When I see G.R.R. Martin’s White Walkers
depicted in the Game of Thrones series
I have to tell you I couldn’t help but think
they have a lot in common with the draugr
especially in appearance.
You obviously know of the draugr
through your numerous studies of Ancient Nordic culture
or from playing hours of Skyrim.
But in the far-off chance you haven’t done either of those things
let me explain
draugr are ancient, Nordic undead,
who rise from their graves to kill, wreak havoc
and generally disrupt the living
So what can draugr say about vikings
ancient burial ceremonies,
and cooking dinner um…naked?
To me, what’s so fascinating about these creatures
is how they can teach us so much
about the lives that people who lived thousands of years ago
and that some of the strongest Nordic warriors
were actually women.
I’m Dr. Emily Zarqa.
And this is Monstrum.
We know of draugrs from the Sagas of the Icelanders,
stories that relate the early history and people of Iceland
from the late ninth century to the end of the “Viking era”
Yes, I am using air quotes
because the term Viking
is not a national or ethnic identity
but a profession—the act of raiding.
Two kinds of undead creatures emerge from these sagas
I don’t know, that thing.
who pretty much just hung out in their burial sites
leaving people alone,
and the Draugr, who left their graves to harm the living.
There were very specific reasons why a newly-buried person
would transform into either one of these monsters.
Common, and seemingly random, reasons
for a person to become either type of undead monster
included: practicing black magic,
being executed as capital punishment
dying an accidental death
(try avoiding that one),
or being buried outside of a churchyard.
the draugr are said to have been more active at night and in the winter.
Sometimes the appearance of the draugr was foretold
by a mist or temporary darkness
again, this feels familiar….
Draugr are scary!
They’ll kill you and your livestock,
and engage in one of their favorite pastimes,
Which from what I can gather
pretty much just meant stomping around on the roof at night
making noise so people can’t get any sleep.
which is more annoying than terrifying.
But let’s not forget, they’ll also kill you.
These monsters are often described as possessing enormous strength.
Like the Ancient Egyptians,
the old Nordic people believed that
you could literally take what you were buried with
to the next plane of existence.
A huge piece of evidence for this is the grave goods
that have been found at burial sites.
The Nordic people also practiced the “corpse-door” custom.
It was believed that the dead
could only return the way they left the home.
So to keep the dead from returning,
a wall or portion of a house would be removed
to carry the corpse outside for burial.
Then, the corpse-door would be quickly repaired.
This prevented the undead from making any surprise visits.
All of these cultural practices are reflected
in the Sagas of the Icelanders
through encounters with draugrs.
Many of these monsters are a test for the story’s hero or heroine
and often reflect power struggles
between different kinship groups or even within families.
Perhaps the most famous draugr story pops up in Grettis saga
when the hero Grettir defeats Glámr,
a particularly aggressive draugr
in an epic wrestling match.
Grettir ends up sending Glamr to a permanent death
by decapitating him then burning his body
and burying the ashes.
Here we find the only way to successfully “re-kill” a draugr.
It’s a method that pops up in other sagas:
The only way to immobilize a draugr
is to chop off the head, burn the body,
and scatter the ashes.
This is actually one thing Skyrim got right
Fire is an EXCELLENT weapon against draugr
and White Walkers…just saying.
In “The Saga of the People of Eyri,”
a wall is built around a new burial site
to prevent a particularly dangerous draugr from returning.
The wall was so high that quote
“no one could see over it except a bird in flight.”
They literally build a wall to try and stop the undead.
How is this not an influence for Game of Thrones?
But not all draugr are violent monsters.
One such example is Thorgunna.
She was so offended by the poor hospitality
offered to the men carrying her corpse to her burial
that she comes back from the dead
to make dinner for them, naked,
before being buried (restfully this time) at a church.
The best part?
They all eat the food.
Would you eat zombie food?
Now we have to talk about my favorite Icelandic story,
The Saga of King Heidrek the Wise.
It’s amazing in so many ways,
but mostly because of the shieldmaiden Hervör
who absolutely should become your new favorite literary heroine.
Hervör, who is “as strong as a man”
and trained in bow, shield, and sword,
擅射箭 持盾牌 使长剑
decides she wants to retrieve a dwarven magical sword
buried with her father and uncles.
She puts on male clothes,
changes her name to herself Hervard,
and joins up with some vikings.
And because she’s a total boss,
she even becomes captain of her own band of vikings.
Hervör travels many miles
to reach her ancestral burial mound.
Her father tries to scare her away,
but Hervör is having none of that.
And she manages to convince him to give her the sword.
After a little more livin’ it up as a viking,
she grows tired of it all,
hangs up gear and retires
eventually getting married and having children.
A huge part of Ancient Nordic and particularly, Icelandic sagas,
北欧传说 尤其是冰岛传说中 有很大一部分
is the inclusion of undead mosters
threatening the lives, and sanity, of the living.
The ancient Nordic people’s proximity to death
and their religious beliefs made burial
a sacred but often imperfect practice
and that their kinship with ancestors was so important
it could literally last beyond the grave.
To me what’s so fascinating about these creatures
is how they can teach us so much about the lives
of the people who lived thousands of years ago
Thanks for watching Monstrum.
Do you have a favorite monster or myth
you’d like see on the show?
Let me know in the comments!
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When I see G.R.R. Martin’s White Walkers