Excerpt from VIKTOR RYDBERG’S “OUR FATHERS’ GODSAGA”
Translated by William P. Reaves © 2003 Chapter 38. Part 3 / 3
THE NORNS. THE JUDGEMENT ON THE DEAD. THE PLACES OF BLISS AND PUNISHMENT. – original title –
A drink is also prepared for the damned, but it is blended with poison, painful to swallow and dreadful in its effect. With this drink, they die a second death, which means that the spirit they received from Odin before their birth, the noblest component of mankind, flies away from them. With it escapes the inner body made of fine elements, which Lodur gave every human being-- the body formed in the image of the gods, which provides the outer physical layer the form it bears in mortal life. Once this inner body leaves it, the doomed soul takes on another appearance reflecting its evil, which is always nasty, and often monstrously ugly, to behold.
When those who have had the judgment of bliss passed upon them leave the Thing, they are accompanied by their fylgja to a beautiful home that she has put in order for them in “the green world of the gods” on the subterranean fields of bliss. They are eager to see the delightful meadow’s many wonders and to visit relatives and friends that have gone before them to their final destiny. The fylgjasaccompany their wards on “joyous paths” through fields that are “the homesteads of honey-ships (flowers)”. There, the inquisitive can seek out and converse with their forefathers and progenitors as well as hear of their clan’s, nay all of antiquity’s, noteworthy fates, told by those who experienced them firsthand.
The swordfallen, whom valkyries conduct, also stop at the thingstead, where they are met by their fylgjas. The swordfallen also receive the drink of strengths. Should a fylgja not await one of them, he must climb out of the saddle and sit upon the benches for the dead, because he is certainly a nithing; if he cannot defend himself with speech-runes, he is sentenced to the anguish of the realm of torment. After receiving the drink of strengths, the righteous warriors proceed to visit their relatives on the fields of bliss and inspect the marvels there, until the time is nigh for them to continue their journey to Asgard. The Aesir arrive before them and when they hear Bifröst’sdin under the arriving riders, Odin sends Bragi, Svipdag, and other table companions to greet them with welcoming cups into Valhall’sgabled door. There they pass their days in the company of gods and amuse themselves with war-games, when they are not sitting by the drinking horn in happy conversation or listening to Bragi’s songs and harp playing.
Heroes and princes who have died of sickness also come to Valhall.
When the sentence over those who committed mortal sins is pronounced, they must walk to their final destiny. Their former fylgjas weep, when they witness their departure. Escape is impossible; the norn’s chains imprison them, and they are driven along on their way by heiptor, armed with bundles of thorny switches, which they lash unmercifully on hesitant heels. Their way from Urd’s well goes north through Mimir’s kingdom. It is arranged in such a manner that they will have seen the meadows of bliss before their arrival in the world of torment. Thus they know what they have forfeited. Their course leads them over the river Leipt, which flows between “glittering fields” with flowers that never fade and crops that are never sown, by whose clear, bright, high-holy water it is the custom to swear sacred oaths. They pass over this river, past Breidablik, the brilliant castle, where Baldur and Nanna dwell with Lif and Leifthrasir; and past Hoddgoda, the castle, around which many subterranean rivers wind, and where Mimir gathered treasures for a coming world-epoch; then past Mimir’s well, ornamented seven times round with gold-inlay, which reflects Yggdrasil’s lowest bundles of branches, rich in leaves, and into which its central root extends silver-white rootlets. They travel past the silent hall of Mimir’s seven sleeping sons and past Night and her dises’ hall. The roar of Hvergelmir and the workings of the world-mill grow ever louder as they approach Nidafjöll’s southern slope. In this mountainous region, the procession moves upward through rifts and depressions, where rivers, flowing south from Hvergelmir, find their way. The procession leaves Hvergelmir and the world-mill behind them and sets out over the boundary water Hrönn (the subterranean Elivogar), behind which rises Niflhel’s black, precipitous mountain wall. Ladders and stairs lead over dizzying depths to portals called “corpse-gates” (nágrindr), because those who die a second death in the underworld and thus become a corpse for a second time fare through them to their fate. Howls and barking from the hounds guarding the gates of Niflhel announce the arrival of the damned. Then, southward in dense flocks, rush winged monsters, Niflhel’sbirds of prey; Nidhögg, who gnaws the world-tree; the eagles, Ari and Hraesvelg (“corpse-swallower”) and their ilk, all settle down around the corpse-gates’ cliffs. The gates open on creaking hinges, and as the damned pass through, the winged demons descend upon the offering laid out before them, press their prey against dagger-sharp feathers, and fly with terrible shrieks through Niflhel’s misty air to their designated torture-chamber.
The regions over which the demon hordes fly are the same as those that Svipdag described to Gerd when he threatened to send her to the kingdom of death via the Völund sword. This is Niflhel, the home of frost-giants, deceased giants, and the spirits of disease. It was here that the progeny of Ymir’s feet begot the monstrous born and monster bearing primordial giants. Their souls, garbed in a ghostly form, look similar to that of their deformed earthly ones. They do not speak, but only howl and stare with wild eyes. They dwell together in a great hall, while the members of the younger giant clan, transferred to Niflhel, dwell in homesteads spread over the putrid marshy territory. Here, the river Slid, flowing north out of Hvergelmir, seeks its way along a muddy bed. It is here the demons of restless anxiety, the agony of the soul, convulsive crying, and insanity have their homestead, and here also that the spirits of epidemics and sicknesses abide with their queen, Loki’s daughter Leikn, whose threshold is Stumbling-block and whose bed is Sickness. The air is always filled with fog.
However, this gloomy land is only the forecourt of the actual home of torment. From here, a chasm plunges downward to nine enormous caves of torture beneath Niflhel. Out of this abyss, rise disgusting fumes, and the river Slid spews dark, slimy masses of water down its slope. Into this chasm, Nidhögg and the other flying demons rush with their offerings. Before they relinquish them, they sink their beaks, teeth, and claws into the limbs of the condemned and rend them to shreds, although their limbs grow back together again; there is no third death for the damned. Thereafter the condemned are divided between the caves of torture in accordance with the sins that they committed. The nine worlds of punishment consist of nine enormously extensive mountain grottoes, united with one another by openings broken in the mountain walls and closed off with gates. Outside each one stands a guard, whose appearance and manner symbolize the sinners over which they watch. The cave of punishment lying farthest north is called the “Corpse-beaches” (Nasträndr), because passing through a gate in the northern mountain wall, one arrives at Amsvartnir’s sea. In a forecourt outside the gate, black elves stand guard, and tend a fire from which smoke whirls into an immensely long hall, built inside the cave of punishment. The building material consists of live snakes. Their woven backs constitute the walls. Through roof holes, the snakes’ heads spew poison in gushing torrents. Beneath the roof hangs a row of iron benches covered with a network of lead. On the benches lie perjurers and assassins. With tightly clenched lips, they strive in vain to avoid the snakes’ venom. Beneath this row of benches is another, and under the second a third and a fourth. The criminals on each row above act as “venom-troughs” through which the snakes’ venom passes and washes down over those situated beneath them.
Similar caves of punishment for Loki and Fenrir’s closest kin, “the sons of world-ruin” (Muspel’s Sons) can also be found within the mountain on the island of Lyngvi in Amsvartnir’s sea.