When a loved one passes away, they begin their journey to the underworld, which is known in Fyrnsidu as Hell. While it may share a name with the Christian realm of eternal torture, it is actually named after the goddess who rules over this realm of the dead. Just as they did with the Greek Hades and the Hebrew Sheol, Christianity took the Old English word Hell to describe their afterlife of eternal punishment. Fyrnsidere (followers of Fyrnsidu) believe that the pre-Christian Hell of the Anglo-Saxons is far different than the hell of Christianity. It is here where the dead are reunited with those loved ones who preceded them in death. It is a world much like our own, but without suffering, illness, or aging.
When we speak of our ancestors, while we are generally speaking of those to whom we are related, we may also include individuals to whom we have no blood relation at all. In modern Heathenry there is a concept known as ancestors of heart (also known as ancestors of deed); these are people who have passed on who have had a large impact on our lives. This could be a teacher who inspired us to take our lives in a new direction, or a family friend who was close enough to be considered actual family. Many Fyrnsidere choose to honor these people alongside their biological or adoptive ancestors.
Fyrnsidu teaches that our ancestors in Hell remain important and we are still connected to them in many ways. They may continue to exert influence over the world of the living, watch over the loved ones they left behind, and even offer their guidance and wisdom to us. Some Fyrnsidere believe that our ancestors may even return to this world to act as guardians for their descendants. Others believe that they stay in Hell but will joyfully greet us upon our arrival in that realm after death. Within Fyrnsidu there are several beliefs regarding the ancestors, but in every one they are worthy of remembrance and veneration to some degree.
Just like with the gods, we give prayers and offerings to our ancestors. This not only strengthens our relationship with them, but shows them that we continue to love and think about them. We can offer to them individually (especially the ones that we knew in life), or they can be prayed to collectively as a group. The ritual to do so is essentially the same as when we offer to the gods; only the words we use are different.
Here is a sample prayer:
Great ancestors, those who came before,
Those without whom I would not be here today,
I come before you today in gratitude.
I am thankful for all that you have given me. For all the wisdom that has been passed on to me from time immemorial, your wisdom still guides me. Continue to watch over me, that I may make you proud.
I offer to you this gift of [whatever you’re offering].
With this gift, I seek to strengthen our bond and to honor your memory.
May it be well received.