A brief introduction to Valkyries
-by Johnathan Bennett, March 2019
From Old Norse valkyrja "chooser of the slain" which is composed of two words: noun val (dead body on a battlefield) & verb kyrja (meaning "chooser").
Now as with most Norse mythology, we are dealing with interpretations and in some regards theories. As such there are some different and conflicting research, i have used a few different online articles as well as studying the videos of Jackson Crawford, Arith Harger etc. I will admit i am still learning so please share any thoughts and research you have also done.
The role of the Valkyries appears to be female figures who would fly over battlefields and be the choosers of of the slain. They would take those selected by them to the hall of the slain, Valhalla ruled over by Odin.
The Valkyries are mentioned in multiple Poetic and Prose Eddas. For instance, in Stanza 30 of the Voluspa, a travelling seeress tells Odin “she saw” valkyries coming from widely around ready to ride to “the realm of the gods”. In Grimnismal, Odin while disguised, is being tortured, starved and thirsty tells Agnar that he wishes for the valkyries to “bear him a (drinking) horn”.
There is a modern image we conjure up, an elegant, beautiful female, to take care of the men and bring the heroes who fell to the halls of Valhalla. However, there is also reason to believe they may have been more sinister. They may have also chosen who is to be slain and who is to live on the battlefield. In the text Darraðarljóð, where twelve Valkyries are seen prior to battle, sitting at a loom weaving the tragic fate of the warriors. Intestines used for thread, men's heads used for weights, Swords for beaters. As such, they may have interfered in battle for the warriors which Odin wanted or they viewed as worthy.
There does not appear to be any specific information on how one becomes a Valkyrie. In Stanza 7, which loosely translates as, A bold king let our skins, our 8 sisters be born under an oak. This is thought to be about the origin of the Valkyrie as we read of skins of feathers, or hami in Volundarkvida. But this Stanza does not go into detail. In the prose introduction to Volundarkvida, it tells about how 3 brothers take Valkyries. They find 3 women spinning linen, next to them were their swan skins. These were Valkyries. They would take their skins and force them to marry the brothers until 7 years pass and the women take their skins back and return to being Valkyries. Again this is open to interpretation of what this means. Is it that skins give the powers of the Valkyrie to the women?
There have been archaeological findings of trinkets, pendants etc, that shows women/ valkyrie doing more domestic tasks such as carrying drinking horns etc in female garments. But there were many showing valkyries and women in full battle gear with swords, spears, axes etc. These were found in female graves which can show women not only had a connection to Odin but with war itself.
In conclusion, well my thoughts, it appears the Valkyrie were fierce powerful women, warriors. In later times the roles seem to be romanticized slightly, maybe to fit the society that wanted to be created. They had a hand in who were chosen and what warriors they wanted to take to be before Odin. So remember, women are powerful!