The Scandinavian pantheon correspondence is the Valkyries. The word valkyriederives from Old Norse valkyrja(plural valkyrjur), which is composed of two words; the noun valr (referring to the slain on the battlefield) and the verb kjósa(meaning “to choose”). Together, they mean “chooser of the slain”. So the Valkiries are female figures who decides who dies in battle. Selecting among half of those who die in battle (the other half go to the goddess Freyja‘s afterlife field Fólkvangr), the valkyries bring their chosen to the afterlife hall of the slain, Valhalla, ruled over by the god Odin. There, the deceased warriors become einherjar. When the einherjar are not preparing for the events of Ragnarök, the valkyries bear them mead. The Old Norse valkyrja is cognate to Old English wælcyrge. Other terms for valkyries include óskmey (Old Norse “wish maid”), appearing in the poem Oddrúnargrátr, and Óðins meyjar (Old Norse “Odin‘s maids”), appearing in the Nafnaþulur. Óskmey may be related to the Odinic name Óski (Old Norse, roughly meaning “wish fulfiller”), referring to the fact that Odin receives slain warriors in Valhalla. The Valkiries is one of a host of female figures who choose those who may die in battle and those who may live. The Valkyries were Odin’s handmaidens who conducted the souls of the slain of Valhala. The Old English cognate terms wælcyrge and wælcyrie appear in several Old English manuscripts, and scholars have explored whether the terms appear in Old English by way of Norse influence, or reflect a tradition also native among the Anglo-Saxon pagans. Scholarly theories have been proposed about the relation between the valkyries, the norns, the dísir, Germanic seeresses, and shieldmaidens, all but the latter of which are supernatural figures associated with fate. Archaeological excavations throughout Scandinavia have uncovered amulets theorized as depicting valkyries. Valkyries are mentioned or appear in the Poetic Edda poems Völuspá, Grímnismál, Völundarkviða, Helgakviða Hjörvarðssonar, Helgakviða Hundingsbana I, Helgakviða Hundingsbana II, and Sigrdrífumál. In modern culture, valkyries have been the subject of works of art, musical works, video games and poetry.
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. Valkyries are attested in the Poetic Edda, a book of poems compiled in the 13th century from earlier traditional sources; the Prose Edda and Heimskringla (by Snorri Sturluson), and Njáls saga, a Saga of Icelanders, all written in the 13th century. They appear throughout the poetry of skalds, in a 14th century charm, and in various runic inscriptions.
The Old Norse poems Völuspá, Grímnismál, Darraðarljóð, and the Nafnaþulur section of the Prose Edda book Skáldskaparmál, provide lists of valkyrie names. In addition, some valkyrie names appear solely outside of these lists, such as Sigrún (who is attested in the poems Helgakviða Hundingsbana I and Helgakviða Hundingsbana II). Many valkyrie names emphasize associations with battle and, in many cases, on the spear—a weapon heavily associated with the god Odin. Some scholars propose that the names of the valkyries themselves contain no individuality, but are rather descriptive of the traits and nature of war-goddesses, and are possibly the descriptive creations of skalds.
Some valkyrie names may be descriptive of the roles and abilities of the valkyries. The valkyrie name Herja has been theorized as pointing to a connection to the name of the goddess Hariasa, who is attested from a stone from 187 CE. The name Herfjötur has been theorized as pointing to the ability of the valkyries to place fetters. The name Svipul may be descriptive of the influence the valkyries have over wyrd or ørlog—a Germanic concept of fate.
Various theories have been proposed about the origins and development of the valkyries from Germanic paganism to later Norse mythology. Rudolf Simek suggests valkyries were likely originally viewed as “demons of the dead to whom warriors slain on the battlefield belonged”, and that a shift in interpretation of the valkyries may have occurred “when the concept of Valhalla changed from a battlefield to a warrior’s paradise”. Simek says that this original concept was “superseded by the shield girls—Irish female warriors who lived on like the einherjar in Valhall.” Simek says that the valkyries were closely associated with Odin, and that this connection existed in an earlier role as “demons of death”. Simek states that due to the shift of concept, the valkyries became popular figures in heroic poetry, and during this transition were stripped of their “demonic characteristics and became more human, and therefore become capable of falling in love with mortals […].” Simek says that the majority of the names of the valkyries point to a warlike function, that most of valkyrie names do not appear to be very old, and that the names “mostly come from poetic creativity rather than from real folk-belief.”
MacLeod and Mees theorize that “the role of the corpse-choosing valkyries became increasingly confused in later Norse mythology with that of the Norns, the supernatural females responsible for determining human destiny […].”
Hilda Ellis Davidson says that, regarding valkyries, “evidently an elaborate literary picture has been built up by generations of poets and storytellers, in which several conceptions can be discerned. We recognize something akin to Norns, spirits who decide destinies of men; to the seeresses, who could protect men in battle with their spells; to the powerful female guardian spirits attached to certain families, bringing luck to youth under their protection; even to certain women who armed themselves and fought like men, for whom there is some historical evidence from the regions round the Black Sea.” She adds that there may also be a memory in this of a “priestess of the god of war, women who officiated at the sacrificial rites when captives were put to death after battle.”
Davidson places emphasis on the fact that valkyrie literally means “chooser of the slain”. She compares Wulfstan’s mention of a “chooser of the slain” in his Sermo Lupi ad Anglos sermon, which appears among “a blacklist of sinners, witches, and evildoers”, to “all the other classes whom he [Wulfstan] mentions”, and concludes as those “are human ones, it seems unlikely that he has introduced mythological figures as well.” Davidson points out that Arab traveler Ibn Fadlan‘s detailed account of a 10th-century Rus ship funeral on the Volga River features an “old Hunnish woman, massive and grim to look upon” (who Fadlan refers to as the “Angel of Death”) who organizes the killing of the slave girl, and has two other women with her that Fadlan refers to as her daughters. Davidson says that “it would hardly be surprising if strange legends grew up about such women, who must have been kept apart from their kind due to their gruesome duties. Since it was often decided by lot which prisoners should be killed, the idea that the god “chose” his victims, through the instrument of the priestesses, must have been a familiar one, apart from the obvious assumption that some were chosen to fall in war.” Davidson says that it appears that from “early times” the Germanic peoples “believed in fierce female spirits doing the command of the war god, stirring up disorder, taking part in battle, seizing and perhaps devouring the slain.”
The goddess Freyja and her afterlife field Fólkvangr, where she receives half of the slain, has been theorized as connected to the valkyries. Britt-Mari Näsström points out the description in Gylfaginning where it is said of Freyja “whenever she rides into battle she takes half of the slain”, and interprets Fólkvangr as “the field of the Warriors”. Näsström notes that, just like Odin, Freyja receives slain heroes who have died on the battlefield, and that her house is Sessrumnir (which she translates as “filled with many seats”), a dwelling that Näsström posits likely fills the same function as Valhalla. Näsström comments that “still, we must ask why there are two heroic paradises in the Old Norse view of afterlife. It might possibly be a consequence of different forms of initiation of warriors, where one part seemed to have belonged to Óðinn and the other to Freyja. These examples indicate that Freyja was a war-goddess, and she even appears as a valkyrie, literally ‘the one who chooses the slain’.”
Siegfried Andres Dobat comments that “in her mythological role as the chooser of half the fallen warriors for her death realm Fólkvangr, the goddess Freyja, however, emerges as the mythological role model for the Valkyrjar [sic] and the dísir.”
alkyries have been the subjects of various poems, works of art, and musical works. In poetry, valkyries appear in “Die Walküren” by H. Heine (appearing in Romanzero, 1847), “Die Walküren” (1864) by H. v. Linge, “Sköldmon” (appearing in Gömda Land, 1904).
Works of art depicting valkyries include “Die Walküren” (sketch, 1818) by J. G. Sandberg, “Reitende Walküre” (fresco), previously located in Munich palace but now destroyed, 1865/1866 by M. Echter, “Valkyrien” and “Valkyriens død” (paintings, both from 1860), “Walkürenritt” (etching, 1871) by A. Welti, “Walkürenritt” (woodcut, 1871) by T. Pixis, “Walkürenritt” (1872) by A. Becker (reproduced in 1873 with the same title by A. v. Heyde), “Die Walkyren” (charcoal, 1880) and “Walkyren wählen und wecken die gefallenen Helden (Einherier), um sie vom Schlachtfield nach Walhall zu geleiten” (painting, 1882) and “Walkyrenschlacht” (oil painting, 1884) by K. Ehrenberg, “Walkürenritt” (oil painting, 1888, and etching, 1890) by A. Welti, “Walküre” (statue) by H. Günther, “Walkürenritt” (oil painting) by H. Hendrich, “Walkürenritt” (painting) by F. Leeke, “Einherier” (painting, from around 1900), by K. Dielitz, “The Ride of the Valkyries” (painting, from around 1900) by J. C. Dollman, “Valkyrie” (statue, 1910) and “Walhalla-freeze” (located in the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen, 1886/1887), “Walkyrien” (print, 1915) by A. Kolb, and “Valkyrier” (drawing, 1925) by E. Hansen.
In music, valkyries play a major role in “Die Walküre” (1870) by Richard Wagner (the second of the four operas that comprise Der Ring des Nibelungen), in which the “Ride of the Valkyries” begins Act III. The heroine of the cycle, Brünnhilde, the chief valkyrie in Wagner’s mythos, is stripped of her immortality for defying the god Wotan (Odin) and trying to protect the condemned Siegmund.
Operation Valkyrie was a German Army plan that was converted into an attempted coup d’état that failed after the July 20 Plot (1944). The 2008 film Valkyrie is based on events surrounding the operation.
On Star Trek Voyager during the episode entitled Death Wish Q: Say, is this a ship of the Valkyries? Or have you Human women finally done away with your men altogether? Square-Enix and Tri-Ace made a series of games titled “Valkyrie Profile” that features “Valkyries” and other Norse figures.
The XB-70 experimental bomber was nick-named the Valkyrie.
In 2013 NASA named its humanoid robot Valkyrie.
In the American anime series RWBY, in team JNPR one of their teammates is Nora Valkyrie who is inspired by the valkyries and even wields a war hammer much like Thor in Norse mythology.