While we moderns may be scientifically more advanced than our Viking ancestors, we still are as clueless about what happens after death. 

The Vikings loved a good battle. Or a skirmish. Or a violent raid. Or basically any sort of physical violence. It has been argued that as they had a culture embedded in warrior mystique and lore, this made the Vikings extra fierce on the battlefield. 

Add to this potent mix what happened when these warriors were said to die. Norse mythology is full of death and destruction. Whilst many people may know the more famous Valhalla, a great hall in the sky where slain warriors would toast, drink, and feast for eternity, there was another location for the remaining deceased soldiers who just weren't cut out to join Odin.

Fólkvangr (Old Norse for field of the people/army) was said to be a field (sometimes a meadow) where the other half of brave, fallen warriors would be plucked from the battlefield and whisked away by Freyja. 

Though this goddess may often be more associated with love, fertility, and even Norse magic (seiðr), she was also associated with war. As such, she is quite literally a valkyrie (the name literally means "the one who chooses the slain" in Old Norse), but unlike the female warriors who ride in to choose the dead for Odin and Valhall, Freyja flies in on a chariot pulled by two cats. 

These cats, often depicted as either grey or blue in color, were a gift from Thor after the death of her son, Baldur. Like Valhalla, Freyja's chosen warriors would feast and fight for eternity in a very much Viking paradise.

Valhalla versus Fólkvangr

What is quite interesting is that Norse mythology offers not one but two eternal paradises for fallen warriors. 

Perhaps this explains not only the quantity of fallen fighting men but also the high regard that early modern Nordic societies had for Vikings. 

It may also represent the fact that, due to their constant raiding and battling, there was a need, even in the afterlife, to accommodate a huge number of warriors.

In Norse mythology, when a warrior dies, it is their soul that would be plucked by either the valkyries (to be taken to Valhalla with Odin) or by Freyja, who they would join in Fólkvangr. 

The concept of Fólkvangr offers a snapshot into the deep psyche of the Viking warrior. Illustration: The Viking Herald

Only the bravest and best made it to Valhalla, making Fólkvangr a somewhat disappointing (for most Vikings) place to spend eternity fighting and feasting. 

Furthermore, opposed to Valhalla's much more masculine and militant nature (deadly brawls were part and parcel of your daily eternal experience there), Fólkvangr was often associated with tranquility, peacefulness, and a degree of calmness that was probably not a part of early modern life. 

Unlike Valhalla, where the dead warriors had to, literally, serve the gods and prepare for the impending end of times, Ragnarök, the warriors in Fólkvangr could go about their business much as they did on earth – fight, feast, and hunt as much as they wanted.

Provided artistic inspiration for centuries

The concept of a place where the dead rest in peaceful and enjoyable surroundings, like Fólkvangr, has inspired many an artist over the centuries. 

Norse literature is dotted with references to Fólkvangr. Perhaps the two best examples are in the Poetic and Prose Edda, compiled by Icelandic politician, historian, and man of letters, Snorri Sturluson in the 13th century CE. 

In the former, a poem mentions that Sif, the wife of Thor, has a hall at Fólkvangr and welcomes fallen warriors. In the latter, it was Freyja who had a hall there, the famous Sessrúmnir. 

Obviously, the idea of being welcomed by a goddess into the afterlife was a comforting thought for many Vikings, even more so on the eve of battle or when the odds were stacked against them.

Winding forward a few centuries, the renowned British author, J.R.R Tolkien, drew on this deep well of inspiration when writing his famous Lord of the Rings collection

In one of the books, a character, Legolas, recites poems about the halls of the gods, with Fólkvangr receiving a mention. The poem describes, in detail, not only the tranquility of the place but also the eternal peace and honor that can be found there for the fallen.

Jumping forward again, in the 21st century, the recently released video game, God of War, also features Fólkvangr. In the game, the main character, Kratos, must venture here to receive a magical golden apple as part of the overall mission to save his son.

Whilst Vikings may often be associated with adrenaline-pumping violent attacks and battle, the concept of Fólkvangr offers a snapshot into the deep psyche of the Viking warrior. 

Here, in a calm and peaceful meadow, a place was offered up to the majority of warriors. One did not have to be the greatest warrior or the bravest to be selected. 

Perhaps this is another reason why the Vikings were so successful on the battlefield, knowing that even the most ordinary and mundane warrior could rest and relax in the afterlife.

History Magazine has published more on the Viking afterlife, available to access here.

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