So, I read this post from Katie on Facebook, and a blinding light went off in my head and I sighed, then growled, and then punched myself in the head a few dozen times! This is a question that has bugged me for a really long time in my search for my own personal faith: What happens when you die and are NOT a warrior? Is Valhalla really denied you? I like to think I am a warrior at heart. I want to die in battle and go before Odin. I want to feast and carouse and prepare myself anew each day to get ready for the final battle. I want to meet Ragnarok on my feet, swinging a blade and screaming. I know this is not to be. I am not a warrior. I struggle against the kinds of things we all do, stress, frustrations, our lives, but that is not “battle” in the meaning of Odin and the Halls of Valhalla. Frankly, I worry about that a great deal. How do you earn your way into the afterlife? How do you avoid the “cold lands” and make a difference in Ragnarok? I admit to some ignorance of the other Halls. I never suspected that there were Halls for those who weren’t warriors and I despaired of earning a way into the afterlife unless I somehow was killed in a mugging, or fighting a bank robber or something. Thank you Katie! You have both educated me and opened my eyes to some other ways I might make it into the gloried afterlife of the Norse Gods!
So, without further ado, is Katie’s revelation:
The thing with Valhalla, she says, is that it is specifically designed for warriors. ‘Fight all day and feast all night’ isn’t a euphemism, it is literally war and food, in training for Ragnarok. The sentiment of children and abuse victims and the sick being welcome there as fighters, while noble and well-meaning, is erasive both of the culture and the suffering that these people have gone though. Historical sources attest to many gods having halls, some of them having more than one. It makes sense that each of the gods have their own hall of residence, maybe more, and can welcome whoever would fit there. I write these in the spirit of the original post- that perhaps, if people don’t have their own clear path to an afterlife, a path finds them, and that path is the one that they need. —-
Many speak of Valhalla, of course, that blessed hall, where Odhinn takes his half of the slain. What they don’t speak of, however, is it’s counterpart, Folkvangr, where Freyja takes her half. If Valhalla will be the sword of Ragnarok, Folkvangr will be the shield, and it is here that the defenders of war train and make ready. Those that stood in the way of those seeking to harm the innocent, who took up arms to hold back aggressors and protect their homes, and died so that their people would be safe. If the soldiers of Valhalla are those that will do whatever it takes to win, whatever logically makes sense, no matter what their feelings say, their counterparts in Folkvangr listen to their instincts, and do what they feel will work within them, in spite of their logic. But then again, not everyone is made for warrior halls. There are as many gods as there are halls, and of both, there may be as many as stars in the sky, and it would be fair to say that each of those halls is for different deaths and needs of the soul.
For instance, Freyja also rules over the hall of Vingolf, the ‘Friendly house’. Here are the warriors who are tired of fighting, not ready to go back to training, and just want to rest. A child coming there, with dark circles under his eyes and bones visible against the surface of his skin. Freyja shows him a room that is all for him, and then crouches down and tells him that unless he willingly consents to someone entering his room, they may not do so, not even her, and that the same can be said of anyone trying to make him enter their room. He doesn’t believe her, so she shows him, and for the first time in a long time, he feels safe. The hall is full of fierce but gentle men and women, who usually have a moment for him, and always have a smile or a nod. They remind him of the uncles and aunts that knew that something was wrong, but didn’t know how to do anything. Later, a newcomer speaks a little too sharply to him, and in a moment, they are surrounded by the aunts and uncles, speaking urgently, but in low voices. Freyja bustles him away, and they spend time making honey candy. He tells her about how he wants to defend people when he’s bigger, like he tried to defend his brothers and sister, and look after those that need him. Freyja smiles, and lets him lick the spoon. The next day, the newcomer apologises wholeheartedly, and promises to leave the boy alone until he is ready to speak to them, and the aunts and uncles promise to make sure that stays true. Thor also receives children. One day, a little girl comes to him, and without a moment’s hesitation he bundles her up and sets her down by the fire, bringing her a cup of goat’s milk and honey. He reminds her of the brother who couldn’t take her with him when he left, except this time he’s here, and everything is safe now, and no one can ever hurt them again. Thor’s men adore her, and regale her with stories about their chief’s shenanigans, each retelling becoming more and more wild. She laughs herself almost sick, and when she awakens in the morning, Thor’s goats are snuggling up beside her. One night, she calls Thor ‘dad’, and he smiles.
Njordr keeps his hall Nóatún, ‘ship cove’, where those of any burden are welcome. When they speak, Njordr listens, and the ocean and the sea-birds listen, and when they are ready, they walk into the sea, which washes away their burdens. Once they feel lighter, they float upwards and swim back to shore. Some must walk into the seas many times, but Njordr is as patient as the ocean that is his to rule. and bears no malice to those that come to his halls for help. At night, those that reside there sleep in the boat houses, inside the ships, or cover themselves in sand near the beacon fires for warmth, listening to the waves carry their life’s burdens further away, to eventually be devoured by Jormungandr.
There are many places for the sick. Sif’s halls are particularly welcome to those who had cancer and eating disorders. She places no expectations on them, but teaches them to grow things in the earth, and tells them stories of the lonely, frightening time when Loki stole her hair. She gives them all they need to be comfortable- clothes, headscarves, pillows and chairs as they should need- and tells them to be patient with themselves and others. Eventually, they are happy to eat the food they have grown with their own hands, and they grown and construct their own hair again, in all the colours of the rainbow. Only when they ask, and have shown that they are ready, does Sif return the mirrors that she has kept from them for their own sakes. More than beautiful, they have finally found their comfort.
Eir takes the sick ones who want to give back to those who are also ill. Her halls of healing are light and welcoming, and do not smell of sickness and death. She teaches those that come to heal birds and animals, and the folk of Valhalla who get too enthusiastic with each other. In time, her chosen learn how to tend their own sickness and close their own wounds- that which she cannot teach them, and they must learn it for themselves. From their own experiences, they are able to help others, and so the circle of healing widens. Tyr, however, takes those who do not need healing, those who are ready to work with their minds and their bodies that are not quite the way that others are. He helps them adjust as he can, showing his own wounds, and telling stories of Odhinn’s troubles on the road with one eye. He recites the old rune poems as they work, teaching them the ways that the disabled were honoured of old, and the guests of his halls are renewed, their worth reaffirmed, and ready to face whatever comes next.
Loki no longer resides in his hall, but as Sigyn attends him as he writhes below, Angrboda looks after those that seek him. His spirit, however, still comes there to care for those who would change the shapes of the bodies they were trapped in. He teaches them to slough off the scarred, bruised flesh that they remember, that was given cruelly, and was never really theirs at all, and shows them to take whatever form they feel is home. “None will judge you for how you look here,” he says, “So why not reflect what is inside?” He gives them time and space to become comfortable, and says that their shining faces are the only light where his body resides. If they decide to move on to other halls, his monstrous children escort them. If they decide to stay, they are welcome, and may pick whatever den they see fit. But sometimes, even in these halls, there are occasionally mistakes. Odhinn spies a warrior in his halls who shies from the fighting, and tries to seek a quiet corner every night as the others eat and drink. Odhinn seeks him out, and looks him in the eye. The warrior does not speak, but his eyes scream with pain and distance and memories of his life. Odhinn nods, and says “You do not belong here, soldier.” He takes the man to the Bifrost, where they find dozens of men, looking out over the worlds, and sharing mead in easy silence. Heimdall is among them, and takes the soldier to join the others. There, the god shows him the world through his sight, his wife and children laughing and healing together, his squadmates remembering him, and the world getting better for the work he had done. Heimdall says, “I have need of defenders and watchers, who will see for me when I must turn my eyes away, or visit my mothers, and who will help me lift the Gjallarhorn on the Last Day. There will be no war here until Ragnarok. Do you think you will be ready to fight by then?” The soldier’s eyes clear, and he nods. “Yes,” he says, the first words he has spoken since he died. “Yes, I will.” One day, Hela is surprised to receive Frigga as a visitor, who brings a quiet and strange girl with her. She says that even the soft hum of weaving and singing in her halls is too much for the child, and perhaps Helheim would be more suited to her. Hela carefully takes the girl’s hand, and asks what has happened to her. Haltingly, the girl tells her of her life, full of loud, loud sounds, and bright, bright colours, and people touching and pushing and never going away. One day, she started screaming and couldn’t stop, and they put her in a place where she never saw her parents, and the doctors that were supposed to help hurt her instead. And then one day she was here. Hela frowns, and says, “Girl-child, will you be happy here?” The girl smiles, looking at the grey sky and grey buildings, and the people living the echoes of their lives in all but silence, and nods. “You smell nice, like linen and clean bones. I like it here. It is quiet.” And then, there are those few who will not fit in a hall…
Skadhi receives a girl- no, a young woman, who trembles and will not meet her eyes. The goddess checks her over, eyes and hands (gentle, for once) noting the black eyes, the bruised fingerprints at her shoulders and wrists, the thickened bones where they have been broken more than once. After a while, she lifts the woman’s head to meet her eyes, firmly, but without violence, and they regard each other in silence for a long time. It is the woman who finally breaks it. “Am I going to be afraid forever?” she asks, her voice cracking. Skadhi laughs. It is not a pleasant laugh. “Not once we’re done with them, my student. Come. There is much to do.” For all who come to the halls of my Gods, there is a place, one that they will be safe, and given the tools they need to make themselves anew. Valhalla does not need to reshaped to fit them, or they reshaped to fit Valhalla, when there are Gods who will welcome them as they are, should they come to their doors.
KATIE HARWOOD·MONDAY, NOVEMBER 7, 2016
Thank you so much Katie!
Valhalla awaits, and so do so many other Halls!