Going to the land of the dead

Lēoht Steren, Þyle of Hvergelmir International

A lot of people have made the mistake of thinking that Valhalla (Valhöll – “Hall of the battle-slain” – in Old Norse) is a kind of “Heathen Heaven”, with Odin as a benevolent father-figure to those who come to his door. This is far from what we can discern from the extant lore and, to try and shift perceptions, we offer a short story of one who does not end up in the home of the Einherjar (nor, indeed, should we want them to!):

A young child, not more than seven winters of age, stumbles across Gjallarbrú, the bridge over the river Gjöll. Tears stain her cheeks, and fear marks her eyes. Móðguðr steps before her and, for a moment, the child recoils in terror from the dís. The battle-hardened one’s face softens and she crouches down to speak: “Hello, sweet child. Don’t be afraid, this is the entrance to Hel and you’ll not be harmed inside. Your family await you with love. Let me take you to them.” Móðguðr holds out a hand and the girl cautiously takes it.

The pair walk through the realm of the peaceful dead and, though it is warm as a summer’s morning, Móðguðr feels a chill as the child tells the story of a craven man. He drank too deeply, was miserly with gifts, and beat his wife and children. The marks of the last beating still showed raw on the young girl walking hand in hand with Móðguðr through Hel.

After a short time, the pair came to a meadhall, with many homes around it. The people who dwelled in this place saw the pair coming and paused in their chores to greet the girl with all the warmth of their hearts. Móðguðr left the girl with her family and returned to her vigil on the bridge.

An elderly woman led the girl into a home near to the hall and spoke: “Dearest one, I am your great-grandmother and, happy as I am to see you again, it saddens me that we meet so soon.” As she spoke, the woman gently took the girls soiled clothes off, wiped away her tears and her wounds and gave her freshly made garments to put on. The girl’s eyes lost their fear and shone with happiness. She now dwelled with loved ones in a land with no pain.

Some time later, Móðguðr returned to that village in Hel, leading a man. The man could barely stand from his injuries, but Móðguðr slowed her pace not a bit. When those that dwelled there saw the two approaching, they paused in their chores. The girl recognised her father and clang to her great-grandmother. This time, the people did not greet the man warmly. Rather, the men of the village took him with rough hands that he could not escape from.

They led him away from the village to the place where the land met the water at Nástrǫnd. Sharp bones cut the man’s bare feet and he cried out in pain. All at once, the ground writhed and the great dragon, Níðhǫggr, burst from the corpse-hoard. The men of the village cast the girl’s father onto the floor before the malicious one and returned to their homes and their chores, the sounds of chewing and sucking fading in their ears.

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