A rather dreary title, eh? This post won’t be as depressing as the title sounds, I promise!
Today we are looking at what comes after. Where did the Norse people believe they’d go after departing this world?
In Norse Mythology, the Gods aren’t exempt from death either and we’ll journey forward to Ragnarok – the final battle, where many of the Gods are fated to die. I almost put up a spoiler warning since I’m kinda telling you how it ends, but technically it hasn’t actually happened yet! This is just one of the fascinating aspects of Norse Mythology; the Gods aren’t invincible and their end has been foreseen ahead of time!
Valhalla (‘Hall of the Fallen’)
Valhalla was the place every Viking warrior hoped to go. Odin the All Father would send his Valkyries to bring the greatest fallen warriors from the Midgard battlefields to feast and fight in Valhalla; and fight by his side at the battle of Ragnarok. The warriors experience the endless cycle of battle and feasting until the day they will be called upon to do battle at the end of times.
Fólkvangr (‘field of the people’, ‘field of the warriors’, or ‘field of the hosts’)
Nowhere near as widespread or talked about in popular consciousness as Valhalla, Fólkvangr is actually where 50% of the fallen Viking warriors ascend to upon death. It is the domain of Freya, with some sources even stating that she picks her half of the fallen warriors before Odin’s valkyries take the other half to Valhalla. Other sources suggest that the leaders and most prominent warriors were taken to Valhalla while your average Viking warrior would likely end up in Fólkvangr. Either way, if you are a Viking warrior slain in battle, you’d expect to arrive at either of these destinations after death.
Helheim (Home of the Goddess Hel)
And if you didn’t die the honourable way, with a weapon in hand on the field of battle? Those who died of illness and old age went to Helheim, realm of Loki’s daughter, Hel. The word may sound the same but it’s not quite as ominous as going to hell the way we imagine it; this is simply the resting place of the dead, who didn’t achieve such elevated status as those deemed worthy of Valhalla or Fólkvangr. All three of these domains are not the final resting place, and are almost like holding pens until the events of Ragnarok.
Ragnarok, which roughly translates to “death of the Gods” and “Twilight of the Gods” is the fated end times battle between the Gods and the giants, led by Loki. It is prophesied Loki will be joined by two of his sons, Fenriswolf and the Midgard Serpent – two colossal creatures who only care for death and destruction – especially of the Gods.
Ragnarok is actually set in motion following the events surrounding Baldur’s death (which you can read about in the previous post courtesy of Dan from the Northern Myths Podcast) – and Loki’s role & subsequent imprisonment.
There is a common theme that in many ways the Gods orchestrated their own demise years before; betraying Fenris, releasing the Midgard Serpent into the oceans, Fryja bargaining away his magic sword and many other factors (though they are stories for another day, if you aren’t familiar). The lowdown though is that Fenris, as he promises, defeats Odin once and for all, whilst Thor and the Midgard Serpent kill one another. It doesn’t appear there is anything possible to prevent such a fate, the knowledge of which being the cause for Odin’s pursuit of wisdom in an attempt to reverse the doom of the Gods.
This is something that makes the Norse Gods feel real, and unique. They make mistakes and they are completely and utterly flawed in so many respects.
I don’t want to ruin Ragnarok completely, it really is a battle that lives up to its epic proportions and you’ll enjoy hearing properly about it for the first time in a book such as Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology – his retelling is just magical! I can’t quite do it justice in a brief retelling here, but I believe I’ve captured the bare bones for a bit of background info!