Where do we go after we die?
Every religion has a definite answer – Christian’s say good people who accept Christ will go to Heaven, bad people or sinners will go to Hell, or maybe stick around after the Rapture for Hell-on-Earth. Islams say if you die against your enemy you go to Heaven with 42 virgins. Buddhists say you’re reborn in different reincarnations to remove “bad” karma until you reach Nirvana. Scientologists believe your Thetan is reborn into a new body for eternity. Then there are people who have near death experiences who claim they see a bright white light and leave their body. What do Heathens, and Asatruars believe?
I’m an Asatruar, and a modern one, so I’ll tell you what I think…. UPG ahead BTW. But I promise, it has nothing to do with aliens, reincarnation or 42 virgins. It actually makes more sense.
First, I need to mention a couple of things that build a foundation. While not all believe in this part, many do and in my critical analysis, it’s require. The godh are our ancestors. YUP! I said it. They are the root of the entire family tree of mankind. Do I think Odin, Vili and Ve used some divine power to turn two sticks into modern humans? No. I believe they used a scientific technique unknown to us in the 21st century and unable to be explained in any form except as a type of “magic” by beings other than the godh who witnessed or were told of it. Try explaining nuclear fission to a Cro-magnon man. Show a Neanderthal an automobile assembly line and I guarantee it’ll become “magic”. But Odin, Vili and Ve CREATED the creatures that would become mankind. Hence the title Allfather as applied to Odin. But we were not Homo sapiens. That came about after countless generations over millions of years by many trial-and-error species evolving into a more recognizable hominid. Then we come to Heimdall and Rígsþula. How Heimdall traveled down the river bank and slept with three couples of humans to create the races or castes of man. Except I believe the river bank was actually time and each of the couples were different steps of human evolution. Maybe Great-Grandmother and Great-Grandfather were like “Lucy”, then Grandmother and Grandfather were Cro-magnon and finally Mother and Father were modern man who was again touched by Heimdall, and the Aesir seed into what we are now.
Second, Asatru like all Heathen denominations, focuses on ancestor veneration. Honor those who came before us, for inside us is a piece of them passed on. And those after us will carry a piece of us with them. Our ancestors might be “dead” in Midgard, but their souls and lives continue on. Sorry, some UPG here… I believe in the three-part soul. One piece travels to Alfheim to become a being there, one piece travels to the afterlife to which hall you attend and one piece is passed down to your line. And since the godh are our oldest ancestors, they are to be honored with action – blots, sumbels, our own personal altars and actions upon them. But Heathens don’t only honor the godh on our sacred areas – we also remember our closer relatives who have passed on.
This is how I believe we came to be and it is the basis on human evolution. It’s a more critical analysis with a modern twist on lore. Others have other hypothesis or beliefs, which is fine. We have NOTHING tell us what is right or wrong, so we practice as best we can and live with determination.
Also, the Lore tells us when we die we go to certain places. The most clean-cut division is also the most romanticized. Warriors slain in battle go to Valhalla with Odin to wake, eat, fight, die, regenerate, drink, sleep and repeat until Ragnarok to battle the Sons of Muspell and Surtr. And those who die of sickness or old age goto Hel. But it’s also mentioned in the lore and overlooked by so many, that Freyja gets the first chosen of the dead in fall in battle to come to her hall in Folkvang. We know drowned sailors goto Ran. Freyja is said to get unwed maidens. Virgins go to Gefjon & babies and children go to Bertha (or Freyja depending on the source).
But is it all so clean-cut? Why does Freyja get first choice? When Baldr was killed, he went to Hel. If Odin is the Allfather, why wouldnt Baldr, said to be the best of the Aesir come to Valhalla, or Folkvang? If a farmer is killed in his sleep by an invader, does he goto Hel, Valhalla or somewhere else? Why do the godh have such HUGE halls and rarely mention of servants or visitors outside themselves? Thor’s hall Bilskirnir has more rooms than Odin’s hall. Looking at the numbers, Hel must be the largest hall EVER. So many people die of old age and sickness, Hel would probably be the size of Asgard itself! If you’re a devoted Freyrsman, and live a long life raising 12 children and die in an avalanche, or a flash flood, why would you go to Hel and not Freyr’s hall in Alfheim?
Let’s examine this… why would Frejya get first choice? As I’ve stated before, many of the people who fought in wars, in raiding parties, defenders of their homes or explorers WERE NOT warriors. They were farmers, peasants, travelers, explorers. Young, old, male, female… would these people who are traveling for a living want to go to Valhalla if they were killed in battle for other people or tribes or another band of Vikings? If a man is traveling for his wife and 4 kids, but he’s a turnip farmer looking to obtain new land yet killed by an aboriginal warrior, would Valhalla be him? It’s mentioned in lore that Valhalla is for lords, earls, kings, warriors… would a turnip farmer? Doubtful. But maybe he would in Folkvang? Maybe he would die and reside in Hel, but be called to the hall of Thor, Tyr, Freyr or Freyja?
In the lay of Harbard, Odin (in disguise) tells Thor that kings and warriors come to him (Odin) but slaves and peasants come to Thor. Thor’s hall is the largest and a slave or peasant most likely would’ve died from invader attack, old age, sickness or exposure and famine over a heroic death. Would they go to Hel? Or would they go to Hel and be called to Bilskirnir?
We also have no idea of Vanatru people, or those who worshiped the Vanir, where they go? Would someone who worships Jord and fought in battle and died at the end of an enemy’s spear goto Folkvang, Valhalla or to reside with Jord in the Earth (Midgard)?
There’s a lot we don’t know, and much of it is UPG. But if we examine the lore, and how things were described, we see that it is not cut and dry. Religions across the word, and people of high civilization and low island tribes, have complex death rituals and beliefs. How can it be one or the other in Heathenry/Asatru?
Also, let’s discuss a little of Hel. Other than the names being similar – Hel and Hell – and the lower levels being to torture murderers and oathbreakers, it is not the same as the Christian Hell. Sin in Christianity does not exist in Heathenry. Family is first and foremost. Why would a sin that could damn you to the lower levels of Hel be the only thing holding you back from eternity with your loved ones in Hel? It doesn’t. Hela, the goddess of Hel and daughter of Loki, is not Satan. Other then her appearance, she is charged with taking care of those who come to her hall. Would Odin allow such a godh look over the must abundant of people? If Ragnarok is true, why give numbers to bolster when Loki leads those in Hel against Asgard? The Ragnarok myth is always questioned, but assume there’s some truth in it. Odin, the All Knowing, would seem foolish doing this. More than likely, Hel was stolen by Christians, or “adapted” to their beliefs and made to vilify the concept of Hel as a popular destination for people to believe in.
So where do we go? Can we answer this? Of course not (with any certainty), the lore is fractured. WAIT! The title of this article is supposed to tell us! Sorry, I might have tricked you. The point of this article is to MAKE YOU THINK. There’s huge gaps and there’s no definite answers. All the myths were written many years later after decades if not centuries of verbal retelling. And written by Christians, Romans, Scholars and Pagans. Heathenry is not a faith where people depend on the written word to decide their fate or dictate how to act. It’s a faith of action, veneration, honor and wisdom. Think of the psyche of people:
Victory of Valhalla!
I want to spend my afterlife with my family.
Thor is with me.
Why would the godh not take notice if you live well and are worthy? Why would they not call you to them? Would a warrior who has seen many battles and been victorious who finally dies of old age NOT be welcomed to Valhalla? A case could be argued against it because of Baldr. But it’s theorized that Baldr and Odin had a plan due to the Ragnarok prophecy.
A stupid man stays awake all night
pondering his problems;
he’s worn out when morning comes
and whatever was, still is.
Live your life, it has already been decided and weaved by the Norns. Where you go at the end is just another path on the long path of death and rebirth. Be it Hel, Valhalla, Bilskirnir or Folkvang, if you live your life well, you will be in the good graces of the godh.