Most Famous Valkyries in Norse Mythology
The Valkyries are powerful and awe-inspiring figures in Norse mythology. They are often portrayed as fierce and beautiful warrior women, flying above the battlefield on winged horses.
When a great battle ensues, the Valkyries descend from the skies and carefully select the most courageous and honorable warriors who have fallen in combat. These chosen heroes are then taken to Valhalla, the magnificent hall of Odin, where they will spend eternity feasting and preparing for the final battle of Ragnarok.
Valkyries are mentioned or play a role in various poems within the Prose Edda, the Njáls saga, and the Poetic Edda. The latter is an important collection of Old Norse poetry written by 13th-century Icelandic poet and lawmaker Snorri Sturluson.
Some of the major poems that feature Valkyries include Grímnismál, Völuspá, Sigrdrífumál, Völundarkviða, Helgakviða Hjörvarðssonar, Helgakviða Hundingsbana I, and Helgakviða Hundingsbana II. These poems provide valuable insights into the mythology and significance of Valkyries in Norse culture.
From Hildr to Sigrún, these are some of the most famous Valkyries in Norse mythology:
In Norse tradition, Brunhild (also spelled Brynhild or Brynhildr) is a prominent and complex figure who appears in the Völsunga saga and several Eddic poems that recount the same events. She is often described as a shieldmaiden or a Valkyrie.
One of the most well-known Valkyries, she played a significant role in the Völsunga saga and other Norse sagas. She is often associated with fate and destiny, as she plays a key role in the hero Sigurd’s life.
In the Völsunga saga, Brunhild is cursed by Odin to sleep within a ring of fire as punishment for disobeying his orders. Sigurd, a hero and dragon-slayer, comes across the sleeping Brynhildr and falls in love with her. He awakens her from her enchanted slumber, and they swear oaths of love and fidelity to each other.
However, their tragic fate leads to misunderstandings, betrayals, and their ultimate separation.
The character of Brunhild is known for her strength, courage, and wisdom. She is a powerful figure in her own right, and her decisions and actions have significant consequences in the overall saga.
In the skaldic poem Hákonarmál, written by the 10th-century Norwegian skald Eyvindr skáldaspillir, Odin dispatches two valkyries named Göndul and Skögul to choose fallen warriors from the battlefield to join him in Valhalla, the hall of fallen heroes.
A fierce battle takes place, marked by great slaughter, and the use of the kenning “Skögul’s-stormblast” for “battle” highlights the intense and destructive nature of the conflict.
King Haakon and his men die in this battle, and as they approach the afterlife, they witness the valkyrie Göndul leaning on a spear shaft. This imagery emphasizes the valkyries’ association with war and their connection to fallen warriors.
Göndul comments that the gods’ following (referring to the number of warriors chosen for Valhalla) is growing, as Haakon and his men are being welcomed to the realm of the gods with their heroic deeds in battle.
Sigrún’s story, which is found in the Poetic Edda Poems Helgakviða Hundingsbana I and Helgakviða Hundingsbana I, revolves around her love and devotion to Helgi Hundingsbane. Despite obstacles and challenges, she remains fiercely loyal and stands by his side in battles and adventures.
However, their love story ends tragically when Helgi is killed in battle. Sigrún is left heartbroken and, according to some versions of the tale, she eventually dies of grief.
In the poem “Völundarkviða,” Ölrún is recognized as a valkyrie and is explicitly stated to be the daughter of Kjárr of Valland.
The name “Ölrún” is associated with the possible Old Norse meaning of “ale rune,” but its exact interpretation is uncertain and open to different scholarly interpretations.
In the context of the poem “Völundarkviða,” Ölrún is one of the three valkyries encountered by the brothers Völund, Slagfiðr, and Egil. The other two Valkyries mentioned are Hlaðguðr svanhvít and Hervör alvitr.
The brothers find the three valkyries by the lake Úlfsjár while they are spinning linen. Each of the brothers takes one of the valkyries as their companion, and they live together for seven winters until the women fly off to a battle and do not return.
Sváfa is a character briefly mentioned in the poem “Helgakviða Hjörvarðssonar” or “The Lay of Helgi Hjörvarðsson,” which is one of the poems in the Poetic Edda. The poem tells the story of Helgi Hjörvarðsson, a legendary hero and king.
In the “Helgakviða Hjörvarðssonar,” Helgi encounters Sváfa after a battle. He becomes enamored by her and declares his love for her. Sváfa reciprocates his feelings, and they become a couple. Their love story is central to the poem, showcasing the bond between a human hero and a divine, otherworldly being.
However, like many tales in Norse mythology, their relationship is marked by tragedy. Helgi is eventually killed in battle, and Sváfa grieves for him.
After his death, Helgi is reborn as Helgi Hundingsbane and reunites with Sváfa in the afterlife, where they spend their eternal days together.
Also in the poem, Helgi, who is the son of the Norwegian King Hjörvarðr and Sigrlinn of Sváfaland, describes Sváfa as “bright-face lady”.
The story of Sváfa and Helgi in “Helgakviða Hjörvarðssonar” explores themes of love, fate, and the interaction between the mortal world and the divine realms. As with many Norse myths, it exemplifies the complex and often bittersweet nature of relationships between humans and divine beings in the Norse worldview.
Þrúðr (pronounced “thruuthr”) is a lesser-known figure in Norse mythology, but she is indeed mentioned in some sources. She is the daughter of the thunder god Thor and the goddess Sif. The name Þrúðr translates to “strength” or “power” in Old Norse.
Despite not being as well-known as some other Norse gods and goddesses, Þrúðr’s name has been recorded in various sources, including Skáldskaparmál, a book of the Prose Edda, which is a collection of Norse myths and poetic descriptions.
In one story, Þrúðr is mentioned when Thor is trying to retrieve his stolen hammer, Mjölnir. During his search, he is disguised as a bride and is asked to perform tasks to prove his identity.
One of these tasks involves lifting a cat from the ground, which turns out to be Jörmungandr, the world serpent. Þrúðr is said to be the only one who was able to lift the serpent, demonstrating her strength and power inherited from her father.
She is one of the thirteen Valkyries that feature in the Poetic Edda poem Grímnismál. Her name is mentioned alongside Hrist (“shaker”), Skeggjöld (“axe-age”), Skögul, Hildr (“battle”), Þrúðr (“power”), Hlökk (“noise”, or “battle”), Reginleif (“power-truce”), Randgríð (“shield-truce”), Ráðgríð (“council-truce”), Geirahöð (“spear-fight”), Herfjötur (“host-fetter”), Mist (“cloud”), and Göll (“tumult”).
Gunnr (sometimes spelled Gunn, Gunnar, or Guðr) is one of the valkyries, a group of female supernatural beings associated with war, fate, and choosing those who would die in battle. The name “Gunnr” translates to “battle” or “war” in Old Norse.
She is one of the six Valkyries that are mentioned in the Poetic Edda poem Völuspá. Thus, her name appears alongside the likes of Skuld (“debt” or “future”), Hildr (“battle”), Skögul (“shaker”), Göndul (“wand-wielder”) and Geirskögul (“Spear-Skögul”). It was in this poem that a seeress (völva) describes the valkyries as “ladies of the War Lord”.
Valkyrie: “chooser of the slain” and hostess in Odin’s hall Valhalla
Role: Serve the einherjar mead in Valhalla
Symbols: ravens, swans, horses
Famous Valkyries: Geirskögul (“spear-skögul”), Brunhild (“bright battle” or “armor battle”), Skögul (“shaker”), Göndul (“wand-wielder”), Geirskögul (“Spear-Skögul”)
Epithets: “Chooser of the slain”, Odin’s maids”, “Wish fulfiller”, “wish maid”, “Ladies of the War Lord”, “bearers of ale in Valhalla”
Major sources: The Poetic Edda, the Prose Edda, the Njáls saga
“The Ring of Nibelung”
Richard Wagner, the 19th-century German composer, adapted the Norse mythological figure Brynhildr into the character Brünnhilde in his famous opera cycle “Der Ring des Nibelungen” (The Ring of the Nibelung). Wagner’s opera tells a complex and epic story involving gods, heroes, and magical objects, drawing heavily from Norse mythology.
Wagner’s portrayal of Brünnhilde has had a lasting impact on how the character is perceived and understood in popular culture. Many subsequent adaptations, including films, books, and other artworks, have been influenced by Wagner’s interpretation, further solidifying Brünnhilde’s place as a prominent figure in the world of mythology and opera.
Austrian operatic soprano Amalie Materna was the first singer to play Brünnhilde in Wagner’s Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung).
The “Ride of the Valkyries” (German: Walkürenritt or Ritt der Walküren) is one of the most famous and recognizable pieces of music in classical music history. It refers to the beginning of Act 3 of “Die Walküre,” which is the second opera in Richard Wagner’s monumental four-opera cycle “Der Ring des Nibelungen” (The Ring of the Nibelung).