The Norse Afterlife (if there is any): The Adventure Begins
From the Havamal, strophe 76, we read:
Cattle die, kindred die, Every man is mortal: But the good name never dies Of one who has done well.
There are those who say, and I think rightfully so, that we need not worry about any afterlife. Our deeds today will determine what afterlife there may be. All we really know for sure is the hear and now. If we are the sum of our deeds then we simply need to make sure our deeds are tru while we are alive and the rest will take care of itself. While there is most definitely truth in that, it would seem our ancestors, according to lore, felt like there was more to the afterlife than that.
I'm thinking now about some proselytizing Christian one might encounter (and I speak from experience). I can promise you they will eventually ask something along the lines of what will happen to you when you die. The easy answer would be, "I don't know and I don't care". Or one can take the fun road and be prepared to answer that question. Besides, it really sets them back on their heels if one can answer this "eternity" question definitively because they are expecting a non-answer. If one is armed with an answer, well, they are just not prepared for that.
Christians have their Heaven. Buddhists believe totally in reincarnation; so do the Hindus, which involves rebirth after rebirth in order to somehow, eventually achieve Nirvana: a form of god-head if you will. If there is a Norse afterlife, it certainly isn't as cut-n-dried as other faiths. So let the journey begin!
In Norse mythology, Hel is the ruler of Helheim, the realm of the dead. She is the youngest child of the evil god Loki and the giantess Angrboda. She is usually described as a horrible hag, half alive and half dead, with a gloomy and grim expression. Her face and body are those of a living woman, but her thighs and legs are those of a corpse, mottled and moldering. The gods had abducted Hel and her brothers from Angrboda's hall. They cast her in the underworld, into which she distributes those who are send to her; the wicked and those who died of sickness or old age. Her hall in Helheim is called Eljudnir, home of the dead. Her manservant is Ganglati and her maidservant is Ganglot (which both can be translated as "tardy").
I'm not sure where it's found, but somewhere in lore it states that Hel is reserved for the sick and the old. It may be in the Prose Edda or The Road to Hel by H.R. Ellis-Davidson: not sure. Others have said that we all pass thru Hel before going on to other things. That raises a question: Go on to where or what? I find Hel to be a holding place. Many think of it as a means to rest an re-group, but even that indicates a need to prepare for the next stage. For fear of being redundant, I ask again: Prepare for what? For some, however, Hel does appear to be a only holding place...only to continue on the journey of after-life.
Reincarnation, a possibility?
The most exciting prospect in an afterflife is the possibility of reincarnation. In Guido Von List's book, "Secret of the Runes" he speaks brilliantly and extensively about reincarnation in relation to German Folk. He speaks with authority insomuch as reincarnation as a possibility for Heathens. However, it's not the same re-incarnation of the Eastern religions; that being, lives repeated until one reaches the aforementioned Nirvana. It seems that reincarnation of German thought is much more realistic; in that, one is reincarnated back into the family line to strengthen the family line. As family is such a stronghold for Heathens this just makes sense, and I have to admit I think it happened to me. I have been re-born back into my family line to give it strength and stability such as a Heathen can give. I have seen glimpses of my former life that confirms this to me. Many things didn't make sense until I came to this realization. With the understanding of how families are of the utmost importance to the German people, the desire to keep them strong and moving forward is an idea can give comfort to those who feel they have forever lost a loved one. However, just like Hel doesn't seem to be the final step, neither does reincarnation seem to be the final step; or at least doesn't have to be.
The Great Halls
Fire is needful for someone who's come in And who's chilled to the knee; Food and clothing are necessary for the (one) Who's journeyed over the mountains. (Havamal 3, Larrington translation)
There are several Great Halls in the heavens of Norse Mythology; AKA, The Abodes of the Gods.
Breitablich - Baldur's Hall meaning "the Glitering Expanse" No evil can enter the home of Baldur.
Fennaselida - Frigga's Hall meaning "Halls of Water" or "Marsh Lands" Folewise - Frouwa's Hall meaning "Field of warriors" or "Folk Meadow" In Folewise there are nine castles. Frouwa, as one of the Walchuria (choosers of the slain), brings her share of the slain warriors to her hall, Sessrumnir, "the many seated" where love songs are always playing. In the hall, the dead are catered to by faithful wives and women who died before marriage.
Glatesheim - Wodan's Hall meaning "The Shining-Home" or "Place of Joy" The home of the All-Father, Glatesheim is located in Ensigart, situated on the plain of Ida. It is the inner citadel or sanctuary of Ensigart. Wodan rules over the hall, but each of the twelve main gods also has a seat there. Walhalla (the hall of the warriors killed in battle) is located within the hall.
Glizanheim - Forsizo's Hall meaning "Glittering home" This hall, the home of the god of justice, serves as a court where all legal disputes were settled. It has a roof made of silver that was supported by pillars of shining red gold.
Hellaheim - Hell's (Hella) Hall meaning "House of Hel" Ruled by Hella, the daughter of Loki, the hall itself is called Eljudnir, home of the dead, and is located in Niflheim (one of the Nine Worlds, though sometimes Helheim and Niflheim are considered the same place). The entrance is guarded by Garm, a monstrous hound, and Modgud. It is cold and dark, with wind caused by the giant Hraesvelg (the corpse-eater) who sits at the edge of the world. No one can leave Hellaheim because the impassible river Gjoll flows from Hvergelmir and surrounds the hall. Even the gods are trapped if they enter. Those mortals who die of old age or sickness (and not in battle), or who do not worship a specific deity, go to Hellaheim after death.
Himilberg – Heimo's Hall meaning "Heaven mountain"
Iwatal - Wuldor's Hall meaning "YewDales" or "Valley of Yews" In this hall grew yew trees which supplied the wood for the archer-god Wuldor who preferred the flexible wood for his bows. He also made his home in the hall.
Plechaheim - Donar's Hall meaning "Lightning home" Donar built his hall in the land called Thruthheim. The structure has 540 halls and is the largest building ever built in any of the Nine Worlds.
Scefstat - Nirdu's Hall meaning "ship stead" It is at Scefstat that Nirdu lives in a seaside palace.
Sinkanbah - Saga's Hall meaning "Sinking brook" This is the abode of the "stream of time and events". Saga, the goddess of history, makes her home in Sinkanbah. She and Wodan drink there every day. It is here that she sings of gods and heroes.
Walafirst - Wilo's Hall meaning "Promontory of the Slain" This hall is the palace of Wilo, though it has also been called Wodan's hall in Ensigart where his throne is located, from which he observes the Nine Worlds.
Walhalla- meaning "Hall of the Slain" Hall of Wodan's chosen.
Witiland-Widar's hall meaning "Broad Land" or "Wide Land" This spacious hall is overgrown with branches and high grass.
Wunnaflezzi - Hall of the Goddesses meaning "House of joy" All of the abodes of the goddesses are located here.
So, who's to say we can't knock on the doors of these abodes as an aforementioned traveler, calling on the our gods for the Heathen form of hospitality? Hey, it might work!
Taking Your Place in the Halls of Your Ancestors
The one Hall that people often forget about is the Hall of Gimle!
Some say that Gimle is the Hall inhabited after Ragnorok. Others say that perhaps Gimli is the collective Hall of the Ancestors.
Of Gimle lore says:
"All righteous men shall live and be with him (All-father) where it is called Gimle, or Vingolf (Prose Edda, 31).
"High One replied, It is said there is another heaven to the south of and above this one, and it is called Andlang, and there is yet a third heaven above these ones which is called Vidblain and we think this is the place (Gimle) is there. At present, however, we think that is inhabited only by white elves" (Prose Edda, 47).
Then gangleri asked: What happens afterwards, when heaven and earth and the whole world has been burned and all the gods are dead and all the Einherjar and the whole race of man? Didn't you say before that everyone will go on living forever in some world or another? "Then Third answered, There will be many good dwelling places then and many bad. The best place to be in at that time will be Gimle in heaven...good and righteous men will live in those Halls" (Prose Edda, 91).
So it all comes down to this: The Heathen after-life could be every bit of an adventure as this life is. Hel is probably a holding place. Reincarnation is a possibility. Knocking on the doors of the Great Halls of the gods as a traveler could be a possibility. Gimle is a possibility. Or, it could simply all come down to taking your place in the Halls of your ancestors. It's a journey. Why would you want it any other way?
Death is Like a Ship Sailing Home
We are standing on a shore. A large sailing ship is about to pull out. Friends and relatives of ours are standing on the deck, waving goodbye, throwing streamers, calling to us, calling our names. And we call to them and to each other. ‘Look, there’s Grandma…there’s Uncle Joe…there’s Uncle Bill.’ A bell sounds. The ship begins to move away.
We stand silently for a very long time and watch as the ship goes further and further away until, finally, the mast is just a vertical pencil line on the distant horizon. Then it too goes down, until we can no longer see it. And we sigh, ‘Oh, she’s gone.’
But gone from where? Gone from our sight. That’s all. For at the very moment we sigh, ‘Oh, she’s gone,’ another cried on another shore is jumping up and down, laughing and yelling and pointing excitedly out to sea saying, ‘Look! She’s coming. Look, the ship Is coming home! Look! There’s Grandma…there’s Uncle Joe…there’s Uncle Bill.’"
The ship is coming home. There is another shore, another dimension in which we have already begun to live. We are filled with the Spirit of our Gods and Ancestors—forever.
From the movie, The 13th Warrior, becoming known as "The Viking Prayer"
Lo there do I see my Father. Lo there do I see my Mother and my Sisters and my Brothers. Lo there do I see the line of my people, back to the beginning. Lo, they do call to me; They bid me take my place among them In the Halls of Valhalla Where the brave May live Forever!
In conclusion: Why fret over the afterlife? Live a good, honorable life here and let the afterlife, if there is any, take care of itself.