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The Valkyrie is, in the oldest strata of belief, a corpse goddess, represented by

the carrion-eating raven. The name in Old Norse, valkyrja, as well as Old English
w�lcyrge means literally, "chooser of the slain." The word for valkyrie was used
by Anglo-Saxon scholars to gloss the names of the Greco-Roman goddeses of
vengeance and retribution, the Furies or Erinyes, as well as for the Roman goddess
of war, Bellona.

The Valkyrie is related to the Celtic warrior-goddess, the Morrigan, who likewise
may assume the form of the raven. The Irish badb is at one and the same time a
seeress foretelling the fate of men upon the battlefield and is also the carrion-
crow or raven. (Rooth 228). At times the female seeress was replaced by the work
of women's hands in the form of a Raven Banner:

Bronze Brooch from Lousgaard, Bornholm, Denmark.

Weaving is an integral function of both the valkyrie and the Norn. In Beowulf we
read of the wigspeda gewiofu (weavings of victory), creafted by the valkyrie. The
valkyrie who can weave victory can also weave defeat, for the valkyrie had the art
of the war-fetter, which allowed the valkyrie to bind a warrior with terror, or
release a favored warrior from those same bonds. Like the Norns, the valkyries are
intimately involved in weaving or spinning the fates of men. In this capacity, the
valkyries were worshiped as disir, and offered sacrifices (disablot) as in
Ynglingasaga Chapter 28.
Midway between the third and eleventh centuries, the Valkyries begin assuming a
more benign aspect. Small amulets and pictures on memorial stones begin to depict
the figure of the beautiful woman welcoming the deceased hero with a horn of mead
to the afterlife. By this later time, the Valkyries as demigoddesses of death had
their legend conflated with the folklore motif of the swan maiden (young girls who
are able to take on the form of a swan, sometimes as the result of a curse). In
her role as swan-maiden, the valkyrie can travel rida lopt ok log, "through air
and through water." It is known that the swan was popularly associated with the
concept of augury. See, for instance, the phrase, es scwant mir, (it swans me,
meaning "I have a premonition or a foreboding").
If one could capture and hold a swan maiden, or her feathered cloak (alftarham),
one could extract a wish from her. This may be why sometimes valkyries are known
as swan maidens or oskmey (wish maidens), or perhaps they take this name from
Odinn's appelations, Oski or Wunsc (wish). In his identity as the god cognate to
the Roman Mercury, Odinn at times is found to carry a wunsciligerta (OHG, wishing-
rod). Grimm makes the connection between the wunsciligerta and the sleep thorn
with which Odinn enchants Brynhildr into the magical sleep, and also connects it
to the enchanted spindle upon whcih folktale descendents of Brynhildr will prick
their fingers and be cast into a hundred-years' slumber. Rocks associated with the
valkyries Brynhildr or Kreimhildr are sometimes called spilstein or
Chreimhildespil, derived from spille (spindle, fusus), or the stone might be
called kunkelstein (distaff-stone).

The Legend of Volundr


from the Franks Casket
The motif of the swan-maiden appears in the earliest strata in the sagas. In
Helreid Brynhildar, a man named Agnar forced Brynhildr and her seven sisters into
his service by hiding as they bathed and then stealing their swan-shifts. In
Volundarkvida, the saga tells of three Valkyries who put their swan-shifts aside
to sit on the shore spinning flax, and who consequently were wooed and won by
three brothers -- here the oskmeyjar stay seven years with the brothers, only to
fly away at the end of that time, never to return. In Hromundars saga Greipssonar,
the valkyrie Kara appears in swan shape flying above a battle, shapechanged by the
wearing of a alftarham (swan-shift). However in time, the valkyrie/swan-maiden
evolves into a marchen character, Dornroschen, Sleeping Beauty, the wunschelweib.
The descriptions of Odinn's hall describe the Valkries as foster-daughters, just
as the einherjar (the chosen warriors of Odinn) are foster sons. See Grimnsimal
36, Gylfaginning 36) Freyja is said to be the first of the Valkyries, called
Valfreyja, "Mistress of the Slain," she pours ale at the feasts of the Aesir
(Skaldskarpamal 17) Other names for Freyja include:
* Mard�ll ("Sea-Shining", probably a kenning for amber)
* H�rn ("Lady of Flax")
* Gefn ("The Giving")
* S�r ("The Sow", "The Protector")
* Vanad�s ("Goddess of the Vanir")
* �rungva ("She Who Pines for Love Lost")
* Skj�lf ("Shield", "She Who Protects")
Although the sources are not clear on this, the cheif of the Valkyries seems to
have been the goddess Freyja. Like Odinn, she received half of those slain in
battle, but since ladies go first she was allowed first choice! Freyja possessed a
magical cloak of falcon feathers that allowed her to take the shape of a falcon if
she wished, making the swan maidens similar to the goddess by having "feather
coats" or cloaks that enable their shape-shifting abilities and the power of
flight.

There are several traditional names for Valkyries mentioned in the sagas and the
Eddas:

* Brynhildr ("Byrnie of Battle" or "Mail-coat of Battle")


* Sigrdrifa ("Victory Blizzard")
* Sigr�n ("Victory Rune")
* Sv�va
* K�ra
* Hrist ("The Shaker")
* Mist ("The Mist" or "The Fog")
* Skeggj�ld ("Wearing a War Axe")
* Sk�gul ("Battle")
* Hildr ("Battle")
* Hilda ("Battle")
* Hildeberg ("Battle Fortress")
* Hildegund ("Battle War")
* Kreimhildr
* �r��r ("Power")
* Hl�kk ("Noise", "Din of Battle")
* Herfj�tur ("War-Fetter")
* G�ll ("Loud Cry", "Battle Cry")
* Geirah�d ("Spear of Battle")
* Grimhildr ("Mask or Helm of Battle")
* Randgr��r ("Shield of Peace")
* R��gri�r ("Counsel of Peace" or "Gods' Peace")
* Reginleif ("Heritage of the Gods")
* Gunnr ("Battle")
* R�ta ("She Who Causes Turmoil")
* Skuld ("She Who Is Becoming")
* G�ndul ("Magic Wand" or "Enchanted Stave" or perhaps, "She-Were-Wolf")

Terms describing valkyries include:


Arthur Rackham's Depiction
of the Valkyrie Brunhild
* Valkyrie ("Chooser of the Slain")
* Waelcyrie or Waelcyrge (Old English form of the word Valkyrie, also means
"Raven")
* Walachuri� (Old High German form of the word Valkyrie)
* Valakusj� (Gothic form of the word Valkyrie)
* Valmeyjar ("Battle Maidens", "Corpse Maidens")
* Skjaldmeyjar ("Shield Maidens")
* Hjalmmeyjar ("Helm Maidens")
* �skmeyjar ("Wish Maidens")
* Svanmeyja ("Swan Maiden")
* Hv�t ("White")
* Hjalmv�tr ("Helm-White")
* Bi�rt ("Bright")
* S�lbi�rt ("Sun-Bright")
* Alv�tr ("All-White")
* Dr�sir Su�r�nar (southern maids)
* Su�r�n (southern one)
* D�sir Su�r�nar (southern d�sir or goddesses) (in V�lundarkvi�a and the Helgi
lays)

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. The names of a few of Saxo's valkyrie-like women include:
* Hede (Hei�r in Old Norse, "Heath", often found as a witch-name and related to
"heathen.")
* Ladgerda
* Swanhwid (Svanv�t in Old Norse, "Swan-White")
* Gunwar (Gunnv�r in Old Norse, Gunnora in Old English, "War-Oath")

Valkyrie from a Romantic Engraving