VARDOGRS.. WAIT, WHAT WAS THAT WORD?
When you hear the word "Vardogr", what springs to mind? Quite possibly nothing, right? This would be no surprise whatsoever- this is a fascinating phenomenon, but it's also a rather obscure one. Whilst having a conversation with a very learned friend recently (someone who's a parapsychologist, researcher and published author) I was quite stunned to discover that he hadn't heard of the phenomena either!
I first read about the Vardogr phenomenon when I was 10, in a book titled "Real Ghosts, Restless Spirits, and Haunted Minds" by prolific author Brad Steiger, whom it seems had a few experiences with the phenomenon himself. I paid little attention to that section of the book then, as at that point in time I was still just seeking some interesting ghost stories..but time has altered my perspectives, broadened my considerations, and deepened my curiosity- subjects that once were of little interest to me are now amongst my greatest fascinations.
Having re-read that same Steiger book, three decades later, I rediscovered the author's stories and experiences with the Vardogr, and this time around I found the phenomenon quite intriguing indeed, and have since found some very interesting cases during my research, some of which I'll share with you here.
I think it quite important too that the usual questions be asked regarding the nature of the Vardogr- the how, why, and what if. I'll get to sharing some considerations on those a little later though.
A SHORT HISTORY
"Vardogr" is a Norwegian word which means ‘‘the premonitory sound or sight of a person before he arrives’’. A person is seen, or their usual arrival sounds are heard- their footsteps on the path, their key turning in the lock, their passage along the hall..but when the person who heard these sounds goes to greet whoever they thought they had seen or heard arrive, there's nobody there. A short while later, the sounds are repeated, but are this time indicative of the person's actual physical arrival.
By the way, in case you're wondering about the pronunciation of the word, it's supposedly "vard-deh-ay-grr".
The word Vardogr is probably derived from the Old Norse word varohygi, which has two words at its grammatical root- voro, which means "guard, watchman, or warden" and hugr, meaning "mind" or "soul". The Vardogr is quite commonly believed in in Norway, and has been quite often reported - indeed, the word Vardogr itself was probably coined there to conveniently define the phenomenon, thus indicating how common it is.
In Icelandic culture and folklore, the Vardogr was considered a fylgja, a sort of guardian spirit. There's mention of the phenomena in Finnish folklore too, where it's called etiainen.
Scotland also has its tales, but the Vardogr there is known as a "co-walker" or a "fetcher". Outside of stories from these countries, however, the phenomenon has been given fairly scant consideration in comparison to other, more commonly studied aspects of psychical and paranormal research. It has surfaced occasionally in literature though, including in some significant works in psychical research. Let's have a look at a few of those mentions.
THE VARDOGR IN PRINT
On page 149 of her classic 1848 book "The Night Side of Nature", Catherine Crowe describes a few cases that, whilst she categorises those as being instances of a doppelganger, I think could perhaps equally be termed as Vardogr phenomena. Crowe writes:
-"The landrichter, or sheriff, F——, in Frankfort, sent his secretary on an errand. Presently afterward, the secretary re-entered the room, and laid hold of a book. His master asked him what had brought him back, whereupon the figure vanished, and the book fell to the ground. It was a volume of Linnaeus. In the evening, when the secretary returned, and was interrogated with regard to his expedition, he said that he had fallen into an eager dispute with an acquaintance, as he went along, about some botanical question, and had ardently wished he had had his Linnaeus with him to refer to."
-"Dr. Werner relates that Professor Happach had an elderly maid-servant, who was in the habit of coming every morning to call him, and on entering the room, which he generally heard her do, she usually looked at a clock which stood under the mirror. One morning, she entered so softly, that, though he saw her, he did not hear her foot. She went, as was her custom, to the clock, and came to his bedside, but suddenly turned round and left the room. He called after her, but she not answering, he jumped out of bed and pursued her. He could not see her, however, till he reached her room, where he found her fast asleep in bed. Subsequently, the same thing occurred frequently with this woman."
-"An exactly parallel case was related to me, as occurring to himself, by a publisher in Edinburgh. His housekeeper was in the habit of calling him every morning. On one occasion, being perfectly awake, he saw her enter, walk to the window, and go out again without speaking. Being in the habit of fastening his door, he supposed he had omitted to do so; but presently afterward he heard her knocking to come in, and he found the door was still locked. She assured him she had not been there before. He was in perfectly good health at the time this happened."
The vardogr phenomena is also seemingly mentioned, in several case studies, in one of the groundbreaking texts in early psychical research- "Phantasms of the Living" by Edmund Gurney, F.W.H. Myers, and Frank Podmore. One of the accounts (p.515), from a Mrs. Amy Powys, comes from July 1882, and is related as follows:
-"I was expecting my husband home, and shortly after the time he ought to have arrived (about 10 p.m.) I heard a cab drive up to the door, the bell ring, my husband's voice talking with the cabman, the front door open, and his step come up the stairs. I went to the drawing-room, opened it, and to my astonishment saw no one. I could hardly believe he was not there, the whole thing was so vivid, and the street was particularly quiet at the time. About 20 minutes or so after this my husband really arrived, though nothing sounded to me more real than it did the first time. The train was late, and he had been thinking I might be anxious.
Another account (p.516) comes from a Mrs. Smith:
- "My father and mother lived, when young, near St. Albans, in a house separated by three fields from the high road. My father had been staying in Warwickshire, and was returning by the night mail coach. My mother had risen early to be ready for his return, and after seeing that breakfast and a bright fire were ready for his reception, she took her work to the window and sat there awaiting my father’s return. She presently looked up and saw him approaching; she watched him until close to the house, when she went to the door intending to meet him, but he had vanished. Half an hour afterwards he really arrived. My mother was a Quakeress of exceeding truthfulness, and possessing to the full the perfect self‐command and self‐repression inculcated by her sect."
A passing mention of vardogrs can likewise be found in a series of letters between Andrew Lang, a Scottish poet, novelist, and collector of folk and fairy tales, and Sir William Craigie, philologist and lexicographer, and the third editor of the Oxford Dictionary. Both men, it seems, had quite an interest in unexplained phenomena, and the exchange that caught my interest went as such:
-Andrew Lang to William A Craigie 8 Gibson Place, St Andrews, Feb 29 
"Dear Craigie, Very nice Viardogr, but they are as common here as in Norway. The psychs call them "arrival cases". Kirk (1693) called the V, the Co-walkers. As I read your paper lots of parallels, privately known to me, came into my mind. I remembered that my father had a V. which I never knew till one of my brothers told me what he heard. At that time I had no knowledge at all of these things. A case so chronic as your cobbler's I have not met, I admit. Mrs Purdie once saw a V. It is odd indeed that you have not heard of plenty in this country."
-8 Gibson Place, St Andrews, March 4 
"Dear Craigie, I grant that the V. seems either much more common in Norway, or there it attracts more attention. That is proved by its possessing a name in ordinary talk, whereas Myers for the same thing here had to invent a term. Yet for Mr Kirk, in his Secret Commonwealth (about 1690,) the thing had a name, the Co-walker.
Whether this co-walker is from the Gaelic or not, I don't know. But I get firsthand cases of the V. from Rev. Mr MacInnes, Glencoe. My brother John writes today that he remembers my father's V. very well. "The step on the gravel and up the stone stairs to the front door, and then the latch key. It was not I alone who heard it, many did so."
His recollection is that he "went out more than once to look". I have any number of cases in my memory; but I don't mean that the V. is as common in practice as in Norway; and here people who come across it think but little of it. But in Glencoe it is quite recognised, whether it has a Gaelic name or not.
..Myers invented an explanation of the V; not North but general. One of your informants talks of the "fore-walker". Much like Kirk's "Co-walker" who "goes to his own herd" when his owner dies.
Are there no "fetchers" in the sagas? Mr MacInnes told me that his brother and another lad were expected in the glen, to which they were walking. There was heavy snow and they were late but their V's knocked at the door, breakfast was made ready, and the owners of the V's, when they came, were glad to get it."
In 1968, Brad Steiger published what would be the first serious consideration of paranormal phenomena that I would ever read, the book I mentioned earlier in this piece. In that book, he speaks of his own experiences with a vardogr- that of his parents- stating:
"As I would be sitting upstairs in my room reading, I would be certain that I heard my parents returning from town. I would hear the door open and close, the sound of feet shuffling- all the normal sounds that a man and woman would make upon entering their home. When I would call down my goodnight and receive no answer, I would find that the house was empty and I was alone. Often, while I was still calling to my parents to answer my goodnights, I would see their car lights coming down the lane of our farm home and realise that I had been fooled and frightened once again by the vardogr."
In 2002, David Leiter published an excellent research paper, and detailed two of the experiences had by his family and work colleagues with what was seemingly his own vardogr. There are several more similar experiences documented elsewhere too, including a fascinating and very unusual case from 1955:
Erkson Gorique, living in New York, had always wished to visit Norway. In July of 1955, due to his job, he was lucky enough to finally be able to make the journey, in order to purchase Norwegian glassware. After landing in Oslo, he went to reserve a room at a large hotel. He was astonished when the receptionist greeted him by name, and told him that his room had been booked. Gorique asked who had made the reservation, and the receptionist informed him that he had done so, in person, a year ago.
Things got stranger still. The following day Gorique went to meet with the wholesaler, a Mr Olsen. He had never met Olsen but, like the hotel receptionist, Olsen greeted Gorique by name and told him he was delighted to see him again. He said he hoped that this time Gorique's visit would be longer, as last time he had been in a rush.
When Gorique made it clear that he had never set foot in Norway before, Olsen introduced him to a university professor, who speculated that it was Gorique's Vardogr, visiting the country beforehand.
There's a mention of something akin to a vardogr in a book published here in Australia too- a story in Richard Davis' 1998 book "The Ghost Guide to Australia" (pp. 207-208).
As this one is from close to home, and is thus of some special interest to me, this is the last case report I'll relay, before I try to address those all-important questions about what might be going on..there's several other possible cases I could introduce you to, but that would mean much more reading!
The last case comes from a tiny town near Colac, (Western Victoria), called Birregurra.
In 1996, it was reported that a number of people had experienced ghostly goings-on at the town's 130-year-old Anglican Vicarage. The strangest of those reports came from a Mrs. Flavel, who had lived at the vicarage in the 1960's. She told of how she had woken one day to find an elderly lady arranging flowers on a small table in her bedroom. The figure turned to Mrs. Flavel and apologised for disturbing her, saying "I didn't think anyone lived here any more", before she and the flowers vanished.
A few weeks later, at the centenary celebrations for the church to which the vicarage was attached, Mrs. Flavel was introduced to the widow of a former reverend, who had presided over the church in the 1930's..and she swore it was the same lady she had seen in her bedroom arranging flowers.
DOWN TO THE QUESTIONS
There are always questions to be asked about such phenomena as the Vardogr, and they're generally along the same avenues as those to be asked about any phenomenon- "why", "how", and "what if"..I think there's a couple of angles of approach here.
When we look at one strong commonality between all cases, that of the intent of the "agent" (the person responsible for the phenomenon), there seems to be the same thing that shows up time and again- the person whose vardogr has preceded them was elsewhere, but was intent on reaching the location their vardogr presented itself at, or they were in some way occupied in thought of that location, and were perhaps wishing themselves there..or maybe they were thinking of the person who would act as the percipient in the experience.
Intent is a form of emotional output, and causes the same associated chemical and energetic changes in the brain that all other emotions do..and if emotions carry an energetic frequency, and have a detectable energetic field- a field that can be projected and is discernable externally to our physical bodies, then the very act of wishing we were somewhere, or of being preoccupied by thoughts of that place, could perhaps carry enough emotional energy to be manifested externally at that place- part of our mind can perhaps "travel" there without us being aware of it having done so, in a manner that can be perceived by others in various ways- audible, visual, or both. Consideration of this possibility, though, must also come with the consideration that our mind- our consciousness- is something separate to our brains, and our physical self, and is not dependent upon them.
In a way this thought leads to another concept- that of "psychic projection" which is a form of psychokinesis (or PK).
Is a Vardogr perhaps a thought-form, or a "Tulpa", as the case perhaps was in the well-known "Philip Experiment" conducted by the Toronto S.P.R. in the 1970's? Perhaps so, but the one thing that I think best refutes this concept is the fact that the "agent" in the above cases was not aware of the fact that they had projected a vardogr, whereas projection was a conscious objective in the Philip experiment.
There was perhaps a wish, or an intent, to be at the place the vardogr presented itself at, but no conscious intent by the agent to project their immaterial selves to that place, which thus renders the phenomena an unconscious one.
If the phenomenon was due to a conscious projection of the agent's immaterial self, then it would stand to reason that they would perhaps have some awareness of what had happened at the percipient's end too, such as that which occurred in the "experimental case" mentioned by G.N.M. Tyrrell on page 34 of his book "Apparitions".
It seems, though, that the agent was not consciously projecting their thought or intent- perhaps, as in the case of David Leiter, they were mentally "wool-gathering" at the time their vardogr made itself known..
The Vardogr phenomenon is one that has been discussed, but somewhat infrequently. Perhaps it has been considered before, but under a different name, as it has seemingly been classed as being "doppelganger" phenomena too. Indeed, some vardogr cases may perhaps fall more into that category, or overlap the boundaries in categorical definition.
Various nationalities hold strong beliefs in the Vardogr/Etiainen/Co-walker, and no definitive answers have yet been found as to its nature..but that's often the way with so much in this field.
What are your thoughts, and have you experienced anything similar? I'd like to know- please do feel free to comment!