The Bridge: (Transformative) "On the other side [of the river] the dawn begins and the green regions lie in the break of day with the Gjöll river flowing through them. Having advanced further, they again stumble on the river of blue-black water, swirling in headlong descent and weapons of various kinds are spinning in its swift eddies. Again the dead must cross this river, but here they travel over the Gjallarbridge. The bridge is roofed with shining gold, and the maiden guarding it is named Modgud." (XXIV. 30)From this point the time of darkness is coming to an end, as the dead enter Hel-Urd's proper realm. For the unmerciful, they are to see all the beauties of the Underworld that they have forfeited with their cruelty. For the compassionate, they are beginning to see what awaits them after their judgment. The beautiful bridge, shining with gold, protected by a lovely Goddess, is testament to that. A bridge is a symbol of transition, a connection from one place to another, as Bifrost connects Jormungrund to Asgard, etc. and this bridge heralds the dead entering the lands of bliss.Because of this, there is somewhat of a role-reversal here in regards to the symbols. We tend to think of graveyards and places of the dead to be somewhat gloomy and dark. Our blots take place at night within stone circles as the place of ancestors and Gods. Well, for the dead the opposite becomes the case; so in the eastern region of Hel, closest to the land of the living and where the heath rests to represent this, the area is dark and dangerous. But when the dead arrive at the Helthing, where the Gods' stone circle of justice rests, they are in the realm of bliss and happiness and the sun is shining in its fullest glory. In this case the darkness is in the east and the light is in the west, in full standing with this symbolism.
The Helthing: (Moral) "When the dead reach the Thingstead they sit in long rows in front of the holy ring of the stones of justice. Here they are awaited by their fylgja, who went before them to Hel and now sit beside their word. Unfortunate is the one who has no fylgja at the Helthing, where the judgments are passed that have eternal validity." (XXIV. 33)In order for a faith to have a working moral system there must be some way of judging or weighing out that system and some way to deal with transgressions, otherwise the law has no real meaning. Imagine a justice system in Midgard with no law enforcement and no consequences—the result would be complete anarchy and chaos. To the ancients, the Gods taught man their system of justice, which mimics their own, so we can expect to face them in the same way we would face any tribunal in this life after we die. The only difference is that the Gods have ways to discover those crimes we got away with rather than simply the ones where we got caught. The fylgja is always with us, watching us and guiding us, and will give an objective testimony before the Thing of the Gods. This is not something to be feared, however, because the Gods know that humans are capable of mistakes and need a time of learning, just as they did. Only the truly sadistic and malicious, those whose treachery knows no bounds, will face the loss of their fylgja (which is also their luck) and then the lot of the damned. But at any time you can turn your life around; you can make amends, and you can start leading yourself towards a positive direction, in which case you will be welcomed with open arms into the realms of bliss.After nine days of journeying through Hel the dead finally arrive at the Thing with their guide. There they are awaited by their fylgja, who will stand as their sole witness if they have not been driven away by their chosen's cruelty. He who does not have his fylgja by his side at the Helthing is surely damned. The dead sit on long benches before the ring of stones where their fate is meted out. Odin, Thor, and other Aesir stand before them, listen to the testimony before and against them, then pronounce their judgment. As long as your fylgja stands beside you then you know that they will likely give you Lofstirr—the judgment of the blessed. Here is what our lore has to say in accordance with this judgment:"The Gods judge human faults and frailties leniently. During their time of learning they have made mistakes as well. Those who have come to the Thing can expect a good judgment if they went through life free from deceit, honorable, helpful, and without fear of death—if they observed respect for the Gods and their hofs (temples), and tended to the duties of the kindred and to the dead. Thus, they must have followed the laws given to us by the Gods, and lived by their virtues." (XXIV.4) These laws and virtues are very straight-forward and direct, and simply involve being decent and honorable. Keep your word, do not commit murder (i.e. assassination or killing people outside of honorable combat), have courage, keep true to your marriage vows, do not prey on others, be free, have compassion, do not slander people, be generous, etc. These are all things that we know in our hearts are right and are how we should behave towards others. They do not oppress your most basic human nature with outlandish "commandments," nor do they dictate every facet of your life. In the end, you know how well you have done by how much love you have in your life and the blessings around you. This is in accordance with Odin's words for us to "find a good man to hold in friendship, and learn to make yourself loved." (LIII.104)In doing hospice work the number one thing I encountered with my patients was fear of uncertainty. Growing up with Christian beliefs, they would become terrified that perhaps they didn't do it right and they were going to burn for eternity anyway. Isn't that how it goes? The Bible tells you that your works will not get you into heaven, so you can be the most devout saint who ever lived and still you might get thrown into the fiery pit. So much for the absolutes, for the 'certainty' they have claimed for centuries made them better than their heathen predecessors. If anything, the whim or 'grace' of their god creates the utmost uncertainty and even terror, which I have witnessed first-hand. I was actually able to comfort one gentleman, who asked me about this and what I thought about the subject. I would typically keep my beliefs to myself, but since he asked I told him how I believe karma or urlag works. He had been so grateful for the help I was giving him and felt so blessed to have his family rallying around him in love and support. I asked him: "If you truly feel blessed, if you truly feel fortunate to have so much love around you at this time, can you possibly believe that a person given such blessings actually deserves damnation? The fact that you have love and help and family around you is an indicator of what is to come, and you will have those same blessings awaiting you from family members past when you cross over." This truly set his mind at ease, because he did feel blessed, and thus the evidence was right there in front of him. We know when we have done harm and have hate directed at us, and we know how to make it right. If we truly feel that our urlag is balanced when we die, we should have absolutely no fear of the afterlife.
The Three Meads: (Transformative) "Those who are declared worthy of bliss by the Thing receive a taste of the mead before they leave, which removes every mark that remains on the dead, and restores their warmth of life. Their bodies again become corporeal, their tongues loosen, their life-force is enhanced, their strength increased, and it grants them the ability to forget their sorrows without obliterating dear memories or making one forget that which can be remembered without longing or worrying."Once the tribunal has made its decision and you have received Lofstirr, Odin himself will step forward with the famous Gjallarhorn, full of mead, for you to drink from. This mead is called Dyrar Veigar 'The Precious Liquids,' which consists of the liquors from all three sacred fountains and thus returns corporeal life to the dead while allaying all their past sorrows. This is the same drink that Heimdall partook of when he came to bring culture to humans, and it invigorated him the same way it does the reborn in Hel. This makes the drinking of the mead the principal act in all rites of passage (and is part of the blót as well)—when we come of age we drink from the horn as Odin did when he hung upon Yggdrasill, when we get married we share a drink with our spouse, and when we die 'grave-ales' are poured for us and we partake in the holy meads in the afterlife. This is probably due to the belief that this drink is a sacred, invigorating force that always originates from the Underworld fountains. With our mead the honey comes from the nectar of flowers (which our ancestors labeled 'honeydew'), which is said to come from the morning dew. These liquids, according to the lore, originate from the bits of the horses of Natt and the Valkyries, who chew the grasses of Jormungrund and the leaves of Yggdrasill, both of which are sustained by the Underworld fountains. These bits froth with the sacred substance, fall to the earth to become nectar, which bees collect to make honey, then we collect the honey to make mead.Just as Heimdall received these three drinks to aid him in his journey to Midgard, the dead receive them so they may enter into the next life at a higher stage of existence. The heroes and 'righteous men' of Gimle must evolve in some way in order for rebirth to have a true significance of transcendence. There cannot simply be a continuation, there has to be some sort of advancement. To live in Hel, the realm of bliss, you have to leave behind all the pain and suffering you endured in the first life, so getting rid of this is another aspect of the Dyrar Veigar. You must be able to enter the realm of bliss in a state of bliss, so that you may enjoy your new home until the end of this age, then you will be helping to set the stage for the joyous epoch of the next cycle.Of course, it is fitting that Odin himself gives you the mead, considering all of the sacrifices he made to partake in it in its purest form. But Odin drank solely of Mimir's mead, which in its purest form can only be imbibed by those truly worthy of it. Plus, I think that it is a fitting tribute to his children that he greets them personally when they make it that far into their Helfaring. Those who follow this faith would be awe-stricken and overjoyed to meet the highest God of our pantheon face-to-face, and speak with him and share the reverence we have for him as he gives us the mead that will renew our bodies and spirits. All of this: the heath or grove, the river, the stone circle, and the mead, are definitely connected to the blót and how it is performed.
Gimle: (Tributary): "They are eager to see the many wonders of the glorious regions and to visit kinsmen and friends who have gone before them to their final destination. The fylgja escorts her chosen on joyous paths, called Munways that are the home of the honey-ships [flowers]. There they see rich nobles in colorful robes, passing these by, they eventually come upon the sunny region, which produces vegetation, where they will spend their afterlife. Here the inquisitive can participate in the Leita Kynnis [Visiting-of- Kinsmen], where one seeks out and converses with ancestors and progenitors, and learn the remarkable urlag of their family, indeed of all the ancients, told by those who actually saw what they speak of." (XXIV.46)After being rejuvenated by the holy meads the reborn then, accompanied by their fyglja, move to their place in the hall known as Gimle. Men are said to enter into a sort of spiritual marriage there with their fylgja, or join with their deceased lovers or spouses. It is likely that women have their choice of either being with their husbands or lovers, or becoming a fylgja (or Soul-Guide, Valkyrie, etc.) themselves. This is a very prominent position, and to some ancient clans or tribes this was the equivalent to becoming a Goddess, or at least a Demigoddess. All the deceased are honored and revered, but the fylgjas (also called disir and matrons) were given special recognition among our ancestors.This is quite a contrast to what we are told in the Biblical account, where 'heaven' is nothing more than a place to spend all day giving praise to the great Dictator. Here the emphasis is on family and kindred, on learning the history of one's people and being surrounded by those who love and cherish you as a member of their bloodline. We see this model in the divine families, in our eschatology, and in our sacred laws; making this the primary focus of our faith. Kinship, familial ties, ancestry, an ethnic identity and a real relationship with our divine parents—this is Odinism! Recognizing our bond with others, and how different bonds have different values, is the cornerstone of this entire belief system. The Gods are an extension of our family, as are our ancestors, and we pay tribute to them as such; not as slaves, but as kinsmen. The more we celebrate this connection the stronger it will be, both with those in the worlds beyond and with us here in Midgard.