Nobles and merchants who have lived to a ripe old age, or who have fallen sick, or who are about to die for any reason that has nothing to do with battle have been known to hire headsmen. These solitary and despised figures attack and kill an old, sick or dying customer of means to ensure that they head to Valhalla and not Folkvangr (Freya’s realm) which in my gaming world is where the souls of non-warrior folk go after death.*
Headsmen typically don’t believe in any of the myths or teachings of the Church, or perhaps they see themselves as damned to live with Hel anyway. The Church has, since the time of Thor, held that killing the sick, helpless or unarmed is a grave sin, which leads to the dark underworld overseen by Hel. (My, what a wonderful divergence from the vikings of old!).
The Church of Aesir has eased off of that position over time and in fact now actually performs this last rite for a hefty donation, sending official Church Headsmen. While shunned for performing such a distasteful profession, these men make a very good living and are known for their discretion and ability to perform their duties with a minimum of pain inflicted and mess made.
Families rely on discretion as none of them would openly admit to hiring a headsman. When a old man’s pyre is lit and he lies there in full battle regalia, the family usually explains that he died in battle with an intruder, assassin or bandit. Everyone then understands exactly what happened and no one says a word.
Those who preach religious reform, who are not afraid to speak up, point to this as part of the degeneracy and hypocrisy of the Church.
Headsmen can typically be found in big cities, especially Nornland’s capital Olafstaad. Wherever nobles and merchants congregate, in other words.
*In the real world, the myth is she takes half the honorably killed warriors to her realm, leaving Odin the rest. Not only should you not confuse this stuff with the real world, but don’t confuse it with real myth, mmkay?
Let’s say that Thor, son of Odin, came to Earth about eight centuries ago and established a temple to Odin, preaching the love of the All-father to the savage tribes who worshiped various local deities. He was originally a bad-ass cleric for Odin, who took him up around level 14 or so.
Odin adopted Thor and set him on a high peak in Valhalla from which to watch over the members of the One-eye clan (his chosen). When the One-eye clan conquered a tribe, the local deity was absorbed in the pantheon and became a figure in the myths of Valhalla. Thor is second only to Odin in adulation and depiction in religious art. Several books of the Holy Eddas are attributed to Thor and he is seen as the human connection to the Allfather.
Loki is Odin’s other adopted son. Many stories portray him as a trickster and the one who initiated (or hazed) other gods and saints who entered Odin’s radiance. He is also the god of fallibility, confession, submission to punishment and redemption.
Loki the trickster is a merry figure of mischief and is the patron of bards and entertainers. Loki the fratricide is the god of deception and fallibility (he tricked Hodr into killing his brother Baldur). This aspect of Loki is said to punish those who kill their kin or guests. Loki the repentant is the god of confessing and taking one’s punishment (in this version, he found his way to Odin and confessed, and was this punished as is popularly depicted). As reward for his eons punishment for his sins, he will be allowed to fight to defend the lives of his children, even though he is fated to die in that battle and despite the fact that they are the enemies of the Aesir. Such is the mercy and wisdom the the Allfather.
Loki’s feasts are held mid-summer and consist of three days of drinking, tricks and outrageous behavior (relative to one’s community standards of course–in some villages there’s debauchery, in others, people don’t wear their hats or greet their elders). This is followed by three days of repentance for all one has done the previous year.
Loki’s children are Jörgunmandr, the Midgard Serpent, who is the satan figure in this church. He is part of an unholy trinity with Hel, demon queen of the underworld and Fenris, the wolf as his siblings/other parts. They lead the giants and demons against the gods. Their chief pleasure is bringing sadness to Odin and to Freya by ensnaring mortal’s souls and dragging them to Hel.
In the afterlife, souls will naturally go to one of two places: Those who fought and died bravely in battle join Odin in Valhalla. Those who are householders, craftsmen or warriors who do not die bravely or in battle join Freya in her realm, which is said to be a place where one experiences only the joys of their previous professions or roles in life and none of the sadness or pain.
Those who do not believe in the Allfather, or who carelessly allow themselves to be carried away by demons or turned into werewolves by the sons of Fenris will descend into Hel’s realm. There they will suffer the usual punishments ascribed to hell for all eternity (that is, until Ragnarok, when everything ends).
Freya is an elfin queen and has her own realm, where those who die peacefully spend the afterlife. She is a fertility goddess and is, in the tradition of the ancient Nornlanders, wife to many gods. Until about 600 After Thor, she was also Odin’s wife in the doctrine of the church. When King Alaf IV established monogamy as the law of the land, the Church revised its teachings and doctrines to claim that Frigya, the aspect of Freya that was Odin’s queen, was in fact a separate goddess named Frigg. Freya’s day was renamed to Frigg’s day and the new goddess was held up an an example of proper womanly virtue to Nornland women. Freya’s chapels were shuttered and her prayers banned for almost a century.
King Branden convinced the Great Father (head of the Church) to restore Freya’s place as the queen of the afterworld for householders in 786 A.T. Her status as an elfin goddess was used to justify the King’s designs on the elfish islands to the south.
While Frigg is revered by housewives and mothers, Freya is the patroness to women wishing to conceive, prostitutes, the terminally ill, farmers wishing for a good harvest and lovers.
Next time: The structure of the Church, a bit of its history and the various offices and roles of the cleric of the Aesir.
From the Management: Let me note something that should be obvious: I have not researched the eddas of the vikings, nor have I read a great deal on medieval religions. I am shamelessly borrowing this and that and mashing it up. I will be doing more research on these later, and certainly refining it if I ever use it for more than my own gaming sessions and blogging.