The Heathen Soul

Modern Christian thought has the soul being a single entity somewhat divorced from the human body. The ancient Heathens did not see the soul this way, for them the soul was composed of many parts, each with a different function, and intimately tied to the mortal body during life. In the "Voluspa" from the Elder Edda, we are told Woden and his brothers gave man ønd or divine breath, wód or moods/emotions, lá or appearance, and likr or health. These gifts are paralleled in the Anglo-Saxon Dialogue Between Saturn and Solomon where God is said to have given man þang or thought, æðungem or divine breath, and modes unstadalfæstenss or unsteadfast moods. Finally, a twelfth century poem in Middle High German states God gave man muot or mood and a&aethem or divine breath.

Research of the various ancient Northern European tongues reveals that the soul can be broken down roughly into: 1) The Lich or body 2) The Hyge or high, the intellect 3) The Mynd or memory 4) The Willa or will 5) The Æþem or the breath of life, the "silver cord" 6) The Hama or the skin of the soul 7) Orlæg or one's personal wyrd 8) Mægen or one's personal energy 9) The Fetch or one's personal guardian spirit 10) The Mód or the emotions. 11) The Wód.

The Lich

The lich or in Old English lic is the human body, and it, like other parts of the soul requires special treatment. One should get plenty of exercise and eat the right foods. Humans are naturally omnivorous, that is they eat both meat and plants. It is for this reason we have incisors or canine teeth which are designed to tear meat as well as molars to gnash hard grains. One should keep in mind though that most meat on the market today is loaded full of fat that ancient man did not see in his diet. It is best for that reason to choose carefully what meats one eats. As for plants one should eat a variety of plant foods and not eat too much of one thing. One should be certain to eat a variety of green vegetables, nuts, and berries. For those that prefer a vegetarian diet, foods that are high in protein such as nuts and some types of beans should be eaten regularly. As for physical appearance, one should try to keep their hair long as the ancient Heathens held that one's power resided in the hair, thus kings and nobles always wore long hair. Nails on the other hand should be kept trimmed as the ship of the evil dead used to assail the gods' realms at the twilight of the gods is made of the untrimmed finger nails of corpses.

The Hyge

The high or in Anglo-Saxon hyge is the intellect, that part of the soul which rules rational thought. Its dominion is that of the "real world." While the hyge seems to rule the rational part of Man the ancients may have also felt it ruled some emotions. The word hyge itself is related to words meaning "to love" or "to care for." The idea of the hyge being connected to the thought of "caring" isn't quite far fetched. Caring is after all, an active emotion, that is it is one that requires deeds be done. "To care for" one's sick mother requires some activity after all, and it may be the ancients thought "caring" required some form of rational thought. The memory in the ancient soul structure is also linked to words for love, although this is in a more romantic sense. The difference could be between love that is of one's own free will, that of the hyge, and one that is innate, that of the mynd.

The Mynd

The mynd is the memory and all functions surrounding it. This includes all that has been learned, memories of one's life, and one's ancestral memory or instinct. Like the hyge, the word mynd is related to words meaning "to love," though of a far more romantic variety. Many of the words dealing with the human mind and loving or caring seem to have evolved with the sense of "keeping one in mind." That is the memory or mynd is linked to words meaning "to love" because one's loved ones will be ever present in the memory. Similarly the hyge is related to words meaning to care for, as one will actively think of one's loved ones often. These ideas of remembering or thinking about those we love or care for or even have been kind to us is deeply ingrained in the Germanic culture. The phrase "thank you" evolved from a sense of "I will think of you" meaning the kind act would be remembered. Heathen scholars have yet to explore these possibilities, the link between active rational thought and emotions such as caring or loving.

The Willa

The will is the source of voluntary self assertion or determination. Its is the ability to "wish" something into being by sheer desire, and be in control of one's self and one's wyrd. It is related to words meaning "to wish or desire " and deals primarily with what one wants instead of necessarily what one needs. However, unlike the hyge or the mynd, it is not linked to any words meaning "to love" or "to care for," strange for that part of the soul which rules self initiative and desire.

The æðem

The æðem is the breath of life, it is the animating principle of the body and is what links the body to the rest of the soul. It is roughly the equivalent of "the silver chord" of some philosophies. Without the æðem the soul would separate from the body and leave. At death, the æðem dissolves setting the soul free to fare to the afterlife. Another term for the æðem is the ealdor, which also refers to the life span of a man as well as eternity. Yet another term is blad which means "breath or spirit," and like æðem refers to ancient beliefs involving the idea of the breath of life as the soul of a man.

The Hama

The hama is an energy/matter form surrounding the soul that protects it outside the body. It is roughly analogous to the skin of the body. The hama looks like the body it belongs to although very powerful creatures can shape shift their's. The hama is the "ethereal image" of any ghosts one might see. It is the hama that keeps the soul's energies from being dispersed when the body fares forth. After death the hama may be referred to as the scinn or scinnhíw.

The Orlæg

The orlæg is one's personal wyrd. It is an individual's "law." The Orlæg contains all the events of one's life and their consequences. These events and their results further determine the results of one's future actions. It is tied to one's fetch and regulates the amount of one's mægen.

The Mægen

mægen is the spiritual energy possessed by every living creature and thing in the universe. mægen like wyrd exists on many levels. There is the mægen of the individual, that shared by the family, and that shared by entire nations. mægen is expended in everyday life with the deeds we do. How much mægen one has is regulated by Wyrd and based largely on our deeds. When one commits an evil act, they incur a debt known in Anglo-Saxon as a scyld "debt, or obligation." Failure to pay this debt results in a loss of mægen equal to the amount of mægen lost from the evil act. Thus theft of a piece of jewelry would result in a loss of mægen from the thief equal to the amount of mægen contained in that piece of jewelry. mægen can be earned through the doing of good deeds, that is the doing of deeds that benefit others or the community.

The Fetch or Fæcce

The fetch, or in Anglo-Saxon fæcce, is one's guardian spirit and is said to appear as an animal resembling one's disposition or as a member of the opposite sex (which if corresponded to Jung's theories on the animus and animia would resemble one's true love). If the fetch is seen as an animal, it will always been seen in that form unless the spell caster wills it to shape change. In ancient times fetchs were generally seen as wolves, bears, cats, hawks, eagles, sea faring birds, and livestock (horses, pigs, cattle, etc.). Its form can sometimes be seen by those with second sight. It is the fetch that usually controls the allocation of one's mægen in accordance with one's wyrd. The fetch also records one's actions in one's wyrd. Fetchs are said to flee the wicked in the Eddas.

The Mód

The mód is the self. In many ways it is the "totality of being," the cognizance of an individual or state of being. It is a concept that is very difficult to understand because of the vast array of uses of the word in the ancient Northern European languages. The reason for this complexity probably lies in how the early Northern Europeans viewed the world.

In modern thought there are two ways of viewing things. The objective view is one that always views things for what can be scientifically proven about them. It tends to be rational and materialistic in the way it views things. Most of the Western world uses objective viewing. Alongside objective viewing, the West also practices activism or the tendency to submerge one's self in the physical or material world. In the West, thus materialism exists as the main drive in life. A second way of viewing things belongs to the great Eastern culture of India. Subjective viewing views objects for the emotions they can evoke. Usually cultures that practice subjective viewing also practice quietism or rather they tend to submerge themselves in their own thoughts and not the physical world. These differences in Western and Eastern thought have resulted in the East as seeing only psychic reality or "the reality of the mind" while the West sees only "the material world."

Neither sets of views seem to have been held by the ancient Northern Europeans. They seem to have believed in a metaphysical reality or "psychic reality" as much as they did a physical reality or material reality. As such, they probably viewed everything both objectively and subjectively while practicing activism in both forms of reality. This would account for such a large part of the soul as the mód with its multitude of uses for both the intellect and the emotions. The mód is most likely a reflection of the integrated self, one that can both view things subjectively and objectively.

The Wód

The wód is the seat of the "passions" or those emotions that bring about inspiration. The wód is the providence of Woden, and many believe its power comes directly from him. The wód is responsible for a higher state of being edging on the divine and can only be defined by such words as enthusiasm, agony, and ecstasy. It is responsible for poetic inspiration, "madness," and the berserk rage. It most closely resembles the modern principle of the daimonic as described by psychologist Rollo May. Failure to integrate it into the rest of the soul can result in a myriad mental illnesses, if one uses May's theories as an example. Successful integration on the other hand can result in artistic genius or simply a well balanced sense of being. Strangely enough, the wód, was gave to Man by Willa, the god of the will, and therefore self control.

Collectively the soul minus the fetch is known as the feorh, gæst, or sawol in Anglo-Saxon There are many other terms in the Elder Tongues for each of the soul parts as well. The lich can also be called the hræw; the æðem, the ealdor. The other terms have related words as well, but these are often more obscure. There is much we still do not know about ancient Heathen soul lore, and the above information is by no means complete. We have little idea what such terms as sefa, angiet, and orðanc refer to. Whether they are synonyms for the other terms, or other parts of the soul we do not know. However, what knowledge we do have on ancient soul lore will lead us to learning more about how our souls are constructed, and why we do the things we do. The soul is intimately tied to Wyrd, and no study of the soul would be complete without one of Wyrd and concepts concerning good and evil also.


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