When it comes to Heathenism, everyone is familiar with Valhalla. Odin’s legendary hall for the valiant dead, honored in battle and taken up by Valkyries to fight and feast till Ragnarok comes. Most people believe that those who fight valiantly shall find their way to Odin’s table.
This, sadly, is not always true. Glory in battle, valor in the fight, to die bathed in blood is not enough to gain entry to that enchanted place of brotherhood and bloodshed. One must be honored to sit before the All-Father.
But Hel’s queendom, too, has its plethora of warriors. For as many die in battle that are not honored as are honored, perhaps more even. We do not think of these warriors often, and when we do we think of them as cowards, failures, or monsters, vile beings that should burn in the fires of Lucifer’s infernal domain. Killers of the innocent, we call them. Monsters too concerned with following orders to do what was “right.”
One of my jobs for Hel is to oversee those dead soldiers and warriors. Hel is not a war goddess, but so many warriors come to her that there was a need for someone to oversee them. She gave that job to me. In doing so, I have learned much about honor, about necessity, and about sacrificing oneself for ones people.
Honor, once, was the prize for fighting for one’s people. For doing the necessary violence to keep kin and land safe. Victory assured one of honor, but there was a flip side to that coin. Defeat could lead to dishonor and disownment by ones own people. There are two such groups from most recent memory to most people: The American soldiers of the Vietnam War and the German soldiers of WWII, especially the Wehrmacht and the SS.
While fewer of the former group have found their way to Helheim than the latter (There were American soldiers who prayed to the Norse gods then, but the SS and other German units actually did convert to a form of Heathenism, though not one that is recognized or respected today by Heathens) soldiers from both wars found themselves in states of dishonor after their respective wars. We are all familiar with how American soldiers were portrayed in their own country as baby-killers and the like, while most of us who even do a bit of history can sometimes stand in shock at how quickly the German people turned on their own forces (understandable at the horrors, but even so the turn was brutal). Even today much of the German military as of WWII is viewed with such disgrace by their own country that even to mention honoring them is seen as criminal.
Young men who gave their lives to protect their homelands, vilified and dishonored.
Now, this is not to say all Nazis go to Helheim, they did not. Though a fair number had converted to a form of Heathenism, most were still Christian and of their souls I cannot say. Of those high up in the SS and other “converted” Nazi regiments or politics, some did see Hela’s hall, if only long enough to be judged and fed to Nidhoggr. But of the rank and file…sometimes the duties one must perform are monstrous, but does that make men monsters? It is the same with the American soldiers. Vietnam was a terrible, brutal war unlike anything seen in the West before. Hard choices were made, some may have gone to far, but they were men, and men make mistakes.
Hela is merciful, at times.
One of the things that has always been a part of my character, and one of the things that Hel said attracted me to her for the positions she is giving me, is that I not only recognize that sometimes you have to do things, dishonorable, horrific things, to protect your people, but that I am willing to do them. It is hard to walk a road of honor, but sometimes it is even harder to sacrifice your honor for the greater good of your people. Sometimes one is right about those things, and sometimes one is wrong.
As I look out at a world that seems to be growing ever more violent, ever more filled with extremism of all kinds, I begin to wonder what is going to be necessary. Recently, an internet personality I liked and respected quit, because he saw people being too moderate and felt that people need to be at an extreme, because not only is that how you attract people, but also because to be a moderate is to blend in and not accomplish anything.
“Attack, attack, attack.”
I sometimes wonder if he’s right. I sometimes wonder in the face of things like ISIS, how far will we have to go. I wonder if we are even capable anymore. And with so many groups out there like those in the SJW crowd who declare anyone they don’t like to be racists and misogynists (people who are dishonored), to the Islamists who declare non-believers to be nothing more than animals (without honor), and so many more, I begin to wonder what we will have to do to survive. I don’t even know if there is a way to triumph. Sometimes I look at the middle east and nearly every country over there is either an extremist or being over run by extremists who feel that theirs is the only religion and who are rapidly gaining the means to devastate and terrify the world to the point they agree. I look at those throughout history who went to fight that kind of Islamic extremism viewed as monsters and racists, even when they were doing nothing more than defending themselves.
I see those who try to be reasonable and moderate be shut down, shot down, even slain, and I wonder. Is extremism really the only way to go now? As Europe and the Middle East burn in the fires of extremism, as America riots itself to pieces over extreme ideologies about race, is the only way to salvage, to save our peoples, going to be an even worse extremism?
Everywhere, I see the dead dishonored for doing what they needed to do and I wonder if we will need to follow in their example in order for our children and ways to survive.