Draugr

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The draugr is the name for an Icelandic zombie. According to Ármann Jakobsson, draugar (the plural of draugr) are neither alive nor dead. They are created not by witchcraft or sorcery, but from their own selfishness during their lives. By refusing to give up their wealth and property when they die, draugar are cursed to watch over their possessions for eternity. The only way to kill a draugr is debated among various texts, yet they all agree that burning the body completely, placing the corpse in a proper horizontal position far away from the land being guarded, or hanging the draugr’s severed head between one’s buttocks. Draugr, actually, is only one named used to describe the undead creature. Jakobsson tracks the description of the draugr to names like troll and revenant in many of the Icelandic Sagas. By using Jerome Cohen’s article, “Monster Culture (Seven Theses),” the draugr can be categorized as a monster in the way that it is neither alive nor dead, escapes mortal death and simple naming, and is rooted in the Icelandic tradition of being the proud owner of property.

1. DuBois, Thomas A. “Four/visitors from Beyond; Death, Afterlife, and the Problem of Ghosts.” Nordic Religions in the Viking Age. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 1999. 70-91. Print.
Thomas DeBois’ book examines the religious practices and beliefs of Icelanders during the Viking age. He compares Christian and Pagan traditions that are rooted in Iceland, but differ because of their unique beliefs on various religious practices. In his fourth chapter, DuBois examines what Icelanders believed regarding death and the afterlife. Although some Icelanders were Christians, DuBois makes it a point to note that most of their traditions are rooted in the Pagan religion. Something that the chapter presents as fascinating is that if someone during his or her life disgraced their ancestors then that person would rise as a ghost, unlike how in the Icelandic Sagas where the person would have to have been buried incorrectly. In order to prevent ghosts from rising, Icelanders were careful to bury the corpse properly or burn it on a funeral pyre, which is what is done to defeat a ghost that has already risen in Norse mythology.

2. Schach, Paul. “Five/major Sagas about Icelanders.” Icelandic Sagas. Boston: Twayne, 1984. 97-130. Print.

3. Chadwick, N. K. “Norse Ghosts (A Study in the Draugr and the Haugbúi).” Folklore 57.2 (1946): 50-65. Print.

4. Chadwick, N. K. “Norse Ghosts II (Continued).” Folklore 57.3 (1946): 106-27. Print.

5. Jakobsson, Ármann. “Vampires and Watchmen: Categorizing the Mediaeval Icelandic Undead.” The Journal of English and Germanic Philology 110.3 (2011): 281-300. Print.

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One response to “Draugr

  1. Being Icelandic myself, I grew up on the sagas and my father told me many of the stories. Later in life, I read the Njal and Grettir’s Saga though they mention draugrs I always would imagine them as identical to the zombies found in books and movies. However, I enjoyed reading about the specific differentiation you make and that draugrs result from their selfish ways rather than an infection. Also another of Cohen’s theories that the draugr accomplishes is his fifth thesis as the draugr polices the border of the possible and stand as a warning for all those that refuse to give away their wealth when they die and place too high an importance on their property.

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