Valkyries | Norse Mythology


The valkyries (Old Norse: valkyrja, lit. "the one who chooses the dead"), in Norse mythology, are divine female deities who served Odin under the orders of Freya.

Their purpose was to elect the most heroic warriors killed in battle and lead them to the hall of the dead, Valhalla, ruled by Odin, where they would become einherjar.

The choice served half of those who died in battle (the other half went on to Freyja's camp in the afterlife, called Fólkvangr). Odin needed warriors to fight at his side in the battle of the end of the world, Ragnarök.

His usual residence was Vingólf, located near Valhalla. This hall had five hundred and forty doors through which defeated heroes entered so that the warriors could heal them, delighting in their beauty, and where they also "served mead and took care of the earthenware and drinking vessels.

These also appear as lovers of heroes and other mortals, where they are sometimes described as daughters of royalty, occasionally accompanied by ravens, and occasionally embodied in swans or horses.

It seems, however, that there was not a very clear distinction between the valkyries and norns. In fact, Skuld is both a valkyrie and a norna, and in Darraðarljóð (líneas 1-52), the valkyries weave the nets of war.

The valkyries are mentioned in Edda in verse, a book of poems compiled in the 13th century from historical sources; the Edda in prose and Heimskringla (by Snorri Sturluson), and in the Njáls saga, an Icelandic saga, all written in the 13th century.

The valkyries appear throughout Scaldic poetry, in the 14th century Charm, and in various runic inscriptions. According to the prose Edda (Gylfaginning 35), "Odin appoints valkyries for all battles.

These assign death to men and command victory. Gunnr and Róta [two valkyries] and the youngest norn, called Skuld, always rode to elect who should die and to lead the killing.

Furthermore, poetic freedom allowed the term 'valkyrie' to apply also to mortal women in Old Norse poetry, or to transcribe Snorri Sturluson's Skáldskaparmál with regard to the use of various terms employed to characterize women, 'women are also called metaphorically by the names of the Ásynjur or the valkyries, or the norns.'

The Old English cognates wælcyrge and wælcyrie appear in several Old English manuscripts, and scholars have explored the possibility that the terms appear in Old English because of Norse influence, or because they reflect a tradition also native among Anglo-Saxon pagans.

Scholarly theories have been elaborated proposing a relationship between the valkyries, the norns, the dísir, the seiðkona, and the squire maidens, in which all but the last are described as supernatural figures associated with fate.

Archaeological excavations throughout Scandinavia have revealed amulets that theoretically represent the valkyries. In modern culture, valkyries have been the subject of artwork, musical works, video games, and poetry.

Etymology of Valkyrie

The word valkyrie is derived from the Old Norse valkyrja (plural valkyrjur), which is composed of two words; the noun valr (which refers to those killed in battle) and the verb kjósa (meaning "to choose").

Together, they mean "to choose the dead." Old Norse valkyrja is a cognate of Old English wælcyrge.

Other terms for valkyries include óskmey (Old Norse "desired servant"), appear in the poem Oddrúnargrátr and Óðins meyjar (Old Norse "servant of Odin"), appears in Nafnaþulur.

Óskmey is perhaps related to Odin's name Óski (Old Norse, meaning approx. "ocumber's wish"), referring to Odin's welcoming dead warriors into Valhalla.

Who are the Valkyries?

The main Valkyries are:

  • Brunhild
  • Göndul
  • Gudr
  • Gunn
  • Herfjoturr
  • Hildr
  • Hladgunnr
  • Hlokk
  • Hrist
  • Mist
  • Olrun
  • Rota
  • Sigrdrifa 
  • Sigrun 
  • Skagull
  • Skeggjald
  • Skuld
  • Svafa
  • Thrud
  • Madziga

Mentions of the Valkyries 

  • Richard Wagner used one of the myths of the Walkuren in Der Ring des Nibelungen. In this myth, Brünnhilde is a Walkure. The first day of the Ring is called Die Walküre. (In the Prologue, Brünnhilde is not mentioned, although Herda, the mother of the Walküren appears in it.) In the last part of the opera, Brünhilde loses her powers as the Walkure because she has failed to carry out Wotan's command. In the third opera in the Sigfried sequence, she appears only at the end, when Sigfried wakes her from her sleep. In the process, he gives her The Ring. In the fourth opera, Götterdämmerung, she is still only an instrument of fate. When Walhalla, the fortress of the gods, goes up in flames, she sends herself and her horse to the stake.
  • Valkyrie, is a film about Operation Walküre, a plot to assassinate Hitler, about nine months before World War II ended. Operation Walküre was named after Wagner's opera.
  • The North American XB-70 Valkyrie, a 1960s United States Air Force experimental strategic bomber, was named after the Walkurs.