Funeral Rites Of Ancient Times Part IV

Oseberg shipWhen it comes to the idea of death in modern times, many people seem to fall into one of two schools of thought: death is either feared and therefore avoided; or, it is greatly romanticized and observed with much bluster. Rarely does anyone seem to be able to accept the end of life as a part of existence and meet death head on, let alone with great fanfare.

The Vikings

With little doubt, the Vikings could sometimes die the same way that they lived — violently and with abandon. In turn, their funerals could also mirror both circumstances. Nearly everyone is familiar with the tradition of a fallen Viking being cast to the sea in the funeral pyre of a burning ship. And although this story is true, it not the only truth of how the dead were laid to rest.

To help clarify things, let us look at what exactly the term Viking means. It may be more accurate to label a Viking as being a Norse warrior, signifying what part of the world they originated from. Although the exact definition of Viking has been somewhat debated, in essence it can be appropriate to say that these people were much like pirates who conducted coastal and inland raids that extended from the British Isles to the Black Sea. Most often, their victims were chosen because of their lack of defense and rich plunder, many of which were churches.

Viking Funeral Prayer

Lo, there do I see my father.

Lo, there do I see my mother.

Lo, there do I see my sisters

and my brothers.

I see the line of my people

back to the beginning.
They do call to me to take my place

in the halls of Valhalla

where the brave may live forever.

This prayer was translated from an original text thought to be nearly 1,000 years old. As some people may already know, Valhalla is a reference to the afterlife for those who died in combat, obviously of great importance to the warrior class. Led by Valkyries who had chosen which warriors were to die, the fallen were taken to the hall of the slain to await the battle of Ragnarok, a great cleansing battle that would result in only two human survivors. The last two were to repopulate the earth.

It was of great importance for a warrior to take weapons with him into the afterlife for this ferocious battle. This included a double-edged sword, spear, or axe. But he would also need food, beer or mead for his long journey as well. Thunderstones, fist-sized stones that were shaped like hammerheads, have also been found during grave excavations. These were talisman’s thought to protect the bearer against lightening strikes.

Another Viking burial practice was to inter the deceased aboard a ship and then bury both beneath a great mound of earth. The most spectacular archeological discovery of one of these mounds resulted in the Oseberg ship. Surprisingly to some, the two skeletal remains found in the ship were both women, one of which appeared to be of very high status, possibly a queen or high priestess judging from her clothes. The other is thought to have been a servant of some kind. It was often the practice in Viking culture to sacrifice slaves to accompany high standing warriors, kings and other members of the elite class. It was also of importance to bury or cremate the deceased as quickly as possible to continue in death as he had done in life, thus avoiding becoming homeless.

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