It would lead us too far and lies beyond the scope of this volume to examine anew the general question as to the animalistic elements present in religion. The belief in souls, while nowhere totally lacking, also nowhere constitutes the whole of religion. While animism is doubtless primitive, it does not by any means form the origin of all ideas about higher beings. Many animistic conceptions are, moreover, of comparatively late growth. In the present instance we are, at any rate, concerned only with tracing the specific forms which belief in souls and spirits assumed among the Teutons.
In keeping with the conception of the soul as breath or wind, which leaves the body at death, the belief has established itself that souls dwell in the air. The souls flit away through windows; in storm and whirlwind they sweep shrieking through the air, especially during the Twelve Nights, which are ordinarily reckoned as falling between Christmas and Epiphany, although the term does not everywhere designate exactly the same period. We have already seen that the notion of the Furious Host or the Wild Hunt, with or without Wodan as leader, combines a nature-myth, i.e. the wind, with the belief in souls. Similarly, the souls of heroes continue the combat in the sky, above the field of battle. It is even quite conceivable that the story of the combat between Hgni and Hedhinn contains an historical reminiscence, and that the souls that are thus said to continue the combat after death are those of historical personages. It is, at any rate, certain that the Norsemen held the belief that heroes who had fallen in battle entered Walhalla as Einherjar.
In Norse literature, and in Teutonic popular belief as well, we frequently meet with the tradition that souls in the guise of small flames frequent the neighborhood of the place where the corpse lies buried. They likewise roam about to expiate a crime. Cross-roads are thought to be haunted by souls, and the church accordingly inveighed against worshipping at bivia and trivia; but this latter belief is perhaps of Roman origin. In Norse sagas it is not an uncommon occurrence that the body of a person who was believed to haunt the earth was dug up and burnt.
A permanent abode of souls is mentioned in several sources. This abode of the souls is at times conceived as lying beyond the sea; souls or corpses must therefore be conveyed across this or be left at the mercy of winds and waves. In a noteworthy passage in Procopius, Britain is called the land of the dead. On the opposite coast, in Frankish territory, dwell the mariners who, without catching sight of their passengers, carry the dead across the channel. At midnight they are notified in a mysterious manner, and setting out with their heavily laden boats succeed in reaching the island of Britain in a single hour. Upon their arrival the souls are called out by name, and the ferrymen thereupon return with their empty boats. Claudian (fifth century) likewise tells us that at the extreme limits of Gaul, i.e. opposite the British coast, "there is a spot, where Gaul stretches out its furthermost shore opposite the waters of the ocean, where they say the Ulixes with a libation of blood stirred up the silent folk. There the mournful plaint of shades fitting about with a gentle whir is heard. The natives see the pallid forms and the figures of the dead depart." According to other sources, the land of souls is situated in the mountains, and it is there that the historical and mythical heroes have their abode: Barbarossa in the Kyffhauser, Holger Danske under the rock of Kronburg (Denmark), Siegfried in Geroldseck, and the three founders of the Swiss federation at Grütli in a cleft in the rock near the Lake of Lucerne. Souls of unknown men issue forth from the mountains as well: "armed hosts of horsemen," "souls of fallen soldiers," including even women and others besides warriors. Icelandic sagas too repeatedly refer to the belief that the dead dwell in mountains. We have here a special form of that translation, which Rohde, Psyche, was the first to treat at length, but to which even Jacob Grimm devoted a separate chapter containing a large number of examples.
Some scholars hold the view that the souls are thought of as dwelling in ponds and springs, from which children are also supposed to come. It is clear that the belief in an abode of the souls must in any case not be represented as having assumed a thoroughly systematic form. The souls were conceived as roaming about in the vicinity of house or grave, in the air or in the mountains. The heavenly "sun garden" and the "subterranean meadow" of the lower world are, like the Walhalla of the scalds, the product of later poetic invention. It is impossible to determine with any degree of certainty how old or how general is the conception of Hel, as the dark and dismal place, the destination of all the dead. That the latter include warriors appears from a passage in Widukind, cited by Grimm, where Widukind, amazed at the number of those who had fallen in a battle between the Saxons and Franks, exclaims, "Where might there be a Hel (infernus) so large that it could receive such a multitude of the slain?" Baldrs Draumar, 2, 3; Gylfaginning, Chapter 49; and Helreidh Brynhildar likewise depict the miseries of Hel; not, however, as a place of punishment, such as Nastrand, where perjurers and murderers expiate their guilt.
The Rosengarten (rose garden) is a creation of medieval German poetry, as the Walhalla is of Norse poetry. A large number of Rosengärten have been localized in Tyrol and elsewhere, the most famous being that of Gibich, Kriemhild's father, near Worms. These Rosengärten, now pictured as paradise, and again as churchyards, represent another peculiar form of the abode of souls. Thither too a ferryman conveys the souls across the water; there too the heroes engage in combat.
From the finds in graves, both of the prehistoric and of later times, as well as from accounts in literary monuments, and from what we read in Jordanes concerning the funeral games of Atilla, we learn that the Teutons placed all kinds of objects in the graves of their dead: weapons and horses; jewels and ornaments; needles for women and toys for children. It would also seem that slaves and widows, willingly or unwillingly, at times accompanied their lord and master to the land of the dead. Some of the gifts that were placed on the funeral pyre or in the grave may have had a sacrificial intent; others were no doubt designed for use in the land of the dead. From this we may infer that the soul when separated from the body was thought of as still subject to wants similar to those of men upon earth. The Teutonic conception for the life after death was therefore probably that of a shadowy continuation of earthly existence.
Everywhere in Norse literature we meet with the notion of a man's second ego, his double (doppelgänger), his fylgja (follower). This fylgja is nothing less than man's soul, which dwells in the body, and leaves it at death, but which even during one's lifetime already leads an independent existence, so that in one instance a person is even said to have stumbled over his own fylgja. Similarly, Helgi's fylgjur (plural) are seen before his death. The fylgja stands on the border line dividing souls from spirits. The fylgja is the soul which leaves man in his sleep, which after his death passes over to his son, so that the personal fylgja (mannsfylgja) becomes a family fylgja (attarfylgia). It may also be feminine in form (fylgjjukona), a sort of goddess (dis) who premonishes man in dreams, appears to him more especially shortly before his death, at time vexes, and then again protects him. Such fylgjur ar referred to in Atlamál, 27:
Methought dead women came hither by night, poorly clad; they wished to choose thee; they bade thee forthwith to their benches.
Aside from the animistic basis, the conception of fylgjur includes, therefore, the notions of second sight, of dream spirit, and of guardian or attendant spirit.
Similar notions are associated with the Swedish vård and the Old Norse hamingja. The latter word is explained by Mogk as referring to the form (hamr) which the soul assumes when becoming visible, which is frequently that of animals. Thus Atli's hamr appears as eagle. E.H. Meyer, following out a suggestion of Grimm, connects hamingja with the caput galeatum, the caul about the head with which certain "lucky children" are born. This membrane, the seat of the soul or of the guardian spirit, is in such cases carefully preserved.
Related to fylgja is the mare, nightmare (French cauchemar), or incubus. The derivation of the word is uncertain. The mare torments men at night in their sleep, at time even killing them, as happened to the Swedish king Vanland, according to Ynglingasaga, Chapter 16. The story is told us in a strophe of the scald Thjodholf:
Now the witch-wight
Drove king Vanland
Down to visit
There the troll-wise
Trod all about
He whom the mare quelled,
On Skuta's bed,
There was he burning.
The origin of the whole conception may be traced to the nightmare, the distressing dream that is accompanied by the feeling of physical pressure; the "mare," usually thought of as feminine, causes a feeling of suffocation and depression, and, as incubus or succubus, is also represented as holding carnal intercourse. This nightmare may also attack animals, but ordinarily it torments only men. Sometimes it is the soul of a man that issues forth at night to thus visit some other person in his sleep. Numerous names are used to designate these tormenting spirits; mare, alp; Trut or Trude in Bavaria and Tyrol; and in Upper Germany such names as Schrettele, Schrat, Ratz, Doggele, Druckerle, Letzel, etc.
But departed spirits do not merely visit men in their sleep with the physical feeling of suffocation; they also appear to them in their dreams. Thus the dead that cannot gain rest in the grave appear to men for various purposes: to avenge themselves; to make amends for some neglect; or to warn men and foretell the future. Such manifestations are closely related to apparition of ghosts, for which latter the Old Norse draugr (Old High German gitroc) was in use. Notwithstanding the tormenting character that these dreams frequently assumed, it was still accounted a defect if a person lacked the susceptibility for them, and was draumstoli (dream-stolen). As the dead exert influence on the living, so also conversely: excessive grief of the living disturbs the rest of the dead; witness the story of the Jug of Tears and Bürger's Lenore. Helgi likewise says of Sigrun's constant weeping:
Thou weepest cruel tears, thou gold-dight, sun-bright lady of the South, before thou goest to sleep: every one of them falls bloody, dank cold, chilly, fraught with sobs, upon my breast.
But the dead do not merely roam about and become visible; they also now and then come to life again. While the account of Asinius Pollio to be found in Appianus, that the Teutons of Ariovistus fought so bravely "on account of their hope that they would come to life again" is ambiguous, several Norse sources mention this restoration to life on earth in a wholly unmistakable way. Thus, in the Helgi Lays, Helgi and Svava are reborn as Helgi and Sigrun, and we know that in the Kara Lays, which have not come down to us, they were represented as having once more returned. For "in ancient times," thus the prose passage at the close of Helgakvidha Hundingsbana, II, tells us, "it was believed that men could be reborn, but at present this is considered old woman's talk." This return was regarded not as a misfortune, but as a blessing and we hence find the curse pronounced on Brynhild: "Never be she born again." Examples of rebirth are, however, not numerous. In the person of the holy Olaf it was said that a former king had been reborn. Here and there, in the naming of a child after a dead person, the idea of a rebirth of the latter in the person of his namesake seems also to have been taken in a far more physical sense that which we now attach to it.
These animistic conceptions are to be sharply distinguished from the belief in immortality. This latter, in the Platonic sense of the term, is entirely lacking. the soul roams about, appears to men, is at time reborn and for all these manifestations no period of time is set, no limit defined. Men continue to be seen as long as they are not forgotten. Apparitions of unknown souls at times inspire fear. A definite dogma of immortality cannot be deduced from animism among such a people as the Teutons.
When wandering about and appearing in visible form , the soul may assume various shapes, more specially those of animals. Norse literature and folklore furnish an abundance of examples. A number of times the soul is represented as having the form of a mouse, as in the well-known story of the sleeping girl from whose mouth a red mouse was seen creeping forth. A companion turned the sleeping girl around, and when the mouse returned it could no longer find its way back, wandered about aimlessly for a while, and then disappeared. But the girl did not again awake: she was mausetot ("mouse-dead," i.e. stone dead). The mice that pursued the cruel bishop Hatto of Mainz into his tower near Bingen on the Rhine were likewise the souls of the poor people, whom he had burn alive, because he could not furnish them with food. Similarly, the rats in the tale of the Pied Piper of Hameln are the souls of the little children. Once upon a time, when king Gunthram was resting in the forest from the chase, his soul crept out of his mouth in the shape of a snake. Over the sword of one of the king's companions it passed a little brook and entered a mountain, afterwards returning again to the mouth of the king by the way it had come. The king in the meantime had dreamt that he crossed a bridge over a river, and arrived in a mountain full of gold. The treasure, we are told was afterwards actually lifted. Paulus Diaconus considered this account so remarkable that he inserted it in his History of the Lombards, notwithstanding the fact that it concerns a Frankish king. In one of the battles in which Hrolf Kraki was engaged, his most valiant hero, Bjarki, was nowhere to be seen, but in his stead a stout bear fought at the side of the king, and with his claws slew more enemies than five warriors could have done: it was Bjarki's fylgja, which fought while his body was asleep.
There is scarcely any limit to the examples that might be added to the above. The fylgja may assume the form of a great variety of animals: of wolf and bear, bird, snake, and other animals that are seen in dreams; likewise of all kinds of birds,óravens, crows, doves, and swans. Bees, beetles, and flies are also frequently souls. While in the case of animals it is not always an easy matter to draw an exact line of demarcation between animistic and various other conceptions, it can in any case not be gainsaid that the belief in migration of the soul into the bodies of animals has given rise to an extensive and varied "soul fauna." At times a connection may be traced between the character of an individual and the animal whose shape he takes on, men that are shrewd appearing as foxes, those that are cruel as wolves.
Less frequent, though not altogether rare, is the mention of trees as the abode of souls. The conceptions that cluster around the worship of trees are of a somewhat complex nature. The tree may itself be conceived of a possessing a soul; it bleeds when struck, and the violation of trees is in such cases a real crime. Parallel with this we meet the notion that the souls of the dead are imprisoned in trees. Trees are also frequently held to be the residence of the life spirit of an individual (trees of life), or of the guardian spirit of house and home (the Swedish vårdträd or botra). Tree worship represents, therefore, both a bit of nature-worship and a belief in human fate, associated symbolically with a definite species of the vegetable world. Side by side with this there exists the animistic conception of the relationship of the human soul with the soul of plants, and of the migration of the human soul into plants.
The belief in werewolves is not peculiar to the Teutons, but is found among many other peoples. Characteristically Scandinavian, however, is the closely related belief in Berserkers. They are people that possess the power of assuming other shapes. They are eigi einhamir, i.e. not of one shape; or hamramr, hamhleitha (feminine), i.e. changing form. Either by donning a wolf's skin or a belt made out of wolf's skin, or by reason of a natural tendency through which this metamorphosis comes upon them at certain stated times, such men run about in the shape of wolves, the eye alone retaining its human appearance. The werewolf (i.e. man-wolf) is known to us both from Norse literature and from medieval and modern popular belief. Thus the beginning of the Egils Saga tells us that the progenitor of the Myramen was toward evening subject to sudden attacks which made him wholly unlike himself, for which reason he bore the name Kveldulfr (evening-wolf).
Norse literature abounds in stories of Berserkers. We have already mentioned how Bjarki, one of Hrolf Kraki's warriors, fought at his side in the form of a bear. Ordinarily, however, these "bear-skin clad" retain their human shape, although their actions when the Berserkrgangr comes upon them are no longer human in character. An uncontrollable frenzy seizes them; their mouths begin to foam; they bark like dogs and growl like bears; they walk through fire, are invulnerable to iron, gnaw their shields, devour glowing coals, and carry all before them. When the attack has passed by, Berserkers are no stronger than ordinary men. The Norwegian kings were fond of having a few Berserkers among their followers and at time presented them to one another. They are also frequently mentioned in Icelandic sagas, where they decide the issue of many a struggle. It not rarely happens that this peculiarity is characteristic of a family: thus the seven sons of Syvaldus, the twelve sons of Arngrim, Angantyr and his brothers, were all sturdy Berserkers. Outside the North traces of Berserkers are to be found only among the Lombards.
The belief in witches also contains elements that are drawn from the animistic conceptions of Teutonic paganism, such as the riding through the air and the changing of shape. We do not, therefore, with Soldan, derive the origin of this belief solely from classical antiquity. At the same time the belief is of too complex a character, and has been too largely combined with later and foreign elements, to allow us to regard the witches as part and parcel of Teutonic mythology and to identify them with the Norse troll and vlur (wise women), or with the "dead women" of some of the Eddic songs. we do not, therefore, consider the witches as properly forming a part of our subject, and shall not consider them in this connection.
The belief in souls gave rise to numerous customs in connection with the dead, which the church sought zealously to eradicate. Several of these continue in vogue until the present day. We here mention a few whose animistic basis is at once apparent: the closing of mouth and eyes of the corpse, either to prevent the soul from returning through these openings, or to ward off the evil eye; the carrying out of the body under the threshold, or through and unusual opening, to keep the soul from finding its way back again; the burning of a light near the corpse, to keep evil spirits or the soul itself at a distance; the covering of the mirror, that the soul may not see its image and thus be held fast to the spot; the burying in a remote place, to banish the soul to a distance; the opening of doors and windows, to facilitate the egress of the soul; the watching over the corpse; the announcing of the death of the master of the house to all manner of objects in house and yard and to the bees in the hive; the calling out of the name of the deceased, which causes souls and mares that roam about to disappear; the giving along, or the placing on the grave, of food, at times also of shoes and staff; the careful tending of the house-snake, which is the residence of the soul of the deceased and as such a beneficent tutelar genius of the home, a sort of lar. All these customs lie near the border line separating popular observance from religious worship. While soul-cult belongs rather to the former,and is not part of a more or less official and organized worship, it has none the less struck deep roots in the life of the people. Its purpose is on the one hand to keep the soul that is feared at a distance, on the other to provide for its wants, but these two phases, the dark and light sides, frequently coalesce. It is not clear which of these two classes the dadsisas belong, against which the Indiculus Superstitionum inveighs as constituting "idolatry over the dead." These were songs sung for the dead at night ("devilish songs") and either served to ward off the soul, or were invocations through which oracular utterances concerning the future were obtained from the dead. Or else they were mere lamentations over the dead, to which no magical significance was attached, similar to those that were raised over Attila. The fact that the dadsisas were repeated on the grave would, however, seem to argue against this latter supposition.
Funeral banquets are also met with; the church sought to prevent drinking bouts at the grave. In the North the funeral feast is frequently call erfil (heir-beer), inasmuch as it was given not only in memory of the deceased, but also formed the solemn occasion on which the heir entered upon his inheritance. This latter frequently took place a considerable length of time after the demise of the head of the house; at any rate not before the exaction of the blood-vengeance, in case the deceased had been murdered. At times a large number of guests assembled on these occasions: we know of "heir-beers" to which more than a thousand persons sat down. The church sought to give these feasts a Christian dress, and, in order to make them a source of income, sent priests to be present at them and consecrated beakers to Christ and St Michael. Now and then the soul of the deceased himself is supposed to take part in the feast. Of a man who had been drowned we are told that he appeared at his own "heir-beer", which was held to be a favorable sign as regards his fate with Ran in the depths of the sea.
The worship of ancestors and heroes, while related to that of soul worship, is yet distinguished from it by certain definite characteristics. Ancestors and heroes are departed ones, but they likewise possess a personality, and other elements besides the nature of the soul enter into their cult: it serves to maintain the continuity of the life of the family, the kin, and the tribe as well. While it is not always possible to draw the exact line of demarcation, it is yet perfectly clear that ancestor worship is a particular form of soul-cult: soul-cult of the family, of kindred, and of the people.
Numerous examples of ancestor worship are to be found among the Teutons. The heroic saga, to be sure, as it has come down to us in medieval epic poetry, is based on historical data and myths of nature, and has no connection with religious worship, but from Tacitus, Jordanes, and the genealogical tables we know that the Teutons deified the progenitors of the various tribal groups, whereas later Norse literature did exactly the reverse; represented the gods euhemeristically as men of the prehistorical period.
Adam of Bremen, in a noteworthy passage, tells us that the Swedes also worship men, "whom on account of their mighty deeds they endow with immortality." In illustration he refers to an example to be found in Rimberts Life of Anskar, Chapter 26. We there find a detailed account how king Ericus became on of the gods. Anskar attended a large gathering at Birka, where he found king and people no longer favorably disposed, but had fallen into great error. A man announced to the king and his people that he had been present at an assembly of the gods, at which the latter complained of the neglect into which their service had fallen owing to the spread of Christianity. "If you wish," so the gods are reported to have said, "to have a larger number of gods, and are not content with us alone, we herewith unanimously admit to our guild your former king Ericus, so that he be one of the company of gods." They thereupon built a temple for this new god, offered sacrifices, and made vows to him. The incident shows very clearly how, in the declining days of paganism, hero worship was called upon to lend support to the service of the gods
A nearer approach to a cult of souls and of the dead is made when we read, in Burchard of Worms, of "the offerings that in certain places are made at the tombs of the dead." While the reference is here, no doubt, to graves in general, Norse literature also furnishes some examples of the graves of particular persons. Thus we read of a king whose body was claimed by four different districts, "deeming that they who got it might look to have plenteous years therewith: so at last they agreed to share the body in four, and the head was laid in a mound at Stone, in Ringrick. Then each of the other districts took away its share, and laid it in a mound; and all the mounds are called Halfdan's mounds." Especial importance seems here to be attached to the head, which is doubtless due to the fact that it is frequently regarded as the seat of the soul. This latter would also explain why in some localities headless corpses have been found.
"The Religion of the Teutons," by P. D. Chantepie De La Saussaye, trans. by Bert J. Vos, page 289-303.