The Road to Hel.

For my birthday this year, my parents gave me a copy of The Road to Hel by Hilda Roderick Ellis MA PhD. It was first published in 1943 by Cambridge University Press – but I can’t really give you a price guide, since this was a gift and it feels rude to look up the price. I suspect it is expensive.

Whatever it costs, it’s worth it! I really enjoyed reading this. The basic idea of the book is to look at the evidence in the archaeology and, particularly, the literature to see what conclusions and ideas can be reached about Old Norse beliefs on death, the afterlife and the soul. There were many ideas I haven’t read elsewhere – one of the reasons I think it’s really good to read academic books as well as books by other polytheists and pagans.

To give you an idea of what’s in the book, the chapters are Funeral Customs: The Evidence of Archaeology, Funeral Customs: The Evidence of Literature, The Conception of the Future Life, The Cult of the Dead, The Conception of the Soul, Necromancy and The Journey to the Land of the Dead.

Many things that most of us take for granted about the Norse afterlife – Valhöll, Lady Hel, Valkyries – are all up for debate in this book, and Ellis’ conclusions are often pretty different to the conclusions the polytheist/pagan communities have come to. Some things were interesting to read, but I don’t agree with at all. Other things I’m really curious about, and I’d like to investigate further. I’d definitely recommend this book to anyone following a Norse-style faith, or who has a devotional relationship with Óðinn or Hel (Ellis does come to the conclusion that Hel is a literary creation, but the discussions of the afterlife are surely relevant to anyone with a connection to Her).

If anyone else has read this book, or has any questions, I’d be very happy to hear from you 🙂

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