Marianne Hem Eriksen

Mortuary practices could vary almost indefinitely in the Viking Age. Within a theoretical framework of ritualization and architectural philosophy, this article explores how doors and thresholds were used in mortuary practice and ritual behaviour.

The door is a deep metaphor for transition, transformation and liminality. It is argued that Viking Age people built ‘doors to the dead’ of various types, such as freestanding portals, causewayed ring-ditches or thresholds to grave mounds; or on occasion even buried their dead in the doorway.

The paper proposes that the ritualized doors functioned in three ways: they created connections between the dead and the living; they constituted boundaries and thresholds that could possibly be controlled; and they formed between-spaces, expressing liminality and, conceivably, deviance.

Ultimately, the paper underlines the profound impact of domestic architecture on mortuary practice and ritual behaviour in the Viking Age.

This article discusses how the power of the door was utilized by Viking Age communities to obtain contact with the dead in the Otherworld, materially and metaphorically. Doors and thresholds are near-universal expressions of social transformation, boundaries, and liminality.
The main topic of the article is the practice of echoing domestic architecture, specifically doors, in mortuary contexts in Viking Age Scandinavia (A.D. 750–1050; for an overview of sites mentioned in the text, see figure 1).

It is suggested that the door could create an access point between the world of the living and the world of the dead, where the dead could be approached. Creating ritualized doors in mortuary contexts can be understood as one of multiple ritual strategies in a society with diverse cultic traditions, rooted in practice rather than dogma.
Interaction with the dead was achieved through ritualized practices, by ritualized bodies, in a highly ritualized environment. Thus the ‘door to the dead’ constitutes an excellent case study for exploring
ritualization (Bell 1992).
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