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In Norse mythology, a valkyrie ("chooser of the slain") is one of a host of female figures who guide souls of the dead to the god Odin's hall Valhalla. There, the deceased warriors become einherjar (Old Norse "single (or once) fighters"). When the einherjar are not preparing for the events of Ragnarök, the valkyries bear them mead. Valkyries also appear as lovers of heroes and other mortals, where they are sometimes described as the daughters of royalty, sometimes accompanied by ravens and sometimes connected to swans or horses.
The Old English cognate term wælcyrġe appears in several Old English manuscripts, and scholars have explored whether the term appears in Old English by way of Norse influence, or reflects a tradition also native among the Anglo-Saxon pagans. Scholarly theories have been proposed about the relation between the valkyries, the Norns, and the dísir, all of which are supernatural figures associated with fate. Archaeological excavations throughout Scandinavia have uncovered amulets theorized as depicting valkyries. In modern culture, valkyries have been the subject of works of art, musical works, comic books, video games and poetry.
Other terms for valkyries in Old Norse sources include óskmey ("wish maid"), appearing in the poem Oddrúnargrátr, and Óðins meyjar ("Odin's maids"), appearing in the Nafnaþulur. Óskmey may be related to the Odinic name Óski (roughly meaning "wish fulfiller"), referring to the fact that Odin receives slain warriors in Valhalla.
In stanza 30 of the poem Völuspá, a völva (a travelling seeress in Norse society) tells Odin that "she saw" valkyries coming from far away who are ready to ride to "the realm of the gods". The völva follows this with a list of six valkyries: Skuld (Old Norse, possibly "debt" or "future") who "bore a shield", Skögul ("shaker"), Gunnr ("war"), Hildr ("battle"), Göndul ("wand-wielder") and Geirskögul ("Spear-Skögul"). Afterwards, the völva tells him she has listed the "ladies of the War Lord, ready to ride, valkyries, over the earth".
In the poem Grímnismál, Odin (disguised as Grímnir), tortured, starved and thirsty, tells the young Agnar that he wishes that the valkyries Hrist ("shaker") and Mist ("cloud") would "bear him a [drinking] horn", then provides a list of 11 more valkyries who he says "bear ale to the einherjar"; Skeggjöld ("axe-age"), Skögul, Hildr, Þrúðr ("power"), Hlökk ("noise", or "battle"), Herfjötur ("host-fetter"), Göll ("tumult"), Geirahöð ("spear-fight"), Randgríð ("shield-truce"), Ráðgríð ("council-truce") and Reginleif ("power-truce").
In the poem Helgakviða Hjörvarðssonar, a prose narrative says that an unnamed and silent young man, the son of the Norwegian King Hjörvarðr and Sigrlinn of Sváfaland, witnesses nine valkyries riding by while sitting atop a burial mound. He finds one particularly striking; this valkyrie is detailed later in a prose narrative as Sváva, King Eylimi's daughter, who "often protected him in battles". The valkyrie speaks to the unnamed man, and gives him the name Helgi (meaning "the holy one"). The previously silent Helgi speaks; he refers to the valkyrie as "bright-face lady", and asks her what gift he will receive with the name she has bestowed upon him, but he will not accept it if he cannot have her as well. The valkyrie tells him she knows of a hoard of swords in Sigarsholm, and that one of them is of particular importance, which she describes in detail. Further into the poem, Atli flytes with the female jötunn Hrímgerðr. While flyting with Atli, Hrímgerðr says that she had seen 27 valkyries around Helgi, yet one particularly fair valkyrie led the band:
In the poem Helgakviða Hundingsbana I, the hero Helgi Hundingsbane sits in the corpse-strewn battlefield of Logafjöll. A light shines from the fell, and from that light strike bolts of lightning. Flying through the sky, helmeted valkyries appear. Their waist-length mail armour is drenched in blood; their spears shine brightly:
In the stanza that follows, Helgi asks the valkyries (who he refers to as "southern goddesses") if they would like to come home with the warriors when night falls (all the while arrows were flying). The battle over, the valkyrie Sigrún ("victory-rune"), informs him from her horse that her father Högni has betrothed her to Höðbroddr, the son of king Granmar of the Hniflung clan, who Sigrún deems unworthy. Helgi assembles an immense host to ride to wage battle at Frekastein against the Hniflung clan to assist Sigrún in her plight to avoid her betrothment. Later in the poem, the hero Sinfjötli flytes with Guðmundr. Sinfjötli accuses Guðmundr of having once been female, and gibes that Guðmundr was "a witch, horrible, unnatural, among Odin's valkyries", adding that all of the einherjar "had to fight, headstrong woman, on your account". Further in the poem, the phrase "the valkyrie's airy sea" is used for "mist".
Towards the end of the poem, valkyries again descend from the sky, this time to protect Helgi amid the battle at Frekastein. After the battle, all the valkyries fly away but Sigrún and wolves (referred to as "the troll-woman's mount") consume corpses:
At the beginning of the poem Helgakviða Hundingsbana II, a prose narrative says that King Sigmund (son of Völsung) and his wife Borghild (of Brálund) have a son named Helgi, who they named for Helgi Hjörvarðsson (the protagonist of the earlier Helgakviða Hjörvarðssonar). After Helgi has killed King Hunding in stanza 4, a prose narrative says that Helgi escapes, consumes the raw meat of cattle he has slaughtered on a beach, and encounters Sigrún. Sigrún, daughter of King Högni, is "a valkyrie and rode through air and sea", and she is the valkyrie Sváva reincarnated. In stanza 7, Sigrún uses the phrase "fed the gosling of Gunn's sisters". Gunnr and her sisters are valkyries, and these goslings are ravens, who feed on the corpses left on the battlefield by warriors.
After stanza 18, a prose narrative relates that Helgi and his immense fleet of ships are heading to Frekastein, but encounter a great storm. Lightning strikes one of the ships. The fleet sees nine valkyries flying through the air, among whom they recognise Sigrún. The storm abates, and the fleets arrive safely at land. Helgi dies in battle, yet returns to visit Sigrún from Valhalla once in a burial mound, and at the end of the poem, a prose epilogue explains that Sigrún later dies of grief. The epilogue details that "there was a belief in the pagan religion, which we now reckon [is] an old wives' tale, that people could be reincarnated" and that "Helgi and Sigrun were thought to have been reborn" as another Helgi and valkyrie couple; Helgi as Helgi Haddingjaskaði and Sigrún as the daughter of Halfdan; the valkyrie Kára. The epilogue details that further information about the two can be found in the (now lost) work Káruljóð.
References to valkyries appear throughout the book Skáldskaparmál, which provides information about skaldic poetry. In chapter 2, a quote is given from the work Húsdrápa by the 10th century skald Úlfr Uggason. In the poem, Úlfr describes mythological scenes depicted in a newly built hall, including valkyries and ravens accompanying Odin at Baldr's funeral feast:
What sort of dream is that, Odin?I dreamed I rose up before dawnto clear up Val-hall for slain people.I aroused the Einheriar,bade them get up to strew the benches,clean the beer-cups,the valkyries to serve winefor the arrival of a prince.
In chapter 31, poetic terms for referring to a woman are given, including "[a] woman is also referred to in terms of all Asyniur or valkyries or norns or dísir". In chapter 41, while the hero Sigurd is riding his horse Grani, he encounters a building on a mountain. Within this building Sigurd finds a sleeping woman wearing a helmet and a coat of mail. Sigurd cuts the mail from her, and she awakes. She tells him her name is Hildr, and "she is known as Brynhildr, and was a valkyrie".
The song consists of 11 stanzas, and within it the valkyries weave and choose who is to be slain at the Battle of Clontarf (fought outside Dublin in 1014 CE). Of the 12 valkyries weaving, six have their names given in the song: Hildr, Hjörþrimul, Sanngriðr, Svipul, Guðr and Göndul. Stanza 9 of the song reads:
In Hákonarmál, Odin sends forth the two valkyries Göndul and Skögul to "choose among the kings' kinsmen" and who in battle should dwell with Odin in Valhalla. A battle rages with great slaughter, and part of the description employs the kenning "Skögul's-stormblast" for "battle". Haakon and his men die in battle, and they see the valkyrie Göndul leaning on a spear shaft. Göndul comments that "groweth now the gods' following, since Hákon has been with host so goodly bidden home with holy godheads". Haakon hears "what the valkyries said", and the valkyries are described as sitting "high-hearted on horseback", wearing helmets, carrying shields and that the horses wisely bore them. A brief exchange follows between Haakon and the valkyrie Skögul:
Viking Age stylized silver amulets depicting women wearing long gowns, their hair pulled back and knotted into a ponytail, sometimes bearing drinking horns, have been discovered throughout Scandinavia. These figures are commonly considered to represent valkyries or dísir. According to Mindy MacLeod and Bernard Mees, the amulets appear in Viking Age graves, and were presumably placed there because "they were thought to have protective powers".
In 2013, a small figure dated at around 800 AD was discovered in Hårby, Denmark by three amateur archaeologists. The figurine portrays a woman with long hair knotted into a ponytail who is wearing a long dress which is sleeveless and vest like at the top. Over the top of her dress she is wearing an embroidered apron. Her clothing keeps the woman's arms unobstructed so she can fight with the sword and shield she is holding. Commenting on the figure, archaeologist Mogens Bo Henriksen said that "there can hardly be any doubt that the figure depicts one of Odin's valkyries as we know them from the sagas as well as from Swedish picture stones from the time around AD700". 781b155fdc