The Halls of the Afterlife
The introduction of Christianity to Scandinavia moved Old Norse civilizations from an imminent faith model to a transcendent faith model, which changed the way they viewed the afterlife. This transition brought about a hybrid model of the afterlife, which is elegantly captured in Snorri Sturluson’s Gylfaginning.
This model introduces numerous realms or Halls one could enter after death, many of which are painted as far more desirable than the old, boring underworld. However, a person had to live—or usually die—a specific way in order to achieve these afterlives.
Some of these Halls are listed below:
Fólkvangr is found in the Icelandic Eddas and in Egil’s Saga. It is described as one of the places for people who die in battle. It belongs to the goddess Freyja, who is said to have the first pick of fallen warriors before Odin. The name of Freyja’s hall proper is Sessrumnir.
Odin’s hall for warriors who fell on the battlefield. These warriors were gathered up by valkyries to become einherjar, warriors training to fight for Odin during the doomed war, Ragnarök. The einherjar would spend their afterlives feasting and skirmishing until this day.
Those who died at sea were thought to rest in Rán’s watery abode at the bottom of the ocean, not an uncommon occurrence during the Viking age.
Hel, or Helheim, is the Norse underworld, the place where people go when they die of old age or sickness. It’s not a bad place, but it’s also not described by Snorri as being particularly delightful either.
“Hel” is the name for both the Norse goddess of death and her abode in Niflheim, the world of darkness. Her Hall is called Éljúðnir (“dank”); her plate is called Hungr (“hunger”); her knife is Sulltr (“famine”); her serving man is Gangláti (“the slow one”); her serving maid is Ganglöt (also meaning “the slow one”); her home’s threshold is called Fallanda forað (“stumbling block”); her bed is Kör (“illness”); and her bed curtains are called Blinkjanda böl (“pale misfortune”).
The underworld of Helheim is located in the north, the direction of death in Scandinavian folklore. It’s separated from the realm of the living by the river Gjöll, which is spanned by the gilded bridge Gjallarbrú. The sound of a living crossing this bridge is deafening compared to the footsteps of the dead. The road to Hel is guarded by a wolf called Garm.
According to Snorri, Helheim is comprised of nine realms, but what all nine are was never described. One of them, however, is Náströnd, which is where the worst of human offenders go.
The dead of Helheim were prophesied to fight against the Aesir deities during Ragnarök.
“Corpse Shore.” This Hall was perhaps inspired by Christian interpretations of Revelations. Náströnd is located in Helheim and is said to be a hall adorned with the spines of serpents with a roof that leaks poison upon its inhabitants. It’s also the dwelling of Nidhogg, a dragon who gnaws on the roots of Yggdrasil. He chews upon the corpses in Náströnd.
Andlang & Vidblain
These are heavenly realms mentioned by Snorri. Vidblain in particular would protect people from Surtr’s fires during Ragnarök, but until then these heavens are reserved for the Alvar.
A shining heavenly hall that would rise up after all else was destroyed during Ragnarök.
The Holy Mountain, where people go to be reunited with their ancestors. Perhaps the hall that most closely resembles the old animistic view of the Norse afterlife.