THE WAY TO HADES COMMON TO THE DEAD
It has already been demonstrated that all the dead must go to Hel—not only they whose destination is the realm of bliss, but also those who are to dwell in Asgard or in[Pg 483] the regions of torture in Nifelheim. Thus the dead tread at the outset the same road. One and the same route is prescribed to them all, and the same Helgate daily opens for hosts of souls destined for different lots. Women and children, men and the aged, they who have practised the arts of peace and they who have stained the weapons with blood, those who have lived in accordance with the sacred commandments of the norns and gods and they who have broken them—all have to journey the same way as Balder went before them, down to the fields of the fountains of the world. They come on foot and on horseback—nay, even in chariots, if we may believe Helreid Brynhildar, a very unreliable source—guided by various psychopomps: the beautifully equipped valkyries, the blue-white daughter of Loke, the sombrespirits of disease, and the gentle maid-servant of old age. Possibly the souls of children had their special psychopomps. Traditions of mythic origin seem to suggest this; but the fragments of the myths themselves preserved to our time give us no information on this subject.
The Hel-gate here in question was situated below the eastern horizon of the earth. When Thor threatens to kill Loke he says (Lokas., 59) that he will send him á austrvega. When the author of the Sol-song sees the sunset for the last time, he hears in the opposite direction—that is, in the east—the Hel-gate grating dismally on its hinges (str. 39). The gate has a watchman and a key. The key is called gillingr, gyllingr (Younger Edda, ii. 494); and hence a skald who celebrates his ancestors in his songs, and thus recalls to those living the[Pg 484] shades of those in Hades, may say that he brings to the light of day the tribute paid to Gilling (yppa gillings gjöldum. See Eyvind's strophe, Younger Edda, i. 248. The paraphrase has hitherto been misunderstood, on account of the pseudo-myth Bragarædur about the mead.)
From the gate the highway of the dead went below the earth in a westerly direction through deep and dark dales (Gylfag., ch. 52), and it required several days—for Hermod nine days and nights—before they came to light regions and to the golden bridge across the river Gjoll, flowing from north to south (see No. 59).
On the other side of the river the roads forked. One road went directly north. This led to Balder's abode (Gylfag., ch. 52); in other words, to Mimer's realm, to Mimer's grove, and to the sacred citadel of the ásmegir, where death and decay cannot enter (see No. 53).
This northern road was not, therefore, the road common to all the dead. Another road went to the south. As Urd's realm is situated south of Mimer's (see Nos. 59, 63), this second road must have led to Urd's fountain and to the thingstead of the gods there. From the Sun-song we learn that the departed had to continue their journey by that road. The deceased skald of the Sun-song came to the norns, that is to say, to Urd and her sisters, after he had left this road behind him, and he sat for nine days and nights á nornastoli before he was permitted to continue his journey (str. 51). Here, then, is the end of the road common to all, and right here, at Urd's fountain and at the thingstead of the gods something must happen, on which account the dead are divided into different groups, some[Pg 485] destined for Asgard, others for the subterranean regions of bliss, and a third lot for Nifelhel's regions of torture. We shall now see whether the mythic fragments preserved to our time contain any suggestions as to what occurs in this connection.
It must be admitted that this dividing must take place somewhere in the lower world, that it was done on the basis of the laws which in mythological ethics distinguish between right and wrong, innocence and guilt, that which is pardonable and that which is unpardonable, and that the happiness and unhappiness of the dead is determined by this division.
Gods and Goddesses of the Northland
By VIKTOR RYDBERG, Ph.D.,
MEMBER OF THE SWEDISH ACADEMY; AUTHOR OF "THE LAST ATHENIAN" AND OTHER WORKS.
AUTHORISED TRANSLATION FROM THE SWEDISH
RASMUS B. ANDERSON, LL.D.,
EX-UNITED STATES MINISTER TO DENMARK; AUTHOR OF "NORSE
MYTHOLOGY," "VIKING TALES," ETC.
HON. RASMUS B. ANDERSON, LL.D., Ph.D.,
EDITOR IN CHIEF.
J. W. BUEL, Ph.D.,
PUBLISHED BY THE
LONDON COPENHAGEN STOCKHOLM BERLIN NEW YORK