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As a warrior in Norse culture, it was your duty and your destiny to die in battle. The reward in the afterlife was great: fighting even more when Ragnarok rolled around. Until that time, you’d spend your time feasting and drinking mead and hanging out with all the other badasses that died in battle in Odin’s fabled hall, Valhalla. That is, unless you lost the metaphorical coin toss that determines your fate and got sent to Folkvangr, the fields of Freyja to sit in the grass and look at the pretty butterflies until the final battle.

By that point, who even wants to fight anymore?

A lot of people are familiar with the concept of Valhalla in the Norse version of the afterlife. Odin’s vast hall full of meat and bread and mead, shaking with the drunken partying of a hundred thousand boastful bearded warriors was but one honor given to the honored dead. To die with your sword in hand, covered in the blood of your enemy was the greatest end to life one could expect and was the key to acceptance into the halls of Odin. But did you know there was another alternative? Did you know that there was an equal chance that the brave slain warrior might end up in Folkvangr, The Field of the Host, ruled over by the goddess Freyja?

Something about lurking about in a beautiful field just doesn’t seem entirely…badass.

The idea of multiple destinations in the afterlife was nothing new to religion by the time the Norse religion began to take shape. Valhalla and Folkvangr were not even the only options for the departed spirit, but were given higher regard by this culture of warriors and poets than their alternatives. Whereas the honored warrior might be sent to Valhalla to be fed and entertained until Ragnarok, a person that dies a natural death might be sent to the realm of Hel or, in some regions, your spirit might reside in Helgafjell. The confusing bit here is why there are two destinations that are, ultimately, very similar in their function. There has been a great deal of discussion over this, some scholars believe that it has to do with initiation into different warrior clans that determines whether one is sent to reside with Freyja or Odin, though due to the cloudy nature of our knowledge of Norse religion, it’s hard to say for certain why this is.

When it comes down to it, not much is really known about Folkvangr, it is mentioned only briefly in different poems and in the Prose Edda. We do know that it is a realm in the afterlife, a field or meadow ruled over by Freyja, the goddess of fertility, love, beauty, and, interestingly enough, war. We know that Freyja keeps a hall, called Sessrúmnir, here much like Odin, and we can assume that she hosts the slain warriors in the hall like her male counterpart, rather than out in the fields as I’ve shown it in the comic (but that doesn’t make for a very good joke). Other than that, we can’t really be sure of much else. We can’t even really be sure that she hosts the slain in the hall, but it seems likely that this was the notion back then. It is also possible that Freyja, as a goddess of war and as a “Chooser of the Slain”, also claimed the souls of women that died a noble death and that they too would be given the honor to join the mighty host that would fight at Ragnarok.

One thing is for certain: Folkvangr is an interesting concept and one that serves to highlight just how complicated Norse religion actually was and how much we still have to learn about this culture’s spiritual beliefs.

Luckily for modern folk, we no longer need to worry about dying with a sword in our hands in order to get into the good afterlife. Most of us would be out of luck if we did.

I wonder if kitchen knives count?

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