Humans are diverse creatures with different perspectives and beliefs, yet we’re all the same at the core. We all share the innate fear of death and are gutted by the idea that we may cease to exist one day. Yet, numerous belief systems have bestowed upon us the hopes of an afterlife- a thought that gives us the endurance to keep going through life’s hardships for a promised better tomorrow.
Such a concept has been waning in the modern world along with the waning of religions across different places in the world. However, it was never quite sturdy as it was in ancient times, even among people with other belief systems. A civilisation as ancient as the Vikings heavily adopted this stance; the possibility of going to Valhalla, the Viking heaven.
The concept of Valhalla was the main reason history witnessed the fiercest Warriors who fearlessly dashed into the battlefields unafraid of death. If anything, they were actually welcoming the thought with open arms, crying out, “Victory or Valhalla!”
The existence of an afterlife, or the lack of it, is a debate for another day. It wouldn’twouldn’t hurt to explore this exciting concept, the Valhalla, that lived for centuries and has always fascinated people before turning into a mystical tale from Norse mythology. Let’sLet’s delve deeper into this compelling concept of Valhalla and get a glimpse into the Viking mindset.
The Vikings Culture
Valhalla is a term often associated with the Vikings, the warriors of Scandinavia, referring to the heavenly place they go after they die. We currently perceive it as a wild concept that only existed in the past, yet it is sort of an equivalent to the heaven concept in many religions. Before we delve deeper into the Valhalla concept, let’slet’s learn about who the Vikings were.
Vikings were originally seafarers and traders who took to the sea to explore parts of Europe where the resources were at full capacity. They came from the harsh lands of that time, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. Although they were among the fiercest warriors of all time, there was more to them than the misconception of their sole interest in warfare and slaughtering.
Many Vikings settled in Iceland and Greenland by the end of the Viking Age; thus, these two lands also became associated with the Viking term. These five lands were the most extended home to paganism; they were pagans far longer than ever Christians. Among their pagan beliefs was their steadfast faith in the existence of Valhalla.
Valhalla in Norse Mythology
According to Norse mythology, Valhalla is the heavenly hall warriors who fall in battle go to enjoy an eternity alongside their Viking gods, Odin and Thor. It’sIt’s also stated that Odin is the father of all Gods and the king of the Aesir clan. The latter is one of the tribes that live within the Asgard realm, with the Vanir clan being the other tribe of the Norse world.
The Aesir clan includes Odin and his son, Thor, who was also one of the main Viking gods whose hammer symbol was used for protection and blessing. On the other hand, the third main Viking goddess was Freyja or Freya. Although she was usually associated with the Aesir gods and goddesses, she was part of the Vanir clan.
Odin was the god who ruled the Valhalla hall and chose the warriors who got to live in Valhalla after falling in battle. Going to Valhalla required being an honourable warrior and dying with glory. However, not all Vikings go to Valhalla when they die; some are escorted to the hall of Folkvagnr, ruled by Goddess Freya.
While the two halls are known to be the Viking heavens, Valhalla has always reigned supreme. Where the Viking goes after his death depends on whether Odin or Freya chose them. Valhalla was reserved for those who fell on the battlefield with honour, while other ordinary people who had an average death went to Folkvagnr.
Either way, the soul of the dead person is then guided by the Valkyries, which brings us to another concept of Norse mythology.
Who Are the Valkyries?
Valkyries, also spelt Walkyries, are female figures famous in Norse mythology and known as the “Choosers of the Slain.” According to Norse folktale, the Valkyries are maidens on horses who fly above the battlefields, waiting to collect the souls of those who fall. They serve God Odin by choosing who is worthy of a spot in Valhalla and who should go to Folkvagnr. It’s also stated that they have a great power to allow them to carry the bodies of the dead warriors.
There’sThere’s also a claim that these maidens are incredibly attractive, and their appearances are supposed to give peace to the warriors they guide. However, they’re not allowed to have any interaction with human beings. Some Norse folktales claim that Goddess Freya leads the Valkyries, helping them choose who goes into her Folkvagnr hall and who goes to Valhalla.
What Happens Within the Halls of the Vikings’ Heaven?
Valhalla looks a lot like the heaven people from different belief systems hope for. The warriors meet their loved ones, enjoy their victory, and lead a happy life. Feasting and fornicating are also parts of the celebratory elements of the warriors’ heaven. People within Odin’sOdin’s hall never worry and never go hungry.
Even the place is quite a splendour to behold, with lots of gold embellishing the walls and the ceiling. There are also places where the warriors can train and fight for sport to keep doing what they loved most during their life on Earth. There’sThere’s enough food and mead to feed everyone and millions of supplies.
The Hell of the Vikings
Well, it only makes sense to admit that there’s no way all Viking warriors were destined for heaven. There definitely were ones who were either traitors or fought with no honour, becoming undeserving of either Valhalla or Folkvagnr. So where do these ones go? The answer is Niflheim, the hell of the Vikings.
Niflheim is one of the nine realms in Norse cosmology, known to be the last word. It’s ruled by Hel, the goddess of the dead and ruler of the underworld. She also happens to be the daughter of Loki, the fraudulent god and Odin’s brother.
Many people confuse the goddess’s name with the Christian hell, though they’re not really related. However, Niflheim is known to be the undesired destiny of all warriors. Contrary to popular belief about hell, Niflheim is not a place of raging fire that eats everything in its way. Instead, it’s a dark, cold place in the underworld, around which the dead never feel the warmth.
Valhalla in the Modern World
In today’s world, Valhalla is no more than a popular term used in several video games and Viking movies. While the younger generations are pretty acquainted with the concept, there were no records of anyone believing it to be true. Besides, scholars believe that the Norse beliefs were first orally inherited; they only started being written down during the Christian era.
They also predict that there was so much influence from the Christian beliefs on the pagan rituals, resulting in concepts similar to Christian Heaven and Hell, which are Valhalla and Niflheim, respectively.
Real-Life Places Tied to the Viking Beliefs You Can Visit
Although traces of paganism are no longer evident around different parts of the world, Scandinavia seems to still hold sacred places devoted to the Viking gods. Here are a few real-life places that you can visit to feel the Viking ambience.
Valhalla Museum in the United Kingdom
Off the coast of Cornwall lies the fantastic Tresco Abbey Gardens within the Isles of Scilly in the United Kingdom. Thanks to Augustus Smith, significant collections were embraced within the same walls for people to behold treasures from the past. The Valhalla Museum happens to be part of Tresco Abbey Gardens.
Augustus Smith, the founder of the museum, gave one of his halls the Valhalla name after collecting several Norse artefacts. Most of the collections exhibited ships that were found wrecked in the Isles of Scilly in the mid to late 19th century. Although the exhibited collection has nothing to do with the Valhalla concept, the ships were believed to belong to the great Vikings, who were once great seafarers and traders.
Helgafell in Iceland
Helgafell is an Old Norse word that literally means ”holy mountain.” This mountain lies on the northern side of the renowned Snæfellsnes peninsula in Iceland, which was among the final settling destinations for the Vikings. The pagan religion was known to be more nature-based, meaning they performed their rituals in the spacious outdoors, among the trees, near wells, and under waterfalls.
This mountain held a great divine significance to the Vikings during their settlement in Iceland. Its peaks would deem a sacred pilgrimage site and an entry point to Valhalla. They claim that those believed to be on the verge of death would go to Helgafell to have a smooth passing into Valhalla when they died.
Snæfellsnes Glacier in Iceland
Snæfellsnes Glacier sits in a remote place in Iceland. Below the glacier surface is a crater of an active volcano, meaning lava fields flow below the icy surface. It’sIt’s no wonder that Iceland gained the title of the Land of Fire and Ice, given the literal embodiment of the opposite elements co-existing.
This magical spot and the surreal phenomenon it presents have led to many legends and superstitions being associated with this region, and the Valhalla believers were no exception. The Vikings believed that this spot was the starting point of the underworld. They firmly believed you could access the Niflheim world through this peculiar area.
Regardless of what your beliefs are, it’s interesting to learn that there were once ancient beliefs that shaped the lives of many. Valhalla was among those concepts that drove the Vikings into being the greatest warriors of all time, unafraid to come face to face with death. Embark on a historical journey and immerse yourself in an ancient civilisation that withstood significant challenges during the Christianity era before it became another tale in mythologies.
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