View Full Version : Ch 2: Funeral Customs: The Evidence Of Literature

Haerfest Leah
March 18th, 2007, 11:45 PM
Him will I
Bury. So doing, nobly shall I die,
Beloved shall I repose with him I love
Having wrought a holy crime; since I must please
The dead below far longer than the living,
For there shall I dwell alway.
Sophocles, Antigone (Trevelyan’s translation).


Already in the thirteenth century Snorri Sturlason had considered the problem of the relationship between funeral practice and the belief in the after—life. He gives us some of his conclusions in the often quoted prologue of the Ynglinga Saga:

The first age is called the Age of Burning; all dead men then had to be burned, and memorial stones were put up to them. But after Freyr had been laid in a howe at Uppsala, many chiefs raised howes as often as memorial stones in memory of their kinsmen. And after Dan the Proud, the Danish king, had a howe built for himself, and commanded that he should be carried there after death in his king’s apparel with war—gear and horse and saddle—trappings and much wealth besides, then afterwards many of his descendants did likewise and the Age of Howes began there in Denmark; although among the Swedes and Norsemen the Age of Burning continued for a long time after.

Snorri’s account makes an apt enough preface to the archaeological evidence, with the transition from burning to howe-burial, and the acceptance of inhumation in Denmark while cremation went on in Norway and Sweden. He can hardly be referring however to the change in practice which came in in the Roman period, a thousand years earlier; while the allusion to Freyr shows that he is here concerned with a change which first affected Sweden. The context may afford us some help here, for this paragraph does not occur in the midst of a dissertation on funeral customs, but in a brief account of the sources which he used for the history of the kings of Norway.
Some of these sources he mentions explicitly: Ţjóđólfr’s poem Ynglingatal an account of the ancestors of King Rögnvaldr, and the similar work Háleygjatal composed by Eyvindr for Jarl Hákon; the work oldie court poets of Harald Hárfagr and his successors; and the prose work of the Icelander An the Wise. Besides these, he tells us, he has relied also on the tales of wise men well versed in the past, and on genealogies which have been taught to him. It is in the midst of this account that the remarks about funeral practice occur. Now from what we possess oldie Ynglingatal amid the Háleygjatal we know that the chief interest of the poets is apparently the manner of death and the place of burial of the kings, so that Snorri is presumably pausing to sum up what lie has learned of the burial customs of the past from these and other sources, including those from which he later takes the account of the first kings of the Swedes. He does not, however, mention Dan the Proud again, amid evidently learned about him from some source not relevant for his history, perhaps from the oral traditions which he mentions at the opening of his preface.
Lindqvist1 is of the opinion that the tradition about Dan is a genuine one, founded on actual practice in a Certain part of Denmark. The description given by Snorri answers to that of a number of graves excavated in Fyen and Jylland, where cremation graves are found to be replaced about the year 800 by howe-burial; within the howes the dead are laid in grave chambers with their equipment and sometimes with their horses accompanying them, in the way described by Snorri. Probably these graves were modelled on that of Charles the Great, who like King Dan had his grave prepared accor-ding to his plan before he died, amid was placed in it with all his regalia, sitting on a throne, If Snorri knew of this change of practice from Danish sources—and the fact that a similar passage about Dan is found in the Skjöldunqa Saga is significant—he may well be inserting it here to compare with the parallel change from burning to burial in a howe which he found in the traditions about the early Swedish kings.
Danish sources are certainly of importance in the Ynglinga Saga, but in the first ten chapters, before Snorri proceeds to the material supplied by Ţjóđólfr’s poem, the centre of interest is neither Denmark nor Norway, but Sweden. The saga begins by placing ‘Sweden the Great’—that is, Sweden itself amid the Swedish settlements in Russia—in the middle of die known world, and in the story of Othin and

1 Lindqvist, Fornvännen, 1920 p. 56 f.

the religion which he established in the North the chief setting throughout is Sweden. There, at fornu Sigtúnir, Othin after his wanderings through Asia, Russia, Germany and Denmark finally settled; and the very choice of the name fornu instead of merely Sigtúnir implies, as Lindqvist points out,1 a Swedish source and a fairly late one. Moreover the practices which he describes as characteristic of the followers of Othin are such as seem, from archaeological records, to belong to South-East Sweden in particular. We are told that Othin taught his followers to burn their dead, promising that every man should enter Valhöll with as much wealth as he had on his pyre, and should also enjoy everything which he himself had buried in the earth; and the ashes should be borne out to sea or buried in the earth; but over men of renown a howe should be raised as memorial, and over all men who acquitted themselves manfully memorial stones should be raised; and this continued for a long time afterwards.
The practice of burying treasure was known in Scandinavia in the Migration period, but was nowhere as popular as in South—East Sweden; this is confirmed by the fact that later on, although Anglo-Saxon money must have been just as plentiful farther west, it is only in this region that hoards of it are found, together with quantities of Arabic coins and all kinds of silver. It is in Uppland too that we find the largest number of memorial stones, and these sometimes in sets of two or three, bearing out the use of the plural in Snorri’s description.2
Evidently then it is to Sweden that we must look for the source of the traditions about Othin and cremation and Othin and magic; about the second there will be much to say later, and it is perhaps significant that the two are here introduced side by side as new institutions which came into Sweden with the worship of the god. This Swedish Othin, unlike the leader of the gods who perished at Ragnarrökr, dies in his bed; he is marked with a spear—point before death, since by means of weapons only can entry be gained into the world of the gods; and he is burned on a funeral pyre, in accordance with his teaching:
The burning was carried out in very splendid wise. It was then believed that the higher the smoke rose in the air, the loftier would his position be in heaven whose burning it was; and the more possessions were burned with him, the richer he would be (Ynglinga Saga, IX).

1 Lindqvist, op. cit. p. 104.
2 Ibid. p. 761.

Othin’s successor Njörđr was also burned, but Freyr, who ruled after him, was laid in howe when he died, and sacrifices were made to him while he lay there so that good seasons might continue in Sweden.
For the kings who follow Freyr, Snorri is content for the most part to adopt the version of their deaths given by Ţjóđólfr, adding a story, usually of a fantastic nature, to explain the verse. Sometimes, as in the case of Fjölnir and Sveigđir, we are told the manner of their deaths but not of their funerals. Of those of whom information is given, Vanlandi, Dómarr and Agni are definitely said to have been burned after death, in each case on the bank of a river; while Visburr, Eysteinn and Ingjaldr are said to have been burned in their halls, the first by his sons and the other two by enemies. Snorri himself does not look on this as cremation, but after a detailed examination of the poetic diction of Ţjóđólfr Lindqvist1 convinced that the original tradition recorded a funeral ceremony at which the kings were burned, and borne away by the fire or by a Valkyrie to Othin. He holds that the original account has been misunderstood, partly by Ţjóđólfr himself, working from a Swedish source, and still more by Snorri, who has cheerfully added to the confusion by concocting stories to explain the poem’s obscurities. If he is correct, we have six kings out of the list cremated. In any case, whether we accept this or not, it is certainly significant that both Snorri and Ţjóđólfr before him associate cremation of the dead with Swedish and not Norwegian kings. From little details which Snorri adds independently about the locality of the graves of a number of kings it seems likely that he had some additional information from a Swedish source, perhaps the same which furnished him with the account of the coming of Othin. As to the significance of ship-funeral Snorri is completely silent. He only tells us, in one of the passages where he is using material outside the poems, how Hake went to his death in a blazing ship (Ynglinga Saga, XXIII).
Outside the Ynglinga Saga Snorri gives us a detailed description of a cremation in a mythological setting, when he describes the funeral of Balder in the Prose Edda. There is also reference to the practice as an established one after battle in the work of the Danish historian, Saxo Grammaticus; there is an account of death in a blazing ship in

1 Lindqvist, Fornvännen 1921, p. 138 f. Noreen (Mytiska Bestandsdelr i Ynglingatal, Uppsala, 1892, p. 211 f.) had previously made the suggestion that Vanlandi is to be identified with Visburr and that the poem should be read as the description of a dead king burned in his ship.

the Latin version of the lost Skjöldunga Saga; there are elaborate descriptions of cremation ceremonies in the Edda poems in connection with the funerals of Sigurđr and Brynhildr; and there are casual references to cremation as the accepted custom in the Hŕvamŕl. These passages are important, and will be examined later because of the evidence for ship-funeral or human sacrifice which most of them contain.
The Norwegian kings in Ţjóđólfr’s poem are said to be laid in howe. Certainly this custom had made the deepest impression on Old Norse literature, for except for the Ynglinga Saga the prose sagas as a whole assume that inhumation is the only method of disposing of the dead and that burial in a howe is the normal practice in pre-Christian times. The memory of cremation seems to linger in them solely as a method of disposing of bodies which will not lie quiet after death, or of someone so troublesome in life that destruction by fire at the funeral seems the only means to prevent the corpse from ‘walking’ out of its grave-mound. The ceremony of the laying of the dead in howe is often described in the Íslendinga Sögur. The dead man or woman is usually provided with grave-goods, and sometimes a man’s horse may be killed to bear him company. while sometimes he may be laid in his ship inside the howe. It is the recognised duty of kinsmen and friends to lay the dead man in his grave and to be present at the closing of the howe, and after it is closed they usually return home for the funeral feast, though this may be postponed for a long while after the burial. Occasionally a fiat grave instead of a howe is said to be made at the place of death or near the house of the dead man; and a few people, particularly criminals or those who have met with a violent end, are buried under cairns of stones.1
If no wealth is buried with the dead, the occasion is represented as an exceptional one. In Egils Saga (LVIII) Skallagrimr is laid in howe together with his horse, weapons and smith’s tools, and the fact that he received no wealth in addition is noted. The reason for this is clear, because the mercenary disposition of his son Egill who superintends the funeral has been subtly indicated throughout the saga; although even Egill will not let his dearly loved brother be buried without some treasure, and gives up two fine gold bracelets, a king’s

1 Stone cairns are found dating from the Viking Age. and have a very long ancestry. Flat graves seem to belong to Christian times, although we have isolated examples which may be earlier. For this see Almgren, Vikitigatidens grafskick’. (Nordiska Studier til. A. Noreen, Uppsala, 1904), p. 334 f.

gift, to rest in the grave with him (LV). In Laxdćla Saga (XXVI) it is similarly noted that Höskuldr was buried without any wealth, and here again the meanness of his sons and their reluctance to give their father a splendid funeral has been made abundantly clear. It is thought necessary in one of the Fornaldar Sögur (Friđţjófs Saga, 1) for a king to give a special command to his sons against letting treasure be carried into the grave with him. Grave-goods, too, are only omitted for some good reason, as when in Njáls Saga (LXXVIII) Gunnarr’s bill is not put into his howe because his mother directs that it is to be used to avenge him. The normal procedure was for the dead man to be laid in the grave with his most cherished possessions and wealth in the form of silver or valuable grave-goods. One instance among many is that of Hrafnkell, said in his saga (XX) to be laid in the grave with much wealth, his war—gear and his spear; Egill himself, who died a little while before the introduction of Christianity, had his weapons and his finest clothes, since he had already disposed of the wealth in his possession a little while before he died;1 and the grave of a sorceress in Laxdćla Saga (LXXVI) was recognisable by the brooch and staff buried with her, the latter the mark of her profession.
A favourite story in the sagas is that of the hero who breaks into a grave-mound to carry off the treasure hidden inside, and if once he can overcome the resistance of the dead guardian the attempt is well worth while. In Grettis Saga (XVIII) the mound of Kárr the Old is entered in this way, and the dead man is found seated on a chair with the remains of his horse and much treasure beside him, a description which corresponds with that of the dead man sitting upright in the Vendel graves, and that of King Dan upon his throne in the account in Skjöldunga Saga. Even closer to Vendel is the account of the mound of Sóti in Harđar Saga (XV), where the dead man, who is robbed of his treasure and a ring, is seated in a ship. In Landnámabók (II, 8) we find a verse describing the exploit of a man who robbed the howe of Ţorarinn Korni; and there is another story (III, I) of a successful attempt to rob the howe of the famous King Hrólfr and carry off his sword.2 These grave-robbing exploits almost invariably

1 Egils Saga, LXXXV.
2 Skeggi was not so lucky, however, when he tried to add the sword of Hrólfr’s follower, Böđvarr Bjarki, to his collection of booty. See Ţórđar Saga Hr. III, corroborated by one version of Landnámabók (Hauksbók: Landnámabók Islands, Copenhagen, 1925, p. 95 (note)).

take place in Norway; and there was of course more likelihood of graves worth robbing there than in Iceland. In the accounts of treasure buried in the howe with the dead, we find that the conception in the sagas is that of the dead man within his grave-mound keeping jealous watch over his possessions.
Besides the howe as a dwelling-place for the dead and his treasures, it is also looked on in the sagas as a sign of honour to the dead, something which perpetuates his memory. This is the idea which we find expressed in Snorri, in his account of cremation; howes as well as memorial stones, he says, were set up in Sweden to the memory of the dead man, if his reputation deserved it. It is also expressed clearly in the Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf, where again the howe is raised after a cremation funeral:

Bid my renowned warriors raise a noble barrow after the burning, on a headland by the sea. It shall be a memorial to my people, as it towers high upon Whales Ness, so that those who fare across the sea shall in after days name it the mound of Beowulf, when they urge their tall ships far over the misty deep (2802-2808).

Something of the same conception seems to remain in the sagas. Obviously a howe did act as a convenient and unforgettable memorial to the dead; in the Landnámabók the position of the howes of the dead settlers is known, and carefully recorded. The obligation on the living to pay this honour to their dead, however, is very strong; ‘We are all bound to do honour to the man who is dead, and to make his burial as worthy as possible, and to lay him in howe’, says someone in Gisla Saga (XIII), and although the words are spoken ironically, the sentiment is clearly a familiar one. Considerable trouble would be taken before this duty to the dead was neglected. After the battle on the heath in Hrafnkels Saga (XVIII) Samr returns to raise a howe over his brother and the rest who fell with him. In Njáls Saga (LXXVII) the men who have slain Gunnarr actually return to ask his mother for leave to raise a howe on her land over two of their party who have been killed; the request is made formally and humbly, and she accedes to it. In Svarfdćla Saga (VI), when the brother of Ţorsteinn dies at sea, he puts in immediately to the nearest landing-place and goes to the Jar! who lives there:

Porsteinn said ‘I want you to lend your hall to me and my men. I want to hold the funeral feast for my brother, and lay him in howe here, with your permission. I will gladly pay money for this, so that you will not suffer. The jarl said he would gladly grant this.

This is an extreme case of the importance attributed to the raising of a howe over the dead.
Only murdered men, like the victims of Ţjóstólfr and Hrútr in Njáls Saga (XVII), are covered with stones and turf in place of a howe; Hrafnkell piles up a cairn over the boy whom he is forced to slay in fulfilment of his vow (VI). Certain men who have been slain in battle are also said in Landnámabók to have had cairns piled over them, and so are witches and wizards stoned to death for their crimes, like Kotkell and Grima in Laxdćla Saga (XXXVII), or killed by each other’s magic, like the two rival witches in Harđar Saga (XL).
The sagas and Landnámabók give plenty of information as to the places chosen for burial. The howe might be raised in the place where the man met his death. It might be set on a lonely headland overlooking the sea; the usual explanation in the sagas is that in such a position dangerous characters were thought to be less likely to do mischief. In Eyrbyggia Saga (XXXIV) the body of Ţórólfr Bćgifótr is removed to the ness after he has been haunting the countryside, while in Egils Saga (LVIII) Egill chooses such a site as a grave for his father, who, from the preparations taken at his death and funeral, was evidently judged to be a character likely to rest unquiet. This custom, however, might be one remembered from earlier times; Beowulf’s mound was placed in just such a position, and the explanation given there is that it will be visible to sailors out at sea and so his fame be continually remembered. Again, a number of the kings in Ynglinga Saga are cremated and stones raised to their memorial beside a river; whether this was due originally to a belief in the departure of the dead by water is a question to be discussed later, but we may notice in passing that Snorri tells us that the ashes of the dead, according to Othin, might either be buried in the earth or borne out to sea. Many of the settlers in Landnámabók are said to be laid in howe close to the place where they had lived; one of them is even said to have been buried in the yard.1 In Laxdćla Saga (XVII) we find Hrappr demanding to be buried after death within the house itself, in the doorway of the living-room. There seems to have been no tendency on the part of the living to shun the howes, and only in the case of dangerous characters who would not rest in the grave was any attempt made to keep them away from human habitation.
The burning of the dead in the sagas was only practised in order to

1 Lndn, I, 17, 1, 21, p. 51; II, 7, p. 65; IV, 10, p. 188; V, 13, p. 244; II, 14, p.81.

destroy a dangerous corpse which otherwise would do harm to the living. In Eyrbyggja Saga (XXXIV, LXIII) ţórólfr Bćfifór leaves his grave-mound and comes out at night to kill men and animals; his son first tries to quieten him by moving the body to a more lonely grave, and when this proves unavailing it is finally dug up and burnt to ashes, and the ashes thrown out to sea. In Grettis Saga (XXXIII) similar trouble is caused by the dead Glamr; he is overcome by Grettir after a terrible wrestling match, and after his head has been cut off the body is burned to cold ashes by Grettir and the householder whom he has been tormenting. Oddr in Laxdćla Saga (XVII treats Hrappr in a similar way, and after his ashes have been thrown out to sea we are told that no one has any further trouble with him. In Flóamanna Saga (XIII) the body of a dead woman who had been a witch in her time proves restless on the way to burial, until when the bearers are unable to carry her any farther they build a pyre and burn the remains on the spot. We can be sure that this custom did not die out with heathenism. In the same saga a district in Greenland was haunted by a number of people who had died from a mysterious plague, and Ţorgils, although a Christian, resorted to the usual remedy and had the corpses dug up and burned—’and from that time there was no harm done by their walking’ (XXII). The same method was used in Europe up to the eighteenth century and probably later to dispose of vampires.1
Thus the division of grave-customs made by Snorri, the burning of the dead and the burial in howe, is found also in Old Norse literature. The burning of the dead is found recorded only of certain kings of Sweden, some of the gods, and certain characters in the poems. Burial in howe is the oniy custom remembered in the sagas of Iceland, and the records of the Norwegian kings seem similarly to be without any memory of cremation of the dead, although we know from archaeological evidence that it was practised until late into heathen times. However, the fact that cremation died out early in the west coastal region of Norway and never reached Iceland at all, according to our present knowledge, may well account for the emphasis on howe-laying in the prose literature which we possess. The speech of the orator at the Frosta Thing in Hákonar Saga Góđa (XV) admittedly refers to an age of burning before that of burial, but this is probably an interpolation by Snorri himself since it accords so

1 E.g. from Greece: de Tournefort, Relation d’un voyage du Levant (Lyons, 1717),
1, p. 1581 f.

neatly with his statements in the Preface. We shall find however that the practice of cremation has been recorded outside the prose literature, and shall meet it when we examine the accounts of ship-funeral and human sacrifice.

Haerfest Leah
March 18th, 2007, 11:46 PM

In Iceland, it will be remembered, ship-burials have been found, though they are not numerous or rich; and literary evidence for ship—burial without cremation comes from the Íslendinga Sögur. In Gisla Saga (XVIII) for instance we have an account of the laying of Þorgrimr in his howe. He is buried in his ship, and Gísli lays a great stone upon it just before the howe is closed, with the ironical comment: I do not know how to make a ship fast if the wind moves this’—a veiled reference to his own part in Þorgrimr's death.1 No particular reason why a ship should be used is obvious from this passage; indeed, a little while before we are told that another dead man in the same district is laid in his howe with no ship but with ‘hel-shoes’ on his feet (XVI), so that if there is any idea of a journey for the dead man the means provided for making it are quite different. There is no special connection apparent between Þorgrimr and the sea, and in any case we find later that the dead man is thought to be still within his burial mound, since we are told that his howe was always clear of snow and frost, and that this was thought to be because ‘he was so dear to Freyr on account of his sacrifices that Freyr would have no frost between them’ (XVIII). Ingimundr, in Vatnsdæla Saga (XXIII), was also buried in a ship, or rather a ship’s boat, but here there is no indication of any belief in a future existence in the grave or elsewhere. Auðr, in Laxdæla Saga (VII, is also said in one account to have been buried in a ship within her howe, with much wealth laid beside her, though Landnámabók (II, 19) contradicts this, and tells us she refused to be buried in unconsecrated ground, and was laid below high-water mark on the seashore. In any case ship-burial has apparently no special significance here, and again we get the impression that while the custom has been remembered

1 Compare with this the mooring of the Oseberg ship in its mound, and the stones thrown in above it. For other examples of this see Major, Folklore, 1924, p. 146. The parallel with the Iron Age ship found in a bog at Hjortspring (Nordiske Fortidsminder, III, 1, 1927, p. 37 1.), where Hints had been piled up on the vessel and apparently thrown in large numbers on the surface of the bog round it, is an interesting one.

by the saga-tellers, they have no recollection of the beliefs that prompted it.
In Landnámabók (II, 20) a man called Germund is said to have been buried in his ship in a wood, though no details are given. Elsewhere (II, 6) we have an example of ship-burial with human sacrifice; a certain Ásmundr is laid in his ship, with his thrall to accompany him. According to lines found in some versions1 the sacrifice in this case is not appreciated, since Ásniundr is heard singing a song in which he complains of the lack of room in his ship, and the thrall has to be removed. Here again we get the notion of the dead man continuing to exist in his ship inside the howe. The same conception is present in the tale of the breaking into the mound of Sóti, in Hárðar Saga (xv). The story of the lowering of the hero into the mound and of the struggle with the draugr inside is a familiar one; the idea that the dead man is sitting in a ship, however, is, as far as I know, peculiar to this saga. The ship is placed in the side chamber of the howe, and there is much treasure in it, while Sóti sits upright in the prow—a point that reminds us of the dead chief in his ship in the Vendel graves. In Bárðar Saga (XV) the viking Raknar is buried with a ship, but he is not in the ship himself, but sits on a chair on the ground beside it. A large number of people— 500 men—are said to be laid in the ship itself.
There are other references to a number of people buried in one ship. In Svarfdæla Saga Þorgerðr has Karl and the castmen laid in a ship, ‘and much wealth with them’ (XXVI). Here there is a fleeting reference to a life elsewhere after death, though the connection with a ship may be an accidental one; before Karl’s death his kinsman Klaufi, who ‘walks’ a good deal after death, appears to him driving a sledge in the air, and finally leaves him with the remark: ‘I am expecting you home with me to-night, Karl my kinsman’ (XXVII). The other episode comes from one of the Fornaldar Sögur (Áns Saga Bogsveigis, VI), where An’s brother has been slain by the king, and in revenge he kills a crew of the king’s men, and puts them all in their ship inside a howe, ‘with Þórir on deck, and the king’s men on

1 Hauksbók has fuller account: ‘Ásmundr was laid in howe there in his ship, and with him his thrall, who had slain himself, desiring not to survive Ásniundr. He was placed in the opposite end of the ship. A little later Dora [his wife, from whom he had parted) dreamed that ‘Ásmundr had told her he was annoyed by the thrall’ (c. 60). The verse in which ‘Ásmundr makes his complaint is badly preserved.

either side of the ship, so that it was shown from this that they must all serve him’ (VI). In these passages it is clear that no particular belief in a life after death to be reached by ship is connected with the practice of ship-burial in the minds of the saga-tellers; if there had been a tradition of this kind, it had been forgotten by the time the sagas were composed, though the custom was still clearly remembered, and connected in some cases with human sacrifice.
The accounts of ship-cremation, as has been pointed out, are found outside the sagas. Two of the most interesting references come from Saxo and have not been preserved elsewhere. He tells us1 that the laws of King Frode included the edict that a jarl (centurio vel satrapa) 2 must be burnt on a funeral pyre built of his own ship. Every king or general (dux) shall have a ship of his own, while the bodies of captains (gubernati) shall be burnt in groups often to every ship. An instance of such a burning after battle is given when Hotherus lays the King of Saxony on the corpses of his oarsmen and has him burnt on a pyre built of vessels, and his ashes placed in a barrow.3 It has, however, been suggested that here Saxo has departed from the original, and that the source he has used here is in reality an account of the burning of Balder on a blazing ship.4
From a snore reliable source however, the Heimskringla of Snorri, comes a similar incident, though connected with the burial instead of the burning of the dead; it is related of the Christian king, Hákon the Good (935—960), who lays his faithful old follower Egill Ullserk in a ship after his death in battle:
King Hákon took over the ships which had run aground there, which had belonged to the sons of Eric, and had them drawn ashore. He had Egill Ullserk laid in a ship there, and with him all those who had fallen out of their company, and had earth and stones heaped over them. King Hákon had many other ships brought ashore, amid the slain carried into them, and the howes can be seen south of Fræðarberg High memorial stones stand beside the grave of Egill Ullserk (Hákonar Saga Góða, XXVII).
The other account of ship-funeral from Snorri is found in quite a different setting, in his picture of the world of the gods given in the

1 Saxo, v, 156, p. 193.
2 Translations of the Latin terms are chose suggested by Herrmann in his commentary on the passage (Dänische Geschichten des Saxo Grammaticus, II, p. 353).
3 Saxo, III, 74, p. 89.
4 Herrmann, Dänische Geschichte des Saxo Grammaticus, p. 211.

Prose Edda. There we have a detailed account of a cremation on board ship, when Balder is burned on the pyre built on his ship Hringhorni. It is a strange and puzzling account, full of vividness, movement and detail, and abounding in fantastic pieces of information. The four berserks who guard the horse of the giantess who launches the ship, Thor’s sudden vicious attempt to slay her with his hammer, the kicking into the fire of the dwarf Litr by the irritable god, the arrival of Freyja with her cats—these incidents stand out unforgettably, like scenes on a tapestry. We find the funeral treated much earlier by one of the tenth-century skaldic poets, and it is probable that it was from some such source that Snorri’s information came. It is to Snorri himself, moreover, that we owe the preservation of such parts of Úlfr Uggason’s Húsdrapa as we possess, since he has preserved them in his Skáldskaparmál as examples of poetic diction.1 If we piece together the lines which deal with the funeral of Balder, we find some of the information given by Snorri, and also some fresh points about the procession of mourners who rode to the pyre to honour the dead god:

Battle-wise Freyr rides first on a golden-bristled boar to the hill of Othin’s son, and leads the hosts.
Far-famed Hroptatýr rides towards the exceeding great pyre of his son
—but the song of praise glides through my lips—
I see the valkyries following the wise and victorious one, and the ravens
too, for the holy blood of the slain.
Splendid Heimdallr rides his horse to the pyre which the gods raised for the fallen son of the Friend of ravens, the very wise one.
Hildr, exceeding powerful, caused the horse of the sea to move slowly forward, but the warrior-champions of Othin felled the steed.2

In Snorri’s account the pyre is built on the ship after it has been launched. There is still connection between the ship and the shore. Balder’s body is carried on to the pyre, and after him the body of his wife, who is said to have broken her heart and died of grief; then Thor hallows the pyre with his hammer; Othin comes with his offering, the magic ring Draupnir, and lays it on the pyre beside his son; and lastly the horse of Balder is led to the pyre in all its trappings. The tradition of Othin approaching the pyre of his dead son is

1 Gylfaginning, XLIX.
2 Norsk-Islandske Skjaldedigtning, F. Jónsson, 1912, B, I, p. 129. The stanzas, scattered in Snorri, have been taken in the order in which Jónsson arranges them.

evidently well known, since in one of the Eddic poems the giant Vafþrúðnir is defeated in a contest of wit by Othin’s question ‘What said Othin into the ear of Balder before he mounted the pyre?’ (Vafþrúðnismál, 54).
At this point Snorri’s account ends, and he changes the scene to that of Hermóðr's ride to Hel. He gives us no indication as to whether when the fire was kindled the ship was allowed to float out to sea. Since we are told of no howe raised for Balder’s ashes, this may have been the case, especially since such trouble was taken to launch it. We have two other stories, again apparently old literary traditions, where this is actually said to have been done. One of them is told of one of the earliest of the kings mentioned by Snorri in the Ynglinga Saga, the sea-king Haki.1 He died from wounds in battle, and just before his death, Snorri tells us :

he bade them take a warship which he had, amid load it with dead men amid weapons, and push it out to the open sea. He ordered them to ship the rudder and hoist the sail and set fire to the fuel, making a pyre in the ship. The wind was blowing from the land. Haki was then at the point of death, or even dead, when he was laid on the pyre. Then the ship sailed blazing out to sea. This was famous for a long time afterwards (XXIII).

There is a similar account of a king going to his death in the Latin version of the Skjöldunga Saga,2 of which the original is lost:

He (King Sigurðr Hringr), when Alfsola had been borne to her funeral, went aboard a great ship, laden with corpses, the only living man among them. He placed himself and the dead Alfsola in the stern, amid ordered that a fire should be kindled with bitumen and sulphur. Then with full sails set and a strong wind driving from the shore, he guided the rudder and at the same time slew himself with his own hand.. . . For he preferred to go to King Othin in royal pomp in the manner of his ancestors—that is to the underworld—rather than to endure the weakness of a sluggish old age.. . (XXVI).

Here we have two accounts closely resembling one another. Sigurðr, like Haki, had been seriously wounded in battle, and the loading of the ship with dead men, the kindling of the fire, the wind blowing out to sea, and above all the idea that this death was the deliberate choice of the king, and that the rudder was placed as if for him to steer, are striking features in both accounts. It is quite likely

1 Haki is the brother of Hagbarðr, whose death is discussed on p. 53 below.
2 Skjðldunga Saga, A. Jónsson, A.f.n.O. 1894, p. 132 f.

that we are dealing indeed with two versions of the same story. It is thought1 that Snorri obtained the part of Ynglinga Saga which includes the story of Haki from the original Skjöldunga Saga, which is likely to have been composed about 1200. Arngrimr, who re-corded the Latin version, certainly knew this too, as part of his version is taken from it. It seems at least possible that the two stories have been confused, and the tradition transferred from one king to the other. This however need not prevent it from being a genuine tradition all the same, although it might well have resulted from an imaginative account of the cremation of a king in a ship, and not originally have been the record of such a ship being set adrift on the sea. However, we are again reminded of the dead chief sitting upright in his ship in the Vendel grave, and of another account, this time in the Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf, of a dead king floating out to sea. The ship of the dead Scyld is laden with treasures, and then launched on the sea to float to an unknown destination, bearing the mysterious king with it: ‘Those who hold office in kings’ halls, heroes under the heavens, cannot say in truth who received that burden’ (50-52).
There is also a passage in one of the Íslendinga Sögur which might well be a confused echo of such a tradition as this. At the end of Njáls Saga the valiant old warrior Flosi goes to Norway to buy timber in the last year of his life. He does not begin the return voyage to Iceland until rather late in the summer, and as he is leaving, people tell him that his boat is unseaworthy. But in reply to this
Flosi said it was good enough for a man who was old and had forebodings of death (feigr); and he went on board and put out to sea; and that ship was never heard of again (CLIX).
Such traditions might reflect a definite belief in a land of the dead across the sea, originally the inspiration behind ship-funeral and afterwards forgotten, or again they might be literary or religious traditions of a different kind. There are other small pieces of evidence that might be taken into consideration here. Sinfjötli’s dead body is carried off by a stranger in a boat, who seems to be Othin, in Vol- sunga Saga (x); on one occasion, though a ship is not used, Othin is said to carry off Hadingus to his house across the sea: 2 and several of the gods are said to have possessed ships: Skiðblaðnir, which could hold all the gods, is connected sometimes with Freyr and sometimes

1 F. Jónsson, Litt, Hist. II, p. 659; Introduction to Skjöldunga Saga, op. cit. p. 146.
2 Saxo, I, 24, p. 29.

with Othin;1 Balder has a ship called Hringhorni;2 and Njörðr is said to rule the winds and the sea, and to dwell in Noatun, the enclosure of vessels’.3 There is also the fact to be taken into consideration that several of the early kings of Sweden were said to have been burnt at the water’s edge, and that according to Snorri the ashes of the dead might be thrown out to sea after cremation.4 Such scraps of evidence are of little value separately, but they are interesting taken together, because they might all fit into place as scattered memories of a home of the gods across the water.
Before discussing this further, there is some evidence outside Scandinavia to be taken into account. A description of a cremation in a ship, which is of great interest because of its late date and the detailed information which it gives, is found in the writings of an Arab traveller, Ahmed ibn Foszlan, who was sent into Russia as an envoy in the year 921, to teach Islamic law to the ‘King of the Slays’. Part of his account of his experiences there has been preserved in Yaqut’s Geographical Dictionary, and in it he describes the ‘Rus’, who, if Ahmed is correct, are the descendants of Scandinavians settled on the Volga.5 Taken as a whole, his account of the Rus has a strangely sensual and fantastic ring, very different from Norse literature, so that one rather wonders how far the teller has read his own interpretation into what he saw; the description of the funeral of a Rus chieftain, however, is very relevant to our study.6

1 Gylfaginning, XLIII: ‘Certain dwarfs. . .made Skiðblaðnir, and gave the ship to Freyr; she was so big that all the Æsir could go aboard her.. . and as soon as the sail was hoisted she got the breeze that she wanted.’ (cf. Grlmnismál, 43). Ynglinga Saga VII: ‘Othin. . .had the ship called Skiðblaðnir, in which he travelled over great oceans, but which could be folded up like a tablecloth.’
2 See p. 42 above.
3 Gylfaginning, XXIII; Grlmnismál, 16. Cf. Olsen, Revue de l’histoire des religions, nos.111—112, 1935, p. 188 f. He points out the number of place-names on the Norwegian coast where the god’s name occurs.
4 See p. 32 above.
5 Arguments for identifying the ‘Rus’ with Scandinavians who settled in Russia are given by V. Thomsen in his lecture on the ‘Scandinavian Origin of the Ancient Russ’ in The Relations between Ancient Russia and Scandinavia, Parker, 1877. Sec also Braun, ‘Das historische Russland im nordischen Schrifttum des x.-xiv. Jahrhunderts’, in Festschrift für Eugen Mogk, 1924. Archaeological evidence is given by Arne, La Suede et l’Orient (Uppsala, 1914).
6 Two accessible versions of this are (a) a translation into German (Arabic text also given) by C. M. Frähn in Ibn Foszlan’s und anderer araber Berichte über die Russen älterer Zeit and (b) a translation of the account of the funeral, from which the passage quoted is taken, by Miss Waddy in Antiquity, 1934, p. 58.

Ahmed describes how the dead chief was first buried for ten days, while the women sewed garments for him. In the case of a man of importance, Ahmed explains, a third of his money will be spent in this way, and another third goes to buy wine for the final ceremony, when one of the chief’s slaves gives herself to die with her master. At the ceremony at which Ahmed was present, it was a woman who made the offer—this apparently being the usual custom. He describes at some length the girl’s life up to the time of the burning; how she was waited on hand and foot, and was very merry up to the end. Before she was slain by an old woman called the ‘Angel of Death’, she took part in a strange ceremony:

They brought the girl to something they had made, which resembled the frame of a door. She put her feet on the palms of the men there, and looked over the frame. She said what she had to say, and they lowered her. Then they lifted her up a second time; she did the same and they lowered her. Then they lifted her up a third time, and she did the same again, after which they gave her a hen, and she cut off its head and threw it into the boat [i.e. the ship prepared for the pyre]. I asked the interpreter what she was doing, and he replied: ‘The first time she said “Behold, I see my father and mother”. The second time she said ‘‘Behold, I see all my dead relations seated”. The third time she said “Behold I see my master seated in Paradise, and Paradise is green and fair, and with him are men and servants. He is calling me. Send me to him”.’

Meanwhile the dead man has been taken out of the earth, dressed in the new garments, and placed on a bed in the tent on the ship. He is supplied with liquor and food, and all his weapons laid beside him. A dog, two oxen, two cows, a cock and a hen are all killed and thrown into the boat. Finally the girl herself is slain within the tent.1 This is done by the old woman, who stabs her in the ribs with a knife, while two men strangle her; her screams are drowned with the loud beating of shields. Then the ship is set on fire, and burns easily by reason of the wooden piles placed under it beforehand. A gale,

1 The reliability of Ahmed’s statement to the effect that a number of men had intercourse with the girl before death saying that ‘she was to tell her master they did this for love of him’ is, I think, doubtful. It is very characteristic of Ahmed, who loves to introduce little incidents of this kind whenever possible, and it will be remembered that by his own confession he was obliged to depend on the services of an interpreter, and is here describing something taking place out of sight, within the tent. Parallels from primitive tribes in Australia are however given by Crawlcy (71w Mystic Rose, London, 1902), pp. 307 and f., where the ceremony is ‘the last detail in the preparation of the bride for her husband’.

says Ahmed, came up just in time to fan the flames, and within an hour the ship and all in it were burnt to ashes. One of the men standing by explained to Ahmed that out of love of their great men ‘“We burn them with fire in a twinkling, and they enter Paradise that very same hour”. Then he laughed heartily and said “Out of love of him his Lord has sent the wind to take him away”.’
This funeral must have resembled in many respects the most elaborate ship-burials of the Viking Age in Norway. Again the dead man rests on a bed within the ship, surrounded by all the necessities of life and many choice possessions, with various animals sacrificed to accompany him and the dead slave girl laid in the tent beside him, just as in the Gokstad and Oseberg ships, although there we have no definite evidence for human sacrifice. Here however the ship is burned and not buried; and the attitude to cremation as recorded by Ahmed is more in accordance with the earlier literary traditions, with the stories of Haki and Sigurðr Hringr, and the description of Othin’s teaching about cremation given by Snorri; since the wind is sent to fan the flames, as a wind was sent to drive the ships of the dead kings out to sea, and the chief is said to have gone to dwell with his Lord, who loves him, in a green Paradise.
In spite of the resemblances to the story of the dead kings carried out to sea in their ships, we may notice that here we have a boat used without any obvious conception of a journey to the land of the dead by water; it is the flames, and not the ship, which seem to be regarded as the medium by which the dead is to be borne to Paradise.
The question of the origin of ship-funeral has been discussed by Olrik in his Danmarks Heltedigtning (I, p. 39) and the view of it which he takes is that the essential feature of such early stories as those which we have examined is the drifting of the boat out to an unknown destination, with no connection with cremation or inhumation of the dead within a ship. The instances he gives to support this, and to show that such a conception is met with to a considerable extent in Western Europe, are not however very conclusive ones. There is the belief that the souls of the dead are carried by boat over the sea to Britain, recorded by Procopius and elsewhere, and the stories of a land of departure over the sea in Irish mythology; otherwise the legends to which he refers are late and doubtful ones. Stjerna,1 on the other hand, wishes to trace three definite stages in the practice of ship-funeral. The first is that of sending the king in a blazing funeral

1 Stjerna, Essays on Beowulf (Viking Club, Coventry, 1912), p. 103.

pyre out to sea, or the setting adrift of a corpse in a boat. The second is the burying of a ship in the ground, or the making of a grave in ship form, and the third, the belief in the journey to a land of the dead without the necessity to provide the corpse with any visible form of transport. Again, however, Stjerna is unable to give any really convincing evidence for the support of this theory, or to show that ship-funeral has developed by these three steps in any part of the world. As an example of the first stage in actual practice, he gives an example from further India of the launching of a blazing funeral pyre; but when the body is committed to fire and water in India, the idea behind it is usually that of purification by a return to the elements—a complex mystical idea which can hardly be regarded as the first stage in the development of ship-funeral. He also instances the sending out to sea of a corpse in a canoe by Australian natives, but gives no authority for this. It is possible, however, to produce evidence from other parts of the world which shows that the setting of a corpse in a boat to drift out to sea can be an actual practice, though this does not prove, of course, that the Norse literary traditions are founded on memories of such a custom. In an account of Sarawak and British North Borneo,1 Ling Roth gives a number of instances of the custom of setting adrift the property of the dead man in a boat ‘in order that the deceased may meet with these necessities in his outward flight’. In particular, he quotes the account of the drowning of a young chief, written by Bishop McDougall, who records that he himself saw an effigy of the corpse with a number of rich possessions—including weapons and gold ornaments—which after three days was launched on the river in a boat made for the purpose; had the body of the dead man been recovered, he says, it would certainly have been launched with the property: ‘this is the invariable mode of burial with the Milanows.’ On another occasion the bishop met a boat rolling in a heavy sea, with what he first took to be a man sitting paddling in the stern; but when he tried to reach it, he saw that it was only one of their ‘death boats’.2 Again in Polynesia there is a good deal of ship-burial in various forms. Cases are recorded from Samoa of bodies being rudely embalmed, put into a canoe and set adrift on the ocean3 There is also some evidence for the practice of laying the

1 H. Ling Roth, Natives of Sarawak and British North Borneo (London, 1896), I, 8, p. 1441 f.
2 Ibid. p. 145.
3 R. W. Williamson, Religious and Cosmic Beliefs of Central Polynesia, I, p. 246.

dead man in a boat, amid killing his wife—usually with her consent— to accompany him.1 In the Marquesas Porter records that he once saw four war-canoes, splendidly decorated, loaded with a number of corpses of enemies slain in battle. One of these contained the body of a priest of the district, who had been slain in battle; when they had a full crew for him, they said, he would be able to start on his voyage, and they would see that the boat was well supplied with provisions.2
This evidence is particularly interesting for our purpose, since both in North Borneo3 and Polynesia4 we have evidence for the belief in a journey to the land of the dead, reached in the first case along a river, and in the second across the sea; so that in either a boat will be needed. This belief is by no means universal or consistent; it exists side by side with ideas about the dead continuing to exist in the grave and so on; 5 however, the very fact that it is found alongside with the practice of ship-burial and with the actual launching of the dead out to sea provides an argument for Stjerna, and at least suggests the possibility that ship-funeral in the North may have originated in the practice of which we read in the literature, and in a belief in the land of the dead across the sea. On the other hand, it proves almost impossible to decide from the mass of evidence from Polynesia which of these beliefs came first; the development may have been in the order suggested by Stjerna, but it might equally well have been in the other direction, or the different practices may have developed in different regions. Probably had we the same amount of evidence from the early days of ship-funeral in Scandinavia, we should find it just as contradictory and confusing.
It is noticeable, however, that in the evidence for ship-funeral elsewhere we do not find it linked with cremation. If we look back on the Norse evidence as a whole, it seems that Olrik is justified in distinguishing two separate ideas—one that of sending the dead man to an unknown destination, whether this is merely a literary tradition or based on early practice to some extent—and the other that of burning the dead man on his ship on a funeral pyre, for which we have evidence from Russia in the tenth century, and which we know

1 Murray, Missions in Western Polynesia, p. 50 1.
2 Williamson, op. cit. I, p. 274; Porter, Journal of a Cruise, II, p. III.
3 Ling Roth, op. cit. I, p. 208; N. K. Chadwick, Growth of Literature, III, p. 476 f. esp. p. 490.
4 Williamson, op. cit. I, pp. 323 f., 379 f, II, 36 f, etc.
5 Williamson, op. cit. I, p. 252. Cf. story recorded by W. W. Gill, Myths and Songs from South Pacific (London, 1876), p. 211.

was practised in Scandinavia for a good many centuries before that. There remains the custom of burying the dead in a ship, but before discussing this further it is necessary to turn to another question, that of human sacrifice.

Haerfest Leah
March 18th, 2007, 11:46 PM

We have already noticed a number of cases in Norse literature where ship-funeral is accompanied by human sacrifice, and in the account of the cremation on the Volga in the tenth century we have a vivid and detailed account of suttee. There are some striking resemblances in Ahmed's account to those of suttee carried out in India and the Island of Bali within comparatively recent times. In, for example, the descriptions of suttee given by eyewitnesses from the Island of Bali in 1877,1 there are a number of points which may be noticed. A considerable time passes between the death of the man and the cremation of the women, since they die at the funeral ceremony held later; the wives and concubines of the dead man are allowed to choose whether they will die with their lord, but once the choice is made they may not draw back; the woman who volunteers to die is treated as a privileged person until the day of the burning; the victim is encouraged by emphasis on her status as the wife of her lord in the next world—and incidentally by the use of intoxicating drugs before death. All these points were also made by Ahmed in his account of the funeral of the Rus chieftain. Even the killing of the hen by the girl in the strange ceremony before death in Ahmed’s account reminds us of the releasing of the doves over the heads of the doomed women in the Bali ceremony, when these are said to represent the soul. These features can be traced in other accounts of suttee as practised in the East; 2 modern records can be found in the works of S. C. Bose,3 who witnessed the burning of a member of his own family when a child, and of J. A. Dubois;4 Crawfurd5 gives a most full and interesting account of earlier ceremonies in Bali from the records of the Dutch mission sent there in 1633, from which we learn that it was usual there to have old women attending those who were to die to instruct and encourage them, just as did the ‘Angel of

1 Friederich, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (N.S.), IX, 1877, p. 89 f.
2 For most of the references to suttee in India I am indebted to Mr. E. J. Thomas of the Cambridge University Library.
3 S. C. Bose, The Hindoos as they are, XXI, p. 272.
4 Abbé J. A. Dubois, Hindu Manners, Customs and Ceremonies, 1897, chapter XIX.
5 Crawfurd, Indian Archipelago, II, p. 241 f.

Death’ and her daughters in Ahmed's account; and there is a large collection of records of ’suttee’ from various parts of India, Bali and Java, ranging in date from 317 B.C. to A.D. 1870, collected under ‘suttee’ in Hobson-Jobson. Nearly all these cases are cremation ceremonies, and the main features on which we have commented are the same throughout. Usually the number of those put to death is small, but a few travellers report cases where hundreds have died.
Were such ceremonies as these ever known in Scandinavia? And what is their original significance? It is known from the evidence of archaeology that suttee was practised in Northern Europe by Celtic peoples; we have the undoubted instance from the cemetery at Thuizy already mentioned, and other less extreme examples from cemeteries on the Marne. In Scandinavia we have what appear to be examples from the Bronze Age, and possible examples from the Viking Age also, though these are scarcely conclusive taken alone.1
Turning to the evidence of literature, however, we find a passage in Flateyjarbók where the practice of suttee is recorded as continuing in Sweden into historic times. We are told of the marriage of Auðr, Hákon’s daughter, to King Eric of Sweden in his old age, and the chronicler adds:

Now at that time Sigriðr the Proud had left King Eric, and people said he felt disgraced by her behaviour: for it was in fact the law in Sweden that if a king died the queen should be laid in the howe beside him, and she knew that the king had vowed himself to Othin for victory when lie fought with Styrbjörn his kinsman, and that he had not many years to live (Flateyjarbók: Óláfs Saga Tryggvasonar, I, 63, p. 88).

This Sigriðr the Proud is an historical figure; she married Eric Sigrsæll, the king of Sweden mentioned here, whose dates are about 980—995; she intended at one time to marry Olaf Tryggvason, until they quarrelled over religious matters, and as a result of this she married instead his rival, Svein of Denmark (Tjuguskegg). She helped to bring about the death of Olaf, whom she had never forgiven, in A.D. 1000, and may have lived long enough to accompany her husband to England, where he died in 1014 and was succeeded by her stepson, Cnut. The connection of this tradition with so well known a character at such a relatively late date is thus of great interest.
A passage which may be compared with the one from Flateyjarbók occurs in the Þáttr Egils Hallssonar oh Tófa Valgautssonar in the Forn-

1 See p. 15 above.

mannna Sögur, where the custom of suttee is represented as being still possible in Gautland in the reign of Olaf the Holy. In this case the sacrifice of the wife was not actually carried out, but not because of any rebellion on the woman’s part. Jar! Valgautr of Gautland was summoned to the court of the Christian king Olaf, and left his home in no very happy state of mind, since he could anticipate only two possible results of the interview—his conversion to the king’s faith or death; and his forebodings, as a matter of fact, proved all too well justified.. Before leaving he told his wife

...he would send a gold ring to her as a token, if he were baptised; and then she must do the same, and all those over whom she had control…but if she learned that he had been slain, then she should first hold the funeral feast, and next make a pyre and burn all the wealth that she could, and afterwards herself go into the fire.

(Fornmanna Sögur (Copenhagen, 1825-1837), V, p. 327 f.)

It is perhaps significant that in both these passages we find suttee represented as a practice that was rapidly dying out at the close of the Viking Age.
We have a number of other references in Norse literature which do not come from historical sources, but which nevertheless seem as though they may be memories of a tradition such as that described above. In the story of Balder’s funeral, quoted earlier, it will be remembered that the wife of Balder breaks her heart with grief, and is burned with her husband.1 This sounds like a reminiscence of the voluntary death of a wife at her husband’s funeral, and the evidence of the Fornaldar Sögur strengthens this impression. In Hervarar Saga (III) and Örvar—Odds Saga (XV) we get two different accounts of the same incident, the death of Ingibjörg on hearing that her betrothed, Hjálmarr, had been slain in battle. The second account is the fuller one; here the girl falls back in her chair dead when Oddr brings her Hjálmarr’s ring and his last message, and ‘then Oddr burst out laughing and said: “Now they shall enjoy in death what they could not have in life”’. There is the same fierce delight here as we encountered in the story of Ahmed, when the man of the Rus laughed at the sight of the gale that brought his dead chief to Paradise the sooner.2 One text of Hervarar Saga moreover goes further and

1 See p. 42 above.
2 Cf. Death-song of Ragnarr Loðbrók, who died with a laugh upon his lips. See p. 74 below.

makes Ingibjörg slay herself.1 In the same saga we have the incident of King Harald’s wife, who, when her husband was killed in battle as a sacrifice to Othin, slew herself in the temple of the Disir (VII). In Sörla Saga Sterka the same motif recurs; here Hálfdan's queen dies of grief at the news of her husband’s death, and she is buried with him (XIV). Saxo gives us two more examples; the first is that of Gunnhilda, who alter Asmundus was killed ‘cut off her own life with the sword, choosing rather to follow her lord in death than to forsake him by living’. Accordingly she is buried with him, but Saxo is not over-impressed by this act of devotion: ‘There’, he remarks, ‘lies Gunnhilda clasping her lord somewhat more beautifully in the tomb than she had ever done in the bed.’ 2 The other example is the more moving one of Signe,3 who slays herself and causes her maids to do the same at the instant that her lover Hagbardus is hanged. Here it is noticeable that the method chosen by the women is that of strangling, while the house is set on fire, and their last action before death is to drink a cup of wine. These are all features of the ceremony witnessed by Ahmed; while the practice of one form of suttee, known as satia, on the island of Bali, involves a double suicide as here; the women stab themselves with the ‘creese’ at the instant that they jump into the fire. Friederich4 himself did not witness such a ceremony, and was told that it was rarely practised, but was thought to be a much nobler death than that by burning alone. In the passage from Saxo Hagbarðr is not killed until the women have died, because he persuades the executioner to hang his cloak first to test whether his betrothed will be faithful enough to die with him; the sight of flames breaking out in her house tells him that she has not failed to keep her promise, and he utters a song which, muddled though the sense is in Saxo’s ponderous Latin, nevertheless seems to contain allusions to some future life when they will be together:

Unus erit finis, unus post federa nexus,
Nec passim poterit prima perire Venus.
Felix, qui tanta merui consorte iuuari,
Nec male Tartareos solus adire deos.
Ergo premant medias subiecta tenacula fauces;
Nil, nisi quod libeat, pena suprema feret,

1 Rain gives this variant in a note. Hervarar Saga, V. p. 429 (Fornaldar Sögur, Copenhagen, 1829—30).
2 Saxo, I, 27, p. 33.
3 Ibid. VII, 234, p. 281 f.
4 Friederich, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (N.S.), IX, 1877, p. 89 f.

Cum restaurande Veneris spes certa supersit,
Et mors delicias mox habitura suas.
Axis uterque iuuat; gemino celebrabitur orbe
Vna aninia requies, par in amore fides.1

(There shall be one end for us both; one bond after our vows; nor shall our first love aimlessly perish. Happy am I to have won the joy of such a consort; I shall not go down basely in loneliness to the gods of Tartarus. So let the encircling bonds grip my throat in the midst; the final anguish shall bring with it pleasure only, since the certain hope remains of renewed love, and death shall prove to have its own delights. Each world holds joy, and in the twin regions shall the repose of our united souls win fame, our equal faithfulness in love.)
According to Saxo and Snorri,2 Hagbarðr is the brother of Haki, the sea-king who met his death on a blazing ship; and in Saxo Haki avenges the death of his brother on Sigarr. There is also a reference to the brothers in Völsunga Saga (XXV). A resemblance may be noticed moreover to another story which concerns us in this chapter, that told in the Helgi poems;3 there, in addition to the death of the wife beside her husband, we meet the incident of the hero disguised as a woman, a feature of the Hagbarðr story; while the conception of the Valkyrie is introduced into both. Evidently the story of Hagbarðr was one widely circulated. Herrmann4 points out that the references to it are found in the works of Norwegian and Icelandic skalds from the ninth to the thirteenth century, and a reference in a verse of Kormákr shows that it was known in Iceland in the mid-tenth century, and cannot be a late romantic story.
The account which seems to have most in common, however, with the fierce magnificence of Ahmed’s story is the account of the burning of Sigurðr and Brynhildr, in the Edda poem, Sigurðarkviða bin Skamma, from which the account in Völsunga Saga seems to be copied. Here Brynhildr begs Gunnarr to build so broad a funeral pyre for the hero’s burning that Sigurðr and those who die with him may lie easily side by side. It shall be adorned, she says, with costly cloth, and with shields, and with the bodies of many slain; for she herself will lie beside Sigurðr, with oniy a sword between them, as

1 Saxo Grammaticus (ed. Holder, Strassburg, 1886), VII, 132, p. 237.
2 Saxo, VII, 237, p. 285; Snorri, Ynglinga Saga, XXII.
3 Symons, ‘Zur Helgisage’ (Beiträge zur Geschichte der deutschen Sprache und Literatur, IV. p. 190 f).
4 Herrmann, Dänische Geschichte des Saxo Grammaticus, II, pp. 490 ff.

once they shared the marriage bed. Their following also shall be no mean one, for five bondwomen and eight menservants, followers of hers who have grown up with her from childhood, shall share the last resting-place of the tragic lovers.
Finally in another poem, Helgakviða Hundingsbana II, we have the scene where Sigrún enters the grave-mound of her husband and clasps him once more in death; here, fused by the poet’s imagination, many different conceptions seem to have met and mingled, but in the words of Helgi as he welcomes his wife there comes again that familiar ring, the echo of a once fierce and vital belief, which seems to animate so many of these stories:

Well may we drink a noble draught,
Though lost to us now are love amid lands;
Sing shall no man a song of sorrow
Though wide are the wounds upon my breast;
For now are our maids shut in the mound,
The brides of the heroes with us, their husbands.

And now you sleep in the arms of the slain
Within the howe, white daughter of Helgi,
And yet are alive, young daughter of Kings....

There can be no question in these passages of a mere literary motif, copied from one to another. The majority of the passages referred to in the Fornaldar Sögur are irrelevant episodes outside the plot of the story; and the link between the separate accounts is not so much the description of the incident, which differs widely in different cases, but the spirit behind it—such as could not spring from a mere imitation.
There is another side of sacrifice seen in the sagas, that of voluntary burial while alive by others besides the wife of the dead man. The most vivid account of it is the story of the foster-brothers Aran and Ásmundr, in one of the Fornaldar Sögur.1 Here the two make a pact that whichever of them outlives the other shall spend three nights with the dead man in his howe. Aran falls dead one day in the hail, and Ásmundr is forced to keep his promise; the dead man is placed in the burial mound together with his horse, saddled and bridled, his weapons, amid a hawk and hound; and his foster-brother has a stool carried in too, and sits beside him. At this point the story takes a

1 Egils Saga ok Ásmundr, VII..

gruesome turn, for on the first night the dead man rises and devours the hawk and hound; the second night he ‘slew the horse and broke it in pieces and began to devour it vigorously, chewing it tip so that the blood ran down his jaws. He invited Ásmundr to eat with him.’ On the third night the inevitable happens, and Aran tries to devour his former foster-brother; Ásmundr, however, overcomes him and cuts off his head before he himself has lost more than his ears. Saxo tells us the same story, and here Ásmundr is rescued from the mound by King Eric of Sweden (v, p. 199).
We have also record of several kings burying themselves alive with much treasure, sometimes with a number of followers. In Heimskringla King Herlaugr goes into a howe with twelve men rather than be deprived of his kingship by King Harald Hárfagr;1 in Bárðar Saga King Raknar is said to walk alive into his howe after ruling the land for a long time (XVM). Similarly a certain Agnarr is said to enter a howe with his ship’s crew in Þorskfirðinga Saga (III). He is probably connected with Agði Jarl who goes alive into a howe specially built for the purpose in Þorsteins Þáttr Bæarmagnis.2 In nearly all these cases these men turn into powerful draugar after burial, and cannot be vanquished without a struggle; the same is true of another figure, in Hrómundar Saga Greipssonar, who ‘when he was so old that he could fight no longer, had himself put living into the howe, and much treasure with him’ (IV). But these stories seem to be of a different kind from those of human sacrifice; they give no impression of a half-remembered custom, and here the resemblance between them is one of motif rather than of spirit infused into them. We are in any case dealing here with ideas about the vigour of the dead founded on a belief in life continuing in the grave, which will be discussed more fully later on.
Behind the idea of sacrifice as practised at the funeral, we seem to discern two distinct ideas. One is that the possessions given to the dead, the animals and even the human beings slain with him accompany him into the next life; such a belief can be seen, for instance, in the story of the death of the Rus chieftain, in the suicide of Signe, in the suicide of Brynhildr; it is stated in the words of Snorri, who attributes the origin of the belief to the teaching of Othin, and it is neatly illustrated by another story which has not been alluded to

1 Haralds Saga Hárfagra VIII.
2 Þorsteins Þáttr Bæarmagnis: Fornmanna Sögur (Copenhagen, 1825—1837), III, p. 197 (chapter XII).

before, that of Sigurðr Hringr—the man who is said to have been sent out to meet death in a burning ship—at the death of an honoured enemy, King Harald.1 He had the body of his vanquished foe drawn to the howe by his own horse; afterwards he had the horse killed, and then King Hringr made them take the saddle on which he himself had ridden, and gave it to his kinsman, King Harald, bidding him do which he would, ride or drive to Valhöll’. This last example shows how the idea of possessions and companions given to the dead to be used in another life links tip naturally with a belief in a journey to the land of the dead, and the desirability of providing means for the dead man to make that journey.
The second idea which can be seen behind the custom of sacrifice, as described in the literature, is that possessions are given to the dead man for use in the grave-mound, which is visualised as a kind of house; we see this in the picture of the dead Sóti, sitting on his ship in the mound, and brooding over his treasure; in the story of Ásmundr, who insisted on the removal of the thrall who had been sacrificed with him, because he was so pressed for room in his ship— a passage whose unmoved reaction to heroics is typically Norse, and which helps us to understand why a religion of elaborate sacrifice never really established itself in Scandinavia—and in its most crude and gruesome form in the talc of the other Ásmundr, who was buried with his foster-brother. Ship-funeral, it will be seen, can be linked up with either of these conceptions.
As seen in Norse literature, suttee is presented as an act of sacrifice; the woman is slain that she, together with the dead man’s other possessions, may be his in another life. Brynhildr and Signe desire death, because only by means of it can they usurp the wife’s place which has been denied them in life. Again in the account of suttee among the Rus, it may he noticed that any of the slaves and not only a lawful wife may die, while even the sensually-minded Ahmed puts the emphasis on the death of a slave, and tells us that this may be either a man or woman, though in practice it is usually the latter. The idea that by sacrificing herself the woman earns the right to call the dead man her husband is however again marked here. It may be noticed too in Friederich’s2 account of the ceremony on the Island of Bali in the last century; there he tells us how the glory of the next life is described to the slave-women who consent to die, when they are

1 Sögubrot af Fornkonungum IX, p. 134 (Fornaldar Sögur, I).
2 Op. cit. p. 50 above.

told they will attain to a higher caste and become wives of the deceased, but that the dead man’s successor, on the other hand, regards them simply as slaves who will be needed by his father after cremation. Some of the other accounts of suttee in India and Bali already referred to bear out this impression. In particular it may be worth remembering that in the great ceremony which took place in Bali in 16331 at the death of the queen twenty-two female slaves were burnt with her, so that the same ceremonial was evidently observed in the case of women of high rank as with men. Even in India, where the idea of ‘the faithful wife’ was most firmly established, there is some reason to think that the idea of it being the widow’s duty to die with her husband was never taught in Vedic literature, but was only introduced much later, when widows were prohibited by law to re-marry.2
It is indeed towards the conception of the slave sent to serve the dead man rather than the more lofty conception of the faithful wife dying with her husband, that the evidence for the origin of suttee in the East seems on the whole to direct us. The same is confirmed by the references to the practice in Norse literature, whether the attendant is to dwell with the dead man inside the tomb or to accompany him through the flames to another world. But the idea that she who gives up her life to follow the dead man has the right to become his wife in the next world is very significant, and we find this emphasised again in Norse literature, since out of the comparatively few examples given there three of the women, Ingibjörg, Signe and Brynhildr, were not married to the men with whom they died, although they desired to be. in short, suttee as presented in Norse literature appears to be the logical extension of the ideas about the future life which Snorri describes to us in Ynglinga Saga, and which he states to he part of the teaching brought into Sweden by Othin. The fact that most of our evidence—though not all—is connected with cremation ceremonies, and with the idea of a future life spent with the gods and in particular with Othin, confirms this. it is also significant that the most important piece of evidence relating to suttee, from the Flateyjarbók,3 attributes the custom to the kings of Sweden, amid records that it was still practised there in the tenth century.

1 Friederich, op. cit. p. 50 above.
2 N. K. Datta, Indian Historical Quarterly, XIV, 4. 1938 (Dec.).
3 See p. 51 above.

Haerfest Leah
March 18th, 2007, 11:46 PM

Throughout the sagas it is made clear that an important way of paying honour to the dead was to hold a funeral feast in his memory; and this was important for the living as well as for the dead, since it was at the feast that the son took over the inheritance of his father. Snorri describes the proceedings at such a feast:

It was time custom at that time when a funeral feast should be made in honour of king or jarl that he who held it and who was to succeed to the inheritance should sit on the step before the high-seat up to the time when the cup was borne in which was called Bragi’s cup. Then he should stand up with the cup of Bragi and make a yow, and drink off the cup afterwards; then he should proceed to the high-seat which his father had had, and then he succeeded to all the inheritance after him.1

It seems probable that there is a connection between this ascent to the high-seat amid the descent from the king’s seat on top of the mound described in Heimskringla, when Hrollaugr ‘rolls himself down’ into the seat of a jarl;2 the significance of the seat on the mound will be discussed later.3
The grandest feasts were of course those of the kings, when the royal title was handed over; but the important men of Iceland could distinguish themselves when they chose; in Laxdæla Saga we have a description of the elaborate memorial feast held by the sons of Höskuldr for their father, carried through by the enthusiasm of Olaf, who was determined that his father should be fittingly honoured. All the great men were invited, and the saga records that there were nearly eleven hundred guests, and that no such feast had been held in Iceland since that of the sons of Hjalti (XXVII), on which occasion, Landnámabók tells us,4 there were over fourteen hundred guests. Important guests were always sent away with gifts. The feast might be held immediately after the laying in howe, like the two described in Gisla Saga,5 or, as with Höskuldr’s feast, sonic months might elapse. If there were no children to succeed the dead man, the brother might hold the feast, and it is interesting to find what a sacred duty one brother at least makes of it, in a passage already quoted from Svarfdæla Saga.6

1 Ynglinga Saga, XXXVI.
2 Heimskringla: Haralds Saga Hárfagra, VIII.
3 See p. 105 below. (MAKE LINK)
4 Lndn. III, 9, p. 145.
5 Gisla Saga, XIV, XVII, XVIII.
6 See p. 36 above.

What then was the original motive behind this custom? Was there sonic idea of well-being for the dead dependent on the holding of a feast for them? We know that poems in honour of the dead man were recited, for in the famous scene in Egils Saga Egill’s daughter proposes that her father shall make a poem to be recited at his son’s funeral feast (LXXVIII). The poem that resulted was the Sonatorrek, and this contains clear allusions to some kind of future life shared with the gods. It has been suggested that this may be due to the fact that Egil, who must certainly have mixed with Christian people on his travels, was influenced by Christian teaching about immortality.1 and this may well be the case; on the other hand, it is interesting to notice that in a passage from Snorri’s Hákonar Saga Góða (XXXII), we find that at the funeral of the king it is said ‘men spoke at his burial as was the custom with heathen men, and directed him to Valhöll’. We may note too the subject-matter of the Hákonarmál and the Eiríksmál, tenth-century skaldic poems describing the entry of the kings into Valhöll; could this be a late development of a once well-established tradition, and if so, is the Christian influence in Egill’s poem shown in the reticence he displays on the subject of the future life rather than in the brief allusions to it? We may remember at the same time the belief stated in Eyrbyggia Saga (LIV) that it was a lucky omen if drowned men appeared at their own funeral feasts, since it was a sign that they had been well received by Rán.
In the case of important people, the funeral feast does not seem, in later times at any rate, to have been confined to men, for the wedding banquet at Auðr’s house in Laxdæla Saga (VII) turned into a funeral feast in her honour. It seems to have been a privilege for those who left wealth or a position to be inherited, or for a specially loved son or brother who died and left no succession. It is not recorded in the case of poor and unimportant people with few possessions.
In the accounts of funeral feasts and of honors paid to the dead there is the same contradiction which has already become apparent in the literature. As practised in Iceland the feast was evidently considered to be a last mark of respect paid to those who were to dwell in the tomb, since this was the general conception of the fate of those laid in howe. Such eccentric customs sometimes recorded at funerals as the carrying of the corpse through a hole in the wall instead of a door, as in the funeral of old Skallagrimr in Egils Saga (LVIII) or Þórólfr in Eyrbyggja Saga (XXXIII), are clearly somewhat crude

1 N. Kershaw. Anglo-Saxon and Norse Poems (Cambridge, 1922), p. 133.

methods of ensuring that the corpse shall not find its way back to the house to ‘haunt’ the living after it has been laid in the grave. Parallels among various peoples in an early stage of civilisation can easily be supplied; there are any amount, for instance, in Frazer’s collection of customs concerned with the dead, Belief in Immortality. This conception of the dead is quite consistent with the picture of the corpse guarding his treasures within the howe. But when we find it recorded of a tenth-century king of Norway that at his burial he was ‘directed to Valhöll' it is clear that here we have a different conception—nearer to the ideas about the future life which we have found to be connected with the worship of Othin in Sweden. Nor can the Hákonarmál and the Eiríksmál, composed in the tenth century at the death of historic kings of Norway, be easily reconciled with a belief in the continued sojourn of the dead within the tomb. Even if full allowances are made for poetic imagination, and for the framing of an artistic compliment to the dead man, it is hard to comprehend how such a picture of the departure of the dead to another realm, the realm of Othin, could be composed and accepted if no such conception had been a reality to the people for whom the poem was composed, either at that time or within recent memory.

Haerfest Leah
March 18th, 2007, 11:47 PM

Surveying the evidence as a whole, there is nothing to justify us in connecting any one custom rigidly to any one belief; one cannot say that ship-funeral is evidence of one belief in the future life, cremation another, and so on. It is clear that in Scandinavia different beliefs and customs have intermingled, and it is very unlikely that any consistent and definite body of beliefs was ever held at any one time about the disposal of the dead and the meaning of it. The varying beliefs current simultaneously in other countries where oral tradition prevails and religious dogma is unknown leads us to expect this; the islands of Polynesia, for instance, afford an excellent example.
But it is, I think, possible to distinguish some conceptions which stand out clearly in the evidence which we have examined. One of these is that the dead man continues to exist in his grave-mound as in a house, and that sacrifices may be made to him, and possessions laid in the howe beside him, so that he may have the use of them as he dwells there. Such an idea of the dead is not a frightening one; only if he has been a menace to other men in his life is he likely to interfere with them after death. This is the belief that seems according to the literature to have been supreme in Iceland at the end of the heathen period, when interment in the howe was the normal method of disposing of the dead; and other customs, such as the putting of shoes on the dead man and laying him in a ship, or of cremating those who ‘walk’ after death, only linger on as reminiscences of former beliefs without any real meaning of their own.
What then of those other beliefs, faintly remembered in Iceland? Out of them we must select the practice of cremation of the dead. If we run briefly over the allusions to it in the literature, the result is interesting. Snorri explains the origin of the practice as a belief that those cremated go to join Othin in Valhöll, and all the possessions burned with them go too. He illustrates this by the traditions of the funeral ceremonies of Othin and Njörðr, and of those of the earliest kings of the Swedes of which he has heard. We know also that Haki and Sigurðr were said to be burned in their ships as they floated out to sea, and in the case of Sigurðr we are told that it is the kingdom of Othin to which the winds and the flames are bearing him. Balder, the son of Othin, is also said to be burned after death. In the accounts of the burning of Brynhildr and Sigurðr, and of Signe, there are references to another life where the lovers will be together. It will be remembered that Lindqvist’s interpretation of some of the obscurer verses of the Ynglingatal dealing with the Swedish kings fits in perfectly with the conception found in the passages just mentioned; he believes that in several cases the original account deals with a cremation ceremony, and that the flames are described as bearing away the dead man to Othin, although Snorri, and even Þjóðólfr, did not fully realise this. The evidence as a whole seems to suggest then that an earlier conception than that of life continuing in the grave-mound was that of life continuing after the destruction of the body in some other place, when the vital principle—the soul, if you will—has been set free from the body by burning. Such a belief seems to be an integral part of the passages to which we have referred above; and it is borne out by the attitude of the Rus in the tenth century at the cremation of their chieftain, recorded for us by an eyewitness. The two different conceptions which seem to lie behind sacrifice fit in with these two beliefs. Death alone, for those who practised cre-mation, is not enough to set free the part which survives; there must be the destruction of the material body and the material possessions too; and the fact that in Iceland those who will not rest in the grave are burnt may well be a last echo of this belief.
Literary tradition supports the connection made in the Ynglinga Saga between these beliefs about cremation and the worship of Othin. It also suggests that these beliefs were particularly connected with men and women of royal blood, since it is in the traditions dealing with princes and chieftains that it has survived. It is significant that Othin is represented in the literature as the god of kings and chieftains, in contrast to Thor, whose affinities lie rather with the common people. In the skaldic poems he is seen welcoming kings to his side; in Hárbarðsljóð (v, 24) we are told that those of noble blood who fall in the fight belong to Othin, while Thor has the race of thralls; and similarly in the strange and vivid account of the assembly of the gods in the Fornaldar Sögur 1 a similar distinction is made between them, for besides the gifts of skaldship and victory in battle Othin grants to his protégé Starkaðr that he shall find favour among men of distinction, while Thor, not to be outdone, replies by depriving him of the good-will of the common people. We have also noticed that the kings of the Swedes, according to the source used by Snorri, claim descent from Othin. The impression given by the literature is that this belief in cremation of the dead was never very widespread in Scandinavia, but that it was a vigorous, perhaps fanatical, belief within a restricted circle, and having left its mark on some of the most impressive passages in the literature it passed to leave the other conception, that of life continuing in the grave and the world under the earth, to develop in ways of its own, ways that will need to be discussed further when we reach the question of the cult of the dead and the belief in rebirth.
The practice of ship-funeral, on the other hand, seems never to have represented any one outstanding belief in Scandinavia. It is possible that in the Migration period the idea of travelling by ship to the land of the dead did have some real meaning, and we have seen that archaeological evidence gives us some reason to believe that such a conception did enter the North in much earlier times, at the end of the Bronze Age; such a conception is also hinted at in the literary traditions. But it seems far more likely that ship-funeral came to he adopted as a practice in Scandinavia in the Viking Age because burial or cremation in a ship linked itself so readily to already existing conceptions. A belief in a life elsewhere when the material body and its

1 Gautreks Saga, VII. Cf. Chadwick, Heroic Age (Cambridge, 1912), p. 395f.

possessions have been destroyed can, as we saw earlier, be very easily extended to include a belief in the necessity of a journey to the land of the dead. Moreover, when we find the idea of the wind fanning the flames and speeding the dead on his way to another world it is easy to see how this, linked with the practice of using a ship as a coffin, might result in such a tradition as that of the death of Haki finding its way into literature; probably there were others beside Snorri who found these odd ideas about the next world beyond their comprehension when they came to write them down. Again the belief in life continuing in the grave, where possessions are still appreciated by the dead, makes the retention of a ship by a man who had owned one in life a natural conclusion. The idea of the wife of necessity dying when the husband dies, and of the giving of chariot or horses or shoes to the dead, seems likely to have belonged originally to the conception of a life elsewhere and then to have been transferred to the other idea of life continuing in the earth, to which they could easily be adapted. Certainly the practice of putting the queen to death, which is associated with tenth-century kings of Sweden, can hardly be expected to have survived unless a fierce and vital belief in survival apart from the body lingered on too.
But at this point it seems necessary to leave the evidence for funeral customs in order to commence a new study—that of the ideas connected with the future life which are to be found in the literature, particularly those connected with Othin, to which the evidence up to now has perforce directed us.