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 deeply
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)