The Doom That Never Dies – On The Judgement Of The Dead

Deyr fé, deyja frændr,
deyr sjalfr it sama,
ek veit einn,
at aldrei deyr:
dómr um dauðan hvern.

These are famous words – even if you do not recognize them in the Old Norse, then you will almost certainly have heard them at some point in life. They are from the Havamal – the Sayings of the High One.

Broadly translated, they run thus:

“Cattle die, kinsmen die,
the self will die the same;
I know one thing which never dies:”

And there, we shall interrupt … for this piece is upon that last line. And just what it is that does not die.

Often, we see the line in question translated somewhat erroneously – as the “Glorious Deeds” of the dead men. Perhaps as the “Reputation”, which is better.

Yet the actual wording in Old Norse is somewhat different. And quite instructive. It is “dómr” – that is to say, “Doom”.

Now, in the modern age the “Doom” of something is often taken to mean its “fate”, and more specifically, the thing that shall damn or kill it.

Yet older times what it effectively meant was “judgement” ; the PIE it’s derived from [‘deh’ => ‘dohmos’] is effectively “to place” .. so, the ‘doom’ upon somebody is exactly that .. placed upon them. [Interestingly, on a side-note, this renders Greek ‘Theos’ – God – as hailing from the same PIE root as “Doom”.]

Now, in this context, the idea is that the ‘judgement’ placed upon somebody, the reflection of their deeds in life – well, we would like to think it is the positive ones that are remembered and form our post-mortem reputation. I can tell you from having spent a bit of time in politics, that art not so. As Marc Antony puts it in the funerary oration given to him by Shakespeare in Julius Caesar – “The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones”.

So, the ‘reputation’ of a man is something that does not die.

In no small part because , as we know from certain other cosmological/eschatological scriptural points ..well, where you wind up after death is in a considerable manner a reflection of the sort of life you lived, your deeds, your essence.

It is, I suppose you might say, where you get placed [see what I did there?]

And it does not die, because it carries on after death.

Both in the mouths of your fellow man, and also in your circumstances when you are no longer among the living.

To quote from the Bellows translation of the Voluspa, in reference to Nastrond [‘Corpse-Shore’]:

“A hall I saw, / far from the sun, / On Nastrond it stands, and the doors face north, / Venom drops / through the smoke-vent down, / For around the walls / do serpents wind.

I there saw wading / through rivers wild / treacherous men / and murderers too, And workers of ill / with the wives of men; / There Nithhogg sucked / the blood of the slain, / And the wolf tore men; / would you know yet more?”

Now, at this point when we had previously explained this to an associate – he asked the quite natural question. Is what we are describing, the “Judgement” that is upon a man in his moment of death and thereafter … is this analogous to the Hindu concept of Karma?

And the answer, broadly speaking, is “Yes”. For as we can see – what it is that we put out into the world, shapes ourselves; shapes the circumstances we find ourselves in; ultimately shapes not just who we are, but where it is that we are to wind up afterward. As it is said in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad – we are both the Spider, and the Web that the spider puts out around him which ultimately becomes his world.

Except it is important to differentiate somewhat between the ‘Reputation’ of the man, the deceased – which is what his fellows know of him and pass down; and the standing of the man, the Judgement upon the man, when he finds himself in the hereafter confronting the Judges of the Dead.

This is not going to be an article upon Them – except to note that there are some curious correspondences between the Nordic and the Hindu accountings thereof.

My comrade Tristan brought forth these excerpts when seeking to illustrate this point – around being Judged at the HelThing:

“Kormt and Ormt | and the Kerlaugs twain
Shall Thor each day wade through,
(When dooms to give | he forth shall go
To the ash-tree Yggdrasil;)
For heaven’s bridge | burns all in flame,
And the sacred waters seethe.

“Glath and Gyllir, | Gler and Skeithbrimir,
Silfrintopp and Sinir,
Gisl and Falhofnir, | Golltopp and Lettfeti,
On these steeds the gods shall go
When dooms to give | each day they ride
To the ash-tree Yggdrasil.”

— Grimnismal

“”Now when he and Loki brought forward the precious gifts, the Æsir sat down in the seats of judgment; and that verdict was to prevail which Odin, Thor, and Freyr should render. Then Loki gave Odin the spear Gungnir, and to Thor the hair which Sif was to have, and Skídbladnir to Freyr, and told the virtues of all these things…”

— Skaldskaparmal

To this, I would only add three-and-a-half quotes from my previously published work: “Saturday – Shani Dev’s Day – Saturn’s Day”:

“Still, while I have earlier maintained that the ‘trials’ of Lord Shani are actually opportunities for the uncovering of hidden treasures within us, it is nevertheless often considered a rather good idea to attempt to appease the baelful gaze of ShaaniDev, so that it is averted – or, taking things several steps further, endeavouring to carry out appropriate Hanuman-related worship so as to directly ward off the Dark Deity in question.

Now, from a comparative mythography perspective, this is particularly interesting. As Hanuman and Shani are running off the Striker/Thunderer [Son] and Sky Father/Lord of the Anncestors(Dead) figures, respectively [for further, albeit brief discussion upon this, I would recommend my previous commentaries from mid-July, “THUNDERSTRUCK”, and “Sky-Earth-Thunder”], and more particularly, given that the way in which Hanuman establishes Shani’s healthy respect by repeatedly bashing His Own Head with Shaani upon it with stones … it is not hard to see how this may perhaps recall whatever lies at the root of the somewhat fraught familial relations which lie at the heart of Theogenesis in the Greco-Roman understanding – wherein, as you will recall, first Cronus is subdued by Zeus following the former’s being fed rocks, and second Zeus finds Himself with one Almighty Headache, leading directly to the birth of Athena, after He had attempted to imitate [the opposite, in this context, of ‘to ape’] His Own Father in these regards.

However, other tales take a somewhat different perspective upon the establishment of the concordial relations between HanumanJI and ShaaniDev; and the accounting of the Ramayana is particularly interesting in this light.


Yet the rather more ‘subtle’ interpretation is that it may perhaps refer to a third explanation – Lord Hanuman, in the course of His reconnaissance/escape of/from Lanka in search of Sita, happened across the imprisoned Lord Shaani, and loosed His bonds, freeing Him. The grateful Lord Shaani thanked Hanuman, Who is also, as it happens, often regarded as the One who loosens the fetters of the bonds of Karma upon the Devotee as well [said bonds of Karma also being very much within Lord Shaani’s direct purview in His role as the Bringer of Justice, Bestower of Consequence, and Lord of Lawful Outcome(s) – thence also, of course, and in common with His Half-Brother Lord Yama, Death] ; and then proceeded to turn His Destroyer Gaze upon the Imperial Capital of Ravan. [in either case, the utilization of Bajrangi – the ‘Adamantine’/’Thunderbolt’ – to carry out a pair of Curses bestowed by the Sky Father, Shiva, upon Ravana for the latter’s unjust and ultimately severely impious conduct, would have interesting resonances with the occasional identification of the ‘Sickle’ or ‘Scythe’ of Kronus/Saturn as in fact being an Adamantine ‘Harpe’ blade.]

This, in its own way, also illustrates another fundamental principle relating not only to ShaaniDev, but also to the Divine Concept of Justice and Law all up. “The Long Arc of the Universe”, it is said, “bends ultimately toward Justice”. Which, if you are of a certain sort of view, may perhaps be taken as indicating the ultimate death-sentence upon everything and all [or just about, anyway], that is the Pralaya, the #EKPYROSISWHENN that lies at the conclusion spasms of the Current Yuga.”

“One of which, hinges around the notion of ‘Cutting’, Proto-Indo-European: (S)Ker, which is occasionally connected to what may be another PIE root: “Ker” or “K(w)er”, that refers to ‘making’ or ‘doing’, and which supplies the underpinning for the subsequent Sanskrit : “Karma”. “”This second of these, the notion of ‘Scars’, also figuratively connects with this other “K(w)er” particle – as ‘Sanskara’ in Saskrit, refers to the process of ‘imprinting’ or ‘shaping’ through the actions and effects of our ‘actions’, that produce the effect often colloquially referred to in modern English as “Karma”. Or, perhaps less prosaically, to the Proto-Germanic “Skardaz” – meaning to be ‘banged up’, damaged, cut and wounded … which is how we may feel as a result of this Lord of Karma’s attentions upon us.

But to go back to the ‘Sword’ point, it is intriguing here to note not only the sword-saliency with these other comparative representatiosn of the Divine complex in question [the aforementioned Harpe of Kronus, the Sickle of Saturn, etc.], nor the array of descendant “(S)ker” words referring to swords, knives, daggers, and keen sharpness in later Indo-European languages. But also the more ‘figurative’ import of this feature – both as the potential ‘severer’ of the ties of previous actions pon us (in the manner of a Judge, properly satisfied [especially of repentance or restitution], bringing to an end one’s sentence) , and in a not entirely unrelated sense, as the cutter of the threads that are lives (reaping-tense), as Death – the final sanction and Judgement, after which, the real Karmatic-Dharmatic assessment, in the Underworld, can Begin.”

What I seek to elucidate with these quotes is quite simple. First and foremost, that what we see with the HelThing Judgement – of Thor, Odin, and Freyr – has a parallel in the relations expressed between Hanuman and Shaani.

Rather than the ‘literal’ interpretation of Hanuman having fisticuffs of the Glaswegian style with Shaani – it is best interpreted metaphorically. As two Deities contending, arguing over the fate of the soul of a Devotee.

Hanuman, the joyous, boisterous ‘Friend to Man’ taking the more beneficent role; Shaani, the Stern and Severe One, taking a more scrutinizing and austere perspective.

Interestingly, there are also three Judges of the Dead in Greek eschatology – but, as I say, this is not a piece upon this concept. Simply the notion of the Judgement upon a man’s soul, as expressed in the Havamal, and how this squares with the broader Indo-European world-view.

So as for what it is that is actually being ‘Judged’ – it is the soul of the man. Which is not some idle and abstract concept of a point of light ; but in this sense, it has been ‘scarred’, it has been ‘marked’, it has been ‘imprinted’ [‘Sanskara’] by the words and deed and experience and will of the man in life.

Hence, the reincarnations will continue – until the soul improves, we might perhaps suggest.

As I said at the time:

“The #NAS synthesis position of the above is probably to point out that the line between a man’s reputation [in this sense] .. and a man …

… is not really much of a line at all. Hence that Sanskara principle.

What you do .. becomes you – even, perhaps especially, if it does not become you to do it.

So it is rather important to do the right thing. And therefore be the right thing as the (ongoing) result.

This can take some time.”

As Tristan put it:

“I’d even argue the opposite in nordic metaphysics, that a mans deeds and behavior are almost the thing occupying the man-sleeve.”

I am not sure that it is an opposite point of view, so much as coming at quite the similar thing from opposite ends.

Another way of looking at it, may be the words of Kurt Vonnegut:

“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”

Not least because, in Death, all those pretensions really do fall away. There can be no hiding from what one has become.

And that – that is truly a terrifying thought.

The terror that that, unlike us, does not die. That it is with us always – even unto the next world.

A “Doom”, you might perhaps say.

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