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  The Customs of Death

The Varden

For the origin of the Orcadian belief in the varden, and the ganfer, we must turn our attention, one again, to Scandinavian tradition.

In Scandinavian folk-belief the human soul was known as the hug.

The concept of the hug was complex and varies slightly according to the sources, but among its manifestations was the vord, a kind of presence that accompanied the individual at all times, and the vardoger or fyreferd, a doppelganger that took the appearance of a person.

Throughout Scandinavia there are numerous folk traditions in which a person's hug appears to family, or friends, to warn them of death, or mortal danger. In this way the hug could manifest itself in the shape of that person, by sounds or as a premonition or dream.

The fylgje was another projection of the hug that accompanied a living person. It could have human shape but, like the Orcadian varden, more often appeared as an animal, invisible to all but beasts and those with the second-sight.

In Norway, it was said that the shape a person's fylgje assumed revealed their personality.So, for example, a coward's fylgje would be a rabbit, a cunning man would have a fox, while a greedy woman might have a pig.

According to folk belief, if the fylgje was separated from the person illness would follow. If, on the other hand, a person saw his own fylgje, death was on the way.

"One evening an old man from Vrd came home from work and met himself. A week and a half later, he was dead."

In later tradition, the differences between the fylgje and the vardoger blurred somewhat so, like the trow and fairy of Orcadian lore, the two terms were often interchangeable.

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