For this post I wanted to explore the concept of the northern spirit in more depth. This time around, I will be exploring the concept of the hamr. According to Raven Kaldera, the hamr or hame, is; “Your astral body. Not your aura; the part of you that lies within your physical body and is (sometimes) twin to it. Some people’s hames are less like their physical bodies than you might think…”
We will come back to the second part later, because we need to explore the basic idea in more detail before moving into the specifics. According to Stromback; “But we also have other good and ancient words in Swedish dialects for the same fylgja or vård, names that have an obvious connection with the Old Norse terminology, namely hamn or hamm (in the provinces of Norrbotten and Dalarna, where they are genuine), and droug or dräug in the province of Jämtland, also genuine. In form and sense these words correspond to Old Norse draugr and hamr, although draugr in Old Norse has a more special sense of ‘ghost’, ‘spirit’ (of a dead person), or ‘animated corpse’.”
There is a lot to unpack in this short quote. The amount of overlap between various concepts is immense, and that overlap will be an ongoing theme in this series of posts. Fylgja and vord will be covered in later posts, and we will likely return to to this in future posts. Last time I wrote about the hugr, which is the closest thing we have in the northern spirit to the “I” spirit, or personal soul.
By contrast, the hamr is the second self, a kind of free soul that can leave the body, either in sleep, dreaming, or sent from the body is some form of magic flight. As Stromback points out; “Generally speaking you could activate your hugr, leading it in different directions and using it for certain intentions. Here in fact lies the germ of the idea of changing shape, the ability to go out from yourself and let your hugr take hamr, that is to say take the form of your second self.”
In addition, he adds; “We have already heard that according to folk-belief in Setesdal the hug from a person could be so strong that it came with ham, that is to say with something that was more or less materialized and reflected the owner of the hug, a kind of harbinger or companion but in shape only vaguely specified”
Hamr also overlaps heavily with the idea of the fylgja and vordr, and actually could be sometimes conceived as an independent entity, either partially dependent or fully independent being in its own right. To strengthen the connection, Stromback has this to say in regards to the vordr; “”The vård (literally: the guardian) is a being attached to the individual, a spirit who accompanies a person wherever he goes, and sometimes reveals itself either as a glimmer or in the form of the person as a second self (hamn)…”
The implication here is that even the vordr could sometimes take the form of the hamm (hamr), the second self. The second self is the real core of the hamr, a kind of double, that may or may not resemble your physical self. Also, this leads into the idea of shapeshifting, as Kaldera points out; “The hame is the part of your soul that can be shapeshifted into another form, with work and training.”
So, we have explored the idea of the hamr as a second self, and the “astral” part of the self that can be shapeshifted. As such, let’s explore some of the folklore associated with some of the ideas raised here.
First off, the dream soul. The Kvideland book has this to say; “It leaves the body, usually takes the shape of a small animal, and explores the world. Its experiences are then remembered by the sleeper as a dream.”
This is the experience of working with the hamr, but in addition to dreams, the hamr can be sent out as a magical/shamanic skill. Also, it is the part that can be shapeshifted, and this is illustrated perfectly by topic “The Finn Messenger” category in the Kvideland book; “The folk tradition about the Finn (Sami) who sends his hug on a journey while his body lays in trance has its origins in Lappish (Sami) shamanism.”
As such, I will relay the story of the Skipper and the Finn. This is my own retelling, and not a direct quote from the book.
A skipper sailed to Norway, and there was trapped by the winter and forced to lodge with some other people in Finnmark. While in Finnmark, his host asked the Skipper if he would like to know how his family was doing. “Of course!” The Skipper said. After all, it was Christmas Eve and he had been away from home for several months. The host called forth a Finn, a man native to the area. The Skipper offered a pint of brandy in exchange, and so the Finn drank half the pint and then lay down on the floor. The Finn’s wife covered him with a quilt, and he lay there shaking for about half an hour. When he awoke, the Finn told the Skipper what his family was having for Christmas Eve dinner, and handed the Skipper a knife and a fork, which he recognized as his own cutlery.
Also, since shapeshifting is part of the hamr, here I also present a story about shapeshifting. This is also based on the folklore in the Kvideland book.
There once was Finn that was good friends with a farmer. One day, the Finn showed the farmer his wolfskin. The Finn pulled on one of the sleeves to show the farmer how it worked. The farmer wanted to see more, but the Finn refused.
“If I put on the whole of the skin, I will become a wolf, not only in body, but also deep in my hug. Then I would not be able to control myself.” The Finn said.
That is where I will leave this post, though there is a lot more to say on these topics. Sadly, that will have to wait until next time.
Kvideland, Reimund & Sehmsdor, Henning. Editors. Scandinavian Folk Belief and Legend. Pgs 41 – 64
Strömbäck, Dag., from the book “Sejd” (2000 edition), pages 220-236. The Concept of the Soul in Nordic Tradition http://vnnforum.com/showthread.php?t=84650
Finnish Folklore Atlas, by Matti Sarmela