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Friday, 7 October 2016

The Parts of the Self

copyright Matthew James 2016
In the modern Western world, we think of the self as having two or three components: a body, a mind, and perhaps a “soul” that may or may not be identical with the mind. These few parts form a tightly coherent single whole that can be clearly and cleanly separated from its “environment.” The line that separates self and other is absolute and unalterable.

In the worldview of the pre-Christian Norse and other Germanic peoples, however, the self is a much more complex entity. It’s comprised of numerous different parts that are all semi-autonomous and can detach themselves from one another at will, and the border between the self and its “environment” is highly porous and ambiguous. Precisely what constitutes the self at any given moment is a matter that’s constantly being negotiated and re-negotiated between various factions.

The pre-Christian Germanic worldview has never placed much value on a uniform set of official doctrines, and, accordingly, it contains no comprehensive, systematic account of the parts that comprise the human self, to say nothing of other species. This present article makes no attempt to do such a thing either, and instead presents descriptions of six of the most important and commonly mentioned parts of the self in Old Norse literature: the l√≠kamr (“vital processes”), the hamr (“shape/form/appearance”), the hugr (“thought”), munr (“desire”), the fylgja (“follower”), and the hamingja (“luck”)...read more>>>...