The modern concept of a soul as being a singular spiritual aspect of a person is not the way that these things were conceived of in ancient Anglo-Saxon society. For those ancient heathens, the soul was multi-faceted, made up of many different parts; each of those parts carried its own function. While no universal list of parts of a soul has persisted from Anglo-Saxon society, there are inklings of this which remain in ancient literature and within the language itself.
In a sense, the soul functioned differently based on what a person was doing or the circumstances of their being. In our everyday lives, this subject has bearing but not to the extent that it would alter things. In this way, we typically conceive of the soul in terms of our being in the moment. However there is much more going on in the terms of the Anglo-Saxon beliefs. Your very consciousness is wrapped up with your soul, your memories, your conscience, and yes your body too. From this idea, we will work from the seen and unseen outside inward.
What is the spirit without the body? What is the body without spirit? The two are necessary for one another to together create the being we are familiar with. On this level, the Lic is the body, the physical body.
The Ealdor (Æþm):
The Ealdor, or Æþm, is essentially the breath of life. Seeing as how your body remains living when your spirit fares forth, it can be surmised that the Ealdor remains with the Lic under the circumstance of dreaming and faring forth. Yet upon death, this aspect of a person’s soul leaves and is disconnected from their being. This ultimately connects it to and separates it from the Lic. It is an aspect of the Lic because the Lic cannot live without it; it separates from the Lic upon death.
The Hama is a bit tougher to get into and somewhat contentious. Hama means a natural covering, a membrane, like the skin shed off of a snake. Yet this meaning does not do the word justice in a spiritual sense.
The Norse connection would be with the cognate Hamr. Within Norse literature we see examples of this concept through the “Hamför” or a journey outside of oneself and in the Havamal Odin claims to know spells to keep witches from returning to their “heim hama” or home skin. Essentially, the Hama is that which is spiritually surrounding us in a covering. Yet there is some contention due to one aspect – does the hama leave with the person during the Hamför or is it a trip away from the Hama? The concept of “heim hama” shows us that the Hama was seen as remaining behind when a person’s Ferþ leaves their Lic because the spells Odin speaks of would prevent a person from returning to their Hama. Lingistics also helps in this regard; the snake sheds its skin (Hama) and leaves. So too does the person leave their Hama behind during the Hamför. To complicate the matter, one has a shape within themselves which can change its shape while faring forth called the Hiw. The Hiw is likely an aspect of the Hama, the internal aspect almost like an imprinted shape of it. Yet the Hama itself is also internally connected as an aspect of the spirit and can impact the person.
An example of this is babies; babies grow within a hama, within a membrane. Yet some babies are born with a caul, a membrane which remains over their head during and after birth. This caul was widely considered a sign of luck for hundreds of years back across Europe. Beliefs surrounding this persisted to modern times because I remember my own grandmother remarking that my grandfather was not only lucky but also prescient due to being born with a caul. The caul is likely a manifestation of an aspect of the Hama and it somehow influences a person’s luck and abilities. In each of these usages we get closer to a spiritual idea of a hama.
It is my belief that the truth about the Hama lies somewhere in between these things. The Hama is yes, left behind, but material exists to say that it also has something to do with the journey itself. To reconcile this, it is likely that the Hama plays a role in connecting the person to their Lic so they may return properly.
If the Hama impacts a person throughout their life, what happens to it after death? It is possible that the Hama remains after a soul’s passing and that it may then form the basis for hauntings. This could also account for the split destination for a person’s spirit being alternatively the mound or the afterlife.
While it is commonly considered within Norse heathenry that the Hamr is being used to shapeshift, in Anglo-Saxon the term for the shape which changes is called the Hiw while the Hama is that which is left behind. Shapeshifting as a concept was not unknown in Anglo-Saxon sources because the idea persisted in folktales as well as through such concepts as the Werewulf. This could be an external shift, but most likely applies to the same kind of spiritual shifting as is seen accomplished by Odin. In the Yngling Saga it is given most clearly in that Odin lies as if dead or asleep while his spirit fares forth and changes its shape at will. This shifting of the spiritual shape is known to the Anglo-Saxons as “hiwung”. The Hiw, rather than being a distinct part of the soul, is likely just the shape the Ferþ takes outside of the Hama and Lic or an extension of the Hama outside of the Lic. Given the connection with the Hama, it could be that the Hiw naturally takes the shape of the Hama it is connected with but that it is malleable in ways that the Hama is not.
The Ferþ (alternatively, the Mod):
The Ferþ (also spelled Ferhþ, Feorþ, Færþ) can be translated as the spirit or soul and this is the part of us which is most akin to what we think of when we think “soul”. However, this aspect of ourselves is itself composed of other parts. Furthermore, this is not the only term for this particular aspect of oneself. The Mod and the Ferþ are both synonymous terms for the spirit, the inner self. The Ferþ includes the Hyge and the Myne.
The Hyge is the thinking, considering, and judging part of the mind. It is our mental capacity for thought. It is also the conscience, the part of us telling us to do or not to do something. It can further be translated as the heart because it is with the Hyge that the ancient heathens believed bravery and courage resided. The Hyge is a part of the Ferþ, the inner self. The Norse connection here is to Huginn, Odin’s raven that represents thought. However, the thinking here in this case is not mere thought because our modern words and understandings have shifted since that point. Thinking in this case is deeper, it is deciding as well.
The Myne is the memories of a person and their ability to recall them. It is a further part of the Ferþ. The obvious Norse connection here is with Munin, Odin’s raven that represents memory. While we had to divorce our modern thinking from the ancient when it came to the Hyge, the Myne is much closer to the modern idea of memory without any major overhaul.
Folgere (m) or Fylgestre (f):
In Norse literature we find the Fylgja, a spirit attached to oneself but not of oneself. This spirit is typically seen as a sort of protective guardian. While not specifically attested in Anglo-Saxon literature by that name, the cognates for the concept of a Fylgja in Old English would be Folgere (masculine) and Fylgestre (feminine); the term means follower. These have been attested often enough in Norse literature and are often spoken of within modern heathenry to warrant including at least as a brief mention. They are not a part of the soul, but instead appear to be an external kind of spiritual protection.
How this relates to you:
It is not likely to keep you awake at night wondering on the multifaceted nature of the soul. Our conscious minds are far too concerned with other matters usually. In this way, we are likely to think of ourselves in the awakened state in much the same way as this drawing. The Lic is us, we are the Lic, and the Hama could then be thought of as surrounding us in much the same way that some other beliefs have considered an “aura”. Yet if we stop there, we miss the entire point of this.
When we sleep and dream, when we go deep into our own thoughts, where do we go to? It is both a religious and philosophical question. However, one thing is absolutely certain. The Anglo-Saxons believed that dreams came from outside oneself. You only need peruse the medico-magical charms of the Anglo-Saxons to see and understand that for their beliefs dreams were external and carried weight and importance. Many charms exist for preventing malicious attacks of various natural and supernatural forces on sleep. One could become æfsiden, come under the spell of witches or even have dweorgas or a Mære attack a person. The Anglo-Saxons also believed in the concept of spiritual travel and even spiritual transformation as can be seen with the idea of the hiwung. This term as well as plenty of lore shows the idea of faring forth outside of oneself – be that in dreams or in other practices. So if people can leave their body, what goes and what stays?
In this diagram we get into the basics a spirit faring forth as best as can be reckoned by my understanding. There is too much lore in Norse sources to discount the Hama being somehow linked to the spirit faring forth. Yet the linguistic link points more to it being left behind, especially at death. The common point could be that the Hama stretches between the two and this could be somewhat supported by the Havamal when Odin tells of a spell to befuddle witches out of returning to their heim-hama. The implication being that return would otherwise be automatic unless tampered with. The further aspect to this is that tampering with the process of faring forth is indeed possible which makes it dangerous. The writing also says the spell could keep them from their heim-huga or proper mind, which I would interpret as being the mind of the person they were before faring forth, their original sensibilities. If your Hyge can be tampered with and your Hama can be lost to you, the prospect of faring forth could be dangerous indeed.
There are aspects that show one could also willingly or unwillingly split their Hyge from themselves as well and lay it upon another. While this could be metaphorical of your thoughts dwelling on another, it likely should be taken more seriously.
Very likely the most influential and important time that this subject becomes important is upon death. Upon death the Ealdor leaves the body. At some point, the Ferþ leaves the body as well. The Ferþ likely doesn’t leave immediately because otherwise what would the point of grave goods be? The Anglo-Saxons gave grave goods of a votive and literal sense. Gifts of transportation such as a horse or a boat are key to this particular aspect because why would it matter unless some kind of journey is implied in the afterlife. Why would a person be given grave goods at all if their spirit would find no benefit of them after death? Because of this, I believe that the Ferþ waits at least until burial before they travel to the afterlife.
The Hiw and the Hama provide a point of interest. The Hiw could be a part of the Hama or simply the shape of the Ferþ, either way it is unlikely that the Ferþ would be shapeless after death so the Hiw continues on. However, the Hama is sloughed off and left behind when the Ferþ leaves. This distinctly spiritual part of a person lacks its memory and its personality; it is a shell of its former self. Yet it is also a part of the person. It almost certainly retains their form – having held the form for so long why should that change? However, deprived of Hyge and Myne, the Hama spirit is now unknowing.
There is a unique aspect to heathen belief – the ancient heathens held an afterlife in a different world in their beliefs as well as an afterlife in the mound. How can they have it both ways? The Hama remains tied to the person’s physical remains while the Ferþ travels to the afterlife. This would go a long way to explaining how elves and wights were seen to have been ancestors – if the Hama forgets who it is, what is to stop it from becoming a wight or an elf? It would be semi-human, somewhat recognizable, but in many ways inhuman. This could easily explain the often confused nature of how ghosts and spirits tend to be described. It would also explain what reasoning there might be to visit a grave and talk to or offer at the grave itself – to perhaps remind the spirit who they were and to ease them.
This is what is meant by a multi-part soul. The heathen will end up in more than one location as part of their afterlife. Their Hama will be bound to this earth while their Ferþ journeys to the afterlife.
Bosworth, Joseph. “An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary Online” March 21, 2010. Accessed January 23, 2018. http://bosworth.ff.cuni.cz/
Inguing, Wodgar. “Lārhūs Fyrnsida” Parts of the Self, Accessed January 23, 2018. https://larhusfyrnsida.com/parts-of-the-self/
Miller, Sean, trans. “Anglo-Saxons.net” The Hávamál, Accessed January 23, 2018. http://www.anglo-saxons.net/hwaet/?do=get&type=text&id=Hav
Sturlson, Snorri. “Internet Sacred Text Archive” The Yngling Saga, Trans. Samuel Laing. Accessed January 23, 2018. http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/heim/02ynglga.htmTop of Form
4 thoughts on “The Multi-Part Soul”
I am about half way through a thorough reading of this article. It is a informative and enjoyable read I wanted to point a couple things out concerning “Hama”.
The word for afterbirth in Old Norse is “Fylgja”. Interesting how these ideas as all tied together.
As per Cleasby/Vigfusson, Hendrickson, and Morris; the meaning and etymology of “Hama” also strongly indicates shape and enclosure.
I think the difference between Hama and lic is phenomenological: what yours is to you is “hama”, to others perceiving you, it is “lic”.
More thoughts when I finish the article.
Interesting thought, about interior vs. exterior perception.
I never thought to apply phenomenological philosophy to these concepts. It would also do a lot more to explain the sphere of intentionality in the process of this magic as all magic is intent.Makes me want to read Husserl and Brentano again.