See you in Hel! Telling someone to “Go to Hel” may not be so bad after all….
What lies beyond the veil for believers in the Northern Ways?
So. You are a follower of the Old Ways, the Northern Gods, and I am sure you have wondered then what lies beyond the veil. When you pass on from this life, what will be your fate?
While I cannot profess to be an expert on this, (as I haven’t crossed over yet) I can share the little I do know, and have come to learn. Many a modern Heathen, or Asatru follower, likes to blurt out the words “ I will see you in Vahalla!” But is this true. As we will learn, it may be more appropriate to say “See you in Hel!”
Let's explore what the Eddas have to say about the places or states of the dead for those who follow the old Gods?
There appears to be a number of places the northern dead my find themselves. And while this article will only touch on them briefly, there is much depth in which we could go on in each of the topics. And perhaps I will in another post.
As a start, it would appear that humanity can be divided into a few categories:
- The brave who die in battle
- Those who lived and died a normal life
- Those who lived a life dedicated to a particular God or Goddess
- And those who have committed the ultimate absolute worst of worst acts or deeds.
And then, there are the many places or states one may go or occupy. This is dependent on how you lived your life, and how you die, and in some instances, a choice you make.
- The Disir, The Draugr, and Burial Mounds
- The Halls of the Gods and Goddesses
- Aegir’s and Ran’s Hall
Lets dive in, and explore the details crossing the veil a little.
Like many old world religions, the Northern Traditions believe in reincarnation. Reincarnation is the rebirth of the soul in another body. Coming back to earth as someone, or something else. In the Northern Ways, reincarnation can happen, but you can only be reborn into your own family line. In essence, if you name your son after his great grandfather, he may stand a chance of inheriting his great grandfathers soul. And this is why it is important in tradition not to name your child after a living relative as this would mean that you are wishing that relative to die. So best wait for the old man to move on before reusing his name.
The realm of the Hella, or Hel, the Goddess of the dead is known as Helheim, and may be found in Nieflheim, the realm and mist and ice. There is sometimes much confusion over Hel, as its name is similar to the Hell of Christianity, but the two could not be more different. While the Christian hell is hot, and a place of torment, Hel is found in the realm of Mist and Ice, similar in nature to the natural world of the living Northman. It may be freezing, but it is certainly not a place of torment, but rather a place of rest for those who died of old age or sickness, a place of rest and peace.
The Hall of the Glorious Slain. The Hall of those Fallen in Battle. This is one of two places those that died in battle may go. Much nowadays is said about Valhalla, and that in modern times if you died fighting, in any way, like disease etc, then you may end up in Valhalla. But this is not accurate. It is explicitly for those who die on the battle field. It is a place where Odin, via the Valkyries, select the chosen who die in battle, to dine in his hall, and train for the ultimate battle of Ragnarök. They rise in the morning, fight each other all day, some die, and are reborn to feast each night together. Only to start again the next morning in training.
It is written that Freyja has first choice of those who die on the battle field, even before Odin. And those that she chooses got to her in Folkvangr, the field of the host, or the field of Armies. It is here that her hall Sessrúmnir (The Hall with many seats) can be found. Not much is said about Sessrumnir except that it is beautiful hall.
The Disir, The Draugr, and Burial Mounds
Disir, is not necessarily considered a place, but rather a state of existence. Being Disir is a state when you choose to watch over your family. The Disir usually occupy funeral barrows, or burial mounds, where they can receive “worship” by family members, and in return aid their families. There are many stories to be found in the sagas which speak of spirits of family, or others, which are contained in their grave. These people were buried with many of their possessions that they may need in the afterlife.
And if these ancestors are not honored properly, then their spirits could turn vengeful, and then were take the form of Draugr.
A Draugr, or undead creature, from Norse mythology, is also known by other names, such as aptrganga or aptrgangr, and literally means "again-walker".
The Draugr is described as an ugly creature, fearsome, and would rise from the burial mound to life miserable for people. Draugr differ from ghosts as they have a real body, and could behave in similar ways to the living. Draugar (plural) are mentioned a number of times throughout the various Sagas.
So I would suggest if you plan to become Disir, then let your family know, so they have knowledge of this, and just may prevent you needing to turn Draugr on them. (Just kidding, but it may explain old grumpy uncle Igor’s bad temper beyond the grave.)
The Halls of the Gods and Goddesses
The Eddas bring mention of the Halls of the various Gods and Goddesses. And it is believed that those who spent their live in service of a particular God or Goddess stand the chance of bringing about the days of their afterlife in the presence of these Gods/Goddesses. A sort of reward for faithful service.
Aegir’s and Ran’s Hall
For the sailors amongst us, if you are to die at sea, then it is believed that Ran, the giantess of the waves, together with her 9 daughters, will net you and drag you down to her hall, where you will spend eternity dining on sea food, and sailing the seas. If you a sailor not a bad prospect, but woe the weary traveler who has a fish allergy.
Aegir and Ran (Both Jotun / Giants) are husband and wife, and it is told the Gods are regular guests in their halls for feasts, and it is noted the fair is good.
Náströnd (Old Icelandic for "Shore of Corpses") is a Hall described in both the Poetic and the Prose Edda. Its walls are said to be made of woven snakes, with tails outward. It is on the shores of Helheim, with Niflheim. It is overseen by Hel herself. And if there is ever a realm similar to that of the Christian hell, then this would be it.
Náströnd is a place of torment, and those who enter, may never leave. And on the way in they pass through a river of swords and knives. Arriving all cut and bleeding. These men and women spend eternity with snake venom dripping into their open wounds, forever in pain.
But fear not, unless you should, as Náströnd is reserved for the worst of the worst, oath breakers, rapists, mass murderers etc.
While we don’t know the time and place of our death, we can be rest assured, that if we have lived a life to be proud of, and not become the worst of the worst, there is many a place to find rest in the afterlife.
Sources: The Asatru Community (TAC), Poetic Edda, Prose Edda, Sagas,