Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Heaven And Hell In Nordic Mythology

This will be one of the several posts discussing whether the current demise of the West is due to Christianity. Apparently, according to some people, it was the Christian religion with its concepts of reward or punishment in the afterlife which guilt-tripped Europeans into pathological altruism we are all witnessing today. Those macho Vikings, on the other hand, didn't believe in Heaven or Hell and hence, wouldn't allow themselves to be manipulated in this manner.

Of course, a more or less educated person must have at least heard the word "Valhalla", the warrior paradise, where the best and the bravest half of the slain on the battlefield were welcomed by Odin himself and spent their time in feasting and military exercise, with Valkyries serving them the food and mead.

The other half of fallen heroes went to Folkvangr, the home of goddess Freya. According to Noorsche Mythen  (by H.A. Guerber) Freya also gathered there all the undefiled virgins and chaste wives so that they would be united in death with their husbands and sweethearts. Thus, our North European ancestors had very clear ideas of virtue (courage for men, chastity for women) and believed it was rewarded in the afterlife. But did they believe in Hell?

The word "Hell" is, in fact, of the Germanic origin, since the Bible speaks about Gehenna, Tartarus, Hades or Sheol. Hell was the Kingdom of Hel, goddess of death, Loki's daughter, and it was situated in Niflheim, the underground world, the land of mists.

Who went to Hell? First, all those who died a peaceful death, from sickness or old age. They  were treated rather friendly by the goddess, though her palace was still considered a joyless place and to avoid it, both men and women sometimes would fall upon their swords or jump from the cliff (women were given swords upon their marriage), to avoid going there.

However, those who had committed various crimes  during their life, such as murder, adultery and oath-breaking, were banned to Nastroend, where they underwent various tortures.

As we see, though there certainly is the difference between Christian ideas about life and death (suicide being a major sin) and the Nordic ones, Northern Europeans generally had such concepts as afterlife, sin, virtue and consequently reward and punishment.


  1. Housewife from FinlandSeptember 2, 2015 at 5:04 AM

    I just reas on interesting book about nordic mythology. It fascinates me how men were supposed to be warriors. I personally find that that is the weakest point of christianity; men are really not supposed to be warriors, soldiers, hunters etc. Of course there were Templars and other christian knights, but modern christianity makes men weak. ( I know, my idea of an ideal man is VERY traditional indeed.)

    For curiosity, we finns didn't believe in Norse gods. We had our own belief system with several gods and spirits, and after death everbody went to the same place, Tuonela. (tuoni is an old word for death.) Tuonela was cold and silent and boring place but it didn't really matter since everbody was in eternal sleep. Though people also managed to believe that their dead, eternally sleeping ancestors could help them or shaman could communicate with them.

    Anyway I think all cultures have had some idea of afterlife. People just cannot believe that when they die, they just vanish.

  2. Is Christianity really pacifist? I'm going to write about it in more detail.

    I think Western civilisation has been influenced by Germanic beliefs more that some people think, though. Catholic Church, for instance, definitely borrowed some stuff from them.

  3. Housewife from FinlandSeptember 2, 2015 at 9:57 AM

    I think Jesus wasn't that pacifist. Remember the cleansing of the temple with a whip... But here in Finland it is all about turning the other cheek and forgiving everything forever and allowing everything because hey, Jesus loves us! He will forgive us everything!

    I really look forward on your views about this matter. :)

  4. I'm planning to write a post about turning the other cheek soon.

  5. There are some questions whether Náströnd is actually a Christian import, Also re: Hel, from what we can tell there seemed to be a lot of regional variations . The version we are most familiar with resembles Sheol but other versions might be different.

    All that aside, older warrior Christianity is not at all like the modern version . That Old Time Religion as some here in the States call it is vigorous and healthy for society. The modern Protestant derived forms mixed with the Enlightenment mumbo-jumbo that makes much of the current social order is quite toxic and European rejection of it is fully understandable.

  6. Nordic myths have a lot of regional variations, I chiefly based my post on a book I have which describes them but since it's an old (1930s) book in Dutch, I find it easier to quote Wiki. I actually tend to think that early Christianity borrowed some Nordic concepts, not vice versa. (For instance, it appears that Northern Europeans used the sign of Thor's hammer to protect themselves from evil, which was later changed in the sign of the cross, which is, think of it, nearly the same. No wonder, Protestants rejected it as heathenish). It's evident that Nordic people had very clear concepts of right and wrong and believed in the punishment of evildoers.