Myths, monsters, and magnificent folklore

Volume Two: Draugr


Kellan C. Larson, Business Manager

Zombies. Most people think of zombies as a walking corpse that exists for the sole purpose of eating brains. They are stupid, predatory, undead humans with a desire for flesh. This largely originates with the tales of the Haitan “Zombi” which is similar, though not the same as the modern zombie. However, Haiti is not the only place where tales of zombies can be heard. 

Ancient Scandinavia, the home of the Norse civilization. Although they were commonly referred to as the Vikings, the name is highly inaccurate. “Viking” was actually a trade – the act of raiding. Only a small population of Norse men took up this trade. Regardless, the Norse had a zombie of their own- the Draugr.

Draugr were undead who rose from their graves to wreak havoc and harm upon the living. Their habits included “roof riding” (walking and jumping on roofs so that the families inside could not get any sleep), slaughtering livestock, making loud noises and massacring entire families with an axe or sword.

A person could become a Draugr for a number of reasons: having unfinished business in life, dying from murder, not receiving a proper burial, dying an accidental death and other more exceptional cases. The Nordic people believed in something known as the grave road principle: essentially, spirits could only walk in straight lines. In order to prevent the dead from returning to the house, the corpse was not carried through the door on the way to burial. Instead, a hole was made in the whole, through which it was carried to its grave. Immediately afterwards, the hole was repaired and the family moved on with their lives.

In some tales, the arrival of a Draugr was preceded by a heavy fog or mist, and most encounters with the creatures were fatal. There is only one way the Draugr could be killed according to Norse mythology – you had to chop off its head, burn the head and the body and scatter the ashes: brutal but effective. 

Overall, the Draugr is a fascinating mythological creature that is included in many fantasy games, movies and books to this day with a popular example being the Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Norse mythology is rich in fantastic tales and fascinating creatures and is definitely worth studying.