The Death and The Afterlife in Norse Mythology

Did you know that even death in Norse mythology was quite interesting? Dying is not the end, according to Vikings’ beliefs. They believed that after they die, the afterlife begins. Like a lot of people in many other cultures thought, dying is not the end of the path, but the beginning of a new one.

Afterlife in Norse mythology is a fascinating topic that extends above and beyond explaining various beliefs, customs, and traditional ways of honoring the dead. Every part of Norse mythology is thoroughly explained, and the afterlife segment may be the most interesting one of them all since that’s when humans will finally meet with the Gods.

We’ll explain the afterlife and Vikings death in Norse paganism into details. As strange as it may sound, the beginning of this journey starts with death. What comes after death is what Vikings were eager to achieve – meeting the Gods, and enjoying the never-ending celebration in Valhalla. However, it’s a long journey, and not every Viking will enter the halls of Valhalla.

Let’s start with the end of life.

The Viking Funeral

Death in Norse mythology and Viking funerals were specific events that included a lot of customs. Since Vikings believed that every one of them will leap into the afterlife, there were plenty of traditions that they used to adhere to the funeral.

When a person dies, they were showered with their personal belongings, but not with random items. People were buried with the things that represent who they were and what their profession was during the time they were among the living.

For example, if a Viking that died was a ship-builder, he was buried with the tools of his craft. If a noblewoman dies, she was buried with jewels and gold, while warriors were buried with their weapons. The items placed next to the person that died were memorabilia items representing their lives on this plain. They believed that the person who died will need these things in the afterlife.

What differentiates Viking funerals from other civilizations is the way of how they were burying their dead. The bodies were usually cremated, but here’s one detail that depicts the significant burial tradition differences. Incredibly wealthy Vikings were buried in ships.

Viking FuneralThe Viking Funeral

According to various beliefs the Vikings had, sailing the dead away on a burning ship will provide the dead with a safe passage to the afterlife. Additionally, if the deceased were to be buried underground, another tradition they had was to build mounds of stone that resemble the ship by placing them in such a manner that creates the ship’s outline.

However, there were some mandatory burying rituals regardless of the type of burial. The custom was to put the body in new clothes that were specially made for the funeral. That way, the deceased will enter the afterlife with beautiful new clothing. Additionally, the burial ceremony included lots of food and alcohol, along with chanting and singing.

The “grave goods” were gifts for paying the last tribute and respect to a dead person. The value of these gifts was equal to the social status of the deceased. All of the gifts, along with the body, were either burned or buried.

The death in Norse mythology was perceived as a significant journey for the person that died. Therefore, some other cases show that very wealthy individuals were even buried with slaves, so they would have servants when they enter the plain of the dead.

The Beliefs About the Afterlife in Norse Mythology

Death in Norse mythology means that when Vikings die, they go straight to Valhalla, right? Not quite.

There are many levels of the afterlife. Valhalla is reserved for the warriors slain on the battlefield, and not for everybody. Where do all the other Norsemen and Norsewomen go after they die? First of all, let’s explain their beliefs from the beginning, and then we’ll go further into explaining the afterlife in Norse mythology.

Norse mythology teaches us that people were composed of four different parts. The first part is the physical appearance known as Hamr. The second one is Flygja, which is depicted as a totem of a known spirit. The third part is the person’s character or personality, which is known as the Hugr, while the fourth part, Hamingja, is presented as the quality of the person’s life.

It is believed that people who were evil or greedy during their lifetime may not pass on from this world but remain here trapped in a body of Draugr (the undead warrior creature). It was also believed that a person’s Hugr moves to another plane of existence. Meanwhile, their Hamingja remains here and is shared with the rest of the family throughout the years to come.

Reincarnation is another belief surrounding the afterlife in Norse mythology. When people die, they could reincarnate into the family line so it would strengthen their family’s tree. Pagan reincarnation shouldn’t be mistaken for Christian reincarnation beliefs, and here is why.

Considering that the Heathens thought of family as something all-powerful, it makes a lot of sense. Being reborn back into the family line to make it more durable and much more stable was a firm belief. Thus, reincarnation after death in Norse mythology shows us once again that Vikings believed that death is not the end.

The Afterlife Lands in Norse Universe

When it comes to the most famous lands of the afterlife in Norse mythology, Valhalla is the one that people talk about the most. What is Valhalla? Valhalla is known as the halls in Asgard for warriors that fell in the battle. They are invited to dine and drink with Allfather Odin and all the other Gods and other fallen Vikings.

However, not everyone could enter Valhalla. It is believed that Odin, with help from Valkyries, chose which ones of the fallen Vikings will join him in the halls of Valhalla. The reason for this is because everyone who dines and drinks with the Gods is a good enough warrior to stand by their side when the Ragnarök comes.

Fallen Vikings on the Way to ValhallaFallen Vikings on the Way to Valhalla

The death in Norse mythology is described as the new journey. People had one journey while they were alive, but when they die, another adventure begins. There are several other afterlife lands in the Norse mythology, and we’ll go through them all.

Another one is Helheim, which resembles a Hell in Christianity, but it’s not the same. Helheim is not a place for evil and wicked people. It is said that when Vikings that weren’t slain during the battle die, they’ll go to Helheim, and that was their punishment for surviving the battle.

Helheim realm is located beneath Midgard in the Norse Cosmos, and the ruler of this afterlife land is goddess Hel. Midgard and Hel realms are divided by the uncrossable river along with massive gates. When a soul passes to the Helheim realm, it cannot go back.

Not even the Gods, including Allfather Odin, had the power over death. When a death occurs, it’s final, and they were powerless. A trickster God Loki tricked the indestructible God Baldr, the son of Odin, into a game that was fatal for Baldr. When Baldr died, no one could reverse it from happening, except for the ruler of Helheim.

It’s also believed that Viking warriors that didn’t die on the battlefield were trying to trick Goddess Hel by cutting themselves with blades in their death bed. By doing so, they created wounds that resemble the ones obtained in the field of battle.

Death in Norse mythology is perceived in many ways since there are places that Viking warriors were eager to go to like to Valhalla. Still, Helheim, as an alternative, was also an acceptable option.

However, there is a place within Helheim that is reserved for the wicked and evil people called Nastrond. Nastrond is a place that everyone was afraid of, but there were always some evil-doers who eventually ended up there.

Considering that Vikings were famous for sailing to the far reaches of Midgard to raid the known and the unknown territories of the realm, it’s no wonder that the afterlife in Norse mythology had a unique land for sailors as well. Ran is a land where sailor Vikings would go after their death.

Ran was a giantess that dwelled on the ocean’s floor. The ocean floor was the shiniest land of all afterlife lands because of the vast amounts of treasure that sunk along with numerous boats. It is also believed that Ran used to catch sailors with nets and then drown them so they would remain at her side in the underwater afterlife.

Another great land in the afterlife is known as Helgafjell. According to other sources, Helgafjell is another place where the dead could end up in. It is a holy mountain for which is believed to be an exceptional place.

Additionally, it is said that the dead can have very ordinary lives there like they were still among the living. The deceased would be reunited with their loved ones like their families and friends. Some people could see this mountain afterlife, and they described it as a place of happiness, home, and peace.

Viking Beliefs and Customs 

The Vikings believed that several things will help them achieve greatness in the afterlife. One of the beliefs was to respect the Gods by offering them various sacrifices. Another fundamental idea was to always be fearsome in battle. So, even in the case of Vikings death, they would prove themselves both to the Valkyries and to Odin, and that way, they believed they had more significant chances of being chosen to enter the halls of Valhalla.

When it comes to burying their dead, Vikings had various customs they used to practice during the burial ceremony. Since they were a Pagan society, depending on the social status of the deceased, they used to pray to Odin and other Gods. In case a great warrior has passed, they believed that by praying and chanting, they’ll help their fallen friend to quickly find his path to Valhalla.

Additionally, depending on their social status, the dead could get a farewell speech that can last for hours or, in rare cases, just a few simple farewell words. During these speeches, it was customary to drink a special ritualistic ale that was saved for funerals.

Regardless of the way the body is buried, what remains the same is the ritualistic funeral music. Death in Norse mythology means that some rituals are mandatory. Funeral songs and music were an essential element of these rituals. The only thing known about the Norse funeral music today is that it was the worshipful music of their Gods.

Another belief in the Norse culture was that the smoke helps carry the dead into the afterlife. The Viking funeral pyre can get so hot that it would turn the entire body along with the bones to ashes. When the cremation ritual was done, the ashes would then be placed in a carved wooden box or an urn for the final burial of the remains.

All these customs were applied to great Viking warriors, and even if they were buried underground, the customs would be used all the same. On the other hand, the slaves were exempt from these traditions and customs.

In case the slaves weren’t buried with their masters, and they died either from being killed during an external raid or by natural causes, they were buried in shallow graves without any honors or rituals.

Let’s Close This Story Right Here

Vikings death was an important event for them back in the Viking era. It wasn’t just a simple moment of losing a family member or a friend, but it was so much more. When someone dies, a whole new experience is ahead of them, and the people they’ve left behind were the ones preparing the dead for the journey into the afterlife.

How much did you know about the burial customs and the afterlife in Norse mythology? Is there anything else you would like to add that we have missed mentioning? Share your knowledge with the community in the comment box below.

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