Saturday, 30 January 2010
Death and Afterlife in Germanic Mythology
The Eddas tell us that the body of man is divided into the following constituent parts:-
Lik-the physical body consisting of natural elements.
The Elder or Poetic Edda[Voluspa 17 and 18] contains one of the two myths concerning the creation of man or the first Teutons. Odin along with Hoenir and Lodurr acted as a trinity of Gods in the creation of Teutonic humanity from the form of two trees known as Ask[the male and cognate with the ash tree] and Embla[the female and probably cognate with the Elm tree but there is much scholarly debate over this].
The second creation myth is to be found in Gylfaginning 8 in the Younger or Prose Edda and the ceating Gods in that myth are Odin and Vili and Ve, His brothers.
The body[Lik] has already been formed by the dwarves Mimir and Durinn which is an indication that the dwarves at one time were an early race of Gods as were the giants. Indo-European mythologies have many similar exampes of where early races of Gods are supplanted by more recent ones. One thinks in particular of the struggles between the Titans and the Olympian deities and the wars between the Aesir and Vanir and the Asa/Vana Gods against the giants. Irish or Celtic mythology also has examples of struggles between competing pantheons of Gods which point to a mythologising of actual historical struggles between different ethnic groups for possession of land.
The God Lodurr who is only mentioned once in the Eddas grants la, litr goda and laeti to the lik.
Hoenir according to Voluspa 63 is one of the 7 named Gods who survive Ragnarok and his role in Germanic mythology is uncertain but nevertheless he is one of the three creating Gods and grants odr to the lik.
Odin grants ond which is fitting when one considers that He is the most important deity and the granting of breath or spirit is associated with the highest of Gods or the supreme God of monotheistic religions.
In Gylfaginning Odin grants the breath of life, Vili intelligence and movement and Ve outward appearance, speech, hearing and sight. The etymology of Ve suggests that he is associated with the word ve meaning `holy` whilst Vili is associated with the `will`. Both are brothers of Odin.
At the point of death the various elements, physical and spiritual/psychic seperate.
The earthly matter, la and lik seperate from a person`s higher elements and remain on Midgardr. What remains, the ond, odr and litr goda travel to the underworld, Jormungrund for judgement. The ond and litr goda are seperated from the odr at Nagrindar, the gates of Niflhel and the remaining odr receives a new litr goda corresponding to the spiritual condition of the odr. So in effect we create our own judgement and our own ultimate destiny whilst here on Midgardr.
Those who die in battle or have led the life of a warrior[spiritual `warriors` included] are selected to reside in either Valhalla with Odin or in Folkfangr with Freyja.
"The earthly death consists of the earthly matter, the la and the lik, being seperated from the person`s higher elements and staying behind on Midgardr. The dead who have fared to Jormungrund are made up of ond, odr, and litr. If one is sentenced to a second death at Gimle, the ond and the litr goda will be seperated from him at the Nagrindar. Then there remains only the odr; and this receives a litr that corresponds with the condition of the odr. The higher elements return to the Godin, traveling to the afterworld; whereas the lower elements are spread across the earth, returning to the waters, to the plants, and to all that lives."[XXIV.9. Asatru Edda].
Those who are judged by the Gods at the Helthing as being guilty of crimes against the Folk or the Gods such as perjury, murder, adultery, defaming of temples, opening of gravemounds, treason and villainy will be sentenced to the second death and punishment in the halls of Niflhel.
"Once a person has died, their higher elements remain around the corpse for three days, and attend their own Helfor. All will have a guide that will lead them to Hel, which appears before them right before their death, carrying their summons to the Helthing. Foremost among them are the Valkyrjur, beautiful maidens with contemplative faces. Whenever a battle takes place, they appear fully armed there on their horses, although some wear feather guises, and with their spear shafts point out the champions whom Odinn and Freyja have selected for their halls, and they carry the fallen to Jormungrund, and from there on Bifrost to Asgardr.
Urdr sends maidservants of a very different sort to the inhabitants of Midgardr who are not among the heroic dead, each by the nature of their death. To those who surrender to the burden of years comes the Dis who is the handmaiden of the bent and stooping. This kind-hearted Dis removes the burden which Elli puts on men, and which gradually gets too heavy for them to bear. Children have their guides, who are motherly, tender, and kind. To those who were snatched away by plague or other epidemics come Leikn and the beings of Niflhel who resemble her, and those who die of disease are carried away by the corresponding vaettir of disease to the Helthing to be judged by the Godin."[XXIV 15, 16 Asatru Edda].
The brave dead who reside in Asgardr with the Gods and Goddesses spend their `time` feasting and fighting, preparing for the day of Ragnarok when they must go forth with the Gods to fight their last battle to prevent the triumph of the forces of chaos, the sons of Muspel.
"All those who die in battle heroically are his adopted children. He assigns them places in Valhol land they are known as Einherjar."
[XXV 6, Asatru Edda].
The etymology of Einherjar is Old Norse and means` those who fight alone`. Thor is designated as Einheri in Lokasenna 62 and means `the one who fights alone`.
Sometimes the dead choose to remain in their burial mounds close to their kin and clan in order to protect them by their presence. There are examples of this to be found in the Icelandic sagas. The concept is also linked to the idea of the dead residing in mountains, particularly dead kings that await their return to their people in times of great national distress. I think in particular of the legends that relate to Friedrich Barbarossa, Friedrich II, Widukind, King Arthur, Bran the Blessed, Charlemagne, Fionn mac Cumhaill, Ogier the Dane, Heinrich the Fowler, etc, etc.
One thing is for sure and that is our ancestors do act as guardians, watching over their descendants down the generations.
"Those who have become immortal look down on the mortals and protect their children on earth. In Midgardr`s atmosphere, through the entire airspace they travel, and where one prepares sacrifice and invokes them, there come holy, faithful, wise fathers with help and blessings for their children. They bring power, wealth, and descendants; they hear, help, and console; and they fight bravely and heroically in battle."[XXIV 29, Asatru Edda].
There is also evidence to support the case for reincarnation in both Germanic and Celtic mythology and such reincarnation appears to manifest within the same family and genetic lines with forefathers reincarnating as their own descendants.
One of the most interesting examples of reincarnation is to be found in the story of Helgi Hjorvardsson who reincarnates as Helgi Hundingsbane and Helgi Haddingjaskati in the Poetic Edda.