All posts by Ardwolf

Artist, storyteller, Norse heathen. I study animism and shamanic traditions from all over the world.

The fylgja and shapeshifters

I’m sure you’ve heard someone refer to their “spirit animal”. It’s an ancient idea that has continued through modern spirituality. In Norse mythology, the concept of the fylgja, or “follower,” was a powerful and enduring one.

A fylgja was a spirit animal that was believed to be closely associated with an individual and could take on various forms, including that of a wolf, a bear, or a boar. The fylgja was thought to be a manifestation of an individual’s spiritual essence, and it was believed to be able to shape shift and appear in the physical world.

The fylgja was thought to be able to protect and guide its associated individual. The fylgja was also believed to be able to reveal important information or provide guidance through dreams and other forms of spiritual communication.

In Norse society, the fylgja was an important aspect of an individual’s spiritual identity, and it was thought to be a reflection of their inner self.

The idea that the fylgja is a reflection of an individual’s inner self is based on the belief that it is closely connected to an individual’s spiritual essence and is able to reflect their inner nature and characteristics. This belief is rooted in the idea that the fylgja is a manifestation of an individual’s spiritual energy and is able to reveal important aspects of their inner self through its actions and behavior.

One of the poems from the Poetic Edda in which the fylgja is mentioned is the “Hávamál,” or “Sayings of the High One,” which is a collection of Norse wisdom poetry. In the “Hávamál,” the fylgja is described as a spirit animal that is closely associated with an individual and is believed to be a manifestation of their spiritual essence. It is also described as being able to shape shift and appear in the physical world, and as being able to provide guidance and support to its associated individual.

The fylgja is also mentioned in the “Völuspá,” or “Prophecy of the Seeress,” which is a poem that tells the story of Norse mythology and the eventual end of the world. In the “Völuspá,” the fylgja is described as a powerful and influential force that is able to protect and guide its associated individual.

My interpretation of this is that the fylgja, or spirit animal, is not necessarily an animal. It can take the form of whatever our minds choose to understand it as.

Another interesting thing about a fylgja is its tie-in to the were-creature mythology. The fylgja was also closely associated with the concept of the “werewolf,” or “vargr,” in Norse mythology. A vargr was a person who was believed to have the ability to transform into a wolf, either voluntarily or as a result of being cursed. The vargr was seen as a powerful and formidable being, and it was often depicted as a symbol of primal, animalistic nature.

The fylgja is a spirit being that is closely attuned to a human. So much so, that it is able to be a type of mirror to their host’s own inner self. The fylgja are able to use their human’s own spirital essence to physically manifest in the shape of the human’s choice.

The human shapeshifter’s body is not literally changing shape, they are in a trance. Their fylgja assists them in externalizing their primal consciousness in the form of a wolf, or boar, or any creature they know.

The spirit creature, using some of the energy of the human “shapeshifter”, creates a physical manifestation which becomes a vehicle for the shifter’s consciousness. Others could perceive this as a mist, or as the form decided upon by the shifter.

While I write about this from a northern shamanic perspective, the idea of shapeshifting is a trait of shamanic cultures worldwide. This is possibly related to tales of werewolves and other human-like beasts from many mythologies.

The Wolf

In Norse mythology, wolves were often associated with the god Odin, who was often depicted accompanied by two wolves, named Geri and Freki. In Norse mythology, wolves were seen as fierce and powerful creatures, and they were often associated with strength, endurance, and the wildness of nature.

Wolves were also closely associated with the concept of the fylgja, or “follower,” in Norse mythology. A fylgja was a spirit animal that was believed to be closely associated with an individual and could take on various forms, including that of a wolf. The fylgja was thought to be a manifestation of an individual’s spiritual essence, and it was believed to be able to shape shift and appear in the physical world.

In Norse mythology, wolves were also closely associated with the concept of the “werewolf,” or “vargr.” A vargr was a person who was believed to have the ability to transform into a wolf, either voluntarily or as a result of being cursed. The vargr was seen as a powerful and formidable being, and it was often depicted as a symbol of primal, animalistic nature.

Overall, wolves played a significant role in Norse mythology and were revered as powerful and respected creatures.

A culture of shamanism

The berserkir were warrior shamans. In Norse mythology, there was another tradition: “seers,” or “völvas.” They were highly respected figures in Norse society, believed to possess the ability to see into the future and communicate with the gods and other spiritual beings. Völvas were often called upon to provide guidance and counsel to the community, and they played a central role in many religious ceremonies and rituals.

Völvas were believed to possess a wide range of powers, including the ability to see into the future, communicate with the spirits, and wield magical powers. They were also believed to be able to shape shift into animals, a practice known as “fylgja.” In Norse mythology, fylgja were spirit animals that were believed to be associated with an individual and could take on various forms, including that of a wolf or a bear.

Völvas were often depicted as wise women who were skilled in the art of divination and prophecy. They were also associated with the practice of seidr, a form of Norse magic that involved the manipulation of the forces of nature and the use of trance states to access other realms of existence.

In Norse society, völvas were held in high regard and were often sought out for their wisdom and guidance. They played a vital role in the spiritual life of the community and were considered to be important spiritual leaders.

Norse Berserkir Shamans

In Norse mythology, the berserkir were warriors who were believed to be able to enter a state of wild, uncontrollable frenzy in battle. They were known for their fierce and reckless fighting style, and were said to be immune to pain and fear.

The berserkir were associated with the god Odin, who was believed to be the patron of warriors and the god of battle. It was believed that Odin would often lend his spiritual support to the berserkir, helping them to enter into a state of berserkergang, or “berserker rage.”

There is some debate among scholars as to whether the berserkir were actually shamanic practitioners, or whether they were simply warriors who were able to tap into a state of heightened aggression and ferocity in battle. Some theories suggest that the berserkir may have used psychoactive substances or other methods to induce a trance state in order to access their berserker rage. Others believe that the berserkir may have been able to tap into a spiritual energy or power that allowed them to enter into this state of frenzy.

Regardless of the exact nature of their abilities, the berserkir were feared and respected for their ferocity in battle and their seeming immunity to pain and fear. They played a significant role in Norse mythology and are remembered as some of the most formidable warriors of their time.

A Foundation of Shamanic Trance

First, it’s important to understand a basic function of the brain. Our brains interpret the world through pattern recognition and we identify things by association.

You’ve probably heard someone of one race say about members of another race, “They all look the same to me”. The less we know about something (or some being), the less distinctly unique it is to us.

When the brain first begins processing input from the spirit sense, it will attempt to understand the information based on what it has already seen.

This is why early shamanic cultures around the world would identify “spirit animals”. What they were seeing was entirely foreign to them, so their brains made an association based on pattern recognition.

A brain knows the entities don’t appear to be humans. So it associate them with animals, because of that same grouping function.

All bears look the same to me. When I saw this spirit entity, it was similar to how I feel when I see a bear. It must also be a bear.

Keep in mind, this isn’t a conscious reasoning or thought process. I literally may see these entities as a bear because that is how my brain has identified them.

During trance, the object isn’t to try and wrap your mind around what is happening, but rather let go and just allow yourself to experience things without question or struggle.

That sounds simple enough, but it’s not so simple in practice. The brain is going to try to rationalize experiences so they don’t feel foreign to us. Because of this, some of the first things you may experience will be changes in thought before changes in what you see and hear. You may start to “understand” things on a deeper level.

Shamanic trance is a practiced skill for most. It’s something you develop and improve over time. Your expectations should not start with full visual and auditory experiences. Practice is how we train our brains to accept and trust input from a source outside of our physical senses.

What is shamanism?

At its core, no matter what culture we are talking about, shamanism is working with spirit entities. I use the term spirit for lack of a better word. For me, the word brings up thoughts of ghosts, or angels or demons. But this is because of its use in the Christian culture in which I was brought up. However, my understanding of spirit has evolved. For me, spirit now describes any being or structure that is outside of spectrum of vibrations that our physical senses or any of our constructed tools can perceive.

Scientists believe that the majority of energy in the universe is undetectable, but still exists. They call this “dark matter” or “dark energy”. Some estimates say that dark matter holds a 6 to 1 ratio over “regular” matter. We are literally surrounded by matter and energy we cannot see or measure.

A shaman is someone who has learned to perceive and interact with things that we cannot know through physical observation.


The answer to this varies from culture to culture, tradition to tradition. So to understand how, we should look for things in common. Throughout history, one similar thread of shamanic practice involves grave sickness or near-death trauma.

Another similar trait is entering the “trance state”.

Sickness and trauma

With some serious illness or trauma, the brain is temporarily blocked from receiving information from the nervous system. But the brain craves input so it is constantly looking for any type of stimulation.

I believe our primary consciousness exists in the “spirit” world, or that matter and energy that we cannot detect as physical beings. We are all here, in the physical world of our own accord. That consciousness is our “spirit sense” here. It is bound to us, but not part of the physical body.

I sometimes call it our “WiFi” sense. The nervous system and our sensory organs represent the wired senses. This is sensory input that is wired directly into our brains. The spirit sense is a reminder of our true selves.

The brain, when void of sensory input, can receive input from this external source, our spirit sense. This is something I cannot confirm through scientific knowledge. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. For most of our modern human history, we were not aware of electrons or quantum particles. But they exist and eventually we created tools that could allow us to observe them.

The data coming to our brain from the spirit sense is wholly unfamiliar to it, so like a newborn observing the world, much of it doesn’t make any sense in the beginning. But as we spend more time with that sense, our brains start to assign familiar shapes to things. For example: native shamans from around the world often interact with “spirit animals”. These spirits appear to them as bear, wolf, boar, etc. because that is how our brains make sense of them. The information coming to the visual processing part of the brain is interpreted based on prior experiences.

Basically, this entity makes me feel like something I associate with bear, so this must be some sort of bear beast. Even though the spirit being isn’t actually a bear, we have no other frame of reference to identify it. It’s similar to when remote tribal people, who are not exposed to modern technology, try to describe planes and other vehicles. A plane could be a giant eagle. A jeep might be a giant boar.

The trance state

The trance state is a mental state where we lull the brain. The repetition of chants, or drumming or spinning in place cause the brain to seek out something more patterned. If it has previously tuned into the spirit sense, it will “listen” for those vibrations.

The important take from this is: we all are connected to spirit. We all have a spirit sense. We all have the ability to learn how to tap into that. And we don’t have to suffer trauma and sickness to become aware. We only need to train our brains to be able to tune in. In many shamanic traditions, this is accomplished through the use of various plants and fungi in conjunction with trance inducing activities like drumming.

Why are we here?

If we are really some other being that exists outside of the physical body, why are we in a physical body?

This is a question of motive. What is there to gain from it? My theory is that this rare form of matter (physical matter) only makes up 5% of the matter in the universe. It offers unique experiences that are just not found in the more common spirit realm.

Perhaps many of the experiences we have here in the physical matter can only be experienced as a physical being: pain, pleasure, hunger, emotion.

We are here to learn and have fun. That’s it.

One way I like to describe it is through a movie theater analogy. Imagine there is a gigantic movie complex. Each movie is a set of experiences, or lives. When we are sitting in the theater, watching it, we try to forget who we really are, and enjoy the emotions and experiences offered by the movie.

Occasionally, something jars us from the illusion on the screen and we remember we’re sitting in a theater, with others like us. We can watch the movie and be aware that we are watching the movie. I think, even for people who aren’t directly aware of both worlds, there is often a sense that there’s “something more”. Even without religious associations, many feel there is an invisible world out there. They can’t see it with their eyes, but they sense it.

This can also explain why some of us have “extra sensory perceptions” sometimes. We sometimes call this “instinct” or “gut feelings”. These could be brief moments of the brain becoming aware of information coming from our spirit sense.

What is the value of shamanism?

There is a difference between being a shaman and living a shamanic lifestyle. A shaman is someone who uses their ability to perceive what others cannot to provide guidance and spiritual healing. Shamanic healing is the restoration of the spirit link that connects us to the physical through calling on the assistance of spirit entities. This is sometimes called “soul retrieval”. Basically, our connection to the spirit world naturally erodes as we move through the physical world, although traumatic experiences can accelerate that. Spirit entities can strengthen that bond.

A shamanic lifestyle is one that involves awareness of and interactions with the spirit world for self-improvement and to have advantage that allows them to protect others or overcome obstacles.

The Berserkir Rage

The legendary Viking warriors known as berserkirs were renowned for their ferocity in battle, purportedly fighting in a trancelike state of blind rage (berserkergang), howling like wild animals, biting their shields, and often unable to distinguish between friend and foe in the heat of battle. But historians know very little about the berserkers apart from scattered Old Norse myths and epic sagas.

WIRED magazine

The berserkir rage is not derived from anger. It’s an altered state of mind, likely enhanced by consuming a mushroom called Amanita muscaria, or a flowering plant known as henbane. These are very toxic but have hallucinogenic properties.

This state allowed the warrior to bypass fear and ignore pain. It was a fierce, primal place that was ideal for striking terror in enemies (and occasionally allies).

Today we associate the term “going berserk” as a fit of uncontrolled anger. But these kinds of outbursts are not akin to the berserkir rage. What we see today is a fit that results from the personal inability to control one’s own emotions. It is weak, not strong.

A modern berserkir will likely never find themselves in the same hand-to-hand, brutal combat that the Viking berserkir found themselves. However the rage state is not only for combat. The intent you take with you when you enter an altered state will define how you use it.

Some mundane examples: exercise, physical projects such as house work or yard work, dancing, sex, creative endeavors

How you reach that state can take many forms (I don’t recommend consuming toxic plants without knowing what you are doing). There are a lot of safer plant and fungi based alternatives. And for those who don’t feel comfortable with psycho-actives, altered states can be induced with light and sound (for me strobes and heavy bass EDM beats work great together).

The berserkir rage still has value today. It’s not a recreational activity, but one of purpose, focus and power. It’s primal and can be productive, intense and satisfying.

What is a Berserkir?

“They went armor-less into battle and were as crazed as dogs or wolves and as strong as bears or bulls. They bit their shields and slew men, while they themselves were harmed by neither fire nor iron.”

– The Ynglinga Saga

A berserkir is much more than a warrior. They are a person who follows a lifestyle of physical and mental improvement in order to be prepared for whatever challenges they must face.

They strive to control and focus their emotional energy in order to survive and succeed. Despite the personal power they hone, they are not boastful. They do not argue needlessly over things that do not affect them. They only fight to defend themselves and the ones they love.

Berserkirs seek out spiritual insight through a shamanistic practice of altering their consciousness through entering a trace state, finding clarity and inspiration.

They are open minded, developing strong critical thinking skills. The rigid mind is easily manipulated so they are always learning new ideas.

They are creative. Creativity is food for growth. They write, they make art, they build, they express themselves in any number of ways.

They observe but do not judge. They respect boundaries and expect others to respect theirs.

They work to embody valor, sacrifice, compassion, honor, honesty, humility and spirituality.

A berserkir is a heathen shaman warrior who cultivates strength and passion in order to achieve their personal goals.