Valhalla | Norse Mythology


Valhalla (Old Norse Valhöll 'dwelling place of the fallen'), possibly linked or identical with the gods' palace Valaskjalf, is in Norse mythology the resting place of warriors who have fallen in battle and proved themselves brave, known as Einherjar.

Description of Valhalla

At the end of the myth development Valhalla is a magnificent hall with 540 gates, through each of which 800 Einherjar can enter side by side. It is located in Odin's castle Gladsheim in Asgard in the realm of the Aesir. The roof of the hall is said to be made of shields resting on spears as rafters, although there are sources that contradict this.

During the day, the Einherjar compete there in duels. In the evening, the warriors enjoy beer and mead, which is served by the Valkyries. The Valkyries also have the task of selecting the bravest of the fighters who have fallen on the battlefield and bringing them to Valhalla.

Odin and his wife Frigg live in the heavenly royal hall. Odin is enthroned mightily and sublimely on his high seat Hlidskialf and enjoys noble games of arms. A mighty stag's antler hangs on the gable wall and reminds the knights of past earthly hunting joys.

Bruns decorate the benches, and the hall is illuminated by the gleam of swords. Above the western gate hangs a wolf, above it hovers an eagle.

The cook of Valhalla, Andhrimnir ("soot face"), has a black face, because he looks for days into the cauldron in which the boar Sæhrímnir is prepared every night anew. Sæhrímnir comes back to life and is consumed again every day. Odin, however, never eats of the boar's flesh, but gives his share in principle to his wolves. He himself is content with the mead.

Myth development of Valhalla

The earliest mention of Valhalla is found in Bragi's shield poem under the name Swölnir's (Odin's) hall. The preceding revival of the fallen warriors by Hild for renewed battle (verse 230) has nothing to do with Valhalla, but belongs to the topos of ancient necromancy. That the dead heroes come to Valhalla can only be assumed in the 9th century.

Thus, in the Eirik song, Odin asks Sigmund and Sinfjötli in Valhalla to rise from their seats to greet Erik Bloodaxe, who fell in battle around 954. In contrast, the Ostrogoths and Visigoths believed that all the dead were underground or in a mountain. Regionally, in Iceland and Sweden, the belief that one dies in a mountain has persisted for a very long time.

It is also documented that in some regions the dead were imagined to live alone in their burial mound. In the Sögubrot af Fornkonungum and in Saxo Grammaticus the father of Harald Wartooth, the knight Haldan, who does not have children with his wife Gurid, is asked to offer sacrifices to the dead relatives at the Hel.

So it is not reported about him and his relatives that they come to Valhalla. Only his son Harald will reach Valhalla as an Odin devotee. But also here a peculiarity can be observed: According to Saxo, the slain Harald Wartooth enters at the head of the dead of the battlefield into a hall lying under the earth, where he is said to receive "pleasant seats". In the Sögubrot, on the other hand, the dead king is told to "ride or drive" to Valhalla as he chooses.

Where Valhalla is located and what it looks like there, Sögubrot leaves open. Saxo's account probably reflects the older view. For the Goths, too, the place of the dead lay in the ᾅδης (Hades, underworld), translated by Wulfila as halja ('hall'), with which was associated the idea of a surrounding verdant enclosure.

Saxo writes of Hading, who was consecrated to Odin: under the guidance of an old woman, he descended into the misty depths, "until at last they entered the sunny realms which brought forth the grasses brought by the woman." After both had crossed a river staring with weapons, they saw warriors playing games of arms with each other.

A high, insurmountable wall finally caused Hading to turn back and ascend to the living. A corresponding account of the place of the dead is also contained in the ancient Baldr myth:

The god Hermod rode north through dark, deep valleys for nine nights until he came to Gjöll Bridge, which was guarded by the guardian Modgudr and blocked by the Helgate.

Hermod rode across the bridge, put over the gate, and finally reached a hall on whose high seat sat his brother Baldr. Also here, although tailored to Baldr, the place for the (distinguished) dead is the subterranean hall with the high seat, which lies far in the north deep under the earth. So the gods originally did not live together with the dead.

Only in the 10th century it is reported that Odin sits together with the Einherjar in a high hall. The idea that the gods dwell alone in high castles or courtyards is probably the earliest historically tangible belief of the northern Germans.

Thus, the ancient Guta saga reports that the people of Gotland "believed in groves and burial mounds, sanctuaries and staff enclosures, and in the pagan gods." This saga also mentions a Thorsburg (Thors borg) on Gotland, a massive, towering limestone plateau with stone ramparts from the Migration Period.

But also the old Thjazi myth, as it was known in the north in the 9th century, the myth of the castle building of the giants for the Aesir as well as the myths of the land seizure of the Aesir in southern Russia and Sweden, which Saxo Grammaticus and Snorri hand down, testify the same idea.

If one pursues this idea of the dwelling of the gods further, it can be stated that also in the Edda there is only talk of a castle or a high court as the seat of the gods. However, the dwellings of the gods, especially Odin's hall, are now decorated poetically:

Shields are the shingles, shafts form the rafters, Odin overlooks the world from his high seat Hliðskjálf, of whose happenings his two ravens tell him; the Aesir gather in Odin's hall, whose benches are decorated by the valkyries for the arrivals - without saying that Valhalla is in heaven. On the contrary:

The descriptions of Valhalla point to the old castle conception or a court hall. This applies to the Völuspá, the Grímnismál, the Þrymskviða and the Vafþrúðnismál in the same way. Also the praise song to King Hakon (Hákonarmál) from the middle of the 10th century does not contain a passage that could be understood in the sense of a heavenly Valhalla, when it says there that the host of the gods now grows through Håkon and his great army (of the fallen).

Thus in this praise song the dead warriors ride "to the green home of the gods", which only proves how strong the old belief in the gods and their castle or court hall is still alive in the 10th century! Only later the thought of a heavenly Valhalla must have arisen, so that the Icelander Snorri Sturluson (about 1200) in his Edda (Snorra-Edda) provided the told old myths with appropriate additions.

But with the exception of this late development nowhere in the world of the north is reported of a heavenly dwelling of the gods. Saxo Grammaticus gives no account for Denmark, neither does the Ynglinga valley from the middle of the 9th century, in which the royal dead are sent to "Loki's Maid" (= Hel), quite apart from the already described idea in Sweden and Iceland that the dead "die into the mountain" or dwell in burial mounds.

To all appearances, the idea of a heavenly Valhalla is only a late, not yet in the 10th century observable regional shaping and skaldic stylization of the originally in the north widespread belief that the Aesir dwell on castles or farms with a wide view.

However, it is difficult to say when the belief arose that Odin called brave warriors to his hall. According to Snorri's account of the saga, the dying Odin had himself drawn with the tip of his spear and declared all men to be his own who died in arms.

He said that he "was going to Goðheima (home of the gods) and would welcome his friends there". He further said that "everyone should come to Valhalla with as rich possessions as had been with him on his funeral pyre. There he should also possess the treasures that he had buried in the earth".

The belief that Odin calls the dead warriors of the battlefield to his (castle- or court-) Valhalla, might have arisen only in the end of the migration and more or less limited to the now emerging warrior caste, which, however, dominated the lore at the royal court.

This Valhalla of Odin now - as the hall of the fallen - attracts ideas that were originally connected with its subterranean place of the dead: A sword-starved river now also surrounds Valhalla, crossed by a bridge blocked by the Walgatter.

This belief in a warrior Valhalla in Odin's castle or court, which slowly formed in the age of mighty army kings with their great followings, cannot have been widespread in the same strength everywhere in the north, however.

This is already proven by the old Swedish Ynglingatal from the middle of the 9th century, which only knows Hel as a place of death for warriors and kings. Also the Dane Saxo Grammaticus speaks only of subterranean places of the dead - those for warriors with pleasant green climes and for neidings in snake-dripping caves lying in the north.

A landscape description of the origin and spreading of the new belief in a warrior's whale hall lying above the earth, however, does not seem possible today.

On the other hand, the belief in a heavenly Valhalla of the gods and heroes can only be regarded as a late regional shaping of the Germanic heroic belief, which cannot yet be observed in the 10th century.

None of the continental and Anglo-Saxon sources even hints that the Vikings calmly faced a heroic death with the prospect of entering Valhalla. Rather, they avoided the perceived danger and saved themselves without further ado by fleeing or buying their way out.

Valhalla's Environment

On the gold-covered roof the goat Heidrun grazes. She gives the warriors that delicious potion in inexhaustible abundance, which preserves their heroic nature. The goat feeds on the tree of life, the world ash tree Yggdrasil.

No one knows how far the roots of Yggdrasil run. Iron and fire can not harm the ash tree from time immemorial. The crown is very high and entwined with soft mist. The dew that forms moistens the valleys. At the feet of this mighty tree sprouts the lively spring of the Norns

Around the sacred halls lie the homes and estates of the rest of the gods: Thor's Thrúdheim with its house Bilskirnir, Baldur's house bears the name Breidablik.