In Norse cosmology, those that die in battle hold a special role within Asatru. They are the Einherjar, those that are chosen by Odin to fight on the side of the Gods at Ragnorak.
Many groups in Asatru choose to celebrate the Einherjar at some point during the year. The most common time of celebration is some time around the American holiday of Veterans Day (Remembrance Day in Canada).
Accounts of Valhalla describe it as a large hall, decked with the implements of battle. The Einherjar are described as being well-hosted, they are fed on pork and mead, and each day, the Einherjar practice at the art of battle. They engage one another in terrible, bloody conflicts, and at the end of the day, come back to life, and walk off the field, the best of friends.
It should perhaps be noted at this point that the lore does mention that not everyone who dies in battle automatically goes to join Odin in Valhalla. Freya is also described as getting half of those slain in battle. However, the image of the slain warriors feasting in Valhalla is a vivid and enduring one, and there is no corresponding detailed description of the warriors in Freya's hall, so there has definitely been a tendency to concentrate on Valhalla when speaking about the war-dead.
It also seems probable that historically, the Einherjar could be best described as some sort of "elite" troops, and that going to Valhalla was not necessarily the fate of the common soldier. Odin was traditionally followed by members of the ruling classes, not by ordinary folk. Adding to this the idea of the Einherjar fighting day after day, and enjoying it immensely does seem more in line with an elite unit, it seems likely that an ordinary draftee might get a little tired of day after day of fighting.
In actual modern-day practice, Einherjar blot has tended to become a day to honor all of those who die in wars, and to a lesser extent, veterans in general. How exactly does one reconcile these two different images of the Einherjar? One thing is clear, it was never a part of old Norse thought to hold to one view of the afterlife. Where you ended up after your death seemed reliant on which Gods you followed in life, and what sort of person you were.
In modern Asatru discussions, a number of people have suggested that it seems only natural that you wouldn't be stuck in one place, why wouldn't the follower of one God or Goddess have reason to occasionally visit the halls of the other Gods and Goddesses? I like to think of those who have died in battle being part of a special fellowship participating in the activities of Valhalla, but perhaps being part of other Halls as well depending upon their inclinations.
It has been speculated by some that those in various professions that involve voluntarily going into danger (police, firefighting) and who die while performing their duty perhaps join the ranks of the Einherjar. It is my personal perception that it's a different calling, but intuition must be your guide here. All of us are still reeling from the events of September 11th, if you wish to add in your honoring of the war dead, perhaps a few words for those brave souls who "ran in so that others could run out" might not be amiss.
And of course, don't forget the many men and women serving in the armed forces, and putting their lives on the line. Keep them in your thoughts and prayers at this time.
Hail those that serve! Hail the fallen! Hail the Einherjar!
Copyright © 1998, 2001 by JS Pereira
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