Home Svenska
Home Boundless meetings Family and hierarchy Midgard Belief and traditions The living and the dead 59: Four scenes in stone 60: The dead were a part of the living society 61: The rituals affected the living and the dead 62: Returning from the underworld by boat? 63: Golden horses and swords 64: The survivors opened graves 65: The Valkyries welcomed the fallen to Valhalla 66: The path to Hel 67: An iron sword was broken in half 68: A funeral pyre with ritual drama 69: Freya’s hall for fallen warriors 70: The path to the Christian paradise 71: To kill an object 72: Important positioning of the body in the grave 73: Individual rituals and winged sacrifices Divine craftwork Trading and raiding Waterways Town-like centres Christian monuments Svenska

Returning from the underworld by boat?

Iron boat rivets are commonly found in cremation graves. In some graves there are so many rivets that it appears as if the deceased was burned in a whole boat.

To burn a whole ship, which the ritual might have prescribed, would have been expensive. Just a few rivets might also represent a whole boat. Was this a way of creating symbolic ship burials and of expressing the cultural significance of boats? Women and men of different ages were buried in boat graves.

The tradition might have been associated with the god Frey, who owned the enchanted ship Skidbladnir. The boat was so big that there was space on board for all the Aesir gods, while it could also be folded up into a small parcel. It always had a tail wind; no oarsmen were needed.

Another explanation for the popularity of boat graves might be found in a tale from the Prose Edda of the burial and travel to the underworld of the god Balder. Balder was cremated in his ship in front of the other gods. The myth tells how he was mourned by all in Asgard. The gods sent Odin’s son Hermod to the mistress of the underworld, Hel, to ask her to return Balder. Hel promised that if the whole world wept for Balder she would release him.

The spiteful Loki, disguised as the giantess Tokk, refused to cry anything but dry tears so Balder stayed in the underworld with Hel. But the promise of the myth, that the return from the underworld was possible, may have made Balder’s cremation in a boat an archetype.

Show more