Hello, fellow kids. Did I use the “nah fam” thing correctly? I’m old and bad at titles, so you get what you get.
That awkwardness aside, let’s get to the real controversy: Valhalla is overrated. I don’t get the obsession. Come at me.
Our Sights Were Set on Valhalla
I’m an Army brat and a generational heathen, so I grew up on military bases overseas hearing all about how Valhalla is the ultimate goal. My father, a career officer, was hellbent on dying in combat to gain his one-way ticket to the Hall of the Slain. We were in West Germany when Desert Storm happened, and most of our base was deployed to Saudi Arabia. My father got his orders, and he was the happiest I’d ever seen him. He finally had his chance to die with his boots on.
But Desert Storm was the merest blip of a conflict, and it was over the week before he was to ship out. He was angry and distraught at missing out at his chance for glory. I was upset that I was going to be in the minority of classmates who didn’t get to wear their parent’s Kevlar helmet with the desert camo print – the “chocolate chip” helmet – to school. Priorities, y’all.
I was in college when 9/11 brought the US to its knees in shock, and when the unending quagmire of the American war against Afghanistan et al began, I saw my opportunity to one-up my father. By this point, I’d set my sights on the FBI, majoring in Clinical Psych with the intention of pursuing a career as a profiler. Military service would be a fantastic in-road and I figured I could go to grad school on the GI Bill. If it turned out I wanted to be a lifer in the Army, then I could someday outrank my father, who retired out as a lieutenant colonel. And if nothing else, I’d surely be deployed to the Middle East and find my way to Valhalla.
Upon graduation, I was accepted into Officer Candidate School and promptly shipped out to FT Jackson for Basic Combat Training.
Ladies and gentleman and everyone in between: it’s no joke that BCT is the best experience you never want to have again. It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you have a pack of drill sergeants screaming in your face, but I certainly had no desire to accomplish some of that stuff more than once. Mostly because I sustained a number of fractured bones throughout the nine weeks of slugging along in the late summer Carolina heat (and had some gnarly run-ins with fire ants and a black widow spider, among other incidents that can only be explained by Loki flipping his shit and trying to send me back to civilian life and/or convince me that Valhalla isn’t the afterlife I really want). Long story made slightly less long: I was recommended for medical separation the final week of BCT and sent home a bent-over, limping mess of a shattered skeleton a few weeks later. Valhalla slipped through my grasp just as it had my father’s.
However, I was fine with that. I realized that, having experienced BCT, Valhalla didn’t sound like much of a paradise at all. And I’ve spent nearly 20 years wondering what all of the fuss is about as wave after wave of heathens sing its praises.
Eternal(ish) Boot Camp . . . but with Beer
Valhalla is described in the lore as the hall of Óðinn’s chosen warriors, those lucky few who fall in battle and are carried to the afterlife by the valkyries. They spend their days fighting each other in preparation for the battle at Ragnarok, and at night they feast and drink. I can see the appeal to the warrior-types, of course. But I’m going to be honest and admit that one of the things I missed most during BCT was the luxury of getting more than 4 hours of sleep per night (that’s a luxury I very much missed later when I was a full time funeral director, but at least I was able to drink coffee on my way to the hospital morgues at 2am). Now I think of Valhalla and I say, “Nah, that sounds exhausting. I’d just throw myself onto someone’s sword first thing in the morning so I can lie there ‘dead’ all day.” Besides, I’m old and don’t like partying, so the appeal of the all-nighter with a pack of crazy, drunken warriors is lost on me. Valhalla: it’s boot camp but with beer. It’s a lure for some, but it’s definitely not for everyone.
Honestly, it sounds an awful lot like the “Gloried dead of Valhalla” spiel is a holdover from trying to psych up teenaged boys for battle, convincing them that they shouldn’t be afraid of being killed on a battlefield somewhere. Remember, not every warrior was a mature adult with a wealth of life experience behind them. Plenty of them were young teens, freshly plucked from the family farmstead. Yeah, the thought of Valhalla appealed to plenty of adults, too, but to a society in which family and community are vital and ancestors are venerated, it seems odd to me in this later stage of my life that the “ultimate afterlife” would be one separated from your kin and community. But hey, this is purely speculation. I don’t presume to know the psychology and sociology of pre-Christian Scandinavians. This is simply my own brain spinning its personal-experience-filters over what I read in the lore.
Why I’m Ranting
In a bid to angry up my blood last month (or possibly just share the mental anguish they themselves were experiencing), Mortellus sent me pics from a hideous, terribly “researched” book on mythology regarding the dead. The author had the goddamn nerve to prattle on about how Valhalla was the destination for the battle dead, and “everyone else guilty of the sin of dying of old age or disease” went elsewhere. It’s shit like this that enrages me and makes me wonder why the hell everyone has such a hardon for Valhalla. It’s one of the quickest ways to discern whether or not someone’s actually read the Eddas. Those who have read the Eddas know that the valkyries only select a handful of those who fall in battle, and of those few, Freyja – Queen of the Valkyries, remember – gets first pick. Those who aren’t chosen by Frejya to join her at her hall Sessrúmnir get shuffled off to Valhalla.
That’s right. The gloried dead in Óðinn’s Hall of the Slain are the second draft picks. The leftovers, if you will. Yet everyone who lifts a sword or a gun seems to think they’re glory-bound for Valhalla. Frankly, if I were to die a warrior’s death after all, and if I make it through the first round of the valkyries’ cuts, I’d much rather chill with Freyja the Cat Lady. Seems like a more pleasant way to spend the afterlife than getting hacked up every day and dealing with a bunch of mead-and-ale-and-sweat-soaked dead folx every night. Your mileage, as always, may vary.
But the other thing that pissed me off in the quote is the “guilty of the sin of dying of old age” bit. FIRST OF ALL, fuck the whole “sin” remark. So sorry that not everyone died a gruesome, horrible death far from home and away from the people they loved. How dare they survive and die a natural death, right? The nerve. Secondly, the author has condemned the vast majority of the pre-Christian Scandinavian population. Yeah, sure, lots of blood feuds, family feuds, regional skirmishes, and all-out wars claimed warriors’ lives. But there were far more people who didn’t die in combat. Far more. Way to blatantly insult the moral fiber of the common, every day man, woman, and child.
The Lokian’s Afterlife?
K, my Partner in Crime and Chaos, made a quality quip a few months ago that has been canonized in our heads as a new kind of afterlife destination. During one of our many bouts of hilarity, he joked that when you die laughing you go to Valhaha. Not only is that delightfully punny, it actually makes a little too much sense when considering the relationship between Óðinn and Loki. They’re the perpetual two man con, two sides of the same coin, and if anyone’s going to antagonize a brother (blood-oathed or otherwise) with nonsense, it’s going to be Loki. He would absolutely bestow his own Hall of the Dead with a name like Valhaha just to piss off Óðinn. So thanks, K, for planting the idea of Valhaha in my brain.
I may have been raised under the glory of Valhalla, but Valhaha sounds more like my kind of paradise. That’s one of the great things about heathenry: there’s as many destinations for the dead as there are gods in the pantheon. Just because Valhalla is the most famous of the lot doesn’t mean that you’ve failed in life if you don’t wake up dead there. I get annoyed at the obsession Valhalla seems to get in pop culture and among some heathens, but that’s more a me thing than an actual problem. I’ve done BCT, and I’ve attended wild parties in my younger years, and neither of those appeal to me any longer – the older I get, the lazier I get. Fighting all day and drinking and feasting all night just sounds soul-crushingly exhausting to this dusty old hag.
Besides, I’m living my life in service to Loki and Sigyn, in the civilian sector. I’d certainly hope that I’d be welcomed into a place like Valhaha, where the halls must already echo with the sound of Grandpa Frank’s belly-laugh as he and the Trickster crack wise. And honestly, Helheim sounds right up my alley, too. That quiet realm of rest and reunion in the halls of our ancestors – community ancestors as well as family – under Hel’s protection and rule seems to me to be an ideal destination.
Valhalla serves its purpose and is a rightfully glorious legend in and of itself. That said, it’s not the only good option out there. Not all heathens even believe in an afterlife, and for those of us who do, there are so many halls and options. Don’t worry about trying to “earn” a specific kind of afterlife. Just be a boon to your community and trust that when your time comes, you’ll go where you’re meant to be.