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.


2.6 The Heathen View of Reincarnation

Initially, we would have said that the concept of 'reincarnation' was a modern addition brought by neo-pagans, and, indeed, the modern interpretation of reincarnation (often modifed to 'reincarnation within the family line' as offered by Jordsvín above) is often held by those coming from 'neo-pagan/ alternative religionist' arena. However, that is not the end of the topic: these positions, true to the nature of the modern heathen, come with arguments based firmly in the lore of the Norse. A letter by a modern heathen to us in response to 'a rant' against reincarnation reveals the lore-based questions:

Saturday */*/2003 1:59:23pm
Name: A. G.
E-Mail: *@*.net Homepage
Referred By: Just Surfed In
Comments: Reincarnation in the Lore:

"Hogni was the name of a king whose daugher was Sigrun. She became a valkyrie and rode through the air and over the sea. SHE WAS SVAVA BORN AGAIN." Poetic Eddas, Helgakvitha 2 in Hollander, Bellows, and in Thorpe translates as "regenerated" instead of "born again". With what limited lore we have just this one mention in the Lore is good enough for me to know that our ancestors believed in a form of Reincarnation. Its pretty cut and dry, short, sweet, and to the point.

I love your rants however.
A. G. Lore Speaker * * Kindred, *

In our response, we pointed out that the Helgi Tales were but one instance of individuals being 'born again.' We also brought up the famous passage where Óláf, in St. Ólaf's Saga, was asked by an assistant 'if he had been buried in Óláf's Mound.'    His response was that he had never lived before. Both sets of examples are commonly used as arguments for an earlier heathen concept of 'reincarnation.'

It is important, first, to sort out the actual topics:

  1. The point which people are attempting to support is, of course, reincarnation as it is commonly viewed in modern, western culture, that is the metempsychosis of the personality, the ego, from one lifetime to the next. The idea generally involves the individual retaining some memories of a past life which may be remembered either over time or with some help such as through hypnosis or some crisis event which brings the past memories to the fore. The overall concept borrowed from the occidental is related to a concept that the individual will continue to reincarnate until a state of perfection is reached.
  2. One set of supports for the idea that reincarnation was part of the heathen worldview at one time is the Helgi, Svava and/ or Sigurðr set. This set supports the idea of 'aftrborinn,' qualities, characteristics, or duties passed on from generation to generation.
  3. The Óláf set, not mentioned in the letter above, are related to the early Christian idea that high born people such as saints or saintly men/ women could be reborn completely as in the modern concept.
The modern set, i.e. #1 above, has already been discussed, but set #2 which is most generally used to support a modern heathen idea that reincarnation was accepted by the ancient heathen needs further clarification. 'Aftrborinn' or 'endrborinn' is not necessarily complicated although it might be somewhat of a curiosity even today. The idea has never been lost or diluted down although the phrasing is different. In its simplest form, it is traits or characteristics passed down through a family. Requoting Flowers, then:

"Fundamentally, the phrase of the Norse Sigurðr saga* describes a process of aptrburðr* in which the innate powers of Sigmundr are 'reborn' in his post-humous son. This is evident in the relevant texts where we find that Sigurðr is able to ingest the venemous blood of Fáfnir after we have learned that only Sigmundr, and none of his sons, could perform this feat without harm. Thematically, similar myths (Víðarr and Váli) and saga figures (Þórðr, Kolbeinn Túmason, etc.) provide important analogs to this process. A wide range of cultural evidence, e.g. the Norse belief in rebirth and/ or transference of entities (hamingjur, fylgjur, etc.) which carry certain powers from generation to generation, naming practices connected with this belief, and the importance of rites of passage in fulfilling this transference also support this view."
Sigurðr was born with the same ability as his father to suffer no ill effects from the worm's venom. If we look at a common modern reversal of this such as an inability to properly digest milk or an allergy to eggs, for example, we see nothing unusual. In this modern times, we phrase it thusly: "John inherited the allergy from his father." There is absolutely nothing mysterious about this; in fact, it is quite normal. By extension, we also have the common phrases:
  1. He has is mother's smile. 
  2. She has her mother's sense of humor. 
  3. He has his grandfather's laugh. 
  4. She has her aunt's dislike for the cold, etc.
A curiosity even in these modern times, but certainly nothing unusual, and we don't even treat the phenomenon as anything mysterious or spiritual for the most part. It may, however, be a good enough reason to name a child after his 'giver.' This can be regarded as a form of reincarnation, but such a process is unnecessary to explain the event. That is the point: reincarnation is not a necessary explanation.
It should also be remembered that Iceland was a feuding society, and in a feud, as it is commonly understood even in 20th century America, one family never gives in to the other; it is a matter of honor. The families (rather than the individuals) are sworn enemies and, as in the famous feud of the Hatfield's and the McCoy's, families are expected to continue the fight until the exact reason can no longer be remembered. In the heroic poem, Helgi Hundingsbana, we encounter a similar situation where the feud is inherited by the young Helgi to continue the fight against the Hundings. Viewed in this way, translating the word 'aptrborinn' as inherited or passed on to, the concept becomes no more mysterious than allergies that are handed down from generation to generation. In these examples, we can see that we have not lost anything spiritual or some mystery of the ancients, but rather that we in this modern age accept the curiosities much in the same manner that the ancients did as a matter of fact. There is simply no need to resort to a concept as complex as reincarnation. A swift application of Occam's Razor suggests that the idea that something can be passed from one generation to the next. 'Aptrborinn' or 'endrborinn' continues to be poorly translated as 'reborn' or 'rebirth' when the more appropriate understanding of the word is the properly formed adverbial descriptor 'inherited.'

The is an interesting interlude in the earliest of eddic poems, the Völuspá, involving a female character known as Gullveig.

There was, however, a true form of reincarnation understood by those living during the conversion era, however, but this does not come from Germanic heathenry, but rather from Christianity.

"The tales of Olaf, the elf of Geirstað, a long dead king who hands on regalia (through a 3rd party) to the future St. Olave has been interpreted by Heinrichs as a repudiation of pagan ideas of reincarnation; the old Olaf asks that his corpse be beheaded in the grave-mound, presumedly to free his soul and let it enter the newborn Olave, who dismisses the idea as a popular misconception when he grows up. It is not clear what lies behind this ; a Christian apologist, ca. 1200, editing a story about a saint so that he can both be a reborn king and a witness to the truth that such a rebirth is impossible? A strong, local tradition legitimizing Olave's rule in a way that distinguishes him from other kings, rather than invoking a commonly-held belief? A revelation about how kingship was once viewed in Norway? In any case, the anecdote as it survives is post-conversion by a long way."
In the saga, of course, the pre-sainted Óláf writes the whole thing off as nothing but old folk-tales. Where things become interesting is in discovering exactly whose folk-tales they were:

"It is a fact that some Christian sects and writers accepted reincarnation as an enhancement to the teachings of Christ. Origen, one of the heralded Fathers of the Church and described by Saint Gregory as "the Prince of Christian learning in the third century," wrote: "Every soul comes into this world strengthened by the victories and weakened by the defeats of its previous life."
So if reincarnation was an idea in currency with early Christians, why have all traces of it disappeared from the Christian religion we know today?
By the early fourth century, strong Christian factions were vying with each other for influence and power, while at the same time the Roman Empire was beginning to fall apart. In A.D. 325, in a move to renew the unity of the empire, the absolute dictator Emperor Constantine convened the leaders of the feuding Christian factions at the Council of Nicaea. He offered to throw his imperial power behind the Christians if they would settle their differences and agree on a single creed. Decisions made at this first council set the foundation for the Roman Catholic Church. (Soon after, the books of the Bible were fixed too.) For the sake of unity, all beliefs that conflicted with the new creed were banished; in the process the factions and writings that supported reincarnation were thrown out.

Then, with the applause and support of the Christian leaders, Constantine moved to eliminate competing religions, and to make his personal grip on the Empire even more absolute. The result of the marriage between church and imperial state was a new Church made in the image of the autocratic Roman Empire. This is why, according to some historians, the Church exalts unquestioned central authority, imposes a singular dogmatic creed on its followers, and works so hard to stamp out divergent ideas. This is important, because reincarnation fell outside the offcial creed.
Apparently some Christians continued to believe in reincarnation even after the Council of Nicaea, because in A.D. 553 the Church found the need to single out reincarnation and condemn it explicitly. At the Second Council of Constantinople the concept of reincarnation, bundled together with other ideas under the term "pre-existence of the soul", was decreed to be a crime worthy of excommunication and damnation ("anathema"):
If anyone assert the fabulous pre-existence of souls, and shall assert the monstrous restoration which follows from it: let him be anathema."
The folk-tales were an error on the side of the Christian writing the text. There is absolutely nothing to indicate that the folk-tale stemmed from Germanic heathenry, and, in fact, there is enough circumstantial evidence, as pointed out in the quote by Christiansen above, that Christians were still attempting with marginal success to purge their religion of certain beliefs believed by the members of the Nicean Council to be inconsistant with the Bible's teachings. There certainly is enough evidence in the Bible that certain personages could and would be born again including Jesus himself, but as Christiansen states "there is no evidence whatever of such a belief in the viking age."


2.5 Other Heathen Afterlife Concepts

As much as it is clear that death into the gravemound is a common link from far back at early stages still identifiable as Germanic heathenry all the way up to the current era, it is also clear that during the late heathen era, a point in history when the heathen worldview was maximally confronted with that of Christianity, heathen spiritual concepts became very complex. It is in the 10th century skaldic poetry, in particular the Eiríksmál, that we get our first glimpse of Valhalla. Over the next 250 years, Valhalla would continue to develop at the hands of Christian writers and composers utilizing heathen elements until we are presented with Snorri's final version in the Gylfiginning. Neopagans and other romantics have written much regarding Snorri's 'true' rationale for writing his trilogy, but romanticism aside, Snorri was a Christian and was most likely trained in the art of writing by Christian clerics being born, raised and educated almost 250 years after the official Conversion of Iceland. Judging by the number of texts about heathenry written in medieval Iceland, the period which also gave birth to Snorri, there was a renewed interest in the heathen past, but there is no indication from the texts of this period that there was any attempt to revitalize heathenry. Like the poets Byron, Wordsworth and Tennyson, the medieval Icelandic writers and composers were applying heathen elements in the way of romanticists as a metaphor of the Christian worldview. What Snorri preserved then was not the elements of ancient heathenry but rather the elements of syncretism mixed with the elements of a medieval romantic era. Snorri's concept of Valhalla was built on top of a concept which was started in the 10th century.

"The poetic image of the warrior's paradise given in Grímnismál derives , although not in all details, without a doubt from folkbelief, but nonetheless several elements can be found already in 9th and 10th century skaldic poetry: in Þórbjörn Hornklofi's Hrafnmál (the shield-covered hall), in Eyvind's Hákonarmál and in the Eiríksmál. . .
The origin of the concept is by no means older than the name: in the beginning there was the battlefield strewn with corpses, from which the demons of death (valkyries) led the fallen heroes to a god of the dead; the description of this place, whether as a place in a mountain, or else a heavenly drinking hall, only came secondarily."

Snorri, the cleric-warrior, then, had plenty of material to build his concept of Valhalla from.

The Conversion of the Germanic north was essentially complete by the time of the the Saga writers. Regardless of what romanticists wish to believe, the bulk of Conversion, i.e. more thatn 85% of the population was most likely converted within a single generation. Pressures such as threats of or , in some cases, very real applications of economic sanctions, violence coming from outside a given community, life in close proximity to Christians in some cases 'outsiders' but in many cases 'insiders' many of whom had been Christianized for several generations already, broader access to money and human resources to continue expansion through colonization into the North Atlantic archipelagos and Greenland provided constant pressure on the heathen to convert. Between 980 CE and 1050 CE there were 'power grabs' by Christian kings throughout the entire Scandinavian region most of whom were trying to centralize power by bringing all the individual local regions under a single united banner, the banner of the the Church. Previously such united power moves and efforts to centralize power were not practical because under heathenry the individual localities remained cult centers, autonomous, and loyal, primarily to local leaders who were themselves bound tightly to the community cult-many of these being little more than overgrown extended families.

Many Romanticists would like to believe that there was a conspiracy of sorts by Christians, but the truth seems to be that the Conversion of the Germanic north seems to have been as much fueled from inside forces as it was from outside forces, fed both by the Church and other recent converts. The process is called a 'push-pull process' and can be described in this manner:

"Anthony, 1997, discusses theories of prehistoric migration in detail. In order for significant movements of people to take place there are four pre-conditions: a 'push' factor, or reason to move; a 'pull' factor, or a belief that the reason to move does not apply elsewhere; information flows, in order to select a destination where the 'pull' factor applies; transportation costs, which must not out- weigh the 'pull' factor. In the Anglo-Saxon case, where Old English appears to have replaced the previous British language(s), he notes 'In the absence of states, it is not likely that a small group of immigrants could bring about a substantial language shift merely by attacking, defeating and enslaving the indegenes (witness the Normans in England and the Celts in Galatia). Those who shift to a new language must see a clear advantage in doing so, and must have enough contact with the speakers of the target language so that they can learn that language."'

A standard part of romanticism-the modern variety is believing or using as a premise, the idea of 'good guy' vs. 'bad guy.' In migration, although migration tales typically side one way or another, there is no 'good guy'; according to Anthony, et al. it is a two-way street, a deal, a game of 'give and take.' Heathen England was not conquered by Christians heathen England accepted Christianity to a point where Christian opinion outweighed the heathen. Christian aggression played a role, most certainly, but heathens very likely believed they could hold out against the changing worldview being shoved at them (this has often been belief of the 'to be converted' and has been most documented among members of the various tribes of the USA, Central America, South America and African), and had there not been some kind of 'pay-off' for the newly converted, there would not have been a Christian Conversion of Iceland in 1000 CE or Norway in 1014 CE.

This process has been played out 1000s of times over the past millennium and the mechanisms are fairly well known. 'Conversion,' for romantics (which includes many neo-pagans in this day and age) is held to have been done at spear-point, through threats of violence, real violence, hangings, burnings at the stake a noble culture being slowly conquered by an invading force. The fact is that most 'conversion efforts' probably more resembled the throwing of an open bag of Fritos into the middle of a prairie dog town and allowing the inhabitants to bring discord upon themselves than any of the tales of the 'nobly conquered who practiced their religion in secret caves and glens at night' concocted by romantics. Christianity comes out as the uniting force or philosophy, the controllers of the calm after the storm. The worldview of the region is forever changed and always comes out the same:
  1. Christianity replaces the fundamental root of the worldview.
  2. Because the Christian worldview is not borne of a region, i.e. is not bound to the land, it can pick up and absorb local 'flavorings' with little loss.
As a consequence, one can still read folklore which resembles the heathen past, that of dwarves and elves, and the Wild Hunt, but these are now laid onto top of the Christian of the Christian worldview. The previously heathen elements now serve to explain, clarify and support the Christian worldview which has now replaced the local heathen philosophy as the very foundation of how the world is perceived. One need only to look at Native American belief, Voudoun, Santería, or the ayahuasca cults of South America to see Catholicism flavored with heathen elements.

In this same manner, we see the development, then, of Valhalla into the warrior's paradise, a process which is not reflected in the the archaeological record. Valhalla appears to be poetic product of the Age of Syncretism, the period of time when local Christian leaders were deciding which indigenous flavorings were acceptable and which were not. The gods of Asgarð were acceptable so long as they fell under the True God:

Adown cometh to the doom of the world 
the great godhead which governs all.

Comes the darksome dragon flying 
Nidðögg, upward from the Níða Fells; 
he bears in his pinions as the plains he o'erflies, 
naked corpses: now he will sink (from Hollander, p.13.)

Ragnarök viewed in this manner truly becomes "The Fates of the Gods" at the point when Christianity is replacing the older underlying worldview. The oldest poem in the collection now known as the Elder Edda is by linguistic evidence dated to the late 10th century with later interpolations added by copyists over the next four centuries.    On the one hand, through creative reading one can mentally 'recreate' a religious worldview which never really existed, at least according to the archaeological record, and in conjunction with social processes concurrent to the composition of the Völuspá Valhalla, then, becomes a glorious concept of a noble culture comparable to the Christian concept of Heaven; on the other, one can take into consideration all that was happening at the time and treat this oldest of the Old Norse mythological poems as the product of the time of conversion. One can completely ignore the parallels between Paul's Revelations and the Völuspá and surmise that they are but coincidence, or one can deny coincidence and look at the skill and complexity with which the composer sought to broaden his audience base by appealing to both Christians and heathens. The romantics lean towards the former, the reconstructionists to the latter.

Two other destinations listed by Simek in his list above is that of Hel and Rán. Hel, as a destination after death appears to be old heathen and is mentioned in both Anglo-Saxon and Gothic writings. Hel as a goddess, daughter of Lokí, is not mentioned until immediately prior to the the Age of Conversion and is surmised by Turville-Petre, Simek, Christiansen, et al. to be little more than a poetic anthropomorphization of the place. The origin of the concept appears to have been Germanic but the concept is so similar to other Indo-European concepts of an Otherworld that Christiansen suspects with good rationale that later descriptions are not of purely native genesis.

"A goddess called Hel appears in Egill's verse, but above ground; much later, in Völuspá (st. 43), she has a high hall underground and 'a sooty cock' to waken the dead. In Balder's Dreams she has a watchdog, with a blood-stained chest, who barks at Óðínn; but by that time the concept had been much overlaid by the Christian inferus, or Hades or Orcus, and continued to be embellished with macabre details and geography appropriate to a place of punishment:    rivers of ice and fire, perilous bridges, impaled bodies, snake-houses, foul smells. All that is too close to Irish and Anglo- Saxon versions to be purely of native growth. . . .

Like Valhalla, Hel seems to have been greatly affected by the development of poetry over time, and by intercultural experiences of the poets.

That Hel is an old concept among the Norse is not doubted, even though later detailed descriptions of the place must be drawn into question. Hel, as a word, is related to the IG root *kel- which carries the sense of 'covered,' 'hidden,' 'underground.'

"The Germanic origins of the English hall appear to lie in the Iron Age where it was customary for each settlement to have a large structure, presumed to have been used as a communal meeting (Volkshalle) among the dwellings of a single, dominant family in the settlement.The role of the most successful, leading farmer gradually merged with that of political leader, and the hall became the private stage for public acts carried out by this chieftain. The leader then began to act for the other members of teh group, and could take decisions on its behalf and provide leadership."
"The word heall 'hall' is based on the same root *kel- as helm and hel 'Hell'; the idea is of covering and concealment. The Latin word cella 'cell, room' is based on this root also."

Valhalla has already been discussed above, and the 'hall' plays a central role in the overall development of Valhalla through the early medieval period in Iceland. In addition to this, researchers have long noted that the Germanic sense of the Afterlife, particularly that which takes place in the gravemound, is a shadowy representation or extension of life above ground. The concept of 'hall' as a central meeting place for the community becomes mirrored by Hel being the central meeting place of the community of the dead. Given the Germanic tendency to concieve of life below ground as being a reflection of life above, it may very well be that as family estates grew and pulled together as communities/ villages for improved economic stability and increased defensibility, the conception of the Afterlife grew at a similiar pace to encompass the sense of community/ hall. In other words from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age, the Afterlife expanded from the family gravemound to a communal Hel. Viewed this way, Valhalla then becomes 'the Hel of the slain.'

'The nets of Rán,' i.e. the drowned whose corpse has not been recovered, as an Afterlife concept appears to be no older than the concept of Hel. One consistency noted by archaeologists and supported well in the later literature was the importance of the body being placed into the ground. There is a certain feeling of finality and also of security that comes with knowing that a body has been properly placed in its ancestral resting place. The fear of 'the dead walking' was fairly pervasive throughout the entire realm of Germanic heathenry not only because of the malicious mischievousness often caused by the draugr, "the animated corpse commonly translated as 'ghost,"' but the family was also not able to venerate the walking dead in exchange for luck and protection for the home.

Matters are often confusing regarding a drowning where the corpse has not been recovered even in modern times. Families wait. The 'unknowingness' results in families' waiting, searching, and occasionally organizing community wide search parties. Additionally, because of the unpredicatability of currents, the corpse can show up hundreds of miles from where the drowning occurred, and may take months to find. Egill Skallagrimson's son was caught in the nets of Rán, but his body was eventually recovered and placed safely into the ground. Given the increases in long distance sailing throughout the Viking Era, losing a relative to the nets of Rán must have been a common fear, and this was exacerbated by the idea that bodies needed to be properly interred to keep them from walking and to keep the luck flowing back into the family farmstead.

As the number of the battle-dead lost on foreign soil increased later in the Viking Age, a fear similar to that of losing a relative to the nets of Rán must have also occurred. There are many records of these battle-dead being cremated on the field after the battle. This may have been the impetus for battle-poetry which was so common to the Germanic societies of both the northern and western branches. As with the idea behind proper interrment, witnessing and reporting of a good death on the field of battle may have served to allay the unease of 'not knowing.' Cremation which survived among many of the warrior bands long after it was abandoned by families and communities may have, at least partially, been a way for a warrior band 'to compress' the bodies in a socially acceptable way so that they could be more easily brought back home. Additionally, the idea of dying in battle on foreign soil without the comfort of being returned to the family gravemound may have spurred the late heathen development of Valhalla, 'the Hel of the slain,' allowing the dead a burial 'with a purpose,' i.e. that of feasting among the substitute family the comitatus, in Valhalla so that the need to 'walk' after death was lessened.

One other late developing concept indigenous to the Germanic heathens of Scandinavia was that of Niflhel, 'the Strand of Corpses.' This concept and its description all show distinct signs of Christian influence, but this influence was picked up by either Germanic heathens or more probably early Germanic Christians and was developed in accordance to Germanic social structure of Iceland. A person in an Icelandic properly found guilty of a crime against the community in which he lived could be subject to an official 'shunning' by the community. The price of his wergild could be removed so that his death at the hands of another would result in no fine and would not be judged as a crime. The concept of Nifhel while clearly an imitation of the tortures of Hell espoused by early Christians reflects the Icelandic socio-legal structure well enough to have dovetailed into the pre-existing beliefs in gravemound-Hel. The newly dead would be denied entrance into the folds of the familial or community dead and would be forced to suffer banishment to the 'wilderness' of the Afterlife, Niflheim or Niflhel (literally, 'mist-home' or 'misty-hel') in direct opposition to the 'comforts' of Hel or the gravemound most often depicted in folktales as being endless feasting (in the gravemound 'which was raised up on four red pillars'). There is no evidence to suggest that Niflhel was generated out of the original heathen worldview but most properly belongs to the Era of Syncretism.


2.4 The Heathen Concept Death into the Gravemound

While Simek in Religion und Mythologie der Germanen lists only four after death destinations
  1. the gravemound, 
  2. Hel, 
  3. Valhalla, and 
  4. with Rán,

Eric Christiansen in his The Norsemen in the Viking Age lists 'seven lives beyond death, or at least byond the tomb:
  1. living with with the Gods, 
  2. Valhalla, 
  3. Hel, 
  4. under the sea,
  5. an earthly land of the dead, 
  6. with the poor, over the stream, and 
  7. reincarnation.
Neither historian seems convinced, however, that anything but the gravemound has any real practical application in heathenry from the Bronze up to well into the Viking Age and there is suggestion that among early Christians, the gravemound was considered to be the resting place of the soul/ corpse combination, there to lie in state until after the final battle of John's Revelations, when Jehovah would allow the souls to be released into heaven. Bo Gräsland suggests that during the first millennium there existed only two primary beliefs: that in the soul being bound to the corpse in the grave, and that which was influenced by Christianity, Islam, but also the shamanistic beliefs of the Finns-Balts-Sami. The former seems to have been held by the northern Germanic heathen until the the late Viking Age in the Scandinavian north. It should be noted the Finno- Baltic border-zones of Scandinavia were also highly affected by the shamanistic practices of their neighbors. The large amount of variation in funerary practice in conjuction with the shifts in the practice over time would certainly suggest the the northern Germanic heathen was open to variations regarding getting the corpse safely into the ground but beyond that there is little indication that their Afterlife concepts were also so affected. There is a fair degree of consistency from the time of the Bronze Age up to the point of Conversion in terms of how the grave was outfitted for the dead. Among those harboring a shamanistic worldview, where the soul was either free to wander the wilderness or was transferred to a point near home as a type of guardian, the body was left to be disposed of out in nature and grave goods found in these graves is very sparse. Christiansen lines the diversity issue out:

"After death lay another future to provide for. Some spent their all on it; according to Wulfstan, in the OE Orosius, there were Balts among whom the dead man's possesions went entirely on drinking and games at the wake over a month or two; any left over were divided into prizes to be won by strangers in a horse race and the clothes and the weapons were created with the body, which had been 'ripening' meanwhile. This was not the way among the Norse, where sometimes rich deposits of worldly wealth were included both with the buried and the the burnt over this whole period, in patterns which vary greatly between graves, dates and districts. The rites of burial within Scandinavia were not recorded by Wulfstan or anyone else, and can only be reconstructed in part by archaeologists; but if their remains reflect concepts of death and life after death, it seems that there are many different opinions on the subject. This diversity appears in the later written sources, and inspired a memorable book by Hilda Ellis Davidson nearly sixty years ago; since The Road to Hel was 'A Study of the Conception of the Dead in Old Norse literature' there is no need to go into those sources here. Archaeology has confirmed the impression that rites varies, but their meaning in terms of life after death need not have reflected the variations closely; some may have been seen as better ways of getting to the same goal as the others."
Rudolph Simek goes a little bit further in trying to define the actual process of moving from heathen concepts to what he calls the the 'religion of the late Viking Age.'

"The oldest conception of the Land of the Dead was most certainly the extension and continuation of in the grave, in particular, within the gravemound itself, and the representation as described above [in the text] is above all closely related to the legends of the dead kings under the mountain who lie in wait for their reawakening. In medieval Icelandic literature, scenes are depicted where the dead are feasting together in their gravemounds (Gisla saga 11, Eyrbyggia saga 11, Njáls saga 14). Whether the the tales of giants living and feasting within the mountain also belongs to this rather common folk-motif has been debated in which the diverse set of mountain and hill dwellers of the low mythology (elves, guardian spirits, and dwarves in all their various forms and from all spiritual worldviews relates back to this veneration of ancestors. Here also belongs the isolated incidences of offerings laid out for the dead. True that Þorvalds Þáttr víðförla is a relatively young text, but it shows well in which manner the relationship between the living and the dead could be perceived even well into Iceland's medieval period."
Simek goes on to describe that which can be found sprinkled throughout Snorri's Heimskringla as well, i.e. how people reach an agreement with the buried dead that in exchange for offerings the dead in turn lend their luck and care to the farms of those leaving the offerings. The manner is very different than the typical approach of the Christian to their God in that this heathen form of spirituality differed very little from any other kind of business deal.

The underlying logic of such offerings described in Simek, Grönbech, and Pentikäinen is relatively simple:
Like any other business deal between families or between family members, the head of the household wishing to make the deal appraoches the gravemound offers the deal and defines the conditions. Depending upon the conditions of the deal, either the 'payment,' i.e. the offering, or the 'job results' could come first. So long as each party holds up its end of the bargain, the deal is maintained.
In the case of the dead being a non-family member (such as a king, jarl, or dead neighbor), the deal remains conditional and may be broken off by either party; the case of the dead being a family member is somewhat more complex because the frith of the family must be maintained.
There is literary evidence that social protocol does not change while addressing the dead since the social rank at the time of death also has not declined.
Spirituality for the heathen was inextricable from the overall worldview, and as a consequence we have no evidence that 'any ceremony' in the sense of a Catholic Mass was performed while making the offerings, but significant evidence exists that social formalities regarding the ranks of the parties involved in the deal were strictly observed.
Such private offerings to ancestors and venerated leaders are well documented from the earliest descriptions of the Germanic heathen of all branches until well into the medieval period. The practice seems to have disappeared from the lives of those living in cities during the medieval period much more quickly that from those living in the more rural areas. This is understandable, however, when one considers that cities tend to foster a homogenized, mixed culture whereas the rural areas tend to remain conservatively monocultured.
This section starts out, though, discussing various realms of the dead and they must not be neglected for they make up much of what is commonly accepted by the general population regarding the Viking Age. Most children in the USA above the age of 10 yrs. have at least been exposed to the idea that 'heaven for the Norse viking' was Valhalla. On the other hand, few adults in spite of their educational level realize what the process of conversion entails in spite of the fact that most of the American Indian tribes between the Mississippi River and the western slopes of of the North American Rockies are still undergoing conversion as well as the indigenous cultures of Canada, Central and South Americas. Additionally, most white middle and upper class adults of the USA have a very poor understanding of worldview and the persistance of one's native worldview even after being exposed to various other cultures/ worldviews.

Depending on the group being asked, some will say that the Conversion was quick and brutal ("In 999 CE, Iceland was heathen, and in 1000 CE, it was Christian" or "St. Óláf baptized over 5000 people in the river on one day before killing many of them at spear point!") or that it was fairly quick but pockets of pagans held on to the 'Old Religion' practicing in secret hidden from the prying eyes of the Inquisition and the civil courts. From what is known of the the Conversion in the north the process was very slow, lasting well over 700 yrs. There was some brutality, of course, particularly with the Conversion of Norway, but for the most part religious conversion really represented changes in how regions were politically managed, i.e. new laws which reflected the Christian worldview were passed, and how one perceived the worldview, i.e. birth/ death, the meaning and purpose of life, the definition of society and social relationship etc. Most of the actual Conversion was slow, and for the most part, peaceful.
The process of conversion from one worldview to another in the case of northern Europe lasted over 35 generations and involved removing bits of the old heathen worldview by replacing it with another similar function or event. This process creates what is known as a syncretism, a hybrid religion combining seamlessly the old and the new. We know this to be part of the overall process because there are, in fact, many syncretisms alive and well within the borders of the USA. These would include Voudoun, Santería, Condomblé, Lacumba, the Native American Church, Rastifarianism many of the indigenous religions of the American Indian Reservations and Pueblos. There are literally hundreds of syncretisms all around the world some of them combining Christianity with the indigenous, some with Islam and the indigenous and others with Buddhism and the indigenous. For most of the 700 years of conversion in northern Europe, the indigenous Germanic religion existed as a syncretism, and this includes the period of time when the oldest skaldic and eddaic were recorded. The apparent 'Christian flavor' in many of the poems and sagas are really a by-product of syncretism. Simek presents this information in his Religion und Mythologie der Germanen:
"In general it is apparent that in the late heathen period there was no single concept of life after death. The diversely defined Realms of the Dead are the product of a culture which was attempting to integrate very different and independent concepts [of an Afterlife] from a variety of sources in a type of syncretismin which not only Christian but also perhaps Baltic, Slavic, and Celtic elements all flowed together. Because of existential area of human persuit, in the long run, it may have been possible for Christianity to offer a much clearer, integrated and more hopeful answer to the heathens of the northern countries.
In spite of all the variations in Afterlife concepts, there is a common thread which appears to run from the earliest events which can be classified as belonging to a distinct Germanic culture through the 20th century at least in many rural areas of continental Europe on through to the Americas which is that the dead were viewed by Germanic heathens and Christians alike to live in the grave. The heathen draugr of the medieval Norse sagaic literature changes very little over centuries of folk-tales and, perhaps by coincidence, dovetails nicely with the Christian idea that the soul remains with the body until Armageddon when it will be raised up to the Christian Heaven to be judged by Jehovah and his son, Jesus. It was ideas such as this concept of the Afterlife which most likely served as a bridge over the gap between heathenry and the new religion of Christianity which allowed for the development of dual-religionism, or syncretism. Of all the elements of heathenry which survived the Conversion of northern Europe, death into the gravemound seems to have been most tenacious, and because it was acceptable to many Christians of the period, it was completely impossible to eradicate.

On the other hand, it is the concept which resembles our modern concepts of an Afterlife in the least. Even Christians of teh late Viking Age and early medieval period who were able at least to comprehend death into the gravemound envisioned 'something beyond the grave,' a placement resulting from some judgment of one's deeds which would subsequently result in some kind of residence for the rest of eternity. This need, then, was most likely provided by Christians themselves. Archaeological finds provide no indication whatsoever that heathens prepared the body for anything but life in the gravemound or perhaps a more communal version such as is described as Hel or Helheim. Heathens feeling the need, then, provided themselves with several other Afterlife concepts which begin to appear in the last 100 years before the Conversion to Christianity.


2.3 The Heathen Concept of 'Patron-Gods'

The Christian doctrine of 'giving one's soul back to God,' so that one can receive special personalized favors must have appeared ludicrous or as a perversion to those holding to the concept that the soul resides with the body. Prior to the coming of Christianity, to force the soul out of the gravemound would have only been done in extreme cases where the draugr was haunting or harrassing the community. There are numerous examples of this not only is sagas like the Eyrbyggia Saga and Gisli's Saga but also in later folklore. The process of ridding the community of a 'soul' meant that the 'soul,' i.e. the animated corpse, was raising havoc in the community and that it was a matter of necessity. For the Germanic heathen, retaining the souls of ancestors in the familial gravemound was seen as building the family's foundation of 'luck providers,' especially if those interred had been lucky in life. Emptying the gravemound of souls would have been deemed a disservice, at best, and a death sentence at the worst. Here, then is the heathen's logic:

  1. The process of giving one's soul to the God of the Christians for special favors or personal salvation received during life is, in a sense, the same process that is described in the sagaic literature as an exorcism, a death after death, where the body is removed, decapitated, and burned with the ashes scattered on water, i.e. outside the earth of the family mound: the soul, i.e. the ancestor, is no longer available to the family/ community as a natural resource for luck, wisdom and prosperity. If the view of exorcism during the heathen period was to rid the community of a 'ghost', a minor extension of logic leads us to the idea that voluntarily separating one's soul and giving it away even to the God of the Christian dooms one not only to remain separated from the soul's true home, i.e. the family grave/ the corpse but to place it into 'slavery' as well.
  2. From the heathen's point of view, special favors were granted to communities by gods and powerful men such as dead kings. This was ultimately the purpose of the communal ritual sacrifice. In the early Germanic worldview, an individual's role was to support and defend the honor and integrity of both family and community. Selfish acts such as stealing or hoarding were considered to be despicable acts.

The Germanic heathens were a clannish people in the same manner as their cousins, the Celts, Slavs and Balts, and purely selfish acts were not tolerated well. From this mindset, gaining a personal relationship with a god so that one could obtain special favors in life and personal salvation after death had to have also been viewed as selfish disregard for the sanctity of family and community.

Vilhelm Grönbech in Kultur und Religion der Germanen spends much time defining and describing this worldview in such a way that one is struck by how far modern Anglo-American worldview has moved itself away from its heathen Germanic predecessor.

"If ever this straightforward simplicity, that sought its rallying point in things of common human interest, were justified in any case, it would be in regard to the Germanic peoples. "We find here a community based upon general unity, mutual self-sacrifice and self-denial, and the social spirit. A society, in which every individual, from birth to death, was bound by consideration for his neighbour. The individuals in this community show in all their doings that they are inspired by one passion: the welfare and honour of their kin; and none of the temptations of the world can move them even for a moment to glance aside. They say themselves, that this passion is love. What more natural then, than that we, who from our own lives know love and its power, should begin with what we have in common with these people we are considering? Given this agreement on the essential point, all that appears strange must surely become simple and comprehensible." 

And later when talking of the 'venerated dead,'

"And that which was the free man's mark of nobility, his 'gladness,' went with his luck into the higher existence (i.e. 'into the family gravemound' B. L). One might hear the dead man singing from his harrow or his ship about his wealth and his renown, in verses such as that known to have been sung by the barrow-dweller Asmund of Langaholt. This distinguished man had been buried in his ship, and the family had given with thoughtful care had given him a faithful thrall to share the grave. but this company proving by no means to his taste, he begged to have the grizzler taken out. And then he was heard with the proud boastfulness of life: 'Now, I alone man the ship; room better suits the battle-wont than crowding of base company. I steer my ship and this will long be in the minds of men."'

And in speaking of the 'luck' which flowed from the familial gravemound Grönbech says that

"a man, then, died as his power of life enabled him. The great man of luck slid with a little bump across the reef, and sailed on. Inferiors, poor folk, might find themselves stranded [in life], to sink and to disappear. He who had a great store of soul could, according to human calculations, live forever; the poor in soul peril of using up his stock in this world."

Luck, in the fashion of a fluid, was expected to flow out from the grave back to the living descendents so long as the dead were venerated. The system is simple and straight forward but is, also very difficult to comprehend in the year 2005 CE after many centuries of education in the foreign concepts of dualism and reward/ punishment for the soul after death. The Germanic heathen's view of life and death was simplicity in itself.

According to what is known about social organization in the Scandinavian communities as well as the northern half of Germany, Scotland with its associated island communities, and the Faroes during the Viking era, the individual was viewed, with notable exceptions for those who stood out as heroes, as being but a part of a family-complex and this complex was viewed as being the smallest single, indivisible unit of an entire community. This can be best illustrated by the legal codes of the time which held that if an individual committed a crime, the family was held ultimately responsible and was subject to community judgment. On the other hand, if an individual committed a crime against another family member, unless the commission of the crime affected the entire community, it was held to be a family problem. In the case of the murder of another family member, for example, wergild, could not be legally enforced by the community; there was, consequently, no way to restore honor or frith.

Returning back to the topic at hand, regarding the concept of a spiritual patron, although generally considered to be imprecise data to a large degree, it is known particularly from place-name studies that different cults dominated in specific areas at specific times. It is also known, particularly from sagaic literature, that certain families were devoted to specific gods. This family then functioned as the official intercessor for the entire community and at regular intervals (probably depending on the economic basis of the community as well as by community agreement) the family sacrificed to the specific god.

The role of each person was fairly well delineated within the community. The individual conducting the sacrifice was called the blótsmaðr. According to Jón Hnefill Aðalsteinsson's research regarding the history of his native Iceland, the goðí was the official elected by the district to oversee the sacrifice and make sure that it met all specifications. Normally, an individual was attached to a specific, usually local, cult headed up by a family whose specialty was to sacrifice according to community-wide accepted terms and who, at least in Iceland, was then overseen by an elected official. Families attended the blót who then consequently received the blessing of the particular god. Individual beliefs were relatively insignificant.

The concept of a 'personal patron' only shows up in Viga-Glúms Saga and since the saga itself seems to have been written late and primarily for a Christian audience, the idea of a personal patron must be viewed with suspicion. The concept of a 'personal patron' certainly does not appear to be consistent with the heathen worldview of the Viking Age and because of this, could, and probably should, be regarded as a Christian interpretation of that particular aspect of the heathen worldview. Social protocol was that those with the fewest social ties were those of the thrall class-in more modern terms, a class of landless, uneducated people whose family has not distinguished itself; those with the finest social ties, were families who had distinguished themselves above peers, understandably these would be 'leaders' in any field of expertise important to the community. The two closest then to the community patron would have been the equivalent of the local king, who held the 'luck of the entire community in his hand, and the family of the blótsman.

One of the most common examples from the sagaic literature is that of Thorolf Mostur-Beard who was a dedicated blótsman Thor. However, the use of Thorolf in this manner of argument shows little regard or understanding for who and what Thorolf was to his community.

2.2 The Heathen view of 'Soul'

Early attempts to convert heathens seem to have initially 'sparked the Viking Age.' These pre-Viking Age communities demonstrated a mind set or a world- view which seems at times to have stood in direct contrast to Christianity and at other times was simply different. In the present day, the common heathen mindset regarding the ownership of 'soul' is simply 'different' than what Christians are teaching as doctrine at the beginning of the third millennium of the common era.

Rudolf Simek and others have pointed out that much of modern heathenry has utilized the Elder Edda for its most basic foundation. Furthermore, this set of poems dating mainly from after the time of Conversion has been used as the standard for interpreting material from the the corpus of sagas as well as archeological evidence. The problem with this approach lies in the fact that the eddaic poetry was composed more as political commentary than poetry to preserve history helping to spread Christianity while at the same time serving to undermine the strength of heathenry through poetic rhetoric. For example, the Völuspá, a poem which outlines Norse cosmology from the creation of Middle-Earth through the end-times is comprised of approximately 65 stanzas. Most researchers agree that in all probability the first 27 stanzas represent heathen thought prior to the Conversion. At stanza 28, however, the seeress begins to provide the listener, in this case, Óðínn, with her views for the future which she received while "sitting out." What follows is a monologue which combines obvious Christian references with classical poetic images with the end result being the almost total annihilation of the northern Germanic pantheon along with their creations. Those who survive are stripped of power and are placed in a position of subordination to the "great godhead" who will sit in Judgment, settle all strife and rule over the unified world always. The classical poetic and the Christian overtones cannot be overlooked for it is these which provide the modern researcher insight into the composer's actual intent. The dating of the poem coincides with a period of time when political pressure to convert to Christianity was coming out of Norway to the point where Icelanders were blocked from entering seaports unless baptised. Politically, the move was towards Christianity and the Völuspá reflects this. Much of modern heathenry, then, is based Viking Age Christian religio-political propaganda. Few modern heathen groups have made any attempt to place the poetry into historical perspective, and, as a consequence, the soul-lore of modern heathenry has been based largely on how Christians at the time of the Conversion saw heathens and their worldview rather than on historical evidence.

Early Christian doctrine taught that everything including the human soul emminated from God and that true salvation was to be achieved through 1) conscious acknowledgement of the fact that God owned the soul by promising to give the soul back to God through a series of Sacraments, and 2) acting in a manner which indicated that God was the Supreme owner by imitating the selfless acts first demonstrated by the son of God, Jesus, who came to earth to teach man how to behave appropriately according to this doctrine. It was very improbable that such a doctrine made any kind of sense to the average heathen of the time, though.

"Detailed investigations since the beginning of the 20th century have led to the insight that it is extremely unlikely, at least for the late heathen period, that the north Germanic peoples had a dualistic belief, i.e. a distinct division between the decomposing body of the dead person and the further existence of his soul.    The extant sources suggest that the concept rather was that of the 'living corpse' which lived on the gravemound. Although the saga literature (written 200-500 years after Christianization) is otherwise extremely unreliable for heathen beliefs, these sources do show unanimity, par-ticularly with regard to these concepts, so widely divergent from Christian thought. Admittedly, they may be strongly influenced by the folklore of Medieval Iceland. Nevertheless, we may assume that the concept does indeed reflect heathen beliefs."

The heathen first hearing about the doctrine of dualism must have thought the Christian leaders/ teachers to be very confused perhaps even mad. For the heathen, as evidenced in both literature and burial practice as well as philology, the soul was the animating force of the body and could not therefore be separated from the body. The dead were interred in almost all cases, usually with grave goods. Although cremation was a fairly common practice off and on (its practice seems to have varied according to the dominant local cult), the bones and ashes were still buried in the earth, preferably the family gravemound. The origins of cremation among the northern Germanic peoples are a mystery and theories as to origin of the practice are many and all are purely speculative. In the later Viking Age, burning was a common heathen method for immobilizing a revenant, i.e. a dead man whose 'soul' was still powerful enough that the dead man was leaving the grave, usually at night, and was molesting the community. Cremation, then could have been viewed as a preventative measure-the soul remained with the immobile bones and ashes. Cremation was also very common among warriors and their cult practices and may have been initially viewed as an effcient way to compress a corpse so that it could be easily transported to the familial gravemound. In any case, every attempt was made to inter the body/ soul in the family grave.

Souls roaming without their bodies was a common concept was not unknown. The phenomenon shows up in dreams during sleep, and in the practice of seið as described in the Ynglinga Saga.

"Óthin could shift his appearance. When he did so, his body would lie there as if he were asleep or dead; but he, himself, in an instant, in the shape of a bird or animal, a fish or a serpent, went to distant countries on his or other men's errands."

The above would seem to contradict the results reported by Simek; however, since the soul is never truly separated from the body of Óthin, it does not represent a contradiction but rather confirms the apparent heathen idea that a soul's true home is the body of the individual. In fact, there numerous instances of apparitions (usually in animal form, but sometimes human especially in later folklore) which are never really separated from the bodies of either the living or the dead. Although these tales represent quaint distractions from the idea that the soul was intimately and inextricably connected to the body, a belief in the concept of dualism as taught during this modern era is not necessary to explain them, nor does there appear to be any inconsistency with Simek, Schreuer, Neckel, and Klare's findings.

Although such soul concepts may seem rather strange to the average Westerner in the year 2005, the fact is that a body/ soul complex is very common in the world where indigenous peoples retain their aboriginal worldviews. The concept of non-dualism ('the body is the soul') is very tenacious and does not seem to have disappeared easily on the one hand, and, on the other, where Christianity has moved into an area dominated by an indigenous worldview resulting in a syncretistic belief system such as among South and North American or African tribes, the non-dualistic concept, i.e. that of the soul inextricably bound to the corpse, seems to have continued on rather comfortably, side-by-side with the afterlife concepts of the new religion. This also appears to have been the case in northern Europe continuing on even into the German/ Scandinavian settled areas of the rural USA until well into this past century.

Research has provided us with fairly concrete evidence that the the Germanic heathen of the Viking Age did not hold to a belief in dualism, a concept which filtered into the north rather slowly and which has taken almost an entire millennium to take hold especially in the rural areas. To be able to discuss the Germanic heathen's concepts of life after death, the meaning of death, and exactly how the Germanic heathen saw the interplay between life and death fitting into their overall view of the universe, it is advantageous to drop the concept of dualism. Using the foreign concept to explain life after death is, in essence, using Christianity or New Age spiritual philosophy as the standard for explanation. In other words, explaining how heathenry appears through the eyes of the Christian. Such has already been done since the time of the saga writers and offers the modern reconstructionist absolutely no insight to the Germanic heathen's worldview.

2 Historical Views

2.1    Difficulties Researching the Past

Now, we will present what is known about the Germanic worldview. There is a counter-argument against the reconstruction of the Germanic which commonly appears on email list and bulletin boards; the argument runs thus:

"It is completely impossible to know exactly what was accepted by the ancient Germanic peoples as part of their worldview. There are no living examples and the ancient heathens left no real records of their own. Everything that we know about that period of time has been translated and interpreted for us by the Christians who picked and chose what would be preserved, how it would be preserved, and in many cases, as part of their own propaganda machine to further their own cause. Anyone believing that they are re-creating the worldview of the ancient heathen is mistaken."

There are some errors in the above arguments, however. First, heathens did preserve much of their worldview, albeit at times unconsciously, in a very careful fashion. The archaeological record is as good as any written document for the preservation of facts. So important and so well preserved is the archeological record that it is used to verify written records. The main differences between approaching heathenry from the written records and the archaeological record is that the primary written records pertaining to heathenry, i.e. the sagas and poetry, do not have to necessarily represent the truth and come pre-interpreted. The New Methods for research of the Viking era call for a cooperative effort between a large number of fields:

  1. "interdisciplinary co-operation, extending outside university departments if possible towards collaborative inquiry with the whole of society;
  2. vaster and vaster accumulations of evidence 'preferably in machine readable form,' using Automated Data Processing;
  3. international co-operation on all levels; and
  4. more rigorous application of more standardized standards of research, publication and training."
Some of the research fields which Christiansen lists as being currently involved in Viking era research are
  • Paleoclimatology 
  • Paleoachaeology 
  • Paleobiology 
  • Paleobotany
  • Paleoentomology
  • Landscape achaeology
  • Various dating procedures such as tephrochronology, accelerator mass spectometry, as well as older carbon -14 dating, DNA sampling as well as blood-typing, and computerized correspondence analysis.
  • older fields of study like linguistics, philology, runology, straight achaeology, marine archaeology as well as the oldest literary studies of sagas, poetry, etc.
Up to ca. 2000 CE much of the reconstruction of the modern heathen 'religion' has relied upon the reading of the sagas and eddaic poetry and imitating the actions found therein, but this is just the tip problematic iceberg.

Ásatrú in the USA started to organize itself under Stephen McNallan in 1973. The original thought by most at the time was that "if we reconstruct the heathen religion, we will regain our noble spiritual heritage much in the same manner as those of American Indian or African rootstock." It was a noble effort which by luck and the perseverance of the adherents to the Ása-faith has now lasted more than 30 years. Not everything has been a failure by a long shot. Groups and organizations have come and gone including the original Ásatrú Free Assembly, and some groups continue to meet annually for the modern re-creation of the ancient Norse blót. New information regarding the modern version of heathenry has been written down and much of it is available on the internet either for free or at a nominal cost barely covering the printing of the material: the concerted effort continues.
Along with new material which is rarely if ever held up to research standards has come general misconceptions which affects how the heathen worldview is applied in the 21st century. In this paper, we are discussing the Germanic heathen sense of an Afterlife, but there are misconceptions at a far more fundamental level than the specific area of the Afterlife. The idea that "if we reconstruct the heathen religion, we will regain our noble spiritual heritage" is a major misconception which affects the reconstruction efforts even before research begins.

The word 'religion' and the underlying concepts are foreign to the European north. During the Viking Era, religion could not be separated out from any other tradition of the small community. The practice of law, government, religious observance, birth, death, house-building, land-taking, communal sense of ethics, the practice of medicine, redistribution of wealth, adoption and relief for the disadvantaged, the relationships of social/ economic classes between each other were all bound so tightly together that prior to the coming of Christianity none could be separated from the rest. To speak of Germanic 'religion' then separately from the rest, one must necessarily utilize the same mental constructs brought up from the south by Christian missionaries. In other words, to reconstruct the Germanic religion and put it into practice, is in itself practicing the methods of the monks and bishops who first brought the idea to the north from Greece via Rome.

There are other basic assumptions which cause problems as well. Some of these assumptions are not in the modern heathen's approach to research but actually stem back so far as to underlie the very reasons why the individual became heathen in the first place.
1. Although it is true that there are now children and a few grandchildren who were born into heathen families, the fact remains that close to 100% of all heathens have self-converted to heathenry, and to do so certain frames of mind were present as impetus; some of these are as follows:
(a) A general dissatisfaction, and a feeling of being spiritually unfulfilled under their default religion, usually Christianity.
(b) Dissatisfaction with how their default religion has interacted with the rest of the world spiritually, socially, politically, and ecologically.
(c) Feelings of incompleteness in the areas of tradition, culture, and personal family history.
(d) In the case of new-age alternative religions having been the default, a sense of 'fakeness,' 'living a lie,' or of artificiality.
(e) In the case of another ethnic religion (Red-Road, Yoruba, Sikhism, Hinduism, Buddhism), there are the above in addition to the feeling that one is embracing the wrong ethnic culture.
2. Because one already has a basic world view, certain so-called 'universalisms' are usually part and parcel to the default worldview/ religion. In general these are
(a) there is, in fact, such a thing as 'religion' for every culture;
(b) there is a soul or spirit which
i. is separable and distinct from the physical body, 
ii. is on an evolutionary path to perfection, 
iii. will be rewarded or punished after death based on overall performance while 'living' even if the process of reward/ punishment is furthering or not futhering one's evolution;
(c) there are spiritual beings which are there to serve man by helping him towards some form of enlightenment;
(d) there are ceremonies, when done correctly, which will 'pull the individual further down the path of perfection;'
(e) there are gods, who although they are at or have reached a certain level, are willing to have a personal relationship with the individual, in order to guide and assist him towards the 'reward' after death.
3. Because these are 'universalisms,' one feels justified in using them as preconceptions prior to research the 'new religion,' and vindicated when 'evidence' has been found.
Utilizing only the 3 points and 13 subpoints above, when #3 has finally been met one feels fully converted to the heathen 'religion,' but, in reality, one has been duped by one's own logic. Because he has fallen for the above 'universalisms,' he has successfully generated a new, and possibly unique, syncretism of the dominant worldview with Norse heathen overtones, colorings, and detail-he cannot possibly be lead to Norse heathenry in this fashion. The errors are not many but the flaws are fundamental rendering any results inconsequential.
A primary rule in logical research is that data collection must be fair and representative of the population being sampled. It sounds simple: one goes to a barley field, collects 10% randomly, and throws it all into a large tub to investigate the sampling for various consistencies and inconsistencies. However, when a modern heathen approaches the corpus of evidence from the Viking era, there is a preconceived agenda; hypotheses are formulated prior to sampling and the researcher. These pre-conceived notions, these 'universalisms,' lead one not to a random sampling which is representative of the population being studied but rather to justifications for preconceptions. To this end, 'justifications' are often anecdotes removed from their original contexts; poor translations of texts often allow one to mold the meaning to suit one's preconceptions; one is able to 'select' a sample rather than grabbing a random one representative of the entire population. To bypass this problem of justification/ vindication, in general, a researcher will design a sampling procedure which, by plan, is to avoid prejudice.
Once a sample is collected and sifted for patterns, there may be enough significant data to formulate a hypothesis. The heathen attempting to walk into this area of research, just by his presence in heathenry itself, implies preformulated hypotheses: these are the 'universalisms' outlined above. The 'universalisms' are not general laws or axioms; they are patterns based on personal experience limited to a single worldview. They are, in fact, hypotheses, and, in research, a fundamental error is to generate the hypothesis before random sampling and analysis of the data collected because as above the sampling procedure will swayed either in favor of retaining or rejecting the hypothesis.
Of course, there are errors committed in interpretation as well. Some of these were mentioned above in Section #1. These errors will be revisited below.