Apr 26, 2013

One Heathen's Thoughts On The Afterworld(s)

First, I would very much like to thank everyone who has been reading this blog. It has now had more than 10,000 views, which seems to be an occasion worth noting. I am very grateful for your continuing interest and, as a bit of a Slavophile, am also happy to see that Russia is second only to the U.S. in readership. Takzhe blagodaru Vas, uvazhemie russko-govoryashie chitateli! 

Today's post is about subject I have been meaning to cover for a while now: life after death.

A while back, the ever-fascinating Norse Mythology Blog mentioned how ancient views on the afterlife may have put a certain shine on the incoming Christian religion (see the last paragraph especially). Certainly, some surviving accounts paint a rather bleak picture... really, a dichotomy. You can either pass on to a singularly unfriendly realm operated under the auspices of Hel, or you can die in battle and enter Valhalla. Pick one.

I have to wonder if a related undercurrent might be haunting modern Heathenism. This sort of dichotomy certainly has the potential to drive away people who might otherwise be attracted to our Gods and Goddesses.

Nowadays, we actively research both the physical and subjective sides of dying, and we are able to save lives we never could have saved before. We have books like Moody’s “Life After Life,” which were ground-breaking in their time, especially given the stigma and shame that once surrounded NDEs. Some survivors even give accounts of being carried away from this world on a boat or of meeting one’s ancestors.

The possibility of a hereafter is an important subject--one that has stirred fears and hopes and sparked some of humankind’s greatest creative feats. We cannot sweep our questions under a rug, nor pretend that death, any more than life, is but a formula that must always resolve back to one pat “answer.”  

The Goddess of Death

As Heathens, we might begin by asking ourselves if Hel’s domain is truly such an inhospitable place? In accord with my aforementioned Slavophile tendencies, I find surviving accounts of the Russian underworld, ruled by the God Veles, of deep interest. In some ways, the Eastern Orthodox Church had less “success” stamping out authentic Pagan expression than the western Christian religions did. One book on the subject, "Slavic Sorcery" by Kenneth Johnson, describes how the underworld is sometimes seen as a realm of beautiful, moist fields, full of growth and warmth. I wonder if this might reflect a less filtered view of what lies beyond. Some modern UPG on Hel indicates that Her realm can be quite welcoming.


We also have old accounts of the Dead feasting and celebrating in their mounds, and of Frey blessing the burial site of one of his devotees. Frey, of course, immediately takes us away from a dichotomous afterworld. He is a God very much involved with the immensities and mysteries of death, and in different ways than either Odin or Hel.

Many Homes

There is an image from John Michael Greer’s book, "A World Full ofGods," that I like a great deal. He turns the popular spiritual analogy of seekers climbing one mountain to reach “The Truth” on its head, and suggests that we start off in a plain surrounded by a ring of mountains, and then spread out and choose which mountain to climb. Some will find their choice unsuitable and go back to the plain to look for another mountain. The idea is that not only are there many ways Home, but many Homes, and that this is a good and natural thing.

Here, I’ll touch on a few personal experiences that have helped me develop my own understandings of what may come after. These are extremely heavy on UPG, please be forewarned.

I am sworn to the Norse Gods, but have had two experiences with the Greek God Hermes. This was not my idea: He suddenly appeared in a dream the first time around. Later, He allowed me to speak with Him in a meditation. At first, I was “seeing” a hillside with golden light and short trees, and had the sense that the place was quite urban and cultivated in an ancient sort of way. As far as my admittedly hazy visuals go, this one was quite strong. The place felt like it was truly Home, or at least a gateway to Home… but it was Home for other people. It was so very welcoming and beautiful and joyous, but it was also so very wrong for me. I could hardly wait to get away from that particular Paradise!

Even within the same pantheon, we have so many possibilities. I very much like what Jordsvin wrote about his experiences with his fulltrui, Frey (again, the last paragraph is especially compelling). If our trust in the Gods and Goddesses can enrich us so much in this life, why should we think that it would be otherwise in the next? While I am not “addressed for delivery” as of yet, I do have a certainty now that I did not have before meeting our Gods, and Forseti in particular. From honoring my fulltrui’s Dead, I have become even more convinced that the Gods and Goddesses do not simply forget us when we are done here and then relegate us to a chilly underworld. I don’t pretend to grasp how all this works, but I do feel that I’ve been allowed glimpses into places where some of my own God’s Dead dwell in His presence without being directly in His hall. These settings usually appear very peaceful and pastoral.

In any case, I do think that the afterworld is far more complex than we imagine it to be and that there are indeed many Homes. Our truest connections will continue and endure. As, I believe, will we.

Apr 2, 2013

My "Fun With Frisian" Blog

This probably will not be of interest to very many readers, but just in case: I have started keeping a blog with original articles about learning West Frisian, the most commonly spoken dialect of Frisian. You can read it here.

Allegedly, Frisian is the closest living language to English, although some Norwegian linguists dispute that claim. My interest is more personal, however, since my fulltrui Forseti (Fosite) has ancient associations with Frisia. I even came across an example of Him being listed before Thor and Odin in a Wikipedia article in Frisian. That is not something you will see in very many places by any means.

Studying the modern language is one way that I honor Him. If you do happen to have an interest in West Frisian, please check out my newest blog and let me know what you think.