Bringing Myths and Legends to Life...

The Valkyries

Excerpt from Die Walkure (The Valkyrie) - Ride of the Valkyries by Richard Wagner

"The Ride of the Valkyries" by W.T. Maud

Valkyries were originally sinister spirits of slaughter, dark angels of death who soared over the battlefields like birds of pray, meting out fate in the name of Odin. Chosen heroes were gathered up and borne away to Valhalla, the heavenly abode of Odin's ghostly army.

In later Norse myth, the Valkyries were romanticized as Odin's Shield-Maidens, virgins with golden hair and snowy arms who served the chosen heroes everlasting mead and meat in the great hall of Valhalla.

On the battlefield they soared over the host as lovely swan-maidens or splendid mounted Amazons. This far more appealing portrayal was further developed in the Volsung Saga and Niebelungenlied, where the heroine, Brynhild or Brunhild, was a beautiful fallen Valkyrie. Idealized Valkyries were definitely more vulnerable than their more fierce predecessors, and often fell in love with mortal heroes. Swan-maidens, especially, were at risk as they might easily be trapped on earth if caught without their plumage.


Describing the fall of Brian Boru to Viking forces at the Battle of Clontarf, 1014

Blood rains from the cloudy web
On the broad loom of slaughter.
The web of man grey as armor
Is now being woven; the Valkyries
Will cross it with a crimson weft.

The warp is made of human entrails;
Human heads are used as heddle-weights;
The heddle rods are blood-wet spears;
The shafts are iron-bound and arrows are the shuttles.
With swords we will weave this web of battle.

The Valkyries go weaving with drawn swords,
Hild and Hjorthrimul, Sanngrid and Svipul.
Spears will shatter shields will splinter,
Swords will gnaw like wolves through armor.

Let us now wind the web of war
Which the young king once waged.
Let us advance and wade through the ranks,
Where friends of ours are exchanging blows.

Let us now wind the web of war
And then follow the king to battle
Gunn and Gondul can see there
The blood-spattered shields that guarded the king.

Let us now wind the web of war
Where the warrior banners are forging forward
Let his life not be taken;
Only the Valkyries can choose the slain.

Lands will be ruled by new peoples
Who once inhabited outlying headlands.
We pronounce a great king destined to die;
Now an earl is felled by spears.

The men of Ireland will suffer a grief
That will never grow old in the minds of men.
The web is now woven and the battlefield reddened;
The news of disaster will spread through lands.

It is horrible now to look around
As a blood-red cloud darkens the sky.
The heavens are stained with the blood of men,
As the Valkyries sing their song.

We sang well victory songs
For the young king; hail to our singing!
Let him who listens to our Valkyrie song
Learn it well and tell it to others.

Let us ride our horses hard on bare backs,
With swords unsheathed away from here!

And then they tore the woven cloth from the loom and ripped it to pieces, each keeping the shred she held in her hands... The women mounted their horses and rode away, six to the south and six to the north.


Illustration by K Dieltz, c. 1890 Odin and Brunhild by F Leeke, canvas, c. 1890

Gudrun (above) fell in love with a mortal hero, Helgi. When Helgi died, Gudrun wept so much that he called from his grave, imploring her to stop crying, for each tear she shed so his wounds flowed. Soon after, Helgi's spirit rose to Valhalla where the lovers dwelt.

Here Gudrun gathers up the slain to swell the ghostly army which Helgi led at Ragnarok.

Odin (above) commanded the Valkyrie, who dispatched his will on the battlefield without question. In a unique case of rebellion, the heroic Valkyrie, Brynhild, defied Odin by helping her half-brother Siegmund, against his will. In penance, Brynhild was condemned to lie defenseless on a hilltop until claimed by a mortal. Later the god relented and softened his punishment by putting Brynhild to sleep in a ring of fire, protecting against all but the bravest of heroes.


A common misconception about the Valkyries is that they were fighting women. This is not so. No where will one ever find an account of a Valkyrie actually in combat, and only rarely carrying a weapon. In fact, women warriors in the Viking Age are mostly myth, spurred on by folks such as Saxo Grammaticus, who as a Christian priest was aghast at the relative freedom and societal power of real-life Viking women, and so wrote many many stories about women warriors that relied much more on his classical education's references to the Greek Amazon legends than to any Viking practices. Saxo's aim was to present a woman warrior, then to create a virile hero who would defeat her with nothing but his aura of virility and manly good looks.


Valkyrie Names

  • Brynhild
  • Geironul
  • Geirskogul
  • Goll
  • Gondul
  • Gudrun
  • Gunn
  • Guth
  • Herfjotur
  • Hervor [Warder of the Host]
  • Hild [Battle]
  • Hjorthrimul
  • Hlathguth [Necklace-Adorned Warrior-Maiden]
  • Hlokk
  • Hrist
  • Mist
  • Olrun [One Knowing Ale Rune]
  • Randgrith
  • Rathgrith
  • Reginleif
  • Sanngrid
  • Sigrdrifa
  • Sigrun
  • Skeggjold
  • Skogul
  • Skuld [Necessity]
  • Svava
  • Svipul
  • Thruth

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