Over recent years I have given much thought as to the most appropriate method of disposing of the body after death, whether it be inhumation or cremation. This issue as Aryan or Germanic heathens should be important to us because as heathens we should desire to recover both the beliefs and practices of our ancestors prior to their forced acceptance of the alien and semitic religion of xtianity.
It is quite clear to me now after a great deal of study that cremation should be the preferred option for us as devout heathens. In this article I will present some of the evidence and the thinking behind this.
In The Road to Hel Hilda Roderick Ellis (Davidson) [a book published originally under her maiden name of Ellis] Dr Davidson demonstrates that the rite of cremation travelled northward through Germany into Scandinavia.
This should not surprise us as the Cult of Woden has its origins amongst the continental Germanic tribes. Later on He was recognised in Scandinavia. This God is a purely Germanic, indeed a purely German deity. There are very few etymological or theological cognates. Scholars have tried without success to compare Him to deities in other Indo-European mythologies. The closest cognate to Woden is in my opinion the Indo-Aryan God Vata. See my article Woden and Vata-Vayu-a Comparison published on this blog on 2/10/12!
It is through the act and rite of cremation that the Einherjar ascend to Walhall to be with their Lord of the Slain, the Lord of the chosen slain that is.
Initially cremated remains were buried in body-length stone cists. These later were reduced in size to small box-like stone cists which would contain the urn holding the ashes. Sometimes they were placed in mounds or ship graves. Eventually urns were not used at all.
The change from inhumation to cremation occurred at the time of the transition to the Bronze Age when Indo-European language and customs spread out throughout Europe.
Snorri Sturluson in his Ynglinga Saga says that Odin taught His followers to burn their dead:
"every man should enter Valhall 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."
We are reminded of the magnificent heathen funeral of Boewulf where he was cremated and his ashes placed in a barrow facing the sea. My readers should recall that the author of the poem was a xtian so such a depiction of a glorious heathen funeral is rather amazing.
"Heaven swallowed the smoke."[Beowulf]
This is the essence of the thinking-the non-corporeal elements of man, some may refer to this as the soul or spirit although the Germanic interpretation is more complex than this, [See my article Death and Afterlife in Germanic Mythology published on my Celto-Germanic Culture, Myth and History blog on 30/1/10!]
is freed from the physical body to return to All-Father Woden. The life force of the individual fully individuated awakened Einherjar is returned to his previous God-like state in Walhall, the abode of those who are awakened and faithful to Woden. Those of us who have sworn sacred oaths of allegiance to Him have the Valknut carved upon our flesh as a sign that we belong to Him and He will take as when He chooses.
"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]We cannot enter Walhall in our physical body. Our spiritual essence must be released in order that we may enter a spiritual realm. The existence of our decaying body in the earth delays our transition to this spiritual state and causes us to remain Midgarth bound. This may be the reason for some hauntings. Cremation frees us from ties to this realm of existence. In the Icelandic Sagas we have many curious incidents of the dead walking freely among the living as draugar-vampires in other words and it is only via burning that the dead can be sure to be left at peace from the activities of the malevolent dead.
Cremation both frees the dead so that they can begin the journey to the next realm of existence and protects the living from malevolent spirits. Furthermore it is a mark of reverence to the Aryan Sky or Sun God as Dr Davidson points out:
"The evidence for linking cremation with the burnt offering on the one hand, and with the cult of the sun god on the other, is perhaps the most suggestive."[The Road to Hel]
From the Prose Edda we have a detailed desciption of Baldur`s funeral which was of course a cremation on a pyre. Likewise there is a description of the cremation of both Sigurd and Brynhildr in the Poetic Edda.
There is no shortage of literary evidence from Germanic saga, legend or myth is support of the very Germanic practice of cremation. By committing ourselves to this final act, this final rite we are demonstrating our total loyalty to Woden and our ancestral Gods.