As a relatively new-founded organization, the Troth has not yet been called upon to deal with the burial of its folk. However, as we grow, the time will certainly come when this will become needful, and we must be ready for it.
The first thing true folk must do to prepare for their need-farings is to leave written instructions in their wills that they wish to be buried by the Troth. This is especially important if their families are christians or members of other religions with strong beliefs about burial and the afterlife. If written instructions in a legal context are not left, the family will almost certainly be able to do as they please with the body. Most of us would strongly dislike the idea of being buried under a marble cross! In this context, those who have children who would rather have them raised by other known, trusted Heathens (specific folk, who have earlier agreed to take on the duty in case of need, must be chosen) than by fundamentalist family members should also have something to this effect written in their wills - even if they suffer from no sign of ill health or danger; accidents can happen at any time.
Although the Troth as yet has no official burial grounds, this will change as we buy more lands and build our Hofs. Mounds were long known by our forebears to be holy steads; in the next hundred years, Troth members will again be able to make blessings to the worshipful dead - the first folk of the Troth - at the howe-fields around the hofs. As fully accredited ministers, Elders and Godwo/men are legally qualified to perform burial rites as well as weddings.
As spoken of in the chapter on "Soul, Death, and Rebirth", the burial customs of our forebears varied greatly. In Scandinavia, the common practice was to bury the dead in mounds; mounds were also raised over those who had been burnt, as was the case with the great howes at Gamla Uppsala, for instance. During the first few hundred years of the Common Era, the Germanic tribes had largely lost this practice: the dead were both burnt and buried (though burial was more common, and the only form used by some tribes, such as the Burgundians). Among many tribes, the dwelling above the ground was replaced by a wooden chamber below the ground; this was the case with the Alamanns, for instance, who built quite elaborate chambers. The Franks commonly buried their dead in neat rows, not unlike the layout of most cemeteries today; they, too, sometimes built wooden burial chambers beneath the ground. While the Goths knew two words that seem to describe mound burials - hlaiw (from the common Germanic word for a mound, which itself may originally mean "dwelling") and aurahjom ("heap of gravel"), they had largely lost this practice in the course of their migrations: Gothic graves are normally flat. Another form of cemetery was the urnfield (Grundy, The Cult of Óðinn: God of Death?).
Some Anglo-Saxon graves are marked by postholes or beam-slots at the corners of the grave, suggesting that small huts or shrines were raised over the individual graves; others are surrounded by penannular or ring-shaped ditches, some of which have preserved stake-holes that show that the grave was originally ringed by a fence. The gap in penannular fences was sometimes marked by a larger post-hole, which may have held something such as one of the god-staffs with a head carved at the top such as ibn Fadlan described for the Rus (Wilson, Anglo-Saxon Paganism, pp. 53-63). If a true wo/man's body must be buried in a secular (or even, gods help us, a christian) cemetery, the setting up of such a covering structure, small ring of stakes, and/or god-post is one way in which the grave could be set apart as hallowed.
Another common form of burial among the Anglo-Saxons was the cremation/urn burial, and quite large urnfields have been found. The pottery containers were often decorated with holy emblems such as swastikas and Tiwaz-runes; pots from Lovedon Hill and Spong Hill bore runic inscriptions (Wilson, pp. 147-49). Wyrms and animal figures were not uncommon; one pot from Caistor-by-Norwich shows a large dog or wolf apparently barking at a retreating ship, and it has been suggested that this has something to do with the events of Ragnarök, with the wolf being Fenrir and the ship being that steered by Loki.
Burning and burial were both known in the Viking Age; because Snorri says in Ynglinga saga that Óðinn introduced the custom of burning, and given the reference in ibn Fadlan's account to the dead man's Lord sending the wind to fan the flames of his pyre and take him straight away to "Paradise" (see "Soul, Death, and Rebirth"), it is usually taken that cremation is more fitting for the followers of Wodan (and perhaps the other Ases as well), while burial, especially howe-burial, is more fitting to the Wans - Snorri specifically mentions that Freyr introduced the custom of mound-burial. The Icelandic sagas seldom mention cremation otherwise; this likely stems from the simple fact that, even at the time of the settlement, the "woods" that covered Iceland were little scrub birches, and the amount of wood needed to burn a human body would have been prohibitive except in cases where a draugr was a major threat to the community.
Given this range, it follows that the most common means of burial in the West today - flat inhumation and cremation - are both well-set within the traditions of the Troth. The only modern custom which is not particularly fitting is that of scattering ashes; this was done only when there was reason to think that the dead person would walk again (often because he had been walking and making trouble) - and even then it was not always successful, as the story of Þórólfr Twist-Foot from Eyrbyggja saga shows. Cremation urns were usually buried, or at least those which have survived have all been from burials. This means of dealing with the dead offers the simplest way of carrying out the traditional practice of keeping the kin by the stead; it is unlikely that one will be allowed to bury a body in a mound in the backyard, but there is no difficulty, legal or otherwise, in heaping a small howe over a cremation urn and grave-gifts.
The setting of runestones or memorial picture-stones was deeply important to Northern beliefs about the dead, as it was through these that the dead could be remembered forever. As Hávamál 72 says, "Better to have a son, though he be born after the warrior is gone; memorial stones seldom stand by the road, unless raised by kinsman for kin." It was by no means definite that the stone had to be set on top of the burial as a grave-marker. Some runestones, such as the Eggjum stone, were set within the mound, and apparently meant to affect the dead or protect them from anyone who might break into the grave (but nothing stops an archæologist!). Others, such as the Swedish group commemorating the men who "fell in the East with Ingvi", memorialize folk whose bodies are far away. The Gotlandic picture-stones are not generally found in association with actual graves, either; and they seem to be not only memorials (and some of them bear runic inscriptions making it clear that they are), but some of them also appear to describe the expected afterlife of the dead man. Runestones can be set upon the grave as markers, and if the body must be buried among other folk, this probably should be done. They can also be put up on your own lands or at public gathering places. In the old days, stringent curses were often carved into the stone against anyone who should break or disturb it, and (what with one thing and another) this is not a bad idea now. We would also advise against setting smaller or less firmly-rooted stones where vandals or thieves can get hold of them - odd as it may sound, people have had small runestones stolen in the past few years. Limestone is probably the ideal medium for a runestone, being soft enough to carve with relative ease, but durable enough to hold its images for a long time - most of the Gotlandic picture stones, for instance, are limestone. A Troth Elder should be able to design a fitting runestone or picture-stone at need. As far as the carving is concerned, anyone with moderate artistic skill and a little practice should be able to execute it. However, if there is some doubt, it should be remembered that there is a fairly strong body of evidence to the effect that the craftsmen who actually did runic inscriptions (as on bracteates or runestones) were not necessarily runemasters themselves, which suggests that a mundane stonecarver can be hired if necessary. If you do this for a runic inscription, you do need to oversee the person carefully, as a lot of the staves look an awful lot alike to non-runesters. This is thought to be one explanation for the great number of surviving "nonsense inscriptions". The raising of the runestone, and whatever rites seem fitting to that, was usually done nine months to a year after the death.
Likely the most common element in all Germanic burials - from the eldest days to the end of the Viking Age, from Scandinavia to Italy - was the setting of grave-goods. This practice (beginning at the dawn of humanity and common to many more peoples than our own) was based on the belief that the dead still lived in some way, and would need not only food and drink, but weapons, tools, and all those things they had enjoyed in their lifetimes. Grave-goods were given to both the burned and the buried; Snorri tells us (and we can probably trust his account of the belief, though we may be dubious about what he says of its origins) that Óðinn decreed "that everyone should come to Valhöll with the same wealth that he had on the bale-fire; and he should also enjoy that which he had hidden in the earth himself" (Ynglinga saga, ch. 8). Sometimes the goods themselves were cremated, and sometimes set in the grave with the urn after the body had been burnt. The description of Beowulf's funeral has both: Beowulf's pyre is "hung with helm, with battle-boards, with bright byrnies" (lines 3139-40), and Wiglaf says earlier that the treasure must "melt with the brave-one...the fire shall eat it" (3011-14); but when the cremated body is buried, it is also told how "they placed in the barrow arm-rings and jewels, all that treasure which the fierce men had earlier taken from the hoard (3163-65).
Food and drink, especially apples and hazelnuts (filberts, to Americans), were very usual, and perhaps the most meaningful of gifts (see "Things and their Meanings"). The Oseberg queen was sent off with a bucket and a chest full of wild apples, as well as grain, loaves, and meat. Food was still given to the mound-dead until modern times, although this likely stems from the worship of the alfs rather than an awareness of dead humans needing food (see "Alfs").
The dead were usually buried (or burnt) with those things which they had used in life, fully dressed in their best clothing. Usually they were laid on their backs; the Anglo-Saxon folk buried face-downward are suspected to have been considered dangerous or disgraced in some way (Wilson, pp. 80-86). Women had their spinning and weaving implements, as well as cooking utensils - the frowe of the Oseberg ship-burial had a fully equipped kitchen. Men had weapons and armour (some weapons have also been found in female graves); Egils saga mentions the burial of smiths with their tools, which is supported by archæological finds. Both sexes were buried with jewelry, with fine goods such as glass cups or drinking horns; it was thought shameful for someone of good standing to be sent to the mound without some treasure. Animals, especially horses but also dogs, hawks, and farm animals, were very often laid in the mound with their owners. Some of these, such as pigs, sheep, and cattle, were probably meant for the dead to eat in the Otherworld; the horses, hounds, and hawks suggest that riding and hunting would be done in death as in life.
One of the most definitely religious practices particularly associated with cremation/urn burial in the Viking Age was the setting of an iron ring with Þórr's Hammer pendants, miniature firesteels, and other such small iron emblems (one ring, from Torvalla, Sweden, has what appear to be a spear, hammer, and sickle, which may have been meant as emblems of Óðinn, Þórr, and Freyr) on top of the urn. This was probably meant to ward the dead from all the dangers of the Otherworld. Hammers and minature fire-steel pendants of silver are also common, as are Hammers of amber; some of the latter sort from Gotland seem to have been made for the sole purpose of burial, as they show no sign of wear (Roesdahl and Wilson, From Viking to Crusader, p. 190). Small images of other sorts were also put in cremation graves: one from Kungsängen (Sweden), ca. 800 C.E., held both a little bronze figure of a man with a bird-horned helmet (often thought to have some connection with the cult of Wodan, as hinted at by the Torslunda matrices in which the bird-horned dancer is one-eyed) and another of a man in a wolfskin who is apparently biting a snake, which may possibly refer to a scene from Völsunga saga. Such images were found in the graves of folk of both genders: a woman's grave from Birka, for instance, had a small mounted warrior, another horseman, a woman's image, and a miniature strike-a-light (Roesdahl and Wilson, p. 277). The Anglo-Saxon graves were also rich in amulets, including quartz crystals, amethyst, horses' teeth, and, for women, cowrie shells (Meaney, Anglo-Saxon Amulets and Curing Stones); quartz crystals in various polished and unpolished forms were common amulets/grave-goods throughout the Germanic world, as were also sundry animals' teeth (especially boar-tusks) and claws (especially bear-claws), beads, and stones.
The equipping of the dead person with the means of faring from one world to the next has been spoken of in "Soul, Death, and Rebirth". As well as boats, wains, and horses, the dead could also have "Hel-shoes" sewn onto their feet. These shoes, like the stone-moored boats mentioned in the earlier chapter, served two purposes: they kept the dead shod on the faring to the Otherworld, and also kept them from getting up and walking about in the Middle-Garth.
In modern times, if the dead cannot be buried in a full-size vehicle, a model of a ship, wain, or car might be laid in the grave or burnt for the dead person. Otherwise, the body should be readied with a warm coat or cloak, warm and sturdy walking shoes or boots, and perhaps a staff: it is a long, cold, and wet way to the lands of the dead.
In Norway, at the moment of death, a window or door was supposed to be opened; if the death-struggle was especially long, a hole might be made in the roof or someone might climb onto the roof to call the dying person out through chimney or smokehole (Christianssen, "The Dead and the Living", p. 19). It was sometimes thought dangerous to bring the body out through a window or a door, as the dead might remember the way back in (especially if they were the sort of folk who were likely to walk again, such as berserks, shape-shifters, magic-workers, and the generally obnoxious); Egill Skalla-Grímsson, whose father was a berserk, had a hole broken in the wall of the house through which Skalla-Grímr's corpse could be carried out. In Denmark, houses were sometimes built with a keyhole-shaped "corpse-door" which was usually bricked up, and opened only for the sake of bringing the dead out. Interestingly, many rune-stones and picture-stones are shaped like large keyholes, which may suggest that the memorial stone itself could have been seen as an embodiment of the doorway between life and death.
It was also usual to keep an overnight watch by the body with candles burning. In older days, this called for some bravery, as if the corpse were going to walk again, this was usually the time when it would sit up and perhaps even speak, as Þórsteinn Eiríksson does in Eiriks saga ins rauða and as also occurs in Icelandic folktales. In the latter case, worse happenings are prevented by the watcher - one maiden breaks her needle and sticks the pieces into the soles of the dead man's feet, while another watcher, a strong man, physically forces the corpse down.
In some parts of rural Britain today, it is still common (as it was everywhere in Northern Europe through the beginning of this century) for the women of the family to wash and lay out the corpse. It is, and was, thought of as the final act of love shown to the kin.
After death, it was common to hold a wake around the coffin with much merriment and dancing; special beer might be brewed for the funeral (Christianssen, "The Dead and the Living", pp. 28-ff). Christianssen also mentions how "In some districts (Romerike) the open coffin was left in the room where they were eating and - as reported by an eyewitness - the old women used to say in a plaintive voice: 'now you have had your last meal with us'" (p. 34). In the last century, the dead person was given a parting cup, the velfarskål (fare-well draught), which had a ritual of its own. In Vrådal, the coffin was placed on the sledge or cart which would bring it to the cemetery, and "A bowl of ale was placed on the coffin, between two lit candles, and the contents were poured into smaller cups and handed to those present, to relatives first....(in) Seljord, it is added that the one who led the horse on leaving touched his hat, saying in the name of the deceased, 'Farvel og takk for meg' (Farewell and thank you)". In Telemark and Setesdal, the ritual extended to someone (usually a relative) giving a longer speech in the name of the deceased, offering thanks and sometimes even answering questions about why he had died or if anyone had been unkind to him. Small wooden drinking cups were put in the bowl to float on top of the ale, and if any relatives were not able to be there, some of the ale was saved for them (Christianssen, pp. 34-36). Christianssen is dubious about the heathen origins of this custom. However, given the character of the Northern soul as something that passed, at least in parts, to the kin at the time of death, it seems not unlikely that it might have been believed that the dead person was literally able to speak through a relative, to share in the drinking and express his/her thanks, and so forth.
After the dead were buried, a feast was held at which the arvel (inheritance-ale) was drunk. If the dead person had been the head of the household, the next head of the household would ceremonially go up to sit in the high seat. The various shares of an inheritance could be dealt out at this time; in today's terms, the will would be read and such things as the dead had wanted to leave to specific people would be given to them. Toasts would be made to the dead person, and the deeds of his/her life would be spoken of. This was a time of merriment: Grønbech quotes the "English priest in the 10th century" (Wulfstan? - KHG) as saying, "You shall not take part in the cries of rejoicing over the dead; when invited to a funeral feast, forbid the heathen songs and the loud-voiced peals of laughter, in which folk take delight" (II, pp. 184-85).
Dressing in dark colours or pale colours for mourning goes back at least to Indo-European times. It is likely that the traditional dark or pale mourning-clothes may actually have been meant to imitate the dark or pale colouration of the dead (see "Hella" for a fuller description of these two colours in relationship to death). The black, blue-black, or white mourning garb thus strengthened the sense of the oneness of the dead and the living: for the time that the living mourned, they shared a world with their dead kinswo/man or friend. This is especially meaningful during the burial rites, for this border-period when the dead are not quite gone and the living are dressed as the dead is the time when the two can touch most closely. It may also perhaps have been thought that for the living to imitate the dead to a degree would keep the dead from dragging them on their faring as companions, a fear which is usually strongest when the dead come back from the grave, but which is always in the awareness of traditional peoples (Ranke, "Indogermanische Totenverehrung", pp. 113-131). According to Ranke, this border-time usually lasts for thirty days after death.
For Troth practice, a general model might be as follows: if the body cannot be laid out at home, it is sent to a professional undertaker for preparation, with strict instructions about the clothing and jewelry if the dead person is to be buried in traditional or ritual gear. The lich is then brought back to the home and fully equipped with any weapons, tools, or ritual jewelry that will go with him/her. The wake is held in the evening; someone, preferably a relative, sits up with the body all night by candlelight. The next day, the velfarskål should be done (as described above, complete with the farewell-speech if any of the close kin or friends are willing) beside the hearse before the coffin is driven to its last resting place, and the rite done at the graveside. If the body is to be burned, the rite may either be done before the velfarskål and all gifts placed within the coffin to be burned with it (assuming that this can be cleared with the crematorium), or it can be done when the urn is buried and the gifts placed in the mound about the urn.
The folk are gathered about the coffin (which is still open) or urn. They should be dressed in dark colours. The Elder holds a Hammer amulet or iron ring with Hammers, miniature firesteels, and so forth, and three apples - wild apples, if possible. There is a bowl with water drawn from a hallowed spring at dawn, before sunrise. There is also a horn with enough drink to fill it three times. The blessing-twig should be mistletoe, yew, or from a fruit- or nut-bearing tree, preferably an apple. All gifts that are going in the burial should be ready to go.
I. The Elder does the Hammer-Rite with the warding-emblem which will go with the Dead.
II. A Kinswo/man of the Dead (either by blood or by oath) speaks:
Alfs and idises all fore-gone kin,
hear us at side of howe!
Hallow the earth here where we lay
the lich of our lovéd sib.
The Kinswo/man walks slowly deosil around the burial ground sprinkling the earth with the hallowed water. What is left is poured out around the coffin or urn.
II. The Kinswo/man fills the horn with drink and raises it saying,
Clan of our clan, kinfolk unseen, we bid you welcome your bairn. What springs must fall, what sinks must rise, but sib stands one with sib.
S/he drinks. If there are any other relatives of the Dead - by blood or oath - there, they too may share in the horn; otherwise it should be poured into the blessing-bowl, then onto the burial ground.
III. The Elder speaks:
In Ases' Garth awesome, on Wan-Home's wide ways, in Hella's quiet halls - holy ones, we call you; our kinswo/man shall fare to your shores! Fair are the gods' green worlds, gleaming beyond the high wall; our kinswo/man must soon pass through the gaping gates. Wodan, open the ways; Ing, bless burial earth. Ases and Wans, we call you all, sitting at symbel in garth of the gods. (Name of Dead's patron), we call you, sitting at symbel in (name of god/ess' hall. If the Dead was very strongly given, a longer call to the god/ess may be given here - see examples at end of this rite)! Fill the beakers with shining drink, strew the benches with golden straw, for soon your host shall grow greater. Let the idises bear the ale, let the bright ones ready the bed - let (Name of Dead) see the hall, gleaming beyond the dark ways! Now hear of the deeds of the wo/man who fares forth to dwell with his/her fore-gone kin, that you may know the worth of the one you shall greet.
The folk speak in turn of the deeds of the Dead, as truthfully, but lovingly, as they can. It is most fitting to have a praise-poem spoken now, if anyone has been able to make one. When they are done, the Elder speaks.
Apples I give, as in eldest times - to set within the mound, the riddle and gate of renewing. So the seeds of our lives sink into earth; so we spring ever fresh from the howe - the new rising ever from the roots of the old. Evening's reddening is morning's watching; life shall yet harvest what death has sown here.
The Elder puts the three apples into the coffin or urn and fills the horn with drink.
I raise this toast to thee, (Name of Dead), thy safe path forth and good rebirth. Hail to you in faring; hail to you, coming again; hail to you on your ways!
The Elder hallows the horn with the Hammer-sign and drinks, passing the horn deosil. Each of the folk makes the Hammer-sign, saying, "Hail thee in faring; hail thee, coming again; hail thee on thy ways!"
When the circle is done, the Elder should pour the last of the drink out on the burial-earth. S/he speaks:
Now let all gifts be given; speak your last blessing-words.
IV. The folk, in turn, set their gifts into the coffin or into or on the urn, saying whatever they have to say to the Dead.
V. The Elder speaks:
The tide is rising; the ship is waiting; the gray steed stands on the shore. Now, (Name of Dead), you must set your feet towards the paths that lead to the lands beyond the Middle-Garth's ring.
The Elder raises the Hammer pendant or iron ring, saying.
Thonar, Warder, we call upon thee! Your Hammer hallows the howe; your Hammer hallows the dead.
The Elder swings the Hammer above both coffin /urn and burial site, saying:
Ward (Name of Dead) against the writhing wyrm; ward (Name of Dead) against the greedy wolf; ward (Name of Dead) against woe-wights all. Not wyrm nor warg, not troll nor thurse may stand against Hammer's might: Thonar ward (Name of Dead) aye!
The Elder puts the Hammer on the chest of the Dead or into the urn and speaks again.
(Name of Dead's) ringing steps shall soon sound on the bridge. Let the thurse-maid sink before him/her, but Heimdallr hail with gladdened eyes, for s/he is worthy of the halls of the gods.
VI. The Elder fills the horn with drink again, saying
Gods and goddesses all, we give this horn to you: bless our beloved one's faring, and give him/her fair welcome in your worlds.
The Elder Hammer-signs the horn and drinks, passing it deosil. When each of the folk have drunk from it, s/he pours what is left into the blessing bowl and says,
"We hail you from holy stead",
then pours it onto the burial ground.
VII. The Elder speaks:
We send thee forth to (name of chosen god/ess') hall!
S/he then puts the lid on the urn or coffin and crumbles a handful of earth over it. The vessel is then placed in the mound or lowered into the grave, and the burial begins. The Folk go back to the house of the dead person's heirs to drink the arvel.
Calls to different god/esses
These calls - to Wodan, Frija, Fro Ing, and Thonar - can be used as models for calls to other god/esses, or easily altered as seems fitting to you.
Wodan, we call thee! From Walhall's seat,
send ravens winging their way.
Well thou know'st pathways the worlds between -
ferryman, fare to this shore!
A burden waits for thy boat.
Saddled the gray steed stands on the shore,
readied for dead to ride,
Wodan's wish-daughters wait with bright drink,
where heroes are gathered in hall,
where swords are shining flames.
Wodan, we call thee! Wrap thy dark cloak
over thy daughter's (son's keen) eyes.
Carry him/her onward to kin in thy home,
where benches are brightly strewn,
where einherjar share the ale.
Frija, we call thee! from Fensalir's depths,
thy falcon-wings rise fair.
The way through the worlds that wends to thy hall,
- light over water's ways,
finds (Name of Dead) the path through the fens.
Saddled the fair steed stands on the shore,
readied for dead to ride.
Fulla is waiting with the bright drink,
where thy sons and daughters sit,
where spindles are swirling aye.
Frija, we call thee! Wrap feather-cloak
over thy daughter's (son's keen) eyes.
Carry him/her onward to kin in thy home,
where benches are brightly strewn,
where goddesses gather, all fair.
Fro Ing, we call thee! From Alf-Home fair,
let the bright boar run.
God of the world we hail thee here,
on Skíðblaðnir sail (Name of Dead) forth,
from darkness into day.
Saddled, the Bloody-Hooved stands on the shore,
readied for dead to ride.
Gerðr waits gladly to give the sweet drink,
where sibs hold symbel in frith,
where bells ring all bright with joy.
Fro Ing, we call thee! Cloak of earth wrap
over thy daughter's (son's keen) eyes.
In howe or Alf-Home, hold her/him well-loved,
where alfs and idises feast,
where no frost freezes stead.
Thonar, we call thee! From Trud-Home high,
let goats twain gallop with speed.
Stark through the clouds shines lightning-road,
for (Name of Dead)'s strong feet to find,
where Might-Thonar makes his way.
Harnessed are goats and hauling at wain,
ready to run above,
Trude and Sif, full-trusted, pour drink,
where worthy ones wrestle, might-thewed,
where strong folk strive at their games.
Thonar, we call thee! Thy Hammer-flash brightens
with awe thy daughter's (son's keen) eyes.
Carry him/her onward to kin in thy home,
Bilskírnir, bright through storm,
where Ase-mighty share the ale.
KveldúlfR Hagan Gundarsson, inspired in places by Oskar Merikanto's "Hell dig, Liv!"