Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Road To Hel A Study Of The Conception Of The Dead

Road To Hel A Study Of The Conception Of The Dead Cover

Book: Road To Hel A Study Of The Conception Of The Dead by Hilda Roderick Ellis

Professor and Mrs. Chadwick I owe more than can be easily expressed: the discovery of both the inspiration and discipline of research, and unfailing help, both with practical advice and encouragement, the whole of the way. I would like also to thank Mr. and Mrs. J. M. de Navarro and Mr. G. N. Garmonsway for many suggestions and for their sympathetic interest; and Miss G. D. Willcock, who read the book in manuscript, and Miss Helen Brown, who read the proofs and assisted with the index, for their helpful criticism and support. Finally my thanks are due to the Syndics of the University Press for undertaking the publication of this book, despite the difficulties of war-time, and to its Staff for the courtesy and efficiency they have shown throughout. (H. R. ELLIS)

In this book an attempt has been made to collect the evidence concerned with one important aspect of Norse heathenism: ideas about the fate of man after death. The conception which has made the strongest appeal to popular imagination is that of the warrior paradise, Valhalla; and it is surprising at first to have to realise that this is only one of many conflicting pictures of the realm of the dead, and one moreover which occupies only a very small section of the prose and poetry which has come down to us. One of the many problems which still awaits an answer is whether from the vast accumulation of evidence relating to the dead it is possible to make out any definite and consistent presentation of the other world, and of the fate of man beyond the grave. In attempting to find a solution of this problem, we may gain help from the fact that archaeology as well as literature has evidence to offer us, in particular about funeral customs; and no more dramatic introduction could be desired than that presented by the heathen graves which have been explored in Scandinavia, with their rich implications of ship-funeral and human sacrifice. Beside the study of funeral customs, such a survey as this must include all that can be discovered about the conception of a realm or realms of the dead, any traces of a cult of the dead which have been recorded, and any indication which the literature can give as to the nature of survival after death according to heathen thought. Finally, in the concluding chapters we shall pass on to certain conceptions which appear to be of seine importance, those connected with the relationship between the world of the living and that of the dead. Here there are two main aspects to be considered: the consultation of the dead by the living, and the entry of the living soul into the world of the dead to learn its secrets.

This approach is particularly important in dealing with incidents from the Icelandic sagas which have to do with the supernatural. While it is universally recognised that the majority of these are based on the doings of historic persons and on reliable local tradition, passages which bring in the supernatural element are apt to be eyed with suspicion and dismissed as fictitious interpolations to enliven the story. Moreover, the high literary quality of the sagas as a whole means that a form and unity have been given to their plots which could never have resulted from the mere slavish recording of accurate facts; and how much then of the heathen background is to be attributed to the creative imagination and shaping hand of the storytellers who have worked on the original traditions about local heroes? It remains to be seen whether the evidence for heathen practices given in these tales gives us reason to believe that they are based on actual customs and genuine traditions remembered from the heathen period. The test of a consistent picture agreeing not in small details and forms of narrative but in the fundamental outline, which remains recognisable and convincing, seems the most satis-factory guide to demand here. As regards the Fornaldar Sogur, the ‘sagas of old time’, the date of these in their present form is late, and it is impossible to base any conclusions on their evidence alone. But they are of great value for purposes of comparison, and it will be found that passages from them sometimes serve to illumine evidence gained from more reliable sources, suggesting that a good deal of the material they contain is composed from genuine traditions, albeit imperfectly remembered, from heathen times. (Hilda Roderick Ellis)

Download Hilda Roderick Ellis's eBook: Road To Hel A Study Of The Conception Of The Dead

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Hilda Roderick Ellis - Road To Hel A Study Of The Conception Of The Dead