type of amulet in the Viking Age, both in the Finland area and in the British Isles, was the use of bears’ teeth – both bronze imitations and original pieces It was supposed to contain magical properties related to the capture of the spirit of the bear there is a good example of that in the Finnish culture, this word right here (karhunpeijaiset), which I won’t try to pronounce, it’s Finnish and roughly translated it means “bear hunting feast” Prehistoric connections to the bear hunt and acquiring the bear spirit to absorb the bear qualities Another example, in the Hrólfs saga kraka the character Bodvarr has his soul transformed into a bear a reference to the ancient pre-Christian rituals still preserved in medieval literature To our prehistoric ancestors the bear was seen as a sort of wild brother, our wild selves For centuries the bear was considered to be a symbol of nobility and power and for millennia the bear was the king of the forests thus his connection to royalty, before the lion was introduced by political and religious powers which came much later into the European background Anyway, in the Scandinavian case, and with great prominence during the Viking Age the bear cult was still alive as we understand in the figures of the berserkir Ferocity, strength, endurance, were the qualities sought by these warriors But as I’ve said, there is always this idea of this bear cult being linked to Odin but the bear is one of the very few animals in the Scandinavian religious context that wasn’t actually linked to Odin for a very long time in the history of Scandinavia only when Odin became the god of Kings Sure the bear was also a symbol of royalty but that was much more in pre-Celtic and Celtic backgrounds not much in Scandinavia It’s quite possible that the bear cult is linked to the god Ullr, and not Odin because Ullr before Odin, was seen as the actual god ruling the Aesir, sitting on the throne and that mythological past can still be remembered in the tale when Odin was expelled from Asgard and it was Ullr who was called by the gods to sit on the throne This is a tale invoking a Scandinavian past when a god and a goddess of Winter and Hunting were the divine pair of the natives of Scandinavia before the introduction of the warrior cult of Odin I highly doubt that the Berserkir were into an Odinic cult It’s much more plausible that they embraced a prehistoric bear cult still alive during the Viking age much more tribal and totemic in nature and that same cult became linked to Ullr. While the wolf, raven, eagle and the serpent were totemic symbols of Odin The Serpent, it wasn’t just a symbol of wisdom and protection, but also of the preservation of the natural order and stability of the universe therefore also a symbol of chaos because without chaos there is no need for order Chaos is the ever changing force in the universe that forces the inevitable change and evolution of everything The serpent is linked to many Chthonic deities, underworld spirits precisely for being an animal that lives in the earth, comes out of the very soil, from darkness, coming to the surface to give the knowledge of hidden secrets An animal associated with Loki, Hel, Gullveig and her forms as Heidr, Aurboda, Hyrrokin etc but the serpent is also connected to Odin Odin metamorphosed into a snake to get to the mead of poetry, for instance This metamorphosis is exactly what happened to Odin in religious terms He took many forms and many names because when he was introduced in Scandinavia many local deities were syncretized, combined in the figure of Odin Odin absorbed the attributes of other deities But the serpent continued to be linked to Odin because he absorbed some of the underworld Scandinavian gods The earliest Scandinavian god similar to Odin, that we know of, was the Bronze Age spear god engraved on stone With huge proportions when compared to the other elements around The importance of this deity is clear, he was depicted as being very big, occupying a large area of the rock surface as you can see with those people there for scale This spear god, was a nature god as well as a chthonic god, chaotic in nature The Scandinavian “Odin” before the cult of the Germanic Odin was introduced in Scandianvia Some of his prehistoric myths remained in the poems about Odin becoming a serpent Now talking about Totemism in the Norse culture Totemism in its spiritual essence is the term to refer to the relationship of spiritual bound between a human, or group of humans, with specific animals and plants The animal totem is generally understood to be an ancestor, a guardian, a spiritual entity who provides something positive to the human or humans it’s bound to And in the Norse culture the animal Totem is intimately linked to the spiritual self meaning that it’s not just an entity we can call upon like a god or a goddess but a spiritual entity that it’s part of us, directly connected to us due to also being an ancestor To the pre-Christian Norse and certain Germanic groups totemism is manifested in both animal helping-spirits, and animals of military groups incorporating shamanic practices and trance techniques such as we have seen before in the berserkir and ulfhdnar Let’s start by addressing the Fylgjur I’m sure you are familiar with the term Fylgja meaning follower, or also fjylgjukona, something that fetches This term can be better understood if we remember that in Seidr the practitioner of seidr is capable of sending forth its mind in the form of an animal to do something, to catch, fetch, bring back, the embodiment of the will of the practitioner of seidr to physically do and attract things And most often this embodiment of the will comes in the form of a cat, also ravens in general we are talking about familiar spirits which later came to be understood as the pets of witches In the Norse tradition the Fylgjur are spiritual entities capable of being controlled or helping someone because they are attached to the self being part of ourselves but at the same time spiritual entities with life of their own, their own individual existence The Norse concept of the soul is complex and divided into many parts and certain parts are influenced by our ancestors and other spiritual entities which is why the Fylgjur are part of our spiritual self In Old Norse literature the Fylgjur are only seen in dreams or by people capable of seeing them with supernatural powers They appear in the shapes of women or animals, but are a sort of doppelganger of the person and can act on behalf of the person or appear instead of the person Upon a person’s death, the Fylgja leaves the person and becomes an independent being so it’s not like the concept of soul in the Christian perspective it’s just part of the soul of the individual, a sort of individual spiritual being residing in and with us However, it’s possible that the Fylgja can be transferred to other family members if a certain relationship is maintained and so the Fylgja, or the Fylgjur will continue to help future generations this is because these spiritual entities are also associated to the personified luck of a person which is the hamingja, but I’ll do a video just about the parts of the self in the near future So the Fylgjur is understood as animal totems For instance, a person of noble birth would have a fylgja in the form of a bear or a boar a savage person, very violent in nature would have a wolf a sorcerer probably a raven or a serpent, etc. a helping spirit taking the characteristics of the person and vs versa the person lives by her or his totem. Learning from them, acting like them, interiorising their characteristics The gods themselves have their own fylgjur, their own animal totems Freyr the boar and horse, Odin has wolves, ravens, serpents and also horses Freyja the cat and the boar, Thor the goats Angrboda the wolf and serpent and cave bear, Hel also has the serpent, dragon, etc Then we have military societies and warrior groups who adopted a totemic view of the world and to the Norse the wolf and the bear were usually the totemic animals of these warrior groups, much praised for their ferocity and strength The Initiation rites of young warriors usually involved spending a period of time alone in the wilderness They would have to survive by adopting the behaviour of wild animals such as the wolf and the bear, obtaining food by hunting, gathering, and also stealing provisions from other packs meaning, villages, towns and even other groups of warriors, constantly risking their lives The savage world and the life beyond the limits of the civilized life, was the training ground of these warriors On this case it’s not about the individual’s totem, but about the totem adopted by the group so each warrior adopted the animal spirit of their group and acted like so during and after their training The warrior achieved a state of spiritual unification with the animal totem, which could be enhanced with shamanic and trance techniques or even with the consumption of psychotropic substances The warriors would also dress themselves in a ritual costume made from the hide of the animal So to these warriors embracing the animal totem had to be a complete process of transformation, both in and out, becoming the animal themselves It was more than a mere symbolic transformation The Fylgja in this case is not just a helping spirit the person was possessed by the fylgja, which leads us to the spiritual level of shapeshifting The shamanistic activities within such warrior groups was precisely to reach out to the Fylgja and make a sort of pact with it becoming one, the shapeshifting of the spiritual self Before I say goodbye, I want to leave a little message: Each one of us has a beast within Some have it in deep slumber and others have it on a lethargic state Once in a while the beast stirs and is aware of its condition and wants to get out And it’s a great pain to see it cannot break its chains In our civilized world we have built cages to keep our wildest desires- away from this illusion of a sophisticated and enlightened existence brought about by the evolution of societies It’s an irony, really All the effort to domesticate nature and we ended up domesticating ourselves So once in a while . . . howl . . . Just give it a try, you won’t be disappointed At first it will seem totally silly, until you understand the sense of freedom it gives you Howl once in a while, unleash the call of the wilds from deep inside and let the winds carry it Show the world that the beast is still very much alive and all the efforts of the society to contain it, weren’t enough to silence it Let them know and let them hear that the old gods are still around Alright my dear friends, thank you so much for watching and see you on the next video Tack för idag!
(Thank you for today!)