Mythical Creatures Series
What is an undead viking that retains some semblance of its intelligence, and who delight in the suffering that they cause?
What is it?
A draugr (or draug or draugur or draugen) is an undead creature from Norse mythology. The original meaning simply means ‘ghost’ and in literature there are distinctions between land-draugr and sea-draugr. Those associated with the sea had many legends about them – they were once people who have drowned at sea and have risen from the deep being composed entirely of seaweed. Some have described them as being headless fisherman sailing half a boat or in the form of a living corpse.
Draugar were believed to live in the graves of the dead, with a draugr being the animated body of the dead. As the graves of important men often contained a good amount of wealth, the draugr jealously guards his treasures, even after death.
The creation of a draugr is not exactly clear, but in the Eyrbyggja saga, a shepherd is killed by a draugr and rises the next night as one himself. The draugr is also often shown as haunting its living family. The draugr expresses an innate jealousy of the living, stemming from a longing for the things of the life it once had.
They have superhuman strength. They slay their victims through various methods including crushing them with their enlarged forms, devouring their flesh, devouring them whole in their enlarged forms, indirectly killing them by driving them mad, and drinking their blood. Draugr have also been know to drive animals and humans insane.
They have a number of magical abilities, such as shape-changing, controlling the weather, and seeing into the future. For example, the draugr Thrain shape-shifted into a “cat-like creature” (kattakyn) in Hromundar saga Greipssonar:
Then Thrain turned himself into a troll, and the barrow was filled with a horrible stench; and he stuck his claws into the back of Hromund’s neck, tearing the flesh from his bones…
Although iron could injure a draugr, as is the case with many supernatural creatures, it would not be sufficient to stop it. The preferred method is to cut off the draugr’s head, burn the body, and dump the ashes in the sea.
To prevent a draugr from taking over the body of a dead person, a pair of open iron scissors were placed on the chest of the recently deceased, and straws or twigs might be hidden among their clothes. The big toes were tied together or needles were driven through the soles of the feet in order to keep the dead from being able to walk.
Special “corpse-doors” were to be found in homes, bricked-up openings that could be torn open for the removal of the coffin, feet-first, and then closed firmly again to deny the dead access to the home, since it was believed that the unquiet dead could only return the way they had come, and by carrying the body out feet-foremost, the living further protected themselves from the dead by denying them a clear view of the path taken to burial (Ibid, pp. 364-369)
The draugar were said to be either hel-blár (“death-black”) or, conversely, nár-fölr (“corpse-pale”).
Draugr appear from the graves in the form of wisps of smoke, can increase their size at will, and carry the strong stench of decay. They are considered extremely heavy since they can swell in size. Draugr also exhibit an immense and nearly insatiable appetite.
Appearances In Culture
- Draugr were a common mob in Mythic Entertainment’s Dark Age of Camelot, an MMORPG. Hagbui were included as separate mobs as well. These are found mostly in appropriately themed areas throughout Midgard and in some parts of the Frontiers associated with Midgard.
- The Draugr appeared as an enemy faced in the Bethesda 2003 video game expansion The Elder Scrolls III: Bloodmoon and made a reappearance in the Bethesda 2011 video game The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. They are found in crypts and will rise from their graves when an intruder enters.
- Draugr is the name given in Vampire the Requiem to a Kindred which has lost all of its Humanity and is has thus become a mindless beast.
- Frodo’s spectral struggle with the “barrow-wight” in J. R. R. Tolkien’s book The Fellowship of the Ring, in the chapter “Fog on the Barrow-Downs.”
- Draug’s also appear in Last Breath by Rachel Caine.
Did you know? Draugr was also known as aptrgangr – literally meaning “again-walker”, or “one who walks after death”
 Kershaw, p. 68
Marchosias, Ningyo, Abatwa, Cait Sith, Anka, Huldra, iele, Manticore, Hantu Demon, Lich, Joan The Wad, Fomorian, Rakshasa, Hellhound, Sleipnir, Three-Legged Crow, Afanc, Tarasque, Echidna, Alkonost, Landvaettir, Hippocampus, Cockatrice, Shedu,Dryad, The Erlking, Oni, Rusalka, Salamande,Gulon, Krampus,Wendigo, Banshee, Will-O’-Wisp