Bridge of Souls
Bridge of Souls
The superstition that the souls of the dead crossed to the other world by means of a bridge is widely disseminated. Rev. S. Baring-Gould stated in A Book of Folklore (1913): "As peoples became more civilised and thought more deep-ly of the mystery of death, they conceived of a place where the souls lived on, and being puzzled to account for the rainbow, came to the conclusion that it was a bridge by means of which spirits mounted to their abode above the clouds. The Milky Way was called variously the Road of the Gods or the Road of Souls. Among the Norsemen, after Odin had constructed his heavenly palace, aided by the dwarfs, he reared the bridge Bifrost, which men call the rainbow, by which it could be reached. It is of three colours; that in the middle is red, and is of fire, to consume any unworthy souls that would venture up the bridge. In connection with this idea of a bridge uniting heaven and earth, up which souls ascended, arose the custom of persons constructing bridges for the good souls of their kinsfolk. On runic grave-stones in Denmark and Sweden we find such inscriptions as these: 'Nageilfr had this bridge built for Anund, his good son.' 'The mother built the bridge for her only son.' 'Holdfast had the bridge constructed for Hame, his father, who lived in Viby.' 'Holdfast had the road made for Igul and for Ura, his dear wife.' At Sundbystein, in the Uplands, is an inscription showing that three brothers and sisters erected a bridge over a ford for their father.
"The bridge as a means of passage for the soul from this earth to eternity must have been known also to the Ancients for in the cult of Demeter, the goddess of Death, at Eleusis, where her mysteries were gone through, in order to pass at once after death into Elyisium, there was an order of Bridge priestesses; and the goddess bore the name of the Lady of the Bridge. In Rome also the priest was a bridge-builder pontifex, as he undertook the charge of souls. In Austria and parts of Germany it is still supposed that children's souls are led up the rainbow to heaven. Both in England and among the Chinese it is regarded as a sin to point with the finger at the bow. With us no trace of the idea that it is a Bridge of Souls remains. Probably this was thought to be a heathen belief and was accordingly forbidden, for children in the North of England to this day when a rainbow appears, make a cross on the ground with a couple of twigs or straws, 'to cross out the bow.' The West Riding recipe for driving away a rainbow is: 'Make a cross of two sticks and lay four pebbles on it, one at each end."'
(See also Brig of Dread )