Draugr

A draugr or draug or draugen also known as aptrgangr in Viking belief (Norse mythology) is a corporeal revenant or an undead creature who wandered about the countryside, performing acts of great violence against former associates or against those whom it encountered. The original Norse meaning of the word is ghost, and in older literature one will find clear distinctions between sea-draugr and land-draugr. Draugr were believed to live in the graves of dead Vikings, being the body of the dead. As the centuries passed, these ancient terrors began to merge with perceptions of the angry and volatile dead from other cultures. Although many of the tales concerning draugr are thought to have originated in Iceland, they soon became known across the Nordic world and even further afield. There are accounts of them from Britain and France, recounted in both Latin and Anglo-Saxon script.

Many of these dead lay within tomb-like barrows which were scattered across the Scandinavian landscape. These resembled houses in which the dead might “live” and from which they would venture forth, during the hours of darkness, to engage in wicked acts. From these coffin mounds, the spectres hurled abuse at passers-by and often pelted them with stones. And they attached themselves to any house that had been erected nearby, terrorising the inhabitants by appearing in front of them as soon as it was dark. The Icelandic Laxdoela Saga, written around the 13th century (although the contents reflect much earlier fragmentary writings), includes the story the ghost of Hrapp, who wandered from his howe (tomb) each night, to create mayhem in the district and even to kill several of his former servants.

The Eyrbyggia Saga, written at the monastery of Helgalfel, around the middle of the 14th century, recounts the story of the vicious ghost of Thorolf Halt-foot who, together with a group of Undead companions, terrorized and devastated the country round about his burial chamber. Many of the stories concerning them reflected the earlier tales of the unquiet dead of Greece and Rome. Also in the Eyrbyggja Saga a shepherd is assaulted by a blue-black draugr. The shepherd's neck is broken during the ensuing scuffle. The shepherd rises the next night as a draugr.

In more recent folklore, the draugr is often identified with the spirits of mariners drowned at sea. In Scandinavian folklore, the creature is said to possess a distinctly human form, with the exception that its head is composed entirely of seaweed. In other tellings, the sea-draugr is described as being a headless fisherman, dressed in oilskin, sailing in half a boat. This trait is common in the northernmost part of Norway, where life and culture was based on the fish, more than anywhere else.

A recorded legend from Trøndelag tells how a corpse lying on a beach became the object of a quarrel between the two types of draug. A similar source even tells of a third type, the gleip, known to hitch themselves to sailors walking ashore and making them slip on the wet rocks. Norwegian folklore thus records a number of different draug-types. The connection between the draugr and the sea can be traced back to the author Jonas Lie and the story-teller Regine Nordmann, as well as the drawings of Theodor Kittelsen, who spent some years living in Svolvær. Up north, the tradition of sea-draugar is especially vivid.

Around 500 A.D., there is a record of a famous encounter in a haunted house by Bishop Germanus—a place frequented by a draugr who was especially violent. The account of this is given by Constantineus, a near contemporary of Germanus that hints back to the malicious ghosts of ancient Greece and Rome.

The Bishop of Auxerre in France, whilst on an important journey with his retinue, was overtaken by darkness and sought shelter in a rather disreputable hovel, which locals said was haunted. As the party settled down for the night, they were suddenly disturbed by a horrific and malevolent apparition that rose up out of the ground in front of them and proceeded to pelt them with stones. The Bishop begged the draugr to desist but it hurled abuse at them and began to pummel them with handfuls of earth. Germanus called on the ghost to stop in the Name of God and, at the mention of the holy name, it ceased its violence and became very humble. It revealed its true form: the spirit of an evil man who had been buried there without the proper rites of the Church. The Bishop asked it to show where its bones were buried and instructed a grave to be dug. The bones were interred; the Bishop said special prayers and the hovel was no longer haunted.

In fact, subsequent Christian folklore concerning the dead now increasingly emphasised the triumph of the forces of virtue over wandering cadavers. Those who died within the bosom of the Church were especially blessed, even though they were deceased and did not experience the anger or violence which beset those who had passed away unshriven.

Much was made of a popular tale recounted by the early Christian writer Evagrius Ponticus (345–399 A.D.). The story concerns a certain holy Anchorite named Thomas who died in a suburb of the city of Antioch. Being destitute and having no possessions, the hermit was buried in a portion of the city’s burying-grounds reserved for beggars and paupers. The following morning, however, it was found that the corpse had clawed its way through the earth and made its way to a mausoleum in the richest part of the cemetery. There it had laid itself down to rest. It was immediately removed and re-interred but the same thing happened on the following morning and it was noted that there were disturbances in several other graves around the area. The people summoned the patriarch Ephriam, who recommended that the body be carried in triumph to the city and placed in a shrine, with a special service to be held in honour of the Anchorite in the local church. Whether this was designed to exalt the hermit and to prevent him from walking about or to keep other cadavers in their graves is unclear.

Similar stories exist concerning the lives of other hermits, monks, bishops, and saints. St. Macarius of Egypt, for instance, is said to have raised a man from his grave to testify to the innocence of a monk accused of killing him. The History of the Franks, speculated to be written by a group of monks, states how St. Injurieux, a notable senator of Clermont in Auvergne, rose from his tomb and went to lie with his wife Scholastica in an adjoining grave.

Traditionally, a pair of open iron scissors were placed on the chest of the recently deceased while straws or twigs might be hidden among their clothes. The big toes were tied together or needles were driven through the soles of the feet in order to keep the dead from being able to walk. Tradition also held that the coffin be lifted and lowered in three different directions as it was carried from the house to confuse a possible draugr's sense of direction.

The most effective means of preventing the return of the dead was the corpse door. A special door was built on, through which the corpse was 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 visit. It is speculated that this belief began in Denmark and spread throughout the Norse culture. The belief was founded on the idea that the dead only enter through the way they left.

Sources :
Encyclopedia of the Undead : “A Field Guide to the Creatures That Cannot Rest In Peace” by DR. Bob Curan;
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Draugr

Pic Source :
Encyclopedia of the Undead by DR. Bob Curan page 205
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