Valkyrie

In Norse mythology the valkyries (Old Norse "Valkyrja" "Choosers of the Slain") are "dísir", minor female deities, who served Odin. The valkyries' purpose was to determine the victors of battles and wars, and to choose the most heroic of those who had died in battle. Freyja, called Mistress of the slain ("Valfreyja") and of the Valkyries in general ["Njáls saga", or "Brennu-Njáls saga", The Story of the burning of Njáll.] , chose half of these fallen heroes for her hall Fólkvangr. [ The Prose Edda, Gylfaginning. The Poetic Edda, Grímnismál.] [Grimm, Jacob. Deutsche Mythologie (1835) S. Stallybras transl. (2004) "Teutonic Mythology", Dover Publications ISBN 0-486-43615-2.] The rest went to Valhalla where they became einherjar. This was necessary because Odin needed warriors to fight at his side at the preordained battle at the end of the world, Ragnarök. In Valhalla the valkyries also “serve drink and look after the tableware and drinking vessels” (Prose Edda "Gylfaginning" 36).

It appears, however, that there was no clear distinction between the valkyries and the norns. Skuld is for instance both a valkyrie and a norn, and in the "Darraðarljóð" (lines 1–52), the valkyries weave the web of war (see below). According to the Prose Edda ("Gylfaginning" 36), “Odin sends "the valkyries" to every battle. They allot death to men and govern victory. Gunnr and Róta "two valkyries" and the youngest norn, called Skuld, always ride to choose who shall be slain and to govern the killings”.

Moreover, artistic licence permitted the name Valkyrie to be used for mortal women in Old Norse poetry, or to quote Snorri Sturluson's "Skáldskaparmál" on the various names used for women:

"Woman is also metaphorically called by the names of the Asynjur or the Valkyrs or Norns or women of supernatural kind." [http://www.northvegr.org/lore/prose/141144.php "Skáldskaparmál"] in translation by Arthur Gilchrist Brodeur (1916), at Northvegr.]

Recent research has discussed the relation between the myths associated with valkyries and norns, on the one hand, and the actual travelling Völvas ("seiðr"-workers), on the other hand, in particular, women who visited newborn children in the pre-Christian Norse societies. [ [http://thorewing.net/books/godsandworshippers/page2/ "Gods and Worshippers in the Viking and Germanic world", Tempus Publishing, 2008.] ]

Etymology

The word "valkyrie" comes from the Old Norse "valkyrja" (pl. "valkyrjar"), from the words "valr" "the battle-slain" and "kyrja" "chooser" (from "kørinn, korinn", the participe of the verb "kjósa", "to choose"); [ [ http://www.vaidilute.com/books/munch/munch-contents.html P.A. Munch (1926). "Norse Mythology: Legends of Gods and Heroes." The American-Scandinavian Foundation: New York.] ] it therefore literally means "chooser of the slain". [ [http://www.northvegr.org/northern/book/disir003.php] . Guardians and Weavers of Vyrd.] It is cognate to the Old English "wælcyrige". The modern German form "Walküre" appears in the first translations of the Poetic Edda (von der Hagen, 1812, Brothers Grimm, 1815, and Karl Joseph Simrock, 1851). [ [http://de.wikisource.org/wiki/Lieder-Edda "Die Edda" (Wikisource, in German)] ] These works provided part of the material used by Richard Wagner in his cycle The Ring of the Nibelung, [Roberta Frank (2005). "Wagner's Ring, North-by-Northwest", University of Toronto Quarterly, vol. 74, pp. 671-676.] which immortalized the term in the opera Die Walküre, whose lyrics were sketched in 1852-1853. [Stanley R. Hauer (1991). "Wagner and the Völospá" (sic), 19th-Century Music, vol. 15, pp. 52-63.]

Depictions

[

"The Valkyrie's Vigil", by the Pre-Raphaelite painter Edward Robert Hughes. Hughes down-plays the warrior aspect of the valkyrie, depicting instead a beautiful young woman in an ethereal dress. Her armor is present, but set aside and her weapon is held by the blade, unready for combat.] In modern art, the valkyries are sometimes depicted as beautiful shieldmaidens on winged horses, armed with helmets and spears. However, "valkyrie horse" was a kenning for wolf (see Rök Stone), so contrary to the stereotype, they did not ride winged horses. This would suggest that their mounts were rather the packs of wolves that frequented the corpses of dead warriors. They were gruesome and war-likeFact|date=December 2007.

Whereas the wolf was the valkyrie's mount, the valkyrie herself appears to be akin to the raven, flying over the battlefield and "choosing" corpses [ [http://www.vikinganswerlady.com/valkyrie.htm Viking Answer Lady Webpage - Valkyries, Wish-Maidens, and Swan-Maids ] ] . Thus, the packs of wolves and ravens that scavenged the aftermath of battles may have been seen as serving a higher purpose.

According to Thomas Bulfinch's highly influential work "Bulfinch's Mythology" (1855), the armour of the valkyries "sheds a strange flickering light, which flashes up over the northern skies, making what men call the 'Aurora Borealis', or 'Northern Lights'. [ [http://www.mythome.org/bxxxviii.html Bullfinch's Mythology ] ] " However, there is nothing in our sources which supports this claim [ [http://www.vikinganswerlady.com/njordrljos.htm Viking Answer Lady Webpage - The Aurora Borealis and the Vikings ] ] , except for the arrival of the Valkyries in "Helgakviða Hundingsbana I":

In "Völuspá" there are still more names.

As can be seen from the above, several of the names exist in different versions. Many of them have a readily apparent warlike meaning - "Hjörþrimul", for example, means "battle of swords" while "Geirahöð" means "battle of spears".

To what an extent this multitude of names ever represented individual mythological beings with separate characteristics is debatable. It is likely that many of them were never more than names and in any case only a few occur in extant myths.

Connections with Freyja

In "Gylfaginning" of the Prose Edda and the poem "Grimnismál" of the Poetic Edda, it is said that Freyja receives half of the slain heroes in her hall Fólkvangr, however there are no descriptions about life at Fólkvangr, at least not in surviving tales.

In "Skáldskaparmál", Freyja is called "Possessor of the Slain" (Eidandi Valfalls), and in Njal's Saga, another title of Freyja is mentioned: "Valfreyja" "Mistress of the Chosen", and Mistress of the Valkyries in general [Grimm's "Teutonic Mythology and Folklore", Chapter XIII.] (cf. Valfadir, Valkyrja).

Snorri Sturluson wrote that "whenever she rides into battles, she gets half of the slain, and Odin half" (The Prose Edda, "Gylfaginning" (24)) . Freyja is also called Vanadís, which suggests that she is related to the dísir. Like the Valkyries, Freyja also sometimes pours the wine at banquets of the Æsir (The Prose Edda, "Skáldskaparmál" (17)).

Modern perception

Richard Wagner incorporated Norse tales that included the valkyrie Brünnhilde (Brynhildr) and her punishment and subsequent love for the warrior Siegfried (Sigurðr) into his opera cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen. This masterpiece includes his opera "Die Walküre", which contains the well known "Ride of the Valkyries", as well as three others, "Das Rheingold", "Siegfried" and "Götterdämmerung". These depictions and others have subsequently led to modern representations of valkyries less as figures of death and warfare and more commonly as romanticized, pristine white and gold clad figures riding winged horses.

ee also

*Dísir
*Fylgja
*Grendel's mother
*Norns
*Shieldmaiden
*Swan maiden
*List of women warriors in folklore, literature, and popular culture

Notes

References

* Damico, Helen. "Beowulf's Wealhtheow and the Valkyrie Tradition." Madison, Wis.: University of Wisconsin Press, 1984.
* ---. "The Valkyrie Reflex in Old English Literature." "New Readings on Women in Old English Literature". Eds. Helen Damico and Alexandra Hennessey Olsen. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990. 176-89.
*cite book
last=Davidson
first=H. R. Ellis
authorlink=H. R. Ellis Davidson
title="Gods and Myths of Northern Europe"
publisher=Penguin Books
year=1964
doi=
id=ISBN 0-14-013627-4

----


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