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Valhǫll

VALHǪLL

VALHǪLL is the hall of Óðinn (Odin) in Norse mythology. The fullest descriptions of it are found in the Prose Edda (c. 12201230) of the Icelandic mythographer Snorri Sturluson and in the Eddic poem Grímnismál (Lay of Grímnir), one of Snorri's main sources; tenth-century skaldic poems also make particular use of the conception. These and other texts describe Valhǫll as a stately palace, with a roof of shields and spears. A wolf hangs by the west portal and an eagle droops above; both these animals are associated with Óðinn, the god of the spear, and their actions recall his self-sacrifice. Valhǫll had 540 doors, through each of which 800 warriors could pass at once. (These numbers probably employ the Germanic long hundred and should be read as 640 and 960, respectively.)

Valhǫll served specifically as a hall for the einherjar, the dead warriors of Óðinn. These chosen heroes were fetched from the battlefield by valkyries, who also served them mead in Valhǫll, a scene probably reflected on such picture stones as the eighth-century Ardre VIII from Gotland, Sweden. Legendary heroes, human kings, and even the god of poetry, Bragi, are numbered among the einherjar in Valhǫll. The god Baldr's arrival is mentioned once, although the mythology usually associates him with Hel. The einherjar spend their days in endless combat, but in the evenings they join in reconciliation for feasting and drinking. The boar Sæhrímnir is boiled each day for their food but is restored again each night. Mead runs from the udders of the goat Heiðrún. She stands above Valhǫll, feeding on the foliage of Læráðr (Yggdrasill), the World Tree. The stag Eikþyrnir also chews on the tree; from his horns fluid runs into Hvergelmir, the Well of Wisdom, and thence into mighty rivers. The proximity of the tree and well suggests that Valhǫll is located at or near the center of the world.

The einherjar (those belonging to one army, or splendid warriors) share a special relationship with Óðinn. Called his óskasynir (adopted sons, or beloved sons), they are his retainers, destined to fight with him in the final battle at Ragnarǫk. This relationship may be the key to the religious background of Valhǫll. Some scholars have sought this background in ecstatic cults of Óðinn, characterized by initiation into warrior bands (perhaps secret cult groups that used animal masks). Valhǫll would then represent a mythic projection of the Germanic chieftain's hall, and the activities within would be a similar projection of the warrior life. Certainly other sources emphasize the ritual importance of feasting and drinking.

Many scholars believe that the Norse sources express a late development of conceptions of Valhǫll, appropriate particularly to the warrior elite of the Viking age. At an earlier period, Valhǫll may have simply indicated a grave mound. Supporting this notion is the Icelandic conception of a local mountain inhabited by dead family members; the sagas report that feasting was occasionally glimpsed within. Furthermore, in Sweden, certain rocks associated with the dead are called valhall. If this explanation is correct, valhǫll (carrion hall) may actually be derived from valhallr (carrion rock, or carrion hill,). Since val - may also mean "foreign," valhǫll might also denote "foreign hall," and the term is used of kings' halls in the Eddic poem Atlakviða.

See Also

Baldr; Eddas; Óðinn; Snorri Sturluson.

Bibliography

The standard treatment of Valhǫll remains that of Gustav Neckel, Walhall : Studien über germanischen Jenseitsglauben (Dortmund, Germany, 1913). Franz Rolf Schröder's Germanentum und Hellenismus (Heidelberg, Germany, 1924) discusses the development of the concept of Valhǫll under Middle Eastern influence; for instance, he points out that the sacred number 432,000 is the product of the 540 doors multiplied by the 800 warriors. In an important article, "Valhall med de mange dørrer," originally published in 1931 and reprinted in his Norrøne studier (Oslo, 1938), Magnus Olsen argues for Roman influence in the form of amphitheaters, perhaps even the Colosseum; there, crowds surged through many doors, warriors fought regularly, and the emperor presided, not unlike a god. On ecstatic cults of Óðinn, see Otto Höfler's Kultische Geheimbünde der Germanen (Frankfurt am Main, Germany, 1934); this volume is all that appeared of a projected two-volume work. In her Prolonged Echoes, vol. 1, The Myths (Odense, Denmark, 1992), pp. 253 ff, Margaret Clunies Ross discusses the picture of what she calls the "Valhǫll complex" in Snorri Sturluson's Edda as an attempt to portray Óðinn as warrior chieftain in charge of a warrior elite. Ann-Lili Nielsen, "Hedniska kultoch offerhandlingar i Borg," in Religion från stenålder till medeltid, edited by Kerstin Engdahl and Anders Kaliff (Linköping, Sweden, 1996), discusses cult activities in the chieftain's farm found in Lofoten, Norway, some of which may be relevant to notions of Valhǫll.

John Lindow (1987 and 2005)

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