Odin is one of the key gods in Norse mythology. He had many different functions, and one of them was that he was the god of war and protector of warriors and heroes. His abode was Valhalla, the majestic palace where the slain would come after being chosen by the Valkyries.
According to Norse mythology, the Valkyries were maidens of supernatural powers. They chose the ones who were worthy of a place in Valhalla. However, they also had the power to destroy those who they did not favor.
They are usually depicted as maidens riding horses, wearing helmets and shields. In some cases, they are also portrayed flying through the air.
Although it may not seem so at first sight, the Valkyries were associated with fairness, brightness, and gold, although they were also associated with bloodshed.
Valkyries in Valhalla and Fólkvangr
As mentioned before, the Valkyries served Odin. They would choose the fallen Viking warriors who were worthy of entering Valhalla.
Those warriors would get to spend their afterlife in Valhalla, the palace ruled by Odin. The worthy spent their afterlife at feasts with plenty of hearty food. The Valkyries would supply them with plenty of mead. The warriors also enjoyed fighting as a sport throughout the day.
Fólkvangr, on the other hand, was the mythical field ruled by the goddess Freya, known as the goddess of love and harmony. However, Freya was also connected to wars and battles.
She would go to the battles, pick half of the slain and bring them to Fólkvangr. The other half would go to Valhalla. In this way, she was also connected to the Valkyries.
The Valkyries and their names
Most of the Valkyries' names were associated with wars, battles, and weapons due to the nature of their mission. For example, they were named Hildr ("battle") or Gunnr ("war").
Others carried their name because of some of their key features, again usually related to wars and battles, like Kára ("the stormy and wild one"), Sanngrid ("very violent and cruel"), or Sigrdrifa ("the victory urger").
Most historical sources offer a list of 23 Valkyrie names, each carrying a specific meaning (as described above).
When the Valkyries had some free time, they would roam the lands of Midgard in the shape of a beautiful white swan. Photo: Negative Space / Pexels
Were the Valkyries human?
According to some historical sources, the Valkyries were daughters of the god Odin, with supernatural powers, and they were depicted in that way in the old texts.
Later on, as they were often used as a motive in heroic poetry, they started gaining some more human features and, in general, grew to be more "human" (e.g., they would sometimes, for example, fall in love with those warriors described in poems).
Other sources describe the Valkyries as priestesses of the god Odin, who were present at rites, and would sometimes execute these cruel rites themselves, using the ritual spear.
Apart from their role of choosing and bringing the slain to Valhalla, the Valkyries also had to serve the warriors food and drinks in Odin's hall, but they weren't allowed to fall in love and marry the warriors there.
The Valkyries as swans
What did the Valkyries do in their free time? It seems that they didn't have much of it, as there was always something to do – either choosing the slain from the battles or serving the ones who were already in Valhalla.
When they had some free time, Odin would let them roam the lands of Midgard, and during those times, they would take on the shape of a beautiful white swan as a sort of disguise.
That was the only shape in which they were allowed to be seen by the humans. If, on the other hand, the Valkyries were seen by the humans without their swan disguise, they would become mortal and would be banned from returning to Valhalla.
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