VALKYRIES , supernatural female figures of Norse myth and literature, share many features with the dísir, fylgjur, hamingjur, Norns, and landvættir in the extant texts, and there is little terminological consistency. A primary function of the valkyries is indicated by the etymology of the word valkyrja, a compound of valr (carrion) and a nomen agentis based on the verb kyrja (to choose). Regarded as the maidens of Óðinn, the valkyries chose who was to die in battle and brought the chosen ones to him in Valhǫll, where they joined the einherjar, Óðinn's warriors. Valkyries rode through the air, bore weapons, and could be fierce in appearance, although they may have been shape-changers. Their personal names ordinarily make reference to battle. In Valhǫll, valkyries served mead to the einherjar, a scene perhaps portrayed on the Ardre VIII picture stone (Gotland, Sweden; eighth century) and elsewhere. Sometimes, however, valkyries protected heroes in battle, a characteristic shared with the fylgjur. The valkyrie Sigrdrífa of the Eddic poem Sigrdrífumál may be associated with healing, which suggests the matronae of early Germanic religion. Like the Norns, valkyries weave fate in the poem Darraarljóð. There is also confusion with human or semidivine heroines, and in one heroic cycle a valkyrie is twice reborn in different identities.
Given the existence of the matronae in ancient Germanic times, the general prominence of male gods and the relative importance of the Æsir over the Vanir in Norse mythology, it seems apparent that female figures were of greater importance in Germanic religion than Norse mythology would indicate. Scholars have regarded the valkyries as derived from earlier goddesses of death or perhaps a fertility cult, but their association with Óðinn may be ancient and primary. If so, believers may once have attributed to valkyries shape-changing powers and the ecstatic "sending" of their spirits.
Nils Lid discusses the various female figures of Scandinavian religion in the section "Valkyrjer og diser" of his "Gudar og gudedyrking," in Religionshistoria, edited by Nils Lid (Oslo, 1954). Folke Ström's Diser, norner, valkyrjor (Stockholm, 1954) treats three of these groups and argues for association with a fertility cult and sacral kingship. Useful studies of the literary valkyrie are those of Lise Præstgaard Andersen, Skjøldmøer—en kvindemyte (Copenhagen, 1982) and Helen Damico, Beowulf's Wealhtheow and the Valkyrie Tradition (Madison, Wis., 1984).
John Lindow (1987 and 2005)
Female spirits in Norse mythology , the Valkyries were servants of the god Odin (pronounced OH-din). Originally, the Valkyries were fierce creatures who took part in battles and devoured bodies of the dead on battlefields. They later emerged as beautiful female warriors—clad in armor on horseback—who rode over battlefields selecting the bravest slain warriors to enter Valhalla , Odin's great hall in Asgard (pronounced AHS-gahrd). During battles the Valkyries carried out Odin's commands, bringing either victory or defeat according to his wishes. After leading slain warriors to Valhalla, the Valkyries waited on them, serving them food and drink, while they awaited their time to do battle once again at Ragnarok (pronounced RAHG-nuh-rok), the final battle between the gods and their enemies.
In several myths, the Valkyries appeared as giant beings with supernatural powers who could cause a rain of blood to fall upon the land, or who rowed ships across the sky on rivers of blood. Some Valkyries caused warriors to die, while others served as protectors, guarding the lives of those most dear to them. Valkyries were often shown as wives of heroes. Brunhilde (pronounced BROON-hilt), one of the most famous Valkyries in mythology, disobeyed Odin and was placed in an enchanted sleep within a wall of fire as punishment.
Valkyries in Context
Although the origin of the myth of the Valkyries is not known, some historians believe that they may reflect religious rituals among the early Norse people. The worship of Odin was sometimes carried out through human sacrifices, with the most likely victims being fallen enemy warriors. Some believe that these sacrifices may have been performed by female priests; in later centuries, stories of these women could have evolved into the legend of the Valkyries. This would explain the main function of the Valkyries: leading fallen warriors from the battlefield to the afterlife.
Key Themes and Symbols
One of the central themes in the legend of the Valkyries is the rewarding of bravery on the battlefield. This is ultimately the main purpose of the Valkyries, as they choose the best warriors to reside in Valhalla until the coming of Ragnarok. In addition, Valkyries may have represented the typical Norseman's view of the ideal woman: brave and independent, yet also beautiful and willing to be a servant to men.
Valkyries in Art, Literature, and Everyday Life
While Valkyries do not appear frequently in older Norse art, the image of the warrior maiden captured the imagination of nineteenth-century painters such as Peter Nicolai Arbo and Edward Robert Hughes. The German composer Richard Wagner based part of his opera cycle The Ring of the Nibelung on the legend of Brunhilde. One of the most famous pieces of music from the entire opera cycle—and indeed, one of the most readily recognized pieces of all classical music—is popularly known as “The Ride of the Valkyries.” Valkyrie was also the name of a superheroine in the Marvel Comics Universe, and Valkyries—or similar warrior maidens who make use of the name—have appeared in numerous video games, such as The Legend of Valkyrie and Valkyrie Profile.
Read, Write, Think, Discuss
Valkyries are often described as “warrior maidens.” In Greek mythology , the Amazons were also warrior maidens. Using your library, the Internet, or other available resources, research both Valkyries and Amazons. How are they similar or different? What do you think these myths suggest about the role of women in Norse and Greek societies?
Female spirits in Norse* mythology, the Valkyries were servants of the god Odin*. Originally, the Valkyries were fierce creatures who took part in battles and devoured bodies of the dead on battlefields. They later emerged as beautiful female warriors—clad in armor on horseback—who rode over battlefields selecting the bravest slain warriors to enter Valhalla*, Odin's great hall in Asgard. During battles the Valkyries carried out Odin's commands, bringing either victory or defeat according to his wishes. After leading slain warriors to Valhalla, the Valkyries waited on them, serving them food and drink.
supernatural related to forces beyond the normaf world; magical or miraculous
In several myths, the Valkyries appeared as giant beings with supernatural powers who could cause a rain of blood to fall upon the land or row ships across the sky on rivers of blood. Some Valkyries caused warriors to die, while others served as protectors, guarding the lives of those most dear to them. Valkyries were often shown as wives of heroes. Brunhilde, one of the most famous Valkyries in mythology, disobeyed Odin and was placed in an enchanted sleep within a wall of fire as punishment.
See also Brunhilde; Norse Mythology; Odin; Valhalla.
Val·kyr·ie / valˈki(ə)rē; ˈvalkərē/ • n. Scandinavian Mythol. each of Odin's twelve handmaidens who conducted the slain warriors of their choice from the battlefield to Valhalla.