Naströnd – “Hell” in the Germanic and Norse traditions

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written and copyrighted by Týra Alrune Sahsnotasvriunt, June 2014

Heathens and Germanic Pagans will often be quick to tell you that there is no hell in their religion, but that Helheim is the place of those who did not fall in battle but died of old age, due to illness and such. While Helheim means nothing else but “Hel’s home” (home of the Goddess of the dead, Hel) Niflhel etymologically already hints at something more sinister. “Dark beyond” or “’cloudy beyond” doesn’t sound like an inviting place at least.
In Gylfaginning King Gylfi learns that Niflhel is a place where “evil’” people go. Now, the Eddas are already full of Christian mythology and a good vs. evil approach, originally foreign to our Germanic ancestors. A more detailed description to what “evil” or wrong is can be found in the tales of the the Sibylle (seer) in Völuspa. She tells us: Naströnd, the “Corpse Shore” or “Dead Man’s Shore” is a place in the realm of the Goddess Hel, a place where the dragon Nidhögg lives and chews on both corpses as well as the roots of the world tree Yggdrasil. Who goes to Naströnd? Nidings, (cowards) in other words: Murderers, adulterers, blood-oath- and just general oath-breakers. And even suicides as suicide was viewed as something just as abhorrent as oath-breaking by all Germanic tribes alike.

“…a hall I saw standing
remote from the sun (From the realm of the living/life)
on Dead Body Shore (Naströnd)
Its door looks north (Into eternal darkness)
There fell drops of venom
in through the roof vent.
That hall is woven
of serpent spines (Reference to Loki being bound with his sons’ intestines)
I saw there wading
onerous steams
men perjured
and wolfish murderers
and the ones who seduces
another’s close-trusted wife.
There Nidhögg (=Malice Striker) sucked
corpses of the dead,
the wolf tore them. (It has been debated whether this wolf would be Fenrir or possibly another of Angerboda’s children)

Naströnd is sometimes described as a realm cut off from Helheim, bordering on it but only on the margins of Hel’s jurisdiction, and sometimes Naströnd is referred to as a castle within Hel’s kingdom, which is made up of venomous snake skin, poison dripping from its walls and toxic fumes filling it.
In German folklore both Nighögg as well as Naströnd survive Ragnarök, Nidhögg continuing to gnaw on the roots of the tree that Lif and Lifthrasir survived the end battle in. Even in the “new world” there will be a place for those who did not use their chance of living in an uncorrupted world butwho choose to do evil. And the dragon/serpent Nidhögg will stand guard of this place, continually poisoning the bolverkers (evildoers) with his toxic breath and dripping venomous saliva in order to keep the ergis in Naströnd.
Unlike the rest of Helheim’s citizens, who will either be reborn or be called to take their place on the ship Naglfar, in order to bring forth Ragnarök, the lost souls of Naströnd will remain stuck forever, never being granted a chance to re-emerge again.
For Saxon parents the warning, “Nastrond fahan dig!” (Naströnd will take you!”) was a common warning or curse towards disobedient children.

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