Excerpt from VIKTOR RYDBERG’S "OUR FATHERS’ GODSAGA"
Translated by William P. Reaves © 2003 Chapter 38. Part 1 / 3
THE NORNS. THE JUDGEMENT ON THE DEAD. THE PLACES OF BLISS AND PUNISHMENT. - original title -
Urd, the dis of fate, is also the dis of death. Because she determines every human’s fortune and lifespan, she also determines their hour of death. She who lays life’s lots, also lays death’s. She, who along with her sisters, presides over the past, present, and future, presides over and gathers under her kingdom’s scepter, the past, present and future of all generations. As the dis of death and ruler in the underworld, she is also called Hel. Hel, therefore, is the name of both the kingdom of bliss in the underworld and its queen.
Because the beings for whom Urd determines birth, standing in life, and death are countless, Urd has countless helpers and servants. These form two great hosts: one is active in her service with respect to life, the other with respect to death.
Closest to her are her sisters, Verdandi and Skuld. These three are the foremost norns. They confer together and judge jointly.
As we know, every human has a guardian spirit called a fylgja or hamingja. Fylgjas are Urd’s servants. When a child comes into the world, Urd appoints it a fylgja, who rises out of the underworld, up over the western horizon, and glides across the sea to seek her ward in Midgard. She follows him through his life unseen, knows his thoughts, whispers into his conscience, urges him on and warns him in his dreams. Every day thousands of fylgjas float over the water to Midgard and every day thousands return in order to prepare their wards’ dwellings in the kingdom of bliss, should they deserve it. A fylgja does not leave the person whom she has been entrusted to guard, except shortly before his death, and then she only leaves in order to rejoin him in the world of bliss. She will, however, abandon him forever if he becomes a nithing. He who is abandoned by his fylgja is a lost man.
Another kind of norn are the dises who choose mothers for children, who wait before the threshold of mortal life to be born into the world.
These are Urd’s servants of life. The other host of serving disescarry out her judgments of death and conduct dead souls to the underworld.
Foremost among them are the valkyries, beautiful maidens with contemplative faces. Where a battle occurs, they appear on horseback, fully armed, and, with their spears, identify the warriors whom Odin or Freyja has selected for their hall. They convey the fallen to the underworld and from there over Bifröst to Asgard. When they are not on these missions, they fill the drinking horns of Val-father and the einherjar in Valhall and Sessrumnir. Urd’s sister, Skuld, herself a valkyrie, is the their leader.
To Midgard’s inhabitants that are not destined to die by the sword, Urd sends other kinds of servants whose form is dictated by the type of death. To those that succumb beneath the burden of years comes a dis who is “the helper of the bent and stooping”. Children have their own psychopomps, who are motherly and kind. To those dispatched by plague or other epidemics comes Leikn and beings from Niflhel, who resemble her. Those that die from other sicknesses are carried away by the corresponding spirit of disease.
At the start, the departed walk a common path. One and the same route is prescribed for them all. The same Hel-gate opens daily for the legions of souls, all destined for different fates. Women and children, youths, men and the aged, those that busied themselves with peaceful work and those who bloodied weapons, those that lived in accordance with the norns and the gods’ laws and those that broke them— all must pass the same way. They come by foot and by horse, accompanied by beautifully equipped valkyries, by the gentle assistants of age, the kind companions of children, or by the blue-white Leikn, the somber spirit of disease. They gather outside of the eastern Hel-gate, and when all who are expected that day have come, the key, Gilling, turns in the lock, the gate groans on its hinges and opens wide.