Ibn Fadhlan also witnessed the practice of Viking boat burial. The dead chieftain was placed in a grave for ten days accompanied by fruit, beer and a lute. If a man was poor, then a modest boat would be made for his funeral; his corpse would be placed in it and the both of them burned on a pyre. A wealthy man's worldly possessions would be split three ways: a third was left for his family, a third for the cost of his grave clothes, and the other third for making beer for the funeral. On his death, his family would demand a volunteer from among their slaves to die with their master. Once the slave, usually female, had consented, there was no turning back. While the clothes were made for the dead chieftain, the condemned slave would be attended by two other slaves whose tasks included washing her feet. She would drink and sing as though happy to be going to the other world. As the female spirit or Valkyrie was believed to greet the dead warrior in Valhalla with a drinking horn, so the female slave was to accompany her master across the divide between the two worlds, that of the living and the dead.
On the day of the funeral the dead chieftain's boat was hauled up on to dry land. A wooden scaffold was then set up around it. A bier was then carried to the site and put on the boat. There was a mistress of ceremonies, an old woman called by the Vikings the Angel Of Death'. Fadhlan describes her as a strapping woman, massively built and austere of countenance'. Byzantine carpets and silk cushions were brought in, and she arranged the cushions on top of the bier. The scene was now set for the corpse to be carried to the funeral site. The body was dug up and the wooden coffin removed. The corpse, which had turned black due to the freezing conditions, was then stripped of the clothes in which the chieftain had died. Both these clothes and the items that had been placed in this temporary resting place were discarded.
The corpse was then dressed in the newly made clothes a sable fur cap, a tunic and cloak with gold buttons and other fancy trappings. Once he was fully dressed, he was carried over to where the boat lay and placed inside a tent on top of it. Fresh fruit and beer were placed around the body along with aromatic herbs, bread, meat and onions. The next stage in the proceedings consisted of a series of animal sacrifices. The first to be dispatched was a dog, which was cut in two and then cast into the boat. Two horses were slaughtered with swords after they had been ridden into a sweat, and then also cut up and placed in the ship. Two cows and a cock and a hen were similarly sacrificed and their carcasses thrown in.
While these sacrificial preparations were taking place, the female slave who was soon to die went into the tent of each and every Viking freeman to have sexual intercourse with them. Each of them would say to her: Tell your master that I do this thing for the love of him.' The girl was then taken to a wooden structure rather like a door frame, and was lifted up by the Viking men who were present so that her eye level was above the top of the frame. She said something that Ibn Fadhlan could not understand, then she was lifted up again twice more, each time speaking different words. She then cut the head off a hen and cast it into the boat. Ibn Fadhlan asked his interpreter what had been said, and was told that the first time she had cried out: Look. I see my father and mother.' The second time: Behold, I see my dead relatives seated around.' And finally: Behold! I see my master in Paradise, and Paradise is green and fair, and with him are men and young boys. He is callingme. Let me go to him!'
She was now prepared to die. She took off the two bracelets she was wearing and gave them to the Angel of Death whose task it was to kill her. She also removed her two finger rings and gave them to the daughters of her executioner. The girl was taken into the ship but was not yet allowed to enter the tent. She drank two cups of beer and sang her goodbyes. She tarried too long over her swan song and the Angel of Death had to hurry her along, firmly putting her in the tent and following her in. Then the gathered Viking men began to make a fearful noise by beating their shields with sticks. Ibn Fadhlan tells us that this was done to drown out the cries of the victim, in case her screams put off other girls from volunteering themselves as sacrifices in the future. Six men then entered the tent and had sexual intercourse with her. After this she was laid down by the side of her dead master. Two of the men held her hands, while another two held her feet and the others held the twoends of a rope that the Angel of Death had put round her neck. As the rope was tightened to strangulation point, the old woman stabbed the girl repeatedly in the chest.
After this human sacrifice had been made, the dead man's closest relative set fire to the pile of wood that had been placed under the ship. The ship and all its contents, the sacrificial bodies of the animals and the girl along with the tent and the dead chieftain's richly garbed body, were all soon engulfed in flames and, according to Viking belief, the man and his slave were transported to the pagan paradise of Valhalla.