In Germanic lore, there exist magnificent female beings that are associated with battle, fate and death – particularly of warriors killed in combat. While the Anglo-Saxon “wælcyrie” were sorceresses or female spirits of carnage, the Old Norse term “valkyrjur “translates as “choosers of the slain” and the legendary poems and sagas detail their roles. Characters in Celtic lore such as the war goddesses Badb (Baðβ) and the Morrigan (Mororïganïs) also reflect certain aspects of valkyries, unsurprising given that the cultures sometimes overlapped.
While valkyries are often depicted nowadays as beautiful maidens with noble agendas, it only tells part of the story with regards to the Norse valkyrjur. Valkyrjur were servants of Odin (Óðinn) who weaved their magic to determine the outcome of a battle, and in doing so “chose” who lived and who perished. They were described as burning bright with spears and shields, clad in helmets and armour, and riding horses across the sky. The warriors deemed to have died a glorious and honourable death were selected and carried by these women into the realm of the gods; half went with them to Odin in Valhalla (Valhöll) while the other half were sent to Freya (Freıə) at Folkvang (Fólkvangr). At Valhalla, the deceased would become einherjar: soldiers of Odin who prepared each day for the apocalyptic events of Ragnarök.
More than twenty valkyries are listed in the Eddas, with names which often describe their appearance or traits. These include Gunnr (War), Göndul (Wand-wielder), Mist (Cloud) and Randgrið (Shield-truce), though the most famous may arguably be Brynhildr (popularised in German culture as Brünhilda) from the legends of Sigurðr (Sigurd, or Siegfried in German). Some of the fabled tales refer to the valkyries as being daughters of kings and lovers of heroic mortals, while others focus on their supernatural and shamanistic abilities of shaping the destiny of men. The maidens were also said to bear mead to the einherjar at Valhalla, and attended the funeral of the god Baldur (Baldr), suggesting that their purpose in Old Norse traditions was varied.