The Scandinavian culture had a variety of burial rituals for their dead. These rituals were believed to help the dead reach Valhalla. The dead could be cremated, thrown in bogs, buried in the water, or under mounds. Burial rituals differed from area and class. In certain areas, there were mass burials under mounds of dirt and rock depending on the size of the villages. The gravestones, if any, were marked with symbols of moons or stars, circles, and other alignments forming variant patterns. Bodies were crammed into “coffin boxes” or a form of detachable wagon that was mostly used for women. The typical variations of these boxes were found in Norway. The chamber graves that were more often found in Sweden were reserved for the elite class and the wealthy. These graves were underground rooms built of wood, with thatched roofs and filled with goods. These rooms would have animals, food, drink, and treasures so the dead could take these materials with them to Valhalla. The dead would be laid out on their backs or side, and sometimes even in luxurious chairs. Laying out the dead in chairs was more commonly found in Sweden and Russia.
The most famous of burials are those of ships and boats that have become commonly known for the Viking Age. These boats or ships could extend from a one-man dingy to a massive seafaring vessel. One of the most famous of burial ships is the Oseberg ship found in Norway reveals how the elite was ceremoniously buried after death. Two women were found in the ship, as well as many possessions like carts, wooden chests, and a bucket. When an elite member was buried, one must be sacrificed with the dead. Usually, the one chosen to be sacrificed is a woman. In terms of a King, his mistress or love slave would volunteer to be sacrificed with her master. She would then have sexual intercourse with several members of the village, where the men would pronounce they were doing it for the good of the King. The volunteer would be hoisted over the crowd and she would speak before them before she would be buried alive or burnt to death. During the funeral process, a make-shift grave must be put in place. Ten days of activities follow the temporary grave-making. These activities and ten days of celebration all lead up to the deceased “last day” when the cremation begins. The body, the sacrificial volunteer and belonging are all loaded into the ship and then burned to the ground.
Vikings were fascinated by the idea of death; the idea of the Barrow expands on that concept. Barrows were the hill where those who died were buried, and the mythology of the meaning of a burrow goes along with it. These Barrows, or tombs, were believed to be hollow passageways that led from MidgarÃ° to Valhalla, and also to Hel. With these passages, the dead could return to their Barrows at night after having done what the Valkyrie asked of them or battling in Valhalla.
People today are still fascinated by the stories of Norse mythology. Tolkien took many ideas from the Poetic Edda and Prose Edda, using them in his Lord of the Rings works. Marvel Comics also used the mythology in their comic book Thor, who becomes a member of the Avengers and his arch-nemesis is the god Loki. The myths of fairies, elves, giants, and monsters all come from the Norse, giving us the fairy tales we know today. The myths of the Norse gods and creatures will forever play an important role in the lives of people today.
Where did we find this stuff? Here are our sources:
AndrÃ©n, Anders. “Behind Heathendom: Archaeological Studies of Old Norse Religion.” Scottish Archaeological Journal 27, no. 2 (September 2005): 105-138.
MacCulloch, John Arnott, and George Foot Moore, eds. EDDIC. 3rd ed. Vol. 2 of THE MYTHOLOGY OF ALL RACES. New York, NY: Cooper Squares Publishers, 1964. First published 1930 by Marshall Jones Company.
Price, Neil. “Passing into Poetry: Viking-Age Mortuary Drama and the Origins of Norse Mythology.” Medieval Archaeology, no. 54 (2010): 54-156.