It is possible to see / interpret the different 9 realms in the Norse / Germanic tradition as the same as realms of existence in Vedic / Hindu / Buddhist beliefs. There has been a lot of studies that show this connection. Alfheim, for example, would considerably be the realm of existence of the honorable or illuminated ancestors. Alf / Elf being an ancestor not some sort of other race of being has depicted in the modern fantasy tales. In this interpretation the 9 realms would work more like a trans-migratory map for spiritual destinations or realms of incarnation. This is rather common motif in many faiths. Especially in the Indo-European traditions. The same concept can be applied to varying afterlives within other European traditions. Possible cultural reflections of the same idea. This puts things such as Valhalla, reincarnation, and burial rituals in a different and possibly more profound light. Food for thought Hammer and Vajra!
I received a request for elaboration on my personal take on Death, afterlife, and reincarnation. I decided to expand this to include life cycles, karma, and divinity as a whole. This isn’t an academic take but a personal one. It may not be 100% factually correct and should serve more as Hammer and Vajra’s take on these subjects. So in most spiritualties, especially the Indo-European / Indo-Iranian and European (Aryan) ones the concept of eternal death or punishment isn’t present for the most part. In these traditions, life is viewed as cyclic. Eras or Eons (called Yuga’s in the Vedic) change in a cycle. In the same way, the belief in reincarnation was present. The wheel, which is very important in all of these traditions, turns. The turning of the wheel represents everything from the changing of ages (Yugas, Zodiac constellations etc) to the solstices within the year, to death and rebirth. If you look at the tree of life in the Germanic tradition, Levels of the afterlife in the Greco-Roman, or the cycle of an afterlife in the Vedic / Indian / Buddhist traditions there are different levels of rebirth depending on one’s Karma /Deeds / Life that was led. This doesn’t mean like it has been corrupted with new age hippie movements. There isn’t good karma or bad karma, there is just karma. Karma is like a weight. Depending on your deeds, or the deeds of your ancestors / past lives (your ancestral blood runs through your DNA and guides you) you will have more or less Karma. This isn’t to be confused with the concept of Original sin which isn’t the same thing. However, in the same way, spirituality, conduct, and enlightenment can help tailor your Karma allowing for a rebirth in certain realms. Everything should be seen as impermanent. Meaning even rebirth in another realm will result in death and rebirth again. It is a cycle. A cycle that even the Gods are bound to. Most traditions have the concept of a gatekeeper and a guide / Psychopomp. These aspects are the judgment of your karma. All beings will traverse to hell and spend time there depending on their Karma. Helheim (which is the Germanic term) isn’t a bad place in itself. While some traditions have it containing an aspect punishment, it usually was considered just the holding place for the dead. The punishment is almost always a self-inflicted one based off of one’s own Karma. Basically your own hell. Not something divinely implemented. Gods themselves are subject to this same cycle. This is why spiritually the Gods can guide you towards enlightenment, but ultimately you are your own savior. It is your journey.
I see the other side as a trans-migratory experience. A lot of scientific studies have been conducted to show that there is a concept of consciousness or spirit that is present within the mind and that vacates upon death. While the Soul itself is comprised of parts (See Plato’s theories as well as some of the Germanic-based theories from Edred Thorsson) the spirit as we normally consider it does depart. These realms are the various destinations. Metaphysically speaking they aren’t physical planes, but ones a different level or frequencies if you will within the same existence. This concept is touched upon a bit in the Monist tradition as well as Platonism, and most Indian / Vedic sources. Existence itself is one. The One could be considered “God” / “Logos”. This doesn’t mean monotheism as modernly interpreted. But that existence itself is One. In this One there are various aspects of its self-experience or evolution. Think of it like cells and organs within a body. This goes all the way down to the atomic level and all the way back up to a cosmic one with the Gods. The Gods are aspects of this One/divinity itself. Humans are also aspects. You contain divinity within you as a part of the one as do I. However, you and I are obviously different people. In this same way, the Gods are aspects, as are spirits in different realms or afterlife. Each resides on a higher or lower plane. Some are closer to the one and some are further away. The Governing father/sky God, (Dyēus Phter) who is usually seen as a trinity, would be considered much closer to the One or Divine than we are. In such he would guide the evolution and conduct of the One’s experiential will.
In conclusion, mankind should conduct itself with a focus on improvement. The concept of Nietzsche’s Übermensch comes to mind. The Gods and our ancestors are our examples of how to or how not to live. We are in this together and may help each other. The Gods and our folk will guide us, but in the end, it is our journey. Conduct your life accordingly. Don’t look for shortcuts. Hammer and Vajra! — Zach Gill