So, as noted, my sinus cavities appear to be trying to kill me, which does not make it easy to compose responses to some very nice comments in the post where I asked for help with the afterlife for the story.
So I'm just going to post where I'm at at the moment when it comes to the ... can't think of the word. Theology? world building?
Metaphysics, that's it. Where I'm at at the moment when it comes to the metaphysics of the story.
(worldbuilding spoilers, so if you really want the mystery of the story world to remain a mystery until revealed in the story, don't read)
First off, an important note: An American bad guy did stuff using a garbled mishmash of mostly Germanic magic. The only important thing to take away from the previous sentence is "deadly cold (northern hemisphere) winter".
The world is made up of competing forces that interact in a way that creates cycles. When things are working properly.
Light and dark and with them hot and cold are such forces. In the autumn (it's a Halloween story, recall) light is giving way to dark, hot is giving way to cold. The days are getting shorter and shorter (winter may be the coldest, but in winter the days grow longer, so there' built in hope.) The sun is leaving and maybe we'll all freeze and plants will never again photosynthesize and ... bad things.
But of course that doesn't happen. Dark gives way to light, followed eventually by cold giving way to heat.
Life and death are joined in a cycle too, life leads to decay leads to regrowth, leads to pretty pretty mushrooms.
When everything goes wrong is when things try to break the cycles.
Hell Hounds/Death Dogs/Big Black Dogs Of Doom and Dismay are a very common motif, so I decided to put them in, and they're basically just embodied forces of death that are not being counterbalanced by any forces of life. They're very much not ordinary biological dogs. (Though there totally could be dead dogs amoung the draugr.)
The shadows that are too dark and too large, and also too cold, are absences. Dark = absence of light, cold = absence of heat. One character will describe them as the absence of heat, light and life. The key thing is that they're rebelling against having to yeild in the face of light and heat and whatnot.
They're dark that wants to exist without light, cold that wants to exist without warmth.
The draugar themselves are, I think, a fairly decent adaptation of the origin idea with a fair amount of artistic licence thrown in. They're things that don't want to move on beyond this life. They're not letting their bodies feed the crows.
Their refusal to abandon their bodies means that decay isn't followed by regrowth because holding onto the bodies traps the bodies in a state of decay without being able to move on to the point of being fertilizer or food.
The mushrooms that define the landscape, however, are the other side of the spectrum. They're forces of decay, yes, but they're also macroscopic examples of regrowth. They are the cycle of life continuing in a world that is trying to slam the breaks on that cycle in the death and decay state.
That makes them the good guys by default since they stand in opposition to the rejection of natural cycles that's been cataclysmic to the world.
I haven't put a lot of thought into the place insects occupy, but they'd probably be in the same area. Crows definitely would. They're something were you can see (with your fallible human eyes and without a required prerequisite of info on how the world works) death turning over into life. The dead things they eat become, by being eaten, food. Food that allows the crows to live. Thus they convert death to life. They're agents of the cycle that's being opposed by the bad things.
The bad things are things that are either halting the cycle (individuals who refuse to abandon their body after death and thus don't let it be used to fuel future life) or overpowering one part of the cycle (deterioration is turned up to 11, death was doing just fine getting things killed without a horde of death dogs on the loose.)
The good things are things that are continuing the cycle (mushrooms, crows, decomposition related insects I guess)
And it happens to be the case that decomposition, darkness, and cold are the things being furthered by the bad things, but it would be equally bad if things were the other way around. Especially on the dark and cold front. (Light is searing, light is harsh, get me sunglasses. And I have had some really bad heat induced experiences in my life.)
So that's sort of where things stand at the moment.
If at all possible I do want to work in evil sentient leaf piles that ... I'm not sure. How would an evil sentient leaf pile kill? Would it compost individuals it engulfed or something?
Also, since crows were brought up, my initial thought was that we couldn't have them since this is a cold doomish day scenario and it was crow who brought fire from the creator so life would not perish in snowy cold (look up "rainbow crow".)
But that's silly, it was never the intention to have everything unleashed and/or empowered be bad. Spesifically the opposite. The Toadstool people, if I ever make it that far, will be perfectly nice helpful people who simply immigrated to earth when conditions were able to support them.
So still looking for ways to knit this together into a coherent whole, still looking for ideas on good and bad afterlife things, and still looking for ideas on what the "death and decay and refusal to let this shit be used by the next people in line" area of the afterlife should look like.