Today, we frequently consider the self to be made up of three parts: the body, the mind, and the soul/spirit. These come together to form a self contained whole with a very definite and clearly defined border dividing it from its surroundings.
The self is a much more nuanced concept from the Norse perspective. In their philsophy the self is made up of several distinct pieces that are each semi-autonomous and have the ability to separate from one another under specific conditions. Furthermore they believed that some of these pieces could continue to exist after death or undergo reincarnation into descendants of the dead person.
In pre-Christian Old Norse culture, the concept of the self was closely tied to the individual's reputation and honor. A person's self was seen as being composed of several parts, including their kin, their ancestors, and their own personal reputation. This concept of the self was closely tied to the individual's role in society and their relationships with others.
Fylgja (Filg-yur) “follower"
One important part of the self in Old Norse culture was the fylgja, or guardian spirit. This spirit was believed to be a reflection of the person's character and to have the ability to influence their actions and decisions. The fylgja was thought to be especially important in times of crisis or danger, when it could help protect the person or guide them to safety.
In European folktales, witches frequently have cats and other familiars as companions. These are fylgja (singular), fylgjur (plural). Those with second sight typically see the fylgja in animal form, while human fylgjur, mostly female, are also occasionally attested to.
Fylgjur are supernatural beings in Norse mythology that are associated with a particular person and are thought to accompany them throughout their lives. They are believed to be guardian spirits that can take the form of animals, such as a wolf or a cat, and are sometimes depicted as being visible only to the person they are associated with. Some people believe that fylgjur are inherited from one's ancestors and can be passed down through a family line. In some stories, fylgjur are said to be able to foretell a person's death or to appear as an omen of great events.
It is not clear from Norse mythology exactly what determines which animal a person's fylgjur takes. In some stories, the animal form of a fylgjur is thought to be connected to the person's personality or characteristics. For example, a strong and brave person might be accompanied by a bear fylgjur, while a quick and cunning person might be accompanied by a fox fylgjur. In other stories, the animal form of a fylgjur is thought to be more random or mysterious, and may be influenced by the person's fate or destiny. Some people believe that the animal form of a fylgjur can change throughout a person's life, depending on their circumstances or the role that the fylgjur needs to play in their life.
The Fylgja, although meaning “follower”, counter intuitively, frequently travels ahead of its owner, arrives at the desired location before the owner, or may even appear in someone’s dreams who will then only afterwards meet the owner.
Part 2 to follow.