It was these kinds of activities that people found so fearful and they even went as far as dismembering and decapitating bodies after death as to prevent them becoming reanimated. The undead were not simply a part of folklore, but a phenomenon that was thoroughly believed in and accepted as accurate.
It even appears that the undead were able to lead rich and fruitful lives. In the cases of the undead giving offerings during religious ceremonies, there is the implication that they had the capability to own possessions and material items. Material wealth was able to pass through from one life to another. While in Eyrbyggja’s Saga, there is mention of the dead engaging in feasts in the mountains. This has since become part of an established narrative that the dead form complex and busy communities, as demonstrated through a crowd’s conversation with Reyneke, another historically notable revenant, who explained that the life of the undead is not too dissimilar to that of the living, they eat, drink, marry, sow, and reap.
“the life of the undead is not too dissimilar to that of the living, they eat, drink, marry, sow, and reap.”
Historically immortality has had a difficult and contrasting place in society. The Medieval undead were eerie beings whose existence provoked fears of one’s own mortality. There were those that were there to terrorise, while others existed in their own societies neither accepted in this world nor that of the dead. Perhaps as society progresses, technology develops, we age and seek out immortality as our own we can look back to time periods in which life after death was completely accepted and understand the complexities surrounding the creed of immortality. In this light, perhaps immortality is not something we should be desiring or striving for as a society. As much as the process of death is painful for those who have yet to pass, it gives us purpose and direction in life; it pushes us to achieve our goals, maintain and build meaningful relationships with those around us, it makes us appreciate being alive.
First published Online, January 2021. Volume 16, Issue 2. Image: Danse Macabre, Michael Wolgemunt 1493