Gnosis Diary: Life as a Heathen

My personal experiences, including religious and spiritual experiences, community interaction, general heathenry, and modern life on my heathen path, which is Asatru.

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Comparison of Heathen and Romani Spiritual Words Part 1: the Soul

Comparison of Heathen and Romani Spiritual Words and Concepts

Part 1: the Soul

When I took a class by Melissa Paige Eggstaff on Romani spiritual words and ideas, it amazed me how many similarities there are between Asatru and Romani concepts. This was the first time I had encountered any other culture besides the heathen cultures that had the idea of the multipartite soul. I kept thinking, hey, that’s just like us! And so is that! So I wrote up this comparison.

For the heathen words, I use the word most commonly used in Asatru, my sect of heathenry; some of these words are in Modern English and some are in Old Icelandic. The Romani words are from Melissa's class. Note: there are many different Romani families, dialects, and even religions, and the words discussed in the class and in this comparison are specific to Melissa's own. 

Both Asatruars and Romani have different words for different parts of the human soul. In heathen mythology, the trinity Odin / Honir / Lodhur sculpted humankind from driftwood and gave us certain gifts, including ond (soul, breath, or spirit) from Odin, odh (sense, breath, inspiration, or spirit) from Honir, and la ok litr godha (being and color, or blood and blush) from Lodhur. Sense can be considered as self-awareness; to become self-aware is to be a sentient, intelligent life form. Being can be considered aliveness, and the red color of living flesh is the look of a living person.

The various soul parts split apart at death. The soul that makes you who you are, with your memories, is ond, and ond can go on to an afterlife. The heathen ond is like the Romani dji. In heathenry, the soul can have many possible destinations, including halls of various gods, rebirth, staying in the grave mound as one of the mound-dead, or becoming a dis. The mound-dead can be either helpful or dangerous, but they are placebound. They can watch over nearby family, but they are part of the landscape and can’t leave the area. There is no clear line between mound dwellers who are the dead and mound dwellers who are the elves (alfar.) Mound dwellers who are improperly entered into their afterlife or mound could also become undead animated bodies, the draugr, which are dangerous, and considered evil due to being sprititually wrong or unnatural.

Disir (plural of dis) are female ancestral spirits who watch over and help their descendants. Disir are not placebound, but can be invoked by their descendants wherever they are. Disir are honored on several heathen holidays.

The Romani also have a concept of dead souls who stay near their living relatives to help them, called mulo or mule (plural.) The mule are like the disir, except that only women become disir and anyone can become mule. In addition to mule, there is also a Romani word that specifically means the spirits of dead Romani, which is choxani or choxano. Spirits in general can be called spiriti or spirito, and evil spirits are bengorri or bengorro.

Disir = choxano or female mule

In heathenry, the other soul parts don’t go on to an afterlife. Odh, the divine breath, goes back to the world, or to the gods, or to the universe. Self-awareness is transmuted into something else, which might be aware but will be a different thing. This is the soul part that bears talents, but it does not bear memories. Some heathens believe talents can be reborn in the family line, but when odh is reborn, no memories come with it. The Romani also have a concept of a part of the soul that returns to oneness with the oneness of everything, called lesko.

Ond = dji

Odh = lesko

La and litr just stop. They are soul parts that begin and end with the body. Asatruars call the body the lich. All other parts of the soul besides la and litr are supposed to exit the body upon death. A soul that remains in the body after burial is called draugr, a form of undead.

The Romani call the body trupo. The body and soul are supposed to be contiguous while alive, but can get out of balance, leaving the person soulless. A person whose body and soul are contiguous is in spiritual balance, kintala. A person in kintala is kintari or kintaro. The heathen and Romani concepts regarding the relationship between the body and the soul are not the same, so the heathen and Romani ideas about the soul don’t quite match up perfectly, but there are enough similarities to be remarkable.

Kintala has broader application beyond the relationship of body to soul. It also has the connotation of right conduct. A person who has upset the balance by wrong action experiences misfortune called prikaza, sometimes translated bad luck. This is somewhat similar to the Asatru idea of wyrd, sometimes translated luck, fate, or karma. Wyrd is a system in which action results in reaction, and can be either good or bad.

Asatru also has other spiritual concept words that describe parts of a human being that are not necessarily soul parts, but which are sometimes included in lists of soul parts. These include maegen and mod, also called might and main, that describe mental or magical strength, the hugr which is memory, the munr which is mind, the hamingja, sometimes translated as aura, and the fylgia, sometimes translated as fetch, skin, or totem. The hamingja and fylgia are also sometimes translated as guardian angel.

Both heathens and Romani also have a number of different words describing personal honor or lack thereof. For example, the Romani call an honorable person pachivali/ pachivalo and a dishonorable person bipachivali/ bipachivalo. A disgraced person is pukelime. The Romani words gonime, blokime, and bolime all mean what we heathens would call an outlaw, a person banished from the community. Neither culture considers honor to be something that one can be born with, and is therefore not technically a soul part. 

Image: Asatruars visiting a Romani vardo, photo by Erin Lale 

Part 2 will deal with concepts of the universe such as cosmos and chaos

Last modified on
Erin Lale is the author of Asatru For Beginners, and the updated, longer version of her book, Asatru: A Beginner's Guide to the Heathen Path. Erin has been a gythia since 1989. She was the editor and publisher of Berserkrgangr Magazine, and is admin/ owner of the Asatru Facebook Forum. She also writes science fiction and poetry, ran for public office, is a dyer and fiber artist, was acquisitions editor at a small press, and founded the Heathen Visibility Project.


  • Erin Lale
    Erin Lale Thursday, 25 May 2017

    Notes in response to criticism I have received off of this blog:

    1. Despite stating in both parts of this report about the class I took from Melissa that "The Romani words are from Melissa's class. Note: there are many different Romani families, dialects, and even religions, and the words discussed in the class and in this comparison are specific to Melissa's own." I have still received criticism that the words and ideas I learned in the class are wrong, or just too different from the dialects or beliefs of other members of the very diverse Romani traditions. I acknowledge that there are so many cultural, linguistic, and religious threads that any one class by one person presenting their own family's view may not represent any other particular individual, family, or group, and in fact, Melissa stated in her class that she was speaking only for her own family and their traditions. Melissa recorded her class while teaching it and it is freely available on her channel. Those with questions about the content she presented can view it for themselves.

  • Erin Lale
    Erin Lale Thursday, 25 May 2017

    Notes in response to criticism I have received off of this blog:

    2. It should be obvious that if one is reading a blog subtitled "life on a heathen path" that the word heathen used in blog posts refers to the writer of the blog post, and that it is a positive term of identity to the writer. Apparently that needed to be stated. It should also be obvious if one is reading a blog hosted on the Witches & Pagans Magazine website, Pagansquare, that words such as heathen, pagan, and witch are used by the bloggers to self identify their own paths and therefore are using these words positively. Apparently that needed to be stated, too.

    Pagan here refers to a large variety of related spiritual paths, mostly from Europe, that self identity as pagan. Heathen refers specifically to a pagan path based on the culture and religion of pagan northern Europe. Heathen is a religion, like Christianity, which has several different sects within it. I specifically belong to the sect Asatru. I often use the words Asatru and heathen interchangeably, as do many other American Asatruars.

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