A. Sutherland - AncientPages.com - In Norse mythology, the Valkyries were the choosers of the slain. The Valkyries were females riding on horses armed with helmets and spears. They would decide who would die in battle and drift over the battleground to find their prey.
Selecting among half of those who die in battle the Valkyries bring their chosen to the afterlife hall of the slain, Valhalla, ruled over by the great god Odin.
Valkyrior rida till striden (1818) by Johan Gustaf Sandberg (Translation: Valkyries riding to the battle)
The other half were taken to the goddess Freyja's afterlife field Folkvangr (Fólkvangr). The goddess Freya had the first pick of the fallen Vikings.
The Valkyries were not allowed to be seen by humans
According to Norse mythology the Valkyries were female virgins and when a battle took place there were usually between six and thirteen Valkyries at one time.
Valkyrie (1869) by Peter Nicolai Arbo
It seems that some of the Valkyries had higher ranks and were treated with great respect. Some of them received special gifts and the Odin allowed a few maidens to become swans. This gave them the opportunity to venture throughout Midgard and mingle with the humans. But if they were seen by the humans, not in their swan form, they would forever turn mortal and could never go back to Valhalla.
These Valkyries were also attributed with ravens, as well as swans. Within Old Norse literature, these creatures were significant in battles, often choosing who would win and who would lose. They also took lovers, suffered punishments from Odin and even were credited with changing the course of history throughout Viking mythology.
The Valkyries in ancient texts
The name originates from Old Norse valkyrja "chooser of the slain".
Walkyrien (c. 1905) by Emil Doepler
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.
Archaeological discoveries reveal the importance of the Valkyries
Throughout Scandinavia a number of Viking Age stylized silver amulets depicting women with long gowns, their hair pulled back, sometimes bearing forth drinking horns have been discovered. According to archaeologists and historians the amulets were placed in Viking graves because they were thought to have protective powers.
A figure on horse meeting a figure carrying a shield (left) and one of numerous female silver figures (right)
The Tjängvide image stone from the island of Gotland, Sweden features a rider on an eight-legged horse, which may be Odin's eight-legged horse Sleipnir, being greeted by a female, which may be a Valkyrie at Valhalla. The 11th century runestone U 1163 features a carving of a female bearing a horn that has been interpreted as the Valkyrie Sigrdrífa handing the hero Sigurd (also depicted on the stone) a drinking horn.
A female figure bears a horn to a rider on an eight-legged horse on the Tjängvide image stone in Sweden.
Valkyries in other ancient cultures
Various theories have been proposed about the origins and development of the valkyries.
Valkyries are very similar to those that escort the dead to Hades or other forms of afterlife in various mythologies throughout human history, particularly in Greek legends. It is interesting to note that common themes and figures occur throughout human history and across various cultures or societies.
Written by A. Sutherland - AncientPages.com Staff Writer