On the mythical reality of ‘quiet’ Scandinavian draugar

 

 

“… literature is always a cultural product, and as such it consciously or unconsciously reflects on the culture that produced it.”

Rebecca Merkelbach, Hann the eigi kyrr: Ghosts and a Haunted Past in the Sagas of Icelanders.

 

 

Summary

 

There are not so many academic oriented works about ‘quiet’ Scandinavian ghosts. In the sagas they are more often called “howe-dwellers” rather than draugar who are famous and terrible. Both are nevertheless ghosts and our study tries to produce a categorization of ‘thequiet draugr by looking for features common to these quiet ghosts who did not terrorized their surroundings or stopped to did it. In our conclusion, we will see that they show four distinctive common features, all four included in the principal archetypes of their society.

We will approach also in a ‘roundabout waythe problem of the resemblances between the draugar world and the one of the Giants by noting the striking resemblance between Hervör’s reception in the world of the dead and Skírnir’s in the world of the Giants. An exhaustive comparison would require an additional work.

 

Introduction

 

The sagas give us many examples of these kind of living-dead ones. They constitute a category of heroes who have this in common that they hate to be disturbed during their half-sleep and, since only the disturbed ones are known, their descriptions are always a little alarming. The following will show us what changes undergo these corpses, in general after being placed in their hillock. They become ghosts similar to living dead characters in horror films. Their Norse name (draugr) corresponds rather well to what a ghost is except that they always show a corporeal component, which will be understood in the meaning we give to ‘ghost’ in the following. Moreover, they are not systematically aggressive toward the living ones and the texts provide a surprisingly precise and coherent description their features.

We can roughly class them in two different categories. One is relatively spectacular but less frequent, the one of people described as being irascible or malicious during their human life or these whose last wills were not respected. As already said, this category has already been abundantly commented (see Lecouteux and Merkelbach). The other one, that of quiet ones, is less known but obviously has been the most common since it includes all whose grave has not been open during saga time. Our interest here will primarily be focused on the last kind of characters.

We will be relying on three descriptions by underlining their common features that give a good idea of what was a quiet ghost. It moreover happens than one of our examples is so close to Skírnir’s arrival in Skírnis för, than we added this last as a side remark that enables us, on the fly, to note that surprising resemblances exist between the world of ghosts and the world of Giants, though they are not wholly identical. These common features have been seldom underlined. We will reconsider this problem later by studying the myth known as “Íđunn’s Abduction.”

 

The short comments are between [ ], the comments underlining the common points between Hervarar saga and Skírnis för are in bold font size 10 and between [[]], the comments underlining the common points or the differences between Hervarar saga, Harđar saga and Grettis Saga are in bold font size 10 and between {}, and the quotations are between “ ”.

 

 

 

Hervarar saga ok Heiđreks

(Ch. 4)

 

 

This saga contains the description of a meeting between a young woman, Hervör, and her father’s ghost, Angantýr. Chapter 4 of the saga provides a very beautiful poem describing the details of this meeting. Angantýr is the elder of twelve brothers who perished in a combat which took place on Sámsey, an island located at the east of Denmark and the west of Sweden. It is nowadays called Samsř and easy to find on a map of Denmark.

Among the names of the twelve deceased brothers, we note these of Angantýr, Hervađr, Hjörvarđr, and (H)Rani upon whom Hervör will call in order to partially ‘bring them back to life’ and require of them a sword, Tyrfingr, “forged by the dwarves.” It belonged to Angantýr and it has been buried with them in the southern part of the island. As it was of use at this time in Scandinavian, the heroes’ bodies have been placed in a tomb recovered by a hillock.

 

Obviously, all these stories belonged to the field of the legends already at the time when the sagas was produced. Their popular success shows however that these legends evoked a certain mythical reality among their listeners and we want to study here this mythical reality related to thepartial deathof some human beings. Materialistic explanations of the magic associated to these phenomena are easy to produce, such as explaining the burning graves by seismic phenomena or resurrections by the fact that the concept of “flat electrocardiogram” is very recent. The sagas descriptions nevertheless do not reflect at all this materialist thinking, and we try here to precise what has been exactly their ‘thinking’.

 

The daughter of a nobleman fell in love with Angantýr who died before their union could be consecrated by marriage. Hervör is the child of this union and thus the grand-daughter of the nobleman. She grew up becoming an extremely aggressive warlike young person. The saga soundly critics her bad temper, that spurred on a servant to utter an insulting remark about her father’s possible mean lineage. The servant obviously did not know about her lineage with famous Angantýr hero and Hervör seemed also unaware of it. She gets mad at this insult and bitterly complains to her grandfather and mother who finally tell her the truth:

 

“Of Angantýr rises,

of mud sprinkled,

the hall in Sámsey:

it faces South”

[Angantýr’s burial mound is ‘sprinkled’ by the mud of the marshes that exist in the southern part of the island.]

 

She then decides to visit her father although he is a ghost, in order to recover his sword which she considers being a heritage that is owed to her. She fakes being a man and embarks to join Sámsey but when the island grows nearer,

 

“all the members of the crew declare themselves against [approaching Samsey] and say that there are so many evil spirits that move around by day and night, that it is a place worse by day than others by night. Finally, anchor was dropped and Hervör got into a small boat and rowed to the shore. She reached the place called Munarvági at sunset”.

{Hervör (as Skírnir does) meets a mysterious human being who will either help her or advise against her carrying on}

 

She asks him where the hillocks lie [[Hervör requests information from the shepherd]] and he answers:

That, truly, you should not ask, [[the shepherd refuses to answer her enquiry]]

are you fully alive [[the shepherd questions that Hervör may be alive]

you, friendly to Vikings?

Very questionable is your quest; [[the shepherd questions the success of Hervör’s mission]]

let us quickly flee to safety

at large steps if possible,

because all here is out of norm

and too enormous are these people.

 

********** A digression **********

 

Let us digress here to compare Hervör’s reception at the entrance of the world of the death and Skírnir’s at the entrance of Giants’ world, as described in the poem Skírnis för.

Skírnir in charge to require of beautiful giantess Gerđr to accept marrying Freyr. Gymir is Gerđr’s father.

 

 

Hann reiđ at ţar er féhirđir sat á haugi oc kvaddi hann:

 

 11.

… hvé ek at andspilli komunk ens unga mans fyr greyjom Gymis?”

 

 

 

12. Hirţir qvaţ:

 Hvárt ertu feigr eđa ertu framgenginn....?

 

 

Andspillis vanr

ţú skalt ć will vera góđrar meyiar Gymis.”

 

He [ Skírnir ] rode where a shepherd [[as in the case of Hervör]] was sitting on a hillock [this hillock creates a deadly mood] and he asked him:

 

Where could I speak

 with some young serve [a spiteful way to point at Gerđr]

in spite of Gymir’s dogs? [fyrir =in front of’, evoking here an impediment]

[[Skírnir requests information from the shepherd]]

12.The shepherd said:

“Which of the two: are you dying

or are you already dead…?

[[the shepherd does not believe that Skírnir is alive]]

 

Discussion difficult

you will always have

with Gymir’s good daughter.

[[the shepherd questions Skírnir’s mission success and he simultaneously refuses to answer his request]]

 

The narrow similarity between the two versions can obviously be due to copying a passage of Skírnis för. Even in this case, it is still necessary that the saga author(s) did not find absurd to compare a travel to Giants’ world with one of death… and that the readers would not find absurd this idea. This is why I tend to think that these two worlds, certainly different one from the other, however shared major similarities which were not usually underlined enough.

We will later reconsider this topic when comparing these two arrivals to the one described in Fjölsvinnsmál. We then will see how much Menglöd’s dwelling door, though being protected by ferocious dogs and a guardian, opens through a long learned discussion that builds a subtle interaction between the incoming character, Svipdagr, and the guardian, Fjölsviđr. In the two present examples, this interaction reduces to a few stereotyped words.

 

********** End of digression **********

 

Let us return now to Hervör’s story. She then offers the shepherd a magnificent necklace to convince him to help her but he declares that no wealth will divert him from his way. She then seeks to wake up his daring by showing that she is fully sensible and that she is aware of the dangers around them.

 

“Do not give way to fear

in front of these shrilling flames

even though, in the whole island,

fires gush out; {the hillocks are protected by a magic force, here fires}

mostly, let us avoid being

frightened to look at

such heroes, them we have

to cheerfully consult.”

 

Hervör’s usual ‘gift’ of empathy fully plays its role and the shepherd retorts:

 

“Foolishly unwise I believe

who ventures over there,

as a lonely human

and a twice dark one; [this “twice dark” will be better understood further when she will describe her state of mind]

the flaming embers fly

off the opening mounds

fields and marshes burn

let us move far away!”

 

The shepherd flees far from Hervör’s words. She however goes on searching:

 

Now she reached end of the island where burn hillock fires, and she went on there without fright, although her way had to go around all hillocks. She waded forward among these flames and also through the mud until she arrives at the berserks’ hillock.

She then called:

 

Wake up Angantýr,

Hervör wakes you up,

her, your only daughter

with your beloved conceived.

 

Hervarđr, Hjörvarđr,

Hrani, Angantýr,

you all I wake up

under the tree’s roots.” [this kenning can appear unwelcome as far as we well know that there are no trees close to the burning hillocks.

Note that the ON text states “und viđar rótum where viđar is a singular genitive. That ‘tree’ here is obviously Yggdrasill and her dead parents, though they have been famous heroes, do not seem to have been called by Óđinn to his Valhöll, but they stay “under Yggdrasill’s roots,” that is in Hel.

Yet another remark is that her parents seem to be able to travel from Hel back to their howes, or to be simultaneously in these two spots.]

 

She goes on insulting and cursing her father and her uncles if they do not accept to give the sword she claims. Finally her father reacts and his ghost answers her. That a ghost may compose skaldic poetry is not at all rare, you will find many examples in Yelena Sesselja Helgadóttir’s paper cited in the reference section.

 

He says:

 

“Hervör, daughter mine, {He acknowledges their parental bond and that means that he will try protecting her and…}

what are you thus requesting

by foreseeing runes of power?

you bring misfortune upon you;

foolish you became

and also insanely furious,

it is false wisdom

to wake up the dead ones.”

{…that he did not forget the rules of skaldic poetry}

 

We see that Angantýr is inconvenienced by Hervör’s presence of but also that he fears for her {To protect or even to wrongfully support his descendants seems to be a concern common to all Norse ghosts}

She then accuses her father to refuse to give him the sword she wishes.

 

Then the hillock opened and it was as if fire and flame filled up the whole hillock.

Thus Angantýr spoke:

 

Shattered is the gate of Hel, [the ‘normal’ abode of death]

hillocks open up,

set on fire we see

this island beaches;

everything is horrendous outside

everywhere to look at;

hasten, my daughter, if you may

towards your ships. {he tries to protect his daughter}

 

Hervör declares that she is not at all affected by all these horrors. Angantýr explains her that she will have a child who will be killed because of this sword if he gives it to her. Hervör’s only answer is stating that she will curse all hillock dwellers if she does not receive the sword. Angantýr then states that she is really a person unique among mankind. Hervör agrees and she explains:

 

"I thought myself human,

human among human ones, [the Norse way of speech: mađr mennskr, seems to refer to a ‘true human person’]

until in your hall,

I could stay for some time.”

[She declares explicitly that her fully human status is withdrawn from her because of her travel in the hillock. This consent to a ‘loss from sound humankind’ is not found in other examples of hillocks visitors]

 

It is obvious that the contact with ghosts is always dangerous, especially when the meeting is so stormy. We now better understand the shepherd’s remark stating that who lonely enter a howe then becometwice obscure”. Hervör, by her impatience and her brutality was already a quite obscure soul. In the half-light of the hillock, she feels stained by death and becomes twice obscure, that is, she is becoming a kind of ghost.

 

All considered, Angantýr realizes that he cannot resist his daughter’s relentless will, and he declares “the sword is lying under my shoulders{the ghost closely watches his treasure - here the sword coveted by Hervör}and he adds:

 

“I rather will yield to you

the sword out of the hillock, [you will leave the hillock with the sword]

young girl,

I cannot deny it to you.”

 

Father and daughter then bid farewell. Angantýr tells herHave a good travel, my (dear) daughterand she, quite unexpectedly, wishes a ‘good health’ to the ghosts:

 

Though I would rather be out of here,

I wish you all who dwell here

to stay healthy in your howe.

[I think that this type of wish at the end of a visit to a ghost is unique. Clearly, the relation father-daughter, which did not exist in the normal world, was set up in the world of death. Wishing a good health to a ghost makes them appear as being surprisingly alive.]

 

An additional argument to find similarities between world of the giants and world of death is found immediately after the present episode of the saga. Remember that Hervör has been stating the she no longer feels being a fully human being because she visited her father’s howe – which amounts, in the saga, to get in touch with Hel.

 

She leaves Samsey, but does not immediately turn over to her family. She will, at first, make a long stay in a country

“in the North of Finnmark and called Jötunheimar [Giants-Dwelling]… Many giants lived then in this Northern area. Some were half-giants. In this time, people merged much: Giants married [human] women, and some giants gave their [Giant] daughters to [human] men… [the king of this country] was an important pagan sacrificer… He was wise and powerful. He and this country inhabitants used to live to the span of many human lifetimes.”

 

Thus, as ahuman ghost’, Hervör joins a country where she can live withhuman giants’ as if she had  need of a transition before coming back to the world of “true human persons.”

 

Here again, it can be claimed that the author of the saga simply wanted to add some spectacular scenes to his saga and that this episode is purely imaginary. This type of argument is as irrefutable as unprovable. Note however that this ‘tale’ fits perfectly well Hervör’s unexpected statement that she did not feel anymore like being truly human.

 

 

Harđar saga Hólmverja

or

Harđar saga Grímkelssonar

Ch. 15

 

 

Geir and Hörđr are two friends who agreed together to plunder viking Sóti’s howe because they want to help a local Jarl’s son to achieve aJól wish', that is a wish publicly and quite often unwisely done. Nothing indicates that Sóti’s ghost did anything evil in that area and he seems to quietly ‘live his ghost’s life’. They thus go nearby the hillock. They dig the ground to go inside the hillock but, each morning, the opening of the day before is filled up. {the hillocks are protected by a magic force, here landslides}. They need a magic deus ex machina to be able to reach Sóti’s howe. It happens that they meet a mysterious man, {the visitor meets a mysterious being who either helps him or advises him against continuing} who will afterwards disappear from the story. This man wears dark blue clothes and entrusts them with a sword able to counter the nightly landslides stopping the access to the howe.

 

“Geir went down in the howe. Hörđr found a door and they broke it. There was a great earthquake and the lights died out {again a defense against intruders}. From there a great no-odor [a stink] spouted out {the interior of the howes releases an unbearable smell - Hervör does not seem to have experienced it}. There was no more than a weak light inside the howe {the ghost does not stand light}. They then saw a ship containing a large treasure {the ghost closely watches his treasure}.Sóti sat at the end of the boat and he was terrifying to look at {the ghost is often horrible to look at - once again Hervör does not relate this information}. Geir remained at the entry of the howe but Hörđr went forward and tried to catch the treasure. Then Sóti spoke thus [a short 8 lines poem of whose meaning is]: “Hörđr why did you came in the home of the inhabitant of the soil [Sóti] although he never did you any evil?” {the ghost does not forget the rules of skaldic poetry}

 

Hörđr answers by another poem where he states that he came to steal the ghost’s treasure.

 

Then Sóti jumped and threw himself at Hörđr {the ghost eagerly defends his treasure against a foreigner}. It was a hard meeting and Hörđr was verydefective in force[he was unable to overcome Sóti]. Sóti held Hörđr so strongly tight that Hörđr’s flesh folded between his fingers {the ghost is endowed with a great ‘physical’ force (even though anything physical about a ghost sounds strange)}. Hörđr asked Geir to light up the candles to see what would happen to Sóti. When the light reached Sóti, he lost his strength and fell to ground… "{the ghost does not stand light}.

 

Hörđr seizes a very beautiful ring and Sóti curses him with a poem: “This will be anhead-deathfor you and all those who will earn it.”

Hörđr answers by another poem where he says that he understands what Sóti said, but that the latter will nevertheless lack his gold. Sóti then supplements the curse with four lines:

 

“Be certain that this ring

will bring your death

and the one of all its owners

except if a woman owns it.”

 

"Hörđr told Geir to bring the light to him to see how much he [Sóti] wasfriend-wishing’ [friendly]. And then [Sóti] dove into the ground {the defeated ghost flees away by losing his physical body and he can then dive in the depth of the ground} because he did not want to stand the light {the text explicitly states that the ghost does not stand light}. They separated thus.

 

Hörđr composes a last victory poem in which he says that it was difficult to take the best on  the “hateful one [Sóti] in a pagan destiny.” This means that in pagan world, the howes dwellers are difficult to overcome. This remark properly puts  this story in a Christian context though the story contents are entirely pagan.

 

Grettis saga

Ch. 18

 

 

Grettir was mislaid at sea and reached an island whose owner was Ţorfinn. It is told that Ţorfinn’s father, Kár (the word kárr means ‘a curl’), was only one of this island owners, but when Kár died, he became a ghost who drove out all the island inhabitants [here an example of a ghost who stopped aggressing his neighbors] except his son and his servants he never mauled {the ghost protects his descendants}. Grettir went to Kár’s hillock.

 

“Grettir opened the hillock and worked much, not stopping before reaching  a wooden obstacle and it was already evening when he did. The following day, it went down in the hillock [by using a rope]. The howe was very dark andthough non softly smelling’ [its stink was awful] {Note here the absence of magic defenses and of a mysterious human}. He started to explore the place and found the bones of a horse. Then, he ran up against a ‘doll-chair’ [an adorned seat] on which sat a man. There was a large treasure of gold and silver and, under his feet [Kár’s, the ghost] a casket full of silver {the ghost supervises closely its treasure - here a cassette full of money}. Grettir grabbed the whole treasure and turned back towards the rope. He then felt strongly caught {the ghost eagerly defends his treasure against a foreigner}. He then left the treasure to ‘rule their meeting[to fight the ghost] and all that was rather without-softness [the fight was very fierce] {the ghost is endowed with a great physical force}. Everything around was destroyed. The howe dweller attacked with energy. Grettir let go some time but he was not enough strong to protect himself. “They them-not now spare one another” [Now, they fight with all their might]. They soon reached the place with horse bones. They fought there lengthily each one putting in turn the other on his knees. This finally ended as follows: the howe dweller fell on the back in a great din…

Grettir drew then his sword Jökulsnaut [Glacier-cattle] and struck the neck of the howe dweller and decapitated him. Grettir placed the head close to Kár’s thighs [“close to its thighs": this way of speaking means in general “close to his bottom” or even “close to his anus”] {when the ghost is overcome and cannot flee, the traditional way to neutralize him is to slice his neck and to place his head on his buttocks}

 

He then goes to Ţorfinn’s [Kár’s son, who does not seem to be much concerned with his father’s ‘soul’!] with the treasure and entrusts it to him. Ţorfinn does not reprove of Grettir’s actions and has quite materialistic comments.

He says:

 

“And since I know that it is ill that [richness] stays hidden, whether it is [simply] buried or it is brought to a ghost, I am not to hold you in any debt [I do not consider you as guilty] the more so since you brought it back to me.”

 

This remark locates the story in an atheistic context of which we should not be too much surprised owing to the fact that belonging to Christendom was compulsory, which often leads the rebellious minded to atheism. Thisatheistremains however impregnated with Scandinavian paganism since he believes that the ghosts exist, be the author of the saga a genuine Christian or one of these ‘by law Christians.

 

Comments and conclusions

 

 

The ghosts we presented here show all a certain physical existence, at least by exchanging words, and even poems, with their visitors. In general, they have a very large physical strength and only the hero joining determination to strength can possibly overcome them. Insofar as they are “terrible to look at” and their odor is not suave, their physical appearance is different from that of  living ones, although their body is still in one piece. Their strength, according to texts, evokes more muscular power than of a magical one, even though they are still able to shape a curse against an intruder. For example, the fact that the opponents exchange blows or that Sóti is able  to squirt Hörđr’s flesh of between his fingers evokes more an iron grip than a superhuman magic power. In fact, it would have been morelogical[1] to attribute  purely magic capacities to them,  not asking corporality but this (pseudo)-rationalization is not confirmed by the texts. We thus can conclude that Scandinavian ghosts preserved in death a living part of their flesh which enabled them to physically move. Inversely, the fact that they can flee by sinking in the ground when they are overcome shows the reverse: when defeated, they lose their materiality and are sinking “as a nail” in the ground. All this evokes mixed beings, made of flesh and spirit similarly to living ones, which agrees rather well with the beginning of the Christian[2] definition of an immaterial soul, but this ‘ghostly soulis combined to a body part lessexistentor morevolatilethan in alive ones.

 

Of course, “the story of the happy is not worth writing” and the sagas provide many more details of draugar who terrorized their surroundings. In our examples, Sóti seems to have carried out a quiet ‘ghostly life’ until Geir comes to steal his treasure. Kár terrorized his vicinity, we do not known why, except its final result: ensuring the well-being of his son. Lastly, Angantýr as ghost no longer has adventures after a stormy life. In general, the ghosts, even the most terrible ones, respect the peace of their descendants, except if they have to take revenge on them. There are other examples of ghosts carrying out a quiet ‘life’ like Sóti and Angantýr but they in general receive nothing more than a short remark in the saga.

 

Hillock visitors come often to plunder or, if that is necessary, in order to ‘for ever  killan inconvenient ghost. Hervör’s case is exceptional in the sense that, on the surface, she wants to grab Angantýr’s sword while she might be also motivated by a urge to create a link with her father. Eliminating a disturbing ghost is almost always performed following two different ways: Either by burning their bodies to ash, or decapitating them and placing their head high on the back of their thighs. It may also happen that the ghost feels it has been overcome and, as did Sóti, he mysteriously disappears by sinking into earth.

 

Ghost’s dwellings are made of a kind of wooden hut that is covered by a hillock. This is why Hörđr and Grettir dig this ground until meeting wood before penetrating in the proper howe, home to the “hillock dweller.” The howe is protected by magic forces. It seems also possible that exists a kind ofhowe’s wardwith a badly defined role and changing capacities.

 

The corpses of the ghosts are buried with a good amount of wealth the ghosts defend with  extreme fierceness. The sailors’ related legends clarify this apparently ridiculous need for a hoard. It is well-known that sailors make a point at carrying with them at least a golden ring in order to be “allowed to Rán’s kingdom,” goddess of the sea. We can thus reasonably suppose that admission in the realm of some gods requires to pay an entrance right. The ghosts whose treasure is stolen must felt condemned to go in a less attractive sojourn when this treasure has been stolen.

 

Lastly, we have some interesting examples of discussions held in skaldic verses between the ghosts and their visitors. When we think of the fun that modern living-dead would cause if they would speak in a film as Milton did, we can  imagine the importance of poetry in the old Scandinavian world. All things considered, even dead, the former Scandinavians bring along four of the main prototypes of their society:

to ensure the continuity of the family bond,

to acquire some amount of wealth,

to be physically strong and

to be able to poetically express oneself.

 

We can notice here behaviors that are radically different from those to which we are used: Ghosts are described with a certain dislike, certainly, but also with a remarkable precision, as well or better than the other types of mythical beings such as giant, dwarves, trolls and elves. Moreover, the interaction with dead ones is honest and direct, going up to street brawls’. Life and death are conceived as being in continuity and dependence of one another… what should be  simple good sense! Inversely, in our civilization, the contacts with death are considered as so terrifying that ghosts are described very vaguely, as if panic had overthrown the observation sense in their viewers[3]. This irrational fear of ghosts reflects another fear, one really absurd, that our civilization shows in front of death and the dying ones who are maintained in life beyond any hope to recovery. This became recently possible because medical science can maintain them in an objective situation ofhalf dead living ones’, that is a modern kind of draugar.

 

Bibliography

 

One easily finds on the Web Norse versions of the sagas, for example

- Hervarar saga ok Heiđreks: http://www.vsnrweb-publications.org.uk/Text%20Series/Hervarar%20saga%20ok%20heidreks.pdf

- Harđar saga Grímkelssonar : https://www.snerpa.is/net/isl/hardar.htm

- Grettis saga : https://www.snerpa.is/net/isl/grettir.htm

Eddic poem Skírnis för or Skírnismál se is also available at ‘snerpa’ ŕ https://www.snerpa.is/net/kvaedi/skirnir.htm . An excellent edition and translation with accompanying notes of this poem is found in

Dronke Ursula, The Poetic Edda, vol. II, Clarendon Press 1997, pp. 373-414.

Lecouteux Claude, Fantômes et Revenants au Moyen Âge, Imago, 1986 and 2009.

 

The haunted past of the Scandinavians did not attract the academics much research For instance, McKinnell’s “Wisdom from dead relatives,” centered on Ljóđatal, contains less than one page dedicated to a « basic form » common to Ljóđatal and other poems describing the interaction between a visitor and a howe-dweller. See

McKinnell, Essays on Eddic Poetry, p. 135, Toronto Univ. Press, 2014.

 

Here are two references which will provide you some guidance and a more complete bibliography.

 

Helgadóttir Yelena Sesselja, Draumvísur and Draugavísur in Icelandic Sagas: The Border between Fantasy and Reality, Saga Conference 2009, http://web.archive.org/web/20090331220421/http://www.dur.ac.uk/medieval.www/sagaconf/yelena.htm

 

Mrs. Helgadóttir is interested in the poems recited in a dream or by ghosts.

She provides an almost quasi exhaustive list of them and she analyzes the limits between the world of fantasy and the one of reality.

 

Rebecca Merkelbach, “Hann la eigi kyrr : Revenants and a Haunted Past in the Sagas of Icelanders”, PhD 2012  http://www.academia.edu/6962874/_Hann_l%C3%A1_eigi_kyrr_-_Revenants_and_a_Haunted_Past_in_the_Sagas_of_Icelanders

 

In her thesis, Mrs. Merkelbach presents how the fights between ancient paganism and Christendom expansion influenced Scandinavian society and their consequences in the presentation of themonstersin the sagas. She minutely  describes the most dangerous ghosts.



[1] One of the bases of the ‘logics’ subjacent to the immateriality of ghosts is clearly expressed by St Augustine (354-430), Des devoirs ŕ rendre aux morts, downloadable at

http://www.abbaye-saint-benoit.ch/saints/augustin/morts/#_Toc19456392  

Chapter 10 acknowledges the existence of ghosts: “It is told that more than once corpses left without burial appeared to living ones who were unaware of it, and gave knowledge to them of the places where their bodies laid, saying to take care of giving them the  burial of which they had been deprived. Answering that actually is false appearances, opposing the feeling of several faithful ones who wrote on this topic, against the advice of those claiming they received these visions, would be to show little measure.

Besides, he denies any materiality to these visions, in chapter 14, “What is seen in this state, is thus [I leave it to you to appreciate his argumentation presented in the lines preceding the present citation] not the real presence of the things such as they are in themselves, but as a shade and a pictorial representation of the objects.”

 

[2] Trésor de la langue française informatisé : [http://atilf.atilf.fr/dendien/scripts/tlfiv4/showps.exe?p=combi.htm;java=no; ]  at the entry ‘soul’ (âme) :

CHRIST. RELIG.  a) Spiritual principle of divine creation, transcendent to humankind to which it is united during terrestrial life [first part ends] as hearth to the religious life and where Good and Evil fight each other.”

Here, I do not take into account not the end of the definition “Good and Evil fight each other.” The concept of a fight good and evil is not asimple matter within Christendom, and it becomes more complex when we compare Heathen civilizations to Christian ones.

 

[3] This is obviously very subjective. As an example showing I am not absolutely alone in holding a similar  opinion, here is a citation from C. A. Smith’s excellent book, Icelandic Magic, Avalonia pub. 2015, p. 51. “Most people in the modern, English-speaking world tend to think of ghosts as flitting, insubstantial beings that can pass through walls and inflict only psychological harm by the terror they instil.” Refer to note 1 above  in order to observe that  this ‘modern’ vision is exactly the same as St Augustine’s.