(Nabbed from the very worthy Not For Nothing blog by Matti Frost – check the blogroll for the link.)
I don’t write very much about religion, especially mine. Most people who know me know that I consider myself a Heathen but I don’t make a big deal over it. I don’t blot with a kindred, I don’t observe many holidays, and I rarely pray or participate in rituals. You know what I do? I read. I participate in several online forums where the information flies forth like limitless mead. One discussion on one part of the Hávamál can easily wipe out three hours of time that could probably better be spent actually doing things around the house that needs to be done. But, that’s what many Heathens do once we get past the Hail-storm. You know, whenever someone even mentions Odin the hail starts flying. Alright, we got it. You really like Odin.
When I first started down this path I wasn’t much different. It was all Viking metal, horns full of inebriating substances, lots of hails, calling on the gods as if they were neighbors in my trailer park. Sign of the hammer, that was a good one. How a person raised Roman Catholic didn’t put THAT one together is beyond me. But- all newbies trip and stumble. We walk in with our eyes wide open. We all follow those who went before us and sometimes we walk right into a tree. The trouble is, most people don’t ever get past that point, and they simply superimpose Norse mythology onto, in most cases, Christian premises.
One of the biggest examples of this is the concept of Valhalla. Simply put, if a person dies honorably in battle, a Valkyrie may appear and carry them off to Asgard where they will spend the rest of time in Valhalla. Each day they will train for Ragnarok, the Twilight of the Gods, by fighting, killing, and being slain, only to be resurrected at the day’s end to feast and celebrate with Odin in his great hall. Sounds great, right? Personally, I don’t think I would want to die over and over again… it’s a bit Promethean if you ask me. But, my own opinion aside- ask yourself this: Doesn’t this sound exactly like what most other religions say about martyrdom? How many people who think they’re Valhalla-bound scoff at fundamentalist Muslims who believe that if they die in jihad, they will spend eternity in paradise with 72 virgins? That doesn’t sound appealing either, virgins just won’t be good in bed, and 72? Nevermind, I am off injecting logic into what is clearly a ridiculous concept.
As is the idea of dying and going to Valhalla. (Yes, I am using Wikipedia for basic definitions of things we can agree on, this is not meant to be a dissertation).
I hate to be the one to break this to a LOT of Brosatruars wearing hammers around their necks lifting weights to Amon Amarth, but you’re not going to Valhalla. There are many reasons but let’s start with the first- why would you take that tale, or ANY tale from any ancient religion, in a literal context? And, as a Heathen or Asatruar or even Odinist, how can you NOT see the parallels to the Abrahamic reward-based faiths? That if you live this way or die that way, here is your eternal reward? How can you not realize that kings and lords and generals have always used religious fervor to inspire their warriors, especially when the odds were against them? Maybe dying isn’t so bad if I can take as many of the enemy with me and earn a spot in Valhalla. Believing in these things as a literal truth allowed those warriors to ease their fears of being hacked to pieces and left for the ravens.
There are other issues around the myth of Valhalla that need to be deconstructed too. I’ve seen a lot of people lawyering about, saying things like, “well, in these days, overcoming ANY personal struggle can lead to Valhalla”. “If I die defending someone I love, the gods will choose me”. “If I live according to the Nine Noble Virtues, I can get in”. Or, “Sorry, even if you were a great soldier, if you live to old age and die peacefully surrounded by your family, you won’t get into Valhalla”. Before I tackle these, allow me a moment to smack my forehead against a stone wall.
There. Now I feel a little better.
1. Overcoming any significant challenge is the same as dying in battle. No, it’s not. It may be a significant victory, or, should you bravely fight cancer and succumb, how you fought the illness might be looked at with favor by your family, your ancestors, maybe even the gods. But, nonetheless, it is NOT the same as being hacked to pieces while fighting tenaciously and honorably.
2. If I die defending someone I love, the gods will choose me. Not likely, unless you are already a skilled warrior who the gods want fighting at their side. *I* could die defending my friends and family, maybe even take out one or two attackers in the process, but I’m not a trained fighter. I am just okay with a sword. I haven’t fired a gun since I was a teenager. And, I hate fighting. Valor alone does not make the cut. Think about it, the number of Einhejrar in Valhalla is not limitless, and do you not agree that Odin would want the absolute best of the best riding alongside him into battle? This goes double for the Facebookatru whose battles consist of arguing with other Heathens, hailing every image with a Mjolnir in it, and posting memes about honoring the gods while not really doing much to honor them. Ask yourself honestly if you meet the criteria of being one of the best warriors in all of history, then you can talk about Valhalla.
3. If I live according to the Nine Noble Virtues… look, the Nine Noble Virtues are not the Ten Commandments. They are not some sort of Heathen orthodoxy. For those of your not familiar, the NNV are: Courage, Truth, Honor, Fidelity, Discipline, Hospitality, Self-Reliance, Industriousness, and Perseverance. They’re not bad things to strive for, but they are not unique to Heathenry. You can find most of them tacked up on a wall in any Karate studio in almost every strip mall in the country. Many religions and philosophies teach these things as good and desirable because they generally lead to self-improvement, but simply adopting this as some type of rigid code isn’t what gets you chosen for Valhalla.
4. Even if you were a great soldier, if you live to old age and die peacefully surrounded by your family, you won’t get into Valhalla There is a concept called the ‘straw death’ in which it’s seen as weak to go out of this life sick and bedridden, that it’s somehow more noble to die in a battle. Back then, warriors who knew they were ill and dying would simply go into the first battle they could and take a sword through the heart. Hey, it beats lingering around, puking and shitting all over the place until you expire in a pile of your own stench, right? That’s why today, people are fighting for the right to assisted suicide, so they don’t have to spend their last days in agony, or worse. However, let’s say you were once a great warrior who didn’t die in a battle. You instead helped bring about a time of peace and prosperity to your land. Your exploits were heralded and known throughout, but- by sheer luck, you get sick and die in your old age surrounded by your family. No Valhalla?
So a guy with zero military training dies with valor defending someone he loves and gets in, but a seasoned veteran whose skill and knowledge of warfare eclipses that of many, nope, didn’t die in a battle. That’s legit?
Do you really think Odin, who is also the god of wisdom, would see it that way? Even with one eye? C’mon.
But this all goes to the greater picture. Too many of us are hung up on this idea of going to Valhalla when we die. Why? I asked myself one day if that was where I wanted to be and when I thought about it, I mean really, really thought about it- I said no. If there is a life beyond this one, I don’t want to spend it fighting petty battles. And yes, Ragnarok is petty, but that’s another topic. According to the mythology there are many halls in Asgard, and there are eight other realms among the nine worlds. If, like me, you don’t believe in this cosmology, there is infinite space, billions of galaxies, dimensions and other universes. Is Valhalla really it? Is there not something much, much bigger out there? Dare to dream, folks. Don’t stop seeking knowledge, and for the good of Heathenry in general, let’s drop the macho bullshit.