What Happens After We Die?
The Ásatrú conception of the afterlife is complex. The existence of a soul that survives the death of the body is taken as a given, but what happens to that soul can take a few different paths.
The most well-known fate for the dead is Valhalla, Odin’s hall in Asgard where the souls of those who have been chosen in battle fight all day, and those who fall are raised every day and feast all night, drinking mead and eating pork. But this destination is only for a very few, those warriors who fall in battle after being chosen by Odin and his Valkyries (literally, “choosers of the slain”). Odin gathers these best-of-all-warriors to him to have a force to fight against the giants, whom he knows will some day attack Valhalla during the last battle, Ragnarok. We are also told that half of those who are chosen to die in battle end up in the goddess Freya’s hall, Fjolkvang.
The vast majority of people, though, find themselves in Hel (spelled with only one “L”). As opposed to the Christian place with a similar name, Hel is not a place of torment and fire, but rather is a place of peace, where we live out shadows of the lives we lived here on Earth. It is named after the Goddess Hel, who rules over the place, and is the final destination of the vast majority of people, who die of old age, sickness, and the like.
Ásatrú does have a place of punishment in its afterlife, however, called Nastrond. It is a place of chill and torment, reserved for murderers and oath-breakers. Those are the worst crimes one can commit.
But the afterlife isn’t always about some otherworldly experience. There is also a strong tradition that when we die and are buried, we simply continue living as we did in life, feasting with the other ancestors. Often this is centered around a holy mountain or hill, or burial mound. That’s one reason ancestor-worship was and is so common; we know that those who have gone before us are still around, watching over us and helping bring us luck and plenty in life. While this may seem contradictory, one of the things that makes Ásatrú so strong is its lack of dogma. If you believe you will dwell in a holy mound when you die, and your family does as well, then dwell there you shall!