A Journey to the Otherworld

27.4.10 § 0 commentarii

I died my own death.

Old and wealthy, with many sons and large herds, I died in my bed at the end of the wolf-time: perhaps an omen for those who remain. My two wives washed my body and wrapped me in white, my youngest daughter extinguished the fire on my hearth. For three nights and three days they watched over my body, companions to my lingering shade. The men of the tribe came to see my body, to pay their respects, to remember my deeds. The women came by bringing food to feed my household, for the days when pure Brigantī fled the stain of my death.

On the third day they took me outside the palisade around our homestead and laid me to rest in the arms of our mother. They circled my grave and sang my marwonatus, my death-song. And so on the third day, my soul was freed to begin that final journey.

I found myself at a crossroads, two paths before me. On my right a shining road, lit by the sun and running through a well-watered plain. I saw herds of bay horses grazing there, and far off a shining plain: surely the Assembly-Place of the Gods? But on my left was a dark path into the woods, lit by the dim light of the moon and strewn with rocks. Shadows clothed that road, and I feared to take it.

Cernunnos came to me, and the wood-born one guided me down the darker path. He told me that the first to trace this road was Dunnotarwos, the first to die and the willing sacrifice who set order upon the worlds. Among the Gods that road is named Bowitron Dunnon, the Dark Track of the Cow. But in the language of men, he told me, its name is Sentus Atron, the Path of the Fathers.

The road was long and led to the banks of the wide river which encircles Gortos Donyon, the Abode of Men. That honey-dark river is called Elulindus by the Gods, which is to say “many draughts” or “many pools”, for the river’s source and end is in the Lukatos Niχtonī, the boiling well whose waters Rosmerta brews into the sacred mead. Men and Gods have paid a high price for a draught of that drink, and only the worthy and wise are not harmed by its power. Among men, however, the river is known only as Sīraχtā, which is “sorrow” or “longing”.

It is too wide to swim and too deep to ford, so there on the banks waits an ancient ferryman, his hair and beard white as frost. Barrowindos is his name, and it is he who carries the dead slowly across the river. As they cross, the river washes over the ferry, washing away the memories of the dead into the waters, and so to Niχtonos’ Well. What use are memories to those who have died?

On the far side of the river are the gates of Andedubnos, set into a high wall of clay and mud. Rātis Prīyetos is its name. At the gate waits Catubodwā, to greet the dead, two hounds at her heels. One dog is white, the other is black. She greets the righteous man with a warm welcome: her form is fair and lovely, her body inviting and sensuous. The white dog at her heels fawns over the righteous man, as a faithful dog over his homecoming master. But the Queen of Nightmares turns her back on the wicked man: a back covered in rotting flesh, writhing with worms and suppurating sores. Growling the black dog leaps and drags the wicked man into the darkness, leaving him wail in torment outside the Walls of Clay.

I walked through the gates into the Land of Summer, and I saw broad pastures, grazed by red-eared cattle. There is no cold nor care in this land: the weather always warm and the breezes always cool. Fields yield an their fruits without the need for labour, and famine and sickness are unknown. At the centre of this blessed land lies the Isle of Glass, where there are rich orchards. Here, under branches laden with the Apples of Youth, the dead meet and are reunited with those they loved. Here they eat together, sharing out the offerings made by pious sons.

Here also Sucellos has his hall, from here the Father of Men rules over the Otherworld. Maglobāstos he is named by his subjects, the Prince of the Dead. There is always a feast in the Good God’s hall, for his cauldron never empties of food. Gentle Nantosweltā pours out dark beer for the feast, for her husband’s barrel never runs dry.

Here then I wait, among my fathers and with my lord’s red-eared hounds at my feet, waiting for a death in this deathless land that will release me once more into the shining world under the sun.

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