I call bullshit or Odin is not your babysitter
There’s a meme making its way around Facebook lately that presents us with the story of an abused child who dies and is taken to Valhalla. Everyone, especially Odin, comforts the child and in the end, that child brings comfort to another abused child who also ends up in the hall of warriors. It’s lovely. It’s emotional. It’s sentimental. It’s also utter bullshit.
Now before this piece gets spun by the tumblr crowd as “Galina hates abused children” let me encourage reading comprehension. Let me also point out that an abused child is a survivor. They are resilient and worthy of immense respect. They are not however, warriors. We are so removed from the realities of our ancestors, from the idea that a necessary and expected passage into adulthood was serving as a warrior or soldier, that we use terms like ‘warrior’ and ‘battle’ metaphorically. There is a role for this in language, yes, but not when it’s being used to elide religious ideas. Let’s also be quite clear: the child in this passage doesn’t exist. So those of you reading this and getting your panties in a twist because of what I’m saying are crying and whining about a fictional construct. The idea expressed in this meme, however is an incredible distortion of Norse ideas of the afterlife and that is what I want to address.
Valhalla is home to an elite military force. It is a place where Odin has selected the best of the best of warriors and where He is training them up daily to be a vicious fighting force in the end battle. This is the elite force being trained to prevent the dissolution of our world and the cosmic order of the Gods. They do two things: they fight and feast. They constantly train, brutally over and over and over again. There is one, maybe two ways to gain entry into Valhalla: being killed in combat (and maybe belonging to Odin, if one thinks that one goes to the hall of the God to which one is sworn). Either way, it’s no place for a child. It is a place by its very nature that would re-traumatize a wounded soul again and again. Valhalla is not a place of healing. It is a place of brutal, ongoing training.
This is not, of course to say that Odin doesn’t care about abused children. I think the Gods do care immensely but Valhalla is not the appropriate space for such a child to end up. It’s tremendously disrespectful to other Gods, Gods Who do have a specific interest in and care of abused children to foist this off on Odin. We’re polytheists. We have many, many Gods. We don’t have to copy the Christian idea of forcing one God to accommodate everything. An abused child might be better off in Mani’s hall, or Sigyn’s, both Gods that modern, shared experience have revealed to have a fierce interest in caring for and protecting abused children. Maybe such a child would find happiness in Njord’s hall or even Freya’s. Perhaps Hela’s hall would be best, where a child can meet his or her other ancestors and be given love and acceptance that has no taint of violence or pain; and there are dozens more Gods, all of Whom have places in the afterlife far more appropriate than Valhalla. I understand that the author of that meme is likely attempting to address the helplessness inherent in being abused, and making the statement that surviving abuse is like surviving war, but the reality is that they’re not the same thing. It’s not just surviving a violent situation that makes you a warrior; it’s surviving it and going back in willingly over and over again. Intimating that an abused child will go to Valhalla is one of the most horrifying things I’ve read recently. Why? So that kid can spend an afterlife in terror? Or so an elite war band can be transformed into some progressive’s idea of a babysitter? And what exactly is that child going to do when the final battle comes? This elite war band has one purpose: to fight in that battle and most likely to face their soul’s obliteration doing so. Is that child going to fight with them? Is that really the afterlife that we find appropriate for a child who suffered terrible abuse whilst alive? Think about that long and hard and exactly what that would be like for such a soul (including what it would be like to bond with these men and women and then see them all go out and die).
Moreover, why is it so difficult to allow our warriors to have their own space? Since the ancient world, cultures have realized that warriors and soldiers needed space that was their own because they endure things that only another of their kind can comprehend. It’s one thing to kill once in a fight for one’s life but quite another to go again and again into the clanging, chaotic, terrifying din of battle – willingly—knowing that even if you survive, the experiences that you endure defending and protecting the peace of your people will likely render you unable to ever truly be one of them again. You will forever be separate from that which you fought to sustain.
Our communities have real problems with elite space, with space that is not in fact inclusive of everyone. Fortunately, our Gods don’t seem to have this issue and instead realize that such spaces are necessary for any work to be done, for any tradition to grow, and that our dead deserve to each find their homes. I said to someone recently: we will not have traditions worth defending until we have people willing to take up arms and shed blood to sustain them. Why? Because tradition and civilization are both built on the backs and the blood of its warriors. You don’t get to enjoy these things without this class of people willing to give everything to sustain them.
(“Why do you want to scar me for all eternity? Haven’t I suffered enough?”)