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Indo-European Mythology 1, Requirement 5

Describe the fate of the dead in the myths of two different Indo-European cultures. Where do they go? What do they do to get there? Who meets them? Are there deities associated with death and the Land of the Dead? How do the dead interact with the living? (minimum 300 words)

In Indo-European religion, there is often a division between different kinds of "the dead." Some go to one place, others go to another. In Norse mythology, those who die in battle go to the legendary hall Valhalla, where every day they kill a pig who can be spitted, cooked, and eaten, and then rises from the dead to be slain again. They rise up and fight battles each day, and will take part in the final battle at Ragnarok. But others who die are sent elsewhere: Freyja is said to receive half the slain that die in battle, herself. It is the realm of Hel that most grabs our attention, though, ruled over by the goddess of the same name. Here it is cold, bitter, and the stench is awful. It seems to be where most go after death, and nothing warms it. In Norse myth, we find that even the gods will die. Interaction with the living after death appears to be primarily through monstrous or terrifying contact (i.e. vengeful spirits or zombie-like bodies), or else through being raised or met for questioning.

The Greeks have a strong sense of what occurs after death, though that sense evolves over time. Here, heroes go to the Elysian Fields, the truly evil (of which there only seem to be three: Tantalus, Sisyphus, and Tityus) go to Tartarus, those without burial wander aimlessly, the Fields of Mourning are for those who die of lovesickness (or, perhaps more modernly appropriate, ennui). The geography of Hades is also very well established by Virgil and other sources. The deity Hades, brother of Zeus, oversees the land of the dead that bears his same name (much as Hel above). For six months out of the year, Persephone rules by his side, calling to mind a certain parallel with Hel, who is half beautiful and half a rotting corpse. In this analogy, the realm of Hades is half ruled by the beautiful Persephone, and half by the miserable Hades himself. The dead can sometimes interact with the living in various ways, such as is demonstrated in Homer's Nekia (a part of the Odyssey) and also in the stories of the Pseudophilia of Lucan. They can also be called on to do many things for magicians and to answer questions, should the need arise.

In Celtic myth, we have the Irish land beyond the sea, Tir-na-Nog, which lies to the west of the islands. Here, opposed to Hel, we have a land of plenty and all things good. The Land of Eternal Youth is the place the dead go to. We also find that among the Gauls, there was a sense of an Otherworld, one into which each death was a new birth. This does not seem to be a form of reincarnation, as we have little evidence or idea that the person ever returned to this world in a different incarnation. The concept of reincarnation that we usually attach to the Celts comes from Theosophy.

The dead interact with the living in a multitude of ways in all IE cultures: through dreams, ghostly visitations, and divination.


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