Not to bury was, as in Hellas, an insult to the dead, reserved for the bodies of hated foes. Conquerors sometimes show their magnanimity (like Harald Godwineson) by offering to bury their dead foes.
The buried “barrow-ghost” was formidable; he could rise and slay and eat, vampire-like, as in the tale of Asmund and Aswit. He must in such case be mastered and prevented doing further harm by decapitation and thigh-forking, or by staking and burning. So criminals’ bodies were often burnt to stop possible haunting.
Witches and wizards could raise corpses by spells to make them prophesy. The dead also appeared in visions, usually foretelling death to the person they visited.
Other worlds.—The “Land of Undeath” is spoken of as a place reached by an exiled hero in his wanderings. We know it from Eric the traveller’s S., Helge Thoreson’s S., Herrand and Bose S., Herwon S., Thorstan Baearmagn S., and other Icelandic sources. But the voyage to the Other Worlds are some of the most remarkable of the narratives Saxo has preserved for us.
“Hadding’s Voyage Underground".—(a) A woman bearing in her lap angelica fresh and green, though it was deep winter, appears to the hero at supper, raising her head beside the brazier. Hadding wishes to know where such plants grow.
(b) She takes him with her, under cover of her mantle, underground.
(c) They pierce a mist, get on a road worn by long use, pass nobly-clad men, and reach the sunny fields that bear the angelica:—
shadowes by a beaten path,
Into a garden goodly garnished.”
—F.Q. ii. 7, 51.
(d) Next they cross, by a bridge, the “River of Blades”, and see “two armies fighting”, ghosts of slain soldiers.
(e) Last they came to a high wall, which surrounds the land of Life, for a cock the woman brought with her, whose neck she wrung and tossed over this wall, came to life and crowed merrily.
Here the story breaks off. It is unfinished, we are only told that Hadfling got back. Why he was taken to this under-world? Who took him? What followed therefrom? Saxo does not tell. It is left to us to make out.
That it is an archaic story of the kind in the Thomas of Ercildoune and so many more fairy-tales, e.g., Kate Crack-a-Nuts, is certain. The “River of Blades” and “The Fighting Warriors” are known from the Eddic Poems. The angelica is like the green birk of that superb fragment, the ballad of the Wife of Usher’s Well—a little more frankly heathen, of course—
“It fell about the Martinmas, when nights are long and mirk, The carline wife’s three sons cam hame, and their hats were o’ the birk. It neither grew in syke nor dyke, nor yet in ony sheugh, But at the gates o’ Paradise that birk grew fair eneuch.”
The mantel is that of Woden when he bears the hero over seas; the cock is a bird of sorcery the world over; the black fowl is the proper gift to the Underground powers—a heriot really, for did not the Culture god steal all the useful beasts out of the underground world for men’s use?