Honoring The Dead: Viking Funerals
The sad truth about life is that it’s temporary and death is inevitable for all of us here on earth. We don’t know how long we’re going to live and how much time we have left and that can be a scary thing for some of us. Life does not go on forever and we can either die due to sickness, old age, natural disasters, drug abuse, and overdose, etc.
Some of us will die young and some will tragically die due to accidents like basketball superstar, Kobe Bryan, who recently passed away due to a helicopter crash. Unfortunately, no one is spared from this cruel reality, no matter how famous they are, how much money they have and how many material possessions they own.
Death is something that we can’t all run away from. This is why those who are left behind have different rituals to show the deceased that they are loved. These are also done as a way to cope and help grieving people come to terms with the devastating loss of someone they cared for.
All cultures have their respective and unique ways of honoring the dead. When it comes to Viking people, they conduct funeral rituals in order to prepare someone’s body for entry to Valhalla. Vikings held high regard with their peers and these Norse rituals aim to prepare the deceased so they can transition well and enjoy the afterlife as a reward for a well-lived life.
The majority of the Vikings back in the day were either buried and cremated. During the middle ages, it is a very common tradition to do it on a funeral pyre (think of bonfire) that usually produces a lot of smoke, which was believed to smoothly carry the souls of the dead to Valhalla.
After the cremation process, archaeological finds suggest that they were likely buried along in an urn with a variety of grave goods, including but not limited to jewelry, broken weapons, slaughtered animals (for sacrificial purposes), and numerous possessions that suits their status during the course of their mortal lives. Aside from that, important commodities traded by the Vikings at that time like slaves or thralls were also included, as well as widows who decided to sacrifice their lives to join their husbands’ journey to Valhalla.
The locations of the cremated bodies and remains that will be buried vary from one place to another. They can either be placed inside dug graves (usually for women and children), grave fields (think of cemeteries) and burial/grave mounds (for multiple people all at once). It actually depends on who they will be using it for and the estimated number of bodies (some decapitated) to be buried.
There are also times when their grave mounds were built to resemble ships and boats. It’s a well-known fact in Norse mythology that vessels like these symbolize safe passage into the afterlife. However, there are also instances during funeral rites wherein Norse men and women with high authority/influence were buried with their actual boats.