A Pagan View of the Afterlife

pagan view of the afterlife

I have found when people are curious about Paganism, one of the first things they ask is “What do you believe happens when you die?” It’s a valid question and seems to be important to people. So here is an outline of a very generalized Pagan view on the afterlife.

Before I get started, I would just like to point out that there is no single or set doctrine among Wiccans when it comes to the details of the afterlife. Some other Pagan paths do have a more specific mythology about it, which I mention in more detail at the end of this page.

Most Wiccans believe in reincarnation. Our souls come back lifetime after lifetime, to learn new lessons and to grow as individuals. Between lives, our souls reside in the Summerlands. It’s neither heaven nor hell, but a place for our souls to rest and reflect on the experiences of completed lives. You may be reunited with loved ones as well. What happens after many lifetimes and when we have learned all we can on this earthly existence? I really have no idea.

People who are unfamiliar with Wicca tend to see the lack of heaven or hell as an indication that we live our lives without responsibility or without ethical direction. We may not consider ourselves doomed to suffer for an eternity in a Christian hell, but we certainly believe that there are consequences to our earthly actions.

Those who do bad things, will find their punishment or consequences in another lifetime. Karma follows a soul from life to life. Our fates are not determined by any one single action, but rather by the overall accumulation of actions throughout our lives. Though Karma is more of an Eastern spiritual concept, many Wiccans and witches have adopted various ideas about it.

Since many Wiccans are influenced by the pantheons they work with, their views of the afterlife may come from the culture or mythology they work with. In other words, if you are Wiccan but work with Norse Deities, you may feel more drawn to the idea of Asgard rather than the Summerlands, even though you are not truly following an overall Asatru path.

Asatru / Norse

The realm of the Gods is called Asgard, and worthy souls go there after death. There are many great halls in Asgard, each one owned by one of the many Gods and Goddesses. The greatest of these is Valhalla, the hall of Odin, where fallen warriors go after honorable death in battle. Those who did not live a life of glory would go to the underworld Niflheim, ruled over by the Goddess Hel. Niflheim is a dull and cold place, where you would be separated from your kin. Reincarnation does exist, but not all souls are reborn, and it’s typically found within a family line, reflecting the importance of family and ancestors.

Kemetic / Egyptian

After death, a soul would have to journey to the Hall of Judgment. There, the heart is weighed on a scale against the feather of Ma’at (Goddess of truth and justice), by the God Anubis. If you lived a sinful life, the heart would be heavy on the scale, that soul could not enter paradise and would be devoured by the monster Ammut. The ancient Egyptians believed that the physical body was needed in the afterlife, which is why such elaborate means were taken to preserve the body through mummification.

Hellenismos / Greek

The dead would be buried with coins, to pay the ferryman to cross the river Styx and enter the underworld. Once there, worthy souls would enter the Elysian Fields (paradise). Unworthy souls were sent to Tartarus for punishment. But even then, a soul could earn redemption and rise to paradise. There was also a region of limbo, called Asphodel for the souls neither good enough for the Elysian Fields or bad enough for Tartarus. The judges at the gates of Hades would decide the fate of your soul, or whether you would be reincarnated into another life.