Updated: Jun 1, 2020
Concepts of the afterlife in Heathenry did evolve or change over time and geography. Old Saxon poems, composed in the 8th, 9th, and 10th centuries, and Old English poems composed in the same centuries, show a different afterlife than the afterlife shown in the Eddas and Sagas 200-400 years later. This is despite the fact that the Saxons, Anglish, and Norse all venerated the Aesir. Some of this can be attributed to geography, (different tribes), but much of this is attributed to the passage of time, as Norse Heathenry was crushed much later by Christianity than its Anglish and Saxon counterparts.
Old Saxon has a place called "uuanga" or "hevanuuanga"; as well as "hel" or "hellea" as the places for the afterlife of the seola (soul). Uuanga (meaning "the meadow"), Hevanuuanga (meaning "meadow in the sky"), hel, (meaning hall) are all Heathen words. Yes, "heaven" is a Heathen word, brought into Christianity. The word "soul" ("seola" in Old Saxon) is also Heathen. In terms of uuanga or wanga being quite old, Rudolf Simek believes it is possible that "uuanga" for "meadow" was the proto-Germanic term for Asgard itself. See: Simek Rudolf 2007. Angela Hall trans. Dictionary of Northern Mythology. D.S. Brewer. ISBN 0-85991-513-1 The Biblical words for "heaven" in Hebrew (the Old Testament) is "shamayim" which means "that which is water (in the air)." God invented the world in six days, rested on the seventh day, and separated two expanses of water, one called sky, the other "sea." Water is in the air, and when light shines through it, the sky is blue. Same with clear water in the sea. The Greek word for "heaven" is ouranos which means "sky." Heban (Old Saxon) and Heofan (Old English) are our basis for the word "heaven" in modern English, which clearly do not come into English from Hebrew and Greek, nor biblical thought. The biblical words for "hell" are the Hebrew words "Sheol" for "grave", and the Greek word Hades, which is quite different from the Hebrew word "sheol." Hell is not a Biblical word, but is a Germanic word linguistically tied to the word "hall." In the Bible, "hell" (Hades) are not places where the "evil dead" dwell., though Hades does have dwellers in Greek Mythology. But in the bible, Hell is a lake of fire. When a life (person) is thrown into the lake of fire after judgement, that person ceases to exist. This is called "the second death" in the Bible. (Revelation, 2:11, 20:6, 20:14 and 21:8.) In Christianity (Bible), when someone dies, that person sleeps, until his/her body is resurrected after Christ comes back. (i.e. the Old Testament phrase for death "he slept with his forefathers."). I can't stress enough, in early christian and biblical thought, a person's "spirit" (Greek pneumatos, Hebrew ruach) sleeps at death, until judgement, when the good spirits (people) get eternal life with God, and the others experience the second death, i.e. cease to exist when their spirit and resurrected body are thrown into the lake of fire and burned to nothing. This is why the early church was against burning the bodies of Christian dead, as the bodies receive a resurrection after Christ comes back. Later "popular" christian belief, became when you die you go to heaven or hell immediately, but this is clearly not early christian or biblical belief. Believe it or not, there are some (but not many) Heathen ideals that did transfer into Christianity. This is due to Old Saxon and Old English gospels, written to convert the Saxons and the Anglish to Christianity. These gospels Heathenized Christianity, to make it easier for Heathens to understand a very different religion. The idea of the dead being able to see the world from "heaven's meadow" (hebanuuanga) is Old Saxon and Old English Heathen thought, that is not in the bible. In Heathen thought, the seola (soul) travels via sea (water) to Hel or Hebanuuanga. The seola (soul) gets a sea or boat burial, as the word "seola" and "sea" do have a connection, hence boat burials (at sea and burials of boats in the ground.) The seola journey's to the place of the afterlife (hell or hall in the underworld), or heaven's-meadow "above" in the upper realm. Now you are going to tell me, this sounds like Christian doctrine, as the Norse have "Valhalla" (hall of the fallen), and "hel" or "hell home." While the Eddas and Sagas show an overwhelming use of the word "Valhall" and not "vangr" (for Meadow), both the Eddas show this once former Heathen belief of the dead going to a "wanga" (Old English) "uuanga" (Old Saxon) and "vangr" Old Norse, once in each of the two Eddas. Frigg had a hall (that later became Freyja's) hall. This hall is called "Folkvangr" in the Poetic Edda, and the Prose Edda. The Eddas do show that Odin presided over half of the fallen in Valhall, while his wife Frigg (later Freyja) presided over the other half of the dead in Folkvangr. **** Please see this video by Dr. Jackson Crawford, where he argues that Frigg is older than Freyja, and was at one time, the only one of the two that existed, until over time, in Norse Heathenry only, Freyja grew out of Frigg, and became a separate and distinct deity as presented in the Eddas. Please note Othin married Frigg, and Othr married Freyja. Both Frigg and Freyja had feather coats. (Frigg's feather coat is attested in Prose Edda Skáldskaparmál 18-19). Freyja's husband too is a wanderer, like Othin. Please note that Dr. Crawford also makes clear that place names for Freyja are only found in Scandinavia. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5eN3wNgPARM Back to our subject: Old Saxon "uuanga"; Old English "wanga", and Old Norse "vangr." The Folkvangr in Old Norse corresponds to the earlier Heathen belief, the pre-raiding and sacking of monasteries and other areas, by later "Vikings" that did develop into a hall of the fallen belief system. This belief system, of Valhalla and Ragnarok are absent from Old English and Old Saxon poetry. (Mudspelles is the Old Saxon "end of Middil-yard", and in Old Frankish, the poem Mutspilli, shows the Frankish end of the "world." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muspilli We see other clues, like Snorri's "Sigurblot" for the blot to start summer, which Snorri also calls "Summer-blot". It appears that over time, Norse Heathenry, which developed the most famous raiding culture, evolved, and due to the raiding culture, the afterlife belief changed. Sigurblot means "victory blot", and the blot to start summer then had a raiding focus that may not have been entirely the same earlier. Remember, Norse Heathenry lasted longer than Old English Heathenry (destroyed by 655 AD), and Old Saxon Heathenry (crushed in Saxony with the Saxon Wars of 782-804 AD and the Stellinga Saxon Heathen revolt of 841-842 AD). Old Norse Heathenry, which existed longer, continued to grow, and evolve, and this is why Valhalla and Ragnarok are only attested (like Freyja) in Scandinavia. (Dr. Crawford mentions this too in the above video.) Therefore, after viewing the "vangr" in the Eddas, lets look to the earlier, and older poetry, of the Old Saxons and Old English, to understand earlier Germanic Heathen concepts of the Afterlife: uuanga (or folkvangr), and hel or hellea. Lets first look at the Poetic and Prose Edda, for these glimpses into prior Heathen thought patterns, and then we will compare to Old Saxon Heliand References, which are from circa 830 AD, as in 400 years older than the Eddas. Poetic Edda, Grímnismál: "The ninth is Folkvang, where Freyja decree who shall have seats in the hall; the half of the dead each day does she choose, and half does Othin have. Prose Edda Gylfaginning (24): Njord, in Noatun, afterward begat two children: a son, by name Frey, and a daughter, by name Freyja. They were fair of face, and mighty. Frey is the most famous of the asas. He rules over rain and sunshine, and over the fruits of the earth. It is good to call on him for harvests and peace. He also sways the wealth of men. Freyja is the most famous of the goddesses. She has in heaven a dwelling which is called Folkvang, and when she rides to the battle, one half of the slain belong to her, and the other half to Odin. As is here said: Folkvang it is called, And there rules Freyja. For the seats in the hall Half of the slain She chooses each day; The other half is Odin's." Old Saxon Heliand: An Old Saxon Poem written circa 830 AD, it is 2.5 times the size of the Old English Poem Beowulf. Please note, all the translations and notes in blue are mine from my book (free) on Old Saxon Heathenry: "Aldsidu: Old Saxon Heathenry for Today."
Please note, Old Norse literature also has a meadow in "Asgard" called Idavollr or Ithavoll. In Norse Heathenry, Asgard was the throne of the king of the gods, Odin. This throne was called Hlidskjalf, and it was set in a beautiful meadow called Ithavoll. Idavoll, is where the Ese (Aesir) meet to decide important issues. (See Voluspa, multiple occurrences, especially verse 60). Therefore, the idea of "halls" in a meadow is not foreign to the Norse/Icelandic Eddas either.
This passage of the Old Saxon Heliand, verses 944-948, shows that there were "realms", at least one above, and at least one below. Hel or Hellea being the lower home, while the hevenuuang is the "upper home".
The Old Saxon Heliand, verses 1001-1003:
The Old Saxon Heliand, verses 1298-1304, showing that Paradise was in the Hevanuuanga:
The Old Saxon Heliand, showing the word "uuang" as its own word, not the compound word "hevanuuanga" (verses 31304-3136):
As a Saxon Heathen, I am not as familiar with Old English as I am with Old Saxon. However, Old English does use the word "wanga" by itself as well as the neorxna-wanga". https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neorxnawang This link is excellent on giving the basics of the Old English neorxnawang. Please visit us in the Facebook group: Saxon Heathenry, and visit our page Germanic Heathenry.