Familiar Spirits: Attendant Spirits

Related to the Norns were the Familiar Spirits (hamingjur) and the
Attendant Spirits (fylgjur). The Familiar Spirits were supernatural, usually
invisible feminine beings who accompanied men and directed their course.
Each person had his Familiar Spirit, who strove to bring him good luck; it
was possible to lend one’s Familiar Spirit to another in case one desired to
run a risk in his behalf. The Attendant Spirits (fylgjur), on the other hand,
ordinarily had the shape of animals who walked before men or beside
them. Each person had, according to the belief of our fathers, one or more
Attendant Spirits; and certain people pretended that they could see the
Attendant Spirits and thus ascertain in advance who was drawing near. The
Attendant Spirit usually corresponded to the character of the individual in
question; powerful chieftains had bears, bulls, and the like as Attendant
Spirits, crafty folk had foxes, and so forth. Supernatural beings of this type
were not made the object of worship or prayer. Tales have come down to
us of sundry men to whom these beings by preference revealed
themselves and who by such means gained an uncommon insight into the
destinies of other men. Faith in Familiar Spirits and Attendant Spirits
persisted after the introduction of Christianity; even zealous Christians like Olaf
Tryggvason and Saint Olaf were not wholly free from such beliefs.
Occasionally both of these classes of tutelary powers were designated
outright as Norns; the popular mind appears not to have drawn a sharp
distinction in this respect.


Peter Andreas Munch: Norse Mythology: Legends of Gods and Heroes. The American-Scandinavian Foundation, New York. 1926, pp. 31-32.
Rasmus B. Anderson (Ed.): The Elder Eddas of Saemund Sigfusson and the Younger Eddas of Snorre Sturleson. Norræna Society, London-New York. 1906.

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