3.3 Where the Modern Kicks In

It is not only Christian versus heathen which must be a consideration for those attempting to engage seriously in the reconstruction of ancient worldviews. In Section 1 above, we touched on many innovations offered by modern heathens to bring, as can be read on many email lists, 'the ancient religions up-to-date.' The arguments generally accompanying the statement are usually variations of the following:
  1. The ancients knew nothing of democracy and the fundamental need for equality across the board regardless of race, gender, creed, political affliation, or sexual persuasion. Slavery and human sacrifice, for example, is impossible in this day and age.
  2. Ancient [insert cultural preference here] people were not as technologically advanced as industrialized nations today and, therefore, were not able to explain conceptual fields such as psychology, medicine, physics, and parapsychology as precisely as we are able to. New vocabulary needs to be developed to encompass the advances made in the past 1000 years.
  3. Daily life as well as warfare did not exist as they do now. The activities which offered the ancients the opportunities to act in a fashion to allow entry into the Óðín's Hall of the Slain no longer exist; modifications are necessary.
  4. The gods are psychological constructs, archetypical symbols, which can be manipulated to one's advantage.
The above points show how far the modern worldview has moved since the Germanic Heathen Era and has in essence become a culturally different one, to be sure, but they also demonstrate the natural tendency of humans to avoid abondoning one worldview for another. This avoidance is not necessarily conscious, however. In fact, the mere suggestion on a modern mailing list that such an avoidance exists brings an immediate reaction in the form of denials (often rather harshly worded) from, usually, well over 50% that they are engaging in such. Oddly, the primary way that a firmly embedded worldview will display its built-in protection is through such denials, and the only real way to exchange one worldview for another is to conscious raise one's worldview to the level of consciousness usually through a series of exercises designed to bring it into small controlled culture clashes.
The second argument quickly follows: "Oh, you say that because I deny a diffcult time changing worldviews is I unconsciously am refusing to change! Prove to me that I am refusing to change! I'm a heathen in mind and soul - just a modern one! Of course, because I live in the modern world! How could I be otherwise?" And, this second argument is based in truth. The evidence has been available for thousands of years, however, that changing one's religion is a simple affair, but changing one's cultural worldview is extremely diffcult if not impossible to do completely and is the basis of Simek's conclusion that
"...even the most religious of modern heathens have described [little of their modern beliefs and practice] which has to do which actual Germanic heathen religion and success at revitalizing the ancient worldview have been modest at best. The rekindling of the Viking Age religion of Thor, Óðín, and Freya is not to be found among modern heathens."

Presenting this statement generally provokes angry denials from modern heathens rather than discussion along with the above points as to why the ancient relgion needs updating rather than a serious examination of the differences between the two worldviews, the ancient and the modern. The preference seems to be examine, interpret, discuss and redefine the ancient through the modern. The resistance to exchanging one worldview for another is strong and built-in.
Americans, for example, are notoriously bad at a fitting in anywhere else in the world (except, perhaps, as an occupying force), are the butt of jokes among locals, and are considered arrogant and narrow minded on the one hand, while on the other are one of the largest groups of people who will quickly 'pretend' that they are the adopted sons and daughters of a foreign culture. The modern American worldview is strongly constructed and is built to resist change with blatant denial and other defensive systems.
The reconstructionist, then, is confronted with a given set of problems immediately upon his decision to reconstruct. The first and possibly the most diffcult is "How can one reconstruct a worldview for which he has no neurological/ mental constructs?" Secondly, in changing worldview, one is required to change one's 'point of view.' This is not quite as easy as simple changing one's 'religion,' i.e. the vocabulary used to discuss one's personal belief sytem, because that kind of change is really no change at all but merely using different words to describe the same thing.
At five years of age I saw a negro for the first time, a woman with chocolate brown skin. I asked her what happened to her skin, and she smiled and replied that it was the 'color of her skin.' I quickly absorbed the information, sharp as I was, and concluded, in my mind, that she was a caucasian with a birth defect. Later, watching TV (which was the old round screen, black-and-white, circa late 1950s), I saw a clown on a magic show and concluded that he was also a causcasian with a birth defect. The thought of all these birth defects in the world scared me and clowns became a frightening thing until my older sister cleared up the matter. It took her several months, though, to show me that clowns weren't really deformed caucasian people. It didn't occur to me until the age of 20 or so, that a black child seeing a caucasian ('me,' for example) would think that we were really negroes with ruined skin color, noses, and lips-we must be terribly frightful-looking to a child accustomed to earth-toned skin color and pleasantly rounded facial features!
The above interlude is not a joke but is taken directly from the repertoire of the author's personal experience. The above is also analogy for how strong the modern worldview is. Moderns have diffculty imagining a world without dualism, for example. We view it as 'defective' but the word we prefer is primitive. We imagine a world where all humans are dualistic, built of body and spirit, with the earthly body being transient and temporary and the soul being immortal because that is all we know. We view the idea of the soul having a proper 'home' after death and is to be either rewarded or punished for performance because we can only envision a Heaven (read here 'Hall of [name of a god]), Hell (Naströnd or Hel), Purgatory (read here the 'endless cycle of incarnations), or Limbo (read here 'being absorbed into the Godhead), but see 'wandering the world' or 'living with the corpse' as being a defective and primitive view of life after death. A nice stepping stone, of course, is to 'think in terms of reincarnation,' but any short discussion with reincarnationists reveals that even the concept of reincarnation has taken on tones of reward and punishment (Heaven vs. Hell) and separation of the body/ soul complex. We find it diffcult to think otherwise because our modern point-of-view (POV) doesn't easiliy allow for it just as the author's POV didn't allow allow for the idea that caucasians might actually be viewed as defective. We cannot make sense of Mary Francis' description of life after death until it is first translated into terms which we can understand-her terminology is viewed by the modern, middle-class American's mind as being defective. What she means (her worldview) is not what we understand for we can only understand our own worldview.
The struggle against the modern worldview is obvious and it is a struggle. The email lists which have been visited by this author in preparation for this paper reveal the struggles in the form of simple denial, irritation, the clamoring for ideologies such as provided by Wicca or neo-shamanism to be a part of the heathen's cosmos in an effort to 'bridge the gap' between the modern and the primitive. Changing POV is not a simple process.
Raymonde Carroll presents one's worldview as being viewed as a part of oneself and should that POV be threatened one can feel the 'struggle for life' itself. An integral part of the self must be obliterated.

"Indeed, my culture is the logic by which I give order to the world. And I have been learning this logic little by little, since the moment I was born, from the gestures, the words , and the care of those who surrounded me; from their gaze, from the tone of their voices; from the way I was raised , rewarded, punished, held, touched, washed, fed; from the stories I was told, from the books I read, from the songs I sang; in the street, at school, at play; from the relationships I witnessed between others, from the judgments I heard, from the aesthetics embodied everywhere, in all things right down to my sleep and the dreams I learned to dream and recount. I learned to breathe this logic and to forget that I had learned it. I find it natural. Whether I produce meaning or apprehend it, it underlies all my interactions. This does not mean that I must agree with all those who share my culture; I do not necessarily agree with all those who speak the same language as I do. But as different as their discourse may be from mine, it is for me familiar territory, it is recognizable. The same is true, in a certain sense, of my culture."

The modern worldview is an integral part of modern man including the 're- constructionist' and to sacrifice one's worldview for another often brings along with it feelings of loss of something important. These personal feelings are often exacerbated by the response from the immediate community who ostracize those choosing to 'forsake their heritage.' In western culture, particularly that of modern America, this is often viewed as akin to a criminal act. 

The reconstructionist is not a special person but rather a person who has made a decision to take on an especially diffcult task, a person who has decided to explore and examine his own worldview piece by piece over an extended time by purposely bringing each piece into conflict with another until the second worldview can be understood on its own terms.


3 The Gravemound and the Modern Heathen

A problem for most moderns with acceptance of the ancient Germanic heathens' attitudes toward dying and death is that the ancient does not match very well with what is customary in the modern era and that the factual ancient concepts don't match well with the modern perception of what ancients believed. The problem, then, is at minimum twofold. On the one hand there is a pervasive desire for eternal life, and eternity is now not only defined by the dominant religion, Christianity, but also by the scientific fields of mathematics and physics: it is taught in the schools, popular science and pseudo-scientific magazines, TV shows, new age philosophy and, now, alternative religious philosophy. The problem on the other hand is the Golden Age Myth, the idea that at some point in the memorable past things were wonderful and beautiful and that technology and science lived in perfectly balanced harmony with spirituality and philosophy.
The facts as we can best know them reveal the Golden Age Myth for what it is: a myth.

 3.1    The Worldview Problem

Worldview presents a specific problem which is not easily overcome. The primary reason that it is not easily overcome is that, in general, it is not seen. Worldview underlies all that which an individual knows. Raymonde Carroll in his book "Cultural Misunderstandings: the French American experience" out-lines the problem fairly clearly.
"Indeed, my culture is the logic by which I give order to the world. And I have been learning this logic little by little, since the moment I was born, from the gestures, the words, and the care of those who surrounded me; from their days, from the tone of their voices; from the noises, the colors, the smells, the body contact; from the way I was raised, awarded, punished, held, touched, washed, did; from the stories I was told, from the books I read, from the songs I sang; in the street, at, at play; from the relationships I witnessed between others, from the judgments I heard, from the aesthetics embodied everywhere, in all things right down to my sleep and the dreams I learned to dream and recount. I learned to breathe this logic and to forget that I learned. I find it natural. Whether I produce meaning or apprehended, it underlies all my inner actions. This does not mean that I must agree with all those who share my culture: I do not necessarily agree with those who speak the same language as I do. But as different as their discourse may be from mine, it is for me familiar territory, it is recognizable. The same is true, in a certain sense, of my culture
"Part of this logic is tacit, invisible, and this is the most important part. It consists in the premises from which we constantly draw our conclusions. We are not conscious of these premises because they are, for us, verities. They are everything which ' goes without saying' for us and which is therefore transparent." 

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Worldview then operates completely below the radar. In general, people are completely incapable of noticing it in operation or by its effects.
Worldview, although it appears to be, is not "hardwired." The vectors through which it is taught are myriad. From the time that we are born, through our schooling, and through our adulthood, we are inundated by that which defines our current, modern worldview. It is taught behavior that is culturally bound and it is most certainly not "hardwired" (i.e., neurological) in nature even though it feels to most of us as if it is.
Not only, however, does a worldview defined how events in the real world art cataloged, in other words, 'how they are perceived,' but worldview also 'defines' what is perceived as possible and impossible. The concept of dualism is an example. Dualism states that an individual is born with at least two components: a physical body which is subject to aging, and an 'eternal' soul which is ageless. Although not every culture in the world subscribes to the philosophy of dualism, Western culture most certainly does. Our training begins early with Saturday morning cartoons: Sylvester the Cat dies by being hit by a semi truck, and his 'soul' immediately sprouts wings and flies up to heaven where he immediately dons a robe and plays music harp in hand. There is little that we observe through the media which is not continually teaching the philosophy of dualism: the news, sitcoms, commercials, the radio, newspapers, popular books (from the romances all the way up to college textbooks) and our day-to-day interactions with our fellow community members. Dualism, then, moves from 'philosophy' or theory to 'indisputable fact.'
For us, then, to encounter a culture which does not accept dualism as a primary philosophy feels 'wrong' or 'impossible.' When this author first encountered the 'soul beliefs' of the Cochiti People of New Mexico, the author was astounded and thrown temporarily into a state of confusion. The author was a student at the University of New Mexico at the time and was working with a native of the Cochiti Pueblo. One day, we were cataloging a book the subject of which seem to irritate my partner much. I asked her what was wrong and the following is her paraphrased explanation.
"I'm really angry that the State of New Mexico would choose to flood this particular part of Cochiti Pueblo. It is the place, exactly the place, the valley to where the souls of my people go when they die. Now, all the souls of my people, my parents, my grandparents, and my great-grandparents will all be underwater. This is like a slap in the face, and the State of New Mexico is responsible."
I was somewhat shocked and I asked "You mean the souls of your people go to a valley?" (One must understand that I was still under the illusion that "going to heaven" was a universal belief amongst all people - I was still young at the time.)
"My people when they are buried are taken to this valley. Their bodies are laid out and their souls will live in this valley and wander it for the rest of all time."
Mary Francis was the girl's name. She was attractive, young (in her early twenties), and very pleasant to work with. Oddly enough, she laid one of the biggest bombs on me that I would experience in my entire life. At first, I though she meant that the bodies were taken to the valley like a native graveyard, but when I mentioned how insensitive the government can be, she quietly explained that my view was naïve just like all the rest of the white people's.
"You can't really understand it because you're one of the white people, but this valley is where the ghosts of my ancestors live-the place where souls go after death. Just like white people go to Heaven or Hell after they die, my people go to the valley of the dead and, now, thanks to the State of New Mexico, they are under water."

I was astounded and didn't have much to say for quite a while. I was somewhat hurt, I suppose, that she had lumped me into a group of 'naïve white people'; I felt excluded that she had a secret that she wasn't telling me. I felt confused and even somewhat guilty that I belonged to the group of people who had done this to her people. My mind, course, generated a dozen reasons why she had done this to me, had made me feel this uncomfortable. What I didn't understand at the time, though, is that when one worldview collides with another, there is a feeling of discomfort, and this feeling is little more than a response to what is commonly called "culture shock." I also didn't know that because of it, my grip on my own worldview was loosened for a moment at that point.

"Culture shock" is a common enough term among anthropologists. It is the point at which an individual is able to revise his own worldview. In essence, it is two worldviews coming together, clashing, and eventually coming to some type of resolution. The outcome is manifold. Worldview A confronting worldview B can result in A winning out, B winning out, or A and B. somehow melding together into something new which is neither A nor B. Secondly, the results are not necessarily immediate. In my particular case it took several years to come to some type of resolution.
The point of this discussion revolving around worldview, and that of the two papers that I had written previously, is that the individual is generally completely unaware of the stranglehold which worldview holds. The general assumption as described above is that worldview manipulates one's perception according to cultural rules, but at this point it is also necessary to bring up the idea that worldview also determines possibility and need. The example above plainly demonstrates the problems associated with one possibility confronting another, but it is also important to note that 'need' was also seriously affected. For my training as a human being to function properly as a worldview it is, or was, necessary for souls to separate from the body and travel to 'Heaven,' 'Hell,' 'Purgatory,' or some type of limbo to await rebirth. I simply did not have it in my vocabulary that a soul 'could not' be separated from the body. It had never occurred to me.
All my training since childhood (watching cartoons, the news, listening to the radio, listening to preachers, reading New Age books, reading the newspaper, singing songs with the radio, etc.) did not train me to deal with or find acceptable the idea that, culturally, some people can and do believe that the soul simply does not separate from the body. The reason that it took me several years to digest this idea after I first heard it from Mary Francis is that deep inside me, ingrained into me through years of repetition, had developed the need for the philosophy of 'dualism.' The 'need' developed because if it did not then numerous parts of my worldview will no longer function as they should. Worldview, then, does not necessarily generate 'need' in the sense that 'hunger' is a 'need' but rather in the sense of necessity, or an integral part, to allow the worldview to function as a whole.
Without dualism, the modern worldview does not function properly.

3.2    Christianity's Early Role, Christianity's Gift

Modern heathenry, or modern paganism in general, is probably not the the true source of the change in worldview when it comes to concepts of the Afterlife. There were much earlier influences occuring during the heathen era of Scandinavia. These have been a personal fascination of the author for the past two decades which we choose to lump together as "borderzones" and "borderzone philosophy." These influential zones would have been the romano-turk to the southeast of the Germanic realm, romano-christian to the south, celtic to the southwest and west, Samí to the north, and baltic to the east.
Borderzones have always been places of cultural exchange, and have been studied to a large degree. They have existed through history and continue to exist today in any area where two or more cultures come together within a single geographical area. Borderzones are not always places of peace and harmony: harsh clashes, prejudice, discrimination, economic unfairness and imbalance are common as well as are harmonious blends. In modern times, in industrialized countries, borderzones exist as "ethnic neighborhoods."    Cultural lines of opposition and lines of transmission can be documented with accuracy, and have been. but these are often also ignored when writing history. 'History,' traditionally, is a field of study which has been fraught with the political agendas of the historian, and, in a sense, is a field of study which has more in common with writers of fiction than with writers of scientific fact. The fact is that borderzones are of places of culture clash/ meld and individual cultural boundaries are blurred.
Figure #1 shows not only the lines of sharing between worldviews during Anglo-Saxon England but also the lines of opposition. Documentation of the Conversion of Britain as well as the entire Germanic North of Europe between 450 CE - 1000 CE shows that, contrary to the common modern myth, heathen Europeans were not necessarily butchered into converting to Christianity but were, for the most part, slowly reacculturated, and that this reacculturation process, much like which has occured in the American southwest among the pueblo peoples, resulted in a pervasive common popular religion/ worldview

Figure 1: Cultural relationships during Anglo-Saxon times
which was at the same time found to be acceptable or at least tolerable by both traditional heathens and formal Christian religionists. It is the product of this 'slow moving blend' during the beginnings of the historical period which produced the the incredibly beautiful, yet mysterious, collections of AS poetry, the body of Norse Sagas, and the Eddas.
Written literature was a gift brought to the north by the southern scribes of the church, but the literary descriptions of the worldview presented in those texts are representative of the mixture common to what Jolly defines as the 'popular religion,' i.e. that which was common to the greater community. In this common worldview, this blend, one finds elves and dwarves existing alongside angels, saints interacting with heathen demi-gods, and Þór locked in an 'all-or-nothing' contest of strenghth and wit with Jesus over the Atlantic between Norway and Iceland. Jewelry molds for both the Christian crucifix and the heathen's Þór's Hammer which judging by the late appearance in the archaeological record could have been a lucrative jeweler's attempt at an early 'knock-off copy' of a prehistoric fad. Utilizing a 'borderzone approach' to Germanic history, the often debated issue of 'how heathen actually is the body of Norse literature' becomes a moot point since the very fact that the literature is written on parchment demonstrates a mixing of cultural or worldview values to some degree. Without benefit of the archaeological record, teasing out the heathen parts of the Völuspá from those which are blatantly Christian are about as effective as attempting to reverse engineer a common lilac bush to its basic (and still unknown) ancestors. From a literary standpoint, the entire corpus of Germanic literature represents the 'hybrid era,' the borderzone between the heathen (pre-450 CE) and the completely Christian Era (post-Industrial Age, according to many of us who lean conservatively).
Understanding the idea of concept exchange in a borderzone region is important to reconstructionism. Borderzones, as stated above, have always existed and will continue to exist so long as cultures exist. While one of Jolly's theses reiterated throughout her entire book is that we, as researchers, can only surmise lines transmission between the heathen and Christian worlds of Anglo- Saxon England based on literary and archaeological evidence, the mechanics of borderzones are well-known in modern anthropology.

"These same processes of acculturation at the domestic leve, although virtually impossible to document, undoubtedly occured after the baptism of Guthrum in East Anglia and throughout the Danelaw during the reconquest of the tenth century. The Viking settlers displaced the exisyting landholders and brought with them their own customs and laws; yet these newcomers also made new relationships with the English Christian population, as their new owners, as neighbors, and as inölaws. While we may question the depth of Guthrum's conviction at the moment of baptism, there is no denying the evidence of Scandinavian Chrisitanization over the next century at the grassroots level of popular culture, as seen, for example, in the rise of Danish churchmen in the tenth century and the popularity in the Danelaw of the cult of St. Edmund, martyred by Danes themselves. Most of all, the growth of Christianity following the Danish settlement is visible in the spread of local, lay-owned churches, both inside and outside the Danelaw."

It is also interesting that even though it is possible to study 'living' borderzones between heathen and Christian in real time, for example among the Pueblo Peoples of New Mexico, determining exactly which part of a specific tradition is native and which is imported becomes as elusive as studying a single electron among physicists.    The problem is that the tradition is interpreted by each practitioner on a personal level. One practioner may accept one part of a foreign system as being compatible with his worldview, such as the existence of a Christian god among the kachinas of his clan, but not Jesus, while another may accept both the god and Jesus plus the existence of the Christian Heaven as an alternate afterlife. Another may simply utilize elements of Christianity in poetic reference in a manner similar to modern poets who utilize Greek or Roman mythological analogies. The tradition is the by-product of a community, however, encompassing the cumulative personal interpretations and because the entire collection of personal interpretations is constantly in a state of flux so is the tradition itself.

The model which Jolly presents is very similar to what is still observed currently among the Pueblo Peoples. She restricts her discussion to the processes and events of Conversion among the Anglo-Saxon tribes, but because the mechanics of a borderzone remain the same, one can expect the Conversion to have been similar among the Scandinavian peoples upon which most modern heathenry is based although, as a matter of course, the details of the interplay between conversion processes and conversion events will generate a completely different story than among the Anglo-Saxons or the Pueblo Peoples. Important to our discussion is the lines of transmission versus the lines of opposition in the above Figure #1. There is absolutely no evidence that any of the so-called "heathen literature" was actually produced by heathens. In fact, there is evidence against it especially when one realizes that all writing was done by those trained by churchmen and training in literacy did not come without strong interaction with the world of the Christian. Additionally, there is no direct line to heathenry. Heathen tradition overlaps into the world of the Christian only through folkloric practices which were found acceptable at a pragmatic level or a social level to both the heathen and the Christian. Presumedly, these practices would include medical practices, traditions pertaining to home and land, and social practices such as ritualized drinking at special events among the Germanic peoples, for example. Where such practices overlap into worldview, such as the cause of a particular disease, one makes note that Christianized explanations dominate. Thus, one will note the Christian origin of elves early on in A-S literature, and the dualistic thinking injected into the existing corpus of Norse mythological poetry in spite of the apparent conflict with what is known about heathen Germanic burial customs.


2.7 Summary of the Germanic Afterlife

The most striking evidence of the Germanic heathen's sense of an Afterlife is also the least surprising since it directly reflects the Afterlife concepts of the pre-Hellenistic Greeks, Jews, Balts, Slavs, and Celts to a large degree: life after death is essentially a continuation of life in the grave. Life within the grave could be tedious, boring, tiring, cold, social and lonely. The comforts of home were to be provided by the family with the collection of grave goods left with the body or the ashes/ bones of cremation and through the periodic offerings left for the venerated dead in exchange the one skill the dead were known to possess in abundance: protection. The dead could protect the home and familial lands from invasion by ill-luck, ill-health and by men ill-disposed towards the family.

Having one's dead in the ground offered the odal-lands protection from above by the living and from below by the dead.

Ceremonial offerings, minne-feasts or minne-ales, in some regions, at least in Sweden, were offered to the dead at prescribed intervals after death: at 30 days, 60 days, and either 90 days or 6 months (depending on the regional variations)and then yearly after that. Veneration of the dead as an important and primary part of the heathen Germanic worldview and among various other cultures living in the northern temperate zone contemporary to the Norse.

The gravemound remained the standard concept of a heathen Afterlife in spite of the apparent confusing array of destinations after death described by modern authors (as opposed to researchers). There appears to be little or no evidence that the soul was ever conceptually viewed as being separable from the body, i.e. dualistic, but could be sent on special errands from its home in the body always to return to its corpse after the task was accomplished. Although this extending of the soul out into the world shows up most commonly in later folklore, there are indications in a few sagas that at least some during the heathen period accepted the idea of what is now called astral projection. There is speculation that the concept may have been brought into through contact with shamanistic tribes such as the Samí, possibly the early Finnish, and some of the tribes along the Volga. This borderzone influence has been discussed by Uno Holmberg in the earlier part of the last century and lately by Thomas Dubois.

Hel appears to have been a communal extension of the gravemound concept and Valhalla, a poetic variation which may in reality have had few believers (if any). Archaeological studies of graves near battlefields show that buried dead were outfitted in exactly the same manner as burials near community sites. Were there an actual difference in Afterlife concepts between village dwellers and warrior bands, one would expect differences in burials. The important point consistantly reinforced in later Norse literature and medieval folklore that it was important to get the dead comfortably into the grave and hopefully keep them there. Those who died away from home presented a special problem because the family was deprived of one of its own which would serve to protect the family lands and because the family could not be sure that the dead was properly interred. A Norse limbo for the drowned was envisioned, 'the nets of Rán,' and conceptually Valhalla may have served similarly to allay some of those fears as well.

Although reincarnation is often discussed in modern times as being closely bound to to earlier heathen beliefs any evidence for metempsychosis available comes directly from early Christians. There is absolutely no archaeological evidence of such a belief. The idea of 'passing on certain qualities' from one generation to the next, however, did exist and was in fact quite common. Unfortunately, modern translators insist on using the terms 'reincarnation' or 'born again' when it would be more apropos to use 'post-humously inherited' or 'passed X on.' Similar beliefs are seen in neighboring regions as well.

The gravemound or minor variations of the concept seems to have been the only verifiable Afterlife destination.