Myths of the Norsemen From the Eddas and Sagas

Page: 91

Thrown o’er the river terrible,—

The Giöll, boundary of Hel.

Now here the maiden Mödgud stood,

Waiting to take the toll of blood,—

A maiden horrible to sight,

Fleshless, with shroud and pall bedight.”

Valhalla (J. C. Jones).

The spirits generally rode or drove across this bridge on the horses or in the waggons which had been burned upon the funeral pyre with the dead to serve that purpose, and the Northern races were very careful to bind upon the feet of the departed a specially strong pair of shoes, called Hel-shoes, that they might not suffer during the long journey over rough roads. Soon after the Giallar bridge was passed, the spirit reached the Ironwood, where stood none but bare and iron-leafed trees, and, passing through it, reached Hel-gate, beside which the fierce, blood-stained dog Garm kept watch, cowering in a dark hole known as the Gnipa cave. This monster’s rage could only be appeased by the offering of a Hel-cake, which never failed those who had ever given bread to the needy.

“Loud bays Garm

Before the Gnipa cave.”

Sæmund’s Edda (Thorpe’s tr.). [182]

Within the gate, amid the intense cold and impenetrable darkness, was heard the seething of the great cauldron Hvergelmir, the rolling of the glaciers in the Elivagar and other streams of Hel, among which were the Leipter, by which solemn oaths were sworn, and the Slid, in whose turbid waters naked swords continually rolled.

The Road to Valhalla

The Road to Valhalla

Severin Nilsson

Further on in this gruesome place was Elvidner (misery), the hall of the goddess Hel, whose dish was Hunger. Her knife was Greed. “Idleness was the name of her man, Sloth of her maid, Ruin of her threshold, Sorrow of her bed, and Conflagration of her curtains.”

“Elvidner was Hela’s hall.

Iron-barred, with massive wall;

Horrible that palace tall!

Hunger was her table bare;

Waste, her knife; her bed, sharp Care;

Burning Anguish spread her feast;

Bleached bones arrayed each guest;

Plague and Famine sang their runes,

Mingled with Despair’s harsh tunes.

Misery and Agony

E’er in Hel’s abode shall be!”

Valhalla (J. C. Jones).

This goddess had many different abodes for the guests who daily came to her, for she received not only perjurers and criminals of all kinds, but also those who were unfortunate enough to die without shedding blood. To her realm also were consigned those who died of old age or disease—a mode of decease which was contemptuously called “straw death,” as the beds of the people were generally of that material.

“Temper’d hard by frost,

Tempest and toil their nerves, the sons of those

Whose only terror was a bloodless death.”

Thomson. [183]

Ideas of the Future Life

Although the innocent were treated kindly by Hel, and enjoyed a state of negative bliss, it is no wonder that the inhabitants of the North shrank from the thought of visiting her cheerless abode. And while the men preferred to mark themselves with the spear point, to hurl themselves down from a precipice, or to be burned ere life was quite extinct, the women did not shrink from equally heroic measures. In the extremity of their sorrow, they did not hesitate to fling themselves down a mountain side, or fall upon the swords which were given them at their marriage, so that their bodies might be burned with those whom they loved, and their spirits released to join them in the bright home of the gods.