Folklore claims that when a baby is born, part of its soul remains, as a unique being, in the membrane that surrounds it in the womb and which later emerges as the afterbirth. This being is called a fylgja and will become the baby’s leader and, most likely, protector. It was referred to as sacred and may have been associated with destiny and fortune in previous times, sometimes to be bestowed upon friends and their kin.
As this was the case, good care was to be taken of the afterbirth. This did not prove to be easy, however. It was often cast out, sometimes to be devoured by scavengers or stepped on by men and animals. It was furthermore claimed that the fylgja would take the form of whoever first stepped over it or ate it. Prudent parents and attending women would thus bury it, preferably under a threshold or where the mother would pass first and most frequently, so that the fylgja would take her shape and be virtually indistinguishable from her appearance.
Because of the ever-present chance of men and animals preceding the mother, the custom of burning the afterbirth became common. This is said to be the reason why so many now have a fylgja in the shape of a gleam, glimmer, moon or light, although they can allegedly take any form. People have now taken up the custom of using a light to make the sign of the cross over a newborn baby for this purpose.
Something or another accompanies each man, benevolent or malicious in nature. Some beings are attached to abodes, and many are attached to various sites and domains. Land, air, fire and water also have fylgjas of their own.
Source: Sigfús Sigfússon, Íslenskar þjóðsögur og sagnir II, p. 283.
Our Monster of the Month comes from the project Duldýrasafnið (“Hidden Beings Museum”) by Arngrimur Sigurðsson. He takes firsthand accounts of creature sightings, like the one above, from Icelandic historical texts, and creates a painting of each one. An Icelandic book is out now, and an English language book is coming soon. Read our interview with the artist here.
See more monsters here.