“Where do you go when you die?” is probably one of the most common questions within the Heathen community, and from people asking questions about it. The popular media and recent cultural shifts have effectively made Valhalla the definitive end goal, but things are much, much more complex than simply getting nabbed by Valkyries and then spending your days fighting and nights feasting with Odin. So lets take a look at a few of the possible end locations for the Heathen who has passed on.
Valhalla is the obvious first choice to talk about. Odin’s hall in Asgard, this is where half of the worthy dead get to go when they die. In the past, this was an honour restricted to those who died in battle, and in the bravest manner. Valkyries prowl the battlefield, selecting the slain for Odin, and transporting them to his hall. Once there, they spend their nights feasting and drinking, and days fighting. In modern practice, especially under the influence of the “everyday” hero and various “warrior” cultures in the USA, Valhalla has been “opened” to non-warriors who die heroically. This is a serious bone of contention in some circles in the North American Heathen scene, usually dividing those who have expanded the openings and those aiming for a more historically accurate faith.
With half of the worthy dead going to Odin, where do the other half go? To Freya’s field, Fólkvangr. Translated by some as “army field” or “field of warriors”, this is where Freya’s hand picked half of the worthy slain go. In modern practice, Freya’s attributes as a goddess of sex and sexuality, and magic, are sometimes concentrated most heavily on by practitioners and writers alike. However, Freya is also a war goddess, and when she rides into battle she gathers half the slain. There are a number of reasons that this gets overlooked, and I suspect some of them are sexist, while others are simply the result of wilfully ignoring her full scope as a goddess. Unfortunately, details are scant as to what happens in Fólkvangr, but as I research more, I hope to build a better idea.
So, where does everyone else go when they die? Well, the afterlife in the past wasn’t a picnic. For those who died under most circumstances, they went either to Hel or Helgafjell. There are various interpretations, but the one I prefer depends on how you lived your life. Oath breakers, cowards, and the like went onto to less than comfortable afterlife digs in Hel’s realm, Hel. For those who lead honourable lives and conducted themselves well, they went onto Helgafjell, a warm, pleasant mountain where they spend their time more or less as they did in life, engaged in drinking and discussion, and other similar relaxing pursuits.
Now, there is a fifth option, and there is only way way to get there. For those snared in Rán’s net, and dragged down into the depths to a drowning death, there is no Valhalla, Hel, Fólkvangr, or Helgafjell. The drowned dead go to Aegir’s Hall, and remain there in the company of Rán and her nine daughters. The truth here is that there is very little information on Aegir’s Hall or what happens there beyond regular feasts with the Aesir, beer brewing, and the arrival of of the drowned.
So, as far as I have been able to ascertain, these are the possible afterlives for the followers of the Norse and Germanic gods. It’s important to note here that there appear to be no divisions for sexes in determining who goes where, only how a person lives their life and how they die. If nothing else, take away from this that there are more places than Valhalla to go, and frankly, some of them are preferable to others.